A sign like this should be posted on the front door of every church, don’t you think? After all, isn’t this a fitting description of every church? No, not the church building, but the real church, the people. Every congregation is a mess because every congregation is undergoing renovation. And for that matter, every church member is a mess because every church member is undergoing renovation.
That reminds me of 1st Corinthians. Talk about a mess! The church at Corinth had quite an assortment of problems that Paul needed to address: divisions among members, unbalanced loyalty to celebrity teachers and preachers, immaturity, sexual immorality, Christians dragging Christians to court, abuse of the sacraments, prideful boasting about spiritual giftedness, dysfunctional worship, confusion about the roles of men and women, and a faulty understanding of the resurrection. A mess indeed. So messy, in fact, that one might wonder if these folks were really saved at all. (Ever had that thought about yourself? Yep, me too.)
However, the mess among the church at Corinth didn’t cause Paul to doubt their salvation. It only served to show they were still in need of renovation. Here’s how he opened his letter to them in chapter one, verses 4-9:
“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in Him in all speech and all knowledge — even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed among you — so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.”
There’s no doubt these people were truly saved. Imagine how encouraging these few verses would sound after the next 15 chapters of Paul’s gentle, and not-so-gentle, rebuke! If it were me, I’d go back to those verses again and again to remind myself that the Apostle who is hammering away at my heart really is convinced that I’m a child of God. (Sometimes I wonder if Paul wrote those words to remind himself that he was dealing with true believers before he launched into correcting them!)
Paul would later remind this church that they are “God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in” them (3:16). And so, it seems that he is telling them, “Since God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple, then you should expect that there will need to be continual renovations taking place as you wait for God to present you guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (3:17 and 1:7-8).
[Think about it . . . nearly every New Testament letter dealt with some problem in the church to which it was written. Each church was a mess undergoing renovation by the Spirit. If it weren’t for imperfect, messy churches, we wouldn’t have the New Testament.]
This is good news for every church and every church member! Although things are a mess while renovations are under way, Jesus Christ “will sustain you to the end” as He knocks down the old and builds up the new so that He might present us “guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:7-8).
Be encouraged, my messy brothers and sisters, the God who called you and the people in your church into to fellowship with His Son “as you are” loves you and your church too much to leave you “as you are” . . . He will be faithful to renovate your heart and your church (1:9).