Bad Grace says, "I don't have to do anything in the church."
Good Grace says, "God has given me the privilege of serving somewhere in the church."
Congregations that are peddlers of bad grace portray involvement in ministry, especially ministries within the local church, as optional rather than essential. If, after you have fulfilled your work responsibilities, indulged yourself in your hobbies, and spent all the quality time with your family you can possibly stand, you still have some hours left in the week, then you might want to assume a place of responsibility in the church. Otherwise, don’t feel obligated.
But good grace understands that ministry in a local body of believers is a privilege as well as a responsibility. Service in a church is not an attempt to earn God's grace but is the result of receiving God's grace. In an act of inexplicable compassion, God not only declares those of us who had been His enemies to be His friends, but He also invites us to join with Him in building His kingdom.
Can you imagine a prisoner of war of a defeated army who is facing execution being summoned before the commanding general and told, "You have been pardoned of your crimes, and not only that, I have decided to make you a captain in our army with all the rights and privileges that position warrants!"? That is exactly what God has done for us! We who were facing eternal death have not only been pardoned, but we have been selected to work with God in the advancement of His empire.
"Robert, aren't you stretching just a little here? ls there really a relationship between grace and service in the church?" Glad you asked! Notice how Paul relates grace to service in Romans 12.
Obviously, I could devote an entire book or two to the subject of spiritual gifts, but allow me to point out three simple truths that emerge from these verses.
- Every Christian has been given a unique spiritual gift (Romans 12:6-8).
Of course, the ultimate "Gift" we possess is the Holy Spirit of God, but when He comes into our life, He brings with Him a unique "gift" to use in God's service.
Like you, I've seen many definitions of "spiritual gift but this is my favorite (and happens to be my own):
Definition of a Spiritual Gift: The unique passion and power that God gives you to further His kingdom.
A spiritual gift is a special desire or passion that burns within you. Some people love to teach the Bible. Others think that meeting the practical needs of others is the best way to demonstrate the love of Christ. Still, others believe that showing genuine concern to those who are hurting is their niche. Discover your passion and start using it Paul says!
Author Richard Leider commented: “Our world is incomplete until each one of us discovers what moves us—our passion. No other person can hear our calling. We must listen and act on it for ourselves.”
For our discussion, allow me to tweak that statement just a bit: "The Kingdom of God is incomplete until each one of us discovers what moves us—our passion. No other person can hear our calling. We must listen and act on it for others."
Not only is a spiritual gift a passion, but it is also a power that God grants us.
Noted Greek lexicographer Henry Thayer defines a spiritual gift as an "extraordinary power, distinguishing certain Christians and enabling them to serve the church of Christ, the reception of which is due to the power of divine grace operating in their souls by the Holy Spirit."
When God gives you a special calling, He also gives you the power to fulfill that calling. If your gift is teaching the Bible, then not only will you enjoy teaching, you will also be empowered to teach. If your gift is mercy, God will enable you to discern the needs of other people. If your gift is giving, God will grant to you an unusual ability to multiply your assets so they can be used for His work.
- Our gift is to be used in the local church (Romans 12:5).
The context of Paul's discussion about spiritual gifts is his comparison between our physical body and the body of Christ. Just as our eyes, ears, and feet function as a part of our body, not independently or as part of someone else's body, we are to exercise our gifts as part of the church, which is the body of Christ. The word "church" (which means "called out ones") is occasionally used in the New Testament to refer to all Christians everywhere and would not only include Christians here on earth, but those who are already in heaven.
But of the over 100 references to the "church" in the New Testament, over ninety of those references are to a local church which my friend Charles Ryrie defines as a "group of baptized believers who have organized themselves for the purpose of doing God's will."
The local church is God's creation, not man's. While other Christian organizations may have legitimate and vital ministries, they are no substitute for the local church. Only the church has God's promise of endurance until the Lord returns. That is why our gifts should be used, as Thayer says, "to serve the church of Christ."
In our church, we have a saying. "No one should do everything, but everyone should do something." Once every six months, we distribute a list of the various opportunities for service in the church and encourage our members to find at least one ministry in which they can exercise their gift whether it is as an usher, a Bible study leader, or a television cameraman.
Remember, God gave you a gift to use. "And since we have gifts ... let each exercise them." Where are you exercising your gift?
- We experience fulfillment from using our spiritual gift (Romans 12:3).
I don't believe it is any accident that the same word Paul uses for gift in Romans 12 "charismaton" is not only linked to the word for grace "charis", but also has as its root word joy ''char". Exercising our God-given spiritual gift in the church brings incredible joy in our life when we understand how God is using us in an enterprise that is so much bigger than ourselves.
At the root of the apathy—the tedium of everyday life that makes it increasingly difficult for so many to get out of bed every morning and pursue life with any enthusiasm—is a lack of purpose.
The cause to which you and I have been called is the building of the Kingdom of God. He has entrusted to us a unique passion and power to accomplish that highest of all callings.
One person, using his gift in one church CAN make a world of difference.