I didn’t go to church today, Sunday.
In my weekly effort to share something spiritually helpful, or at least mildly interesting, this is the best I could do?
There’s a sort of helpfulness in honesty and transparency if it provides something worth consideration.
I hope you’ll consider this…
Saturday, my entire family united in an all day effort to get Häns and Ellie moved into their own apartment. They’ve been living with us since June 1st while Häns tracked down a job after serving in the Marine Corps. (Yes, that’s five months with a household of nine.)
Dawn and Heidi watched the three grandchildren. Haley entertained out-of-town guests (a household of eleven for one day ;). Ellie got the apartment ready. Häns and I packed up their stuff at our house, and in storage, and unloaded again at their apartment. We started around 7:30 am. I returned home at 10:30 pm.
I was pretty tired, and Dawn, perhaps even more. We knew Saturday would be a huge day. We knew it would take a toll on us so we planned on staying home from church Sunday. One of the things I try to do to love Dawn well is be aware of her limitations and help her avoid over-taxing herself. She lives with a kind of fragility that only people with anxiety disorder understand. We knew staying home Sunday for a mental health day would be necessary.
What Did We Do?
So, what did we do instead? Mundane stuff. Simple pleasures. Sleep in. Make pancakes for our guests. Clean the kitchen. I took Heidi to Starbucks and covered questions #43-46 in New City Catechism. (It’s excellent, by the way–way more spiritually helpful than anything you’ll get from Average Us.) Then, Dawn and I took an easy hike up Sawnee Mountain. Followed by lunch. Followed by Dawn reading Knowing God, by J. I. Packer (again, excellent). Followed by me sitting here in Starbucks struggling to know how to be helpful while Heidi is with her church discipleship group of freshman girls.
So, I didn’t go to church today, even though I know the Bible instructs Christians not to forsake the regular assembly of worship. I skipped church today, even though Sunday is the Sabbath Christians keep. I skipped church today, even though that is where my soul feeds on the gospel proclaimed from the pulpit, and signified in bread and wine from the table.
Did I disobey Scripture? Did I sin against God? Am I making excuses about being tired or fragile? Am I just a reflection of the modern sentimental approach to religion that puts my needs at the center of worship?
If you’ve read Average Us for any length of time, you know Dawn and I don’t take Scripture, or church attendance, lightly. We are in the regular habit of attending worship. We understand the spiritual consequences of not joining in public worship with other believers.
What then? Has our good attendance earned us a day off in God’s eyes?
Not at all.
Why Did We Do It?
We skipped church because the Bible makes room for individual decisions as matters of conscience. We didn’t pray about it. We didn’t ask God if it would be okay. Rather, as part of our life-surrender to His revealed will (i.e. the Bible ), we decided, in good conscience, to stay home, believing we broke no command of Scripture. We believe the command to not forsake public worship doesn’t mean there is never any permissible reason to miss church.
What If We’re Wrong?
It’s possible that we are wrong, though. It’s possible we disobeyed. It’s possible we sinned. Having a guilt-free conscience doesn’t necessarily mean we’re guilt-free.
And here’s where I hope to be helpful…
If we’re wrong, if we’ve sinned, does this mean we’ve fallen out of favor with God?
There are two very common answers to this question:
1. No. It’s all good. God knows your heart.
2. Yes. You must repent or else you’ll go to hell.
Both of these are wrong.
1. God knows my heart alright. He knows it’s deceitfully wicked, to use the prophet Jeremiah’s language. My heart is even more wicked than I could possibly ever grasp. So, answer #1 can’t be right.
2. Yes, repentance is necessary as a way of life for a Christian. But, so is joyful confidence in Christ’s work on the cross. My standing with God isn’t founded on my ability to quickly repent of every sin. It’s founded on what He has done, not what I do. So, answer #2 can’t be right.
What Puts Us In God’s Favor?
So, I believe the biblical answer is,
No, even if we have sinned, we haven’t fallen out of favor with God, because favor with God is founded on Christ’s finished work alone. His gracious commitment to us, His faithfulness, is secured by the cross, not our sincerity, not our good works, not our repentance, not our best intentions. God loves us in Christ, through Christ, for Christ’s sake.
That’s why the gospel is good news for average people like us. It assures us that God’s unconditional favor has been purchased in full by the blood of His Son. That’s why Jesus is our SAVIOR, not merely our spiritual helper or guide.
I hope this gospel love will frame the heartbeat of your life as you make every life decision, great or small.
It’s that gospel love that makes me look forward to joining others (perhaps you) in worship next Sunday.
Grace and peace to you, Lon
(For good instruction on Christian liberty of conscience, see chapter 20 of the Westminster Confession of Faith).
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