Summary: A Call to Christian Commitment
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.—I Corinthians 15:58
GET THE HELL OUT OF THE CHURCH
The implication of our subject is that there is Hell in the Church, and I don’t think this can be disputed. Hell is real, the Devil is real, and both can be found in the Church. This shouldn’t surprise to anyone who’s been in the Church for any length of time. Hell has been in competition with the Church from the very beginning. When Jesus founded the Church at Caesarea Philippi, He did so mindful of Hell. I heard Him say, “Upon this Rock [the confession that Jesus is the Christ] I will build My Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” Jesus assures us that Hell will not prevail against the Church, but don’t miss the fact that He makes it clear that Hell will strive with the Church. Inherent in the promise of victory is the reality of struggle. And the Church has been struggling with Hell for a long time.
The Church has a purpose—to give praise and glory to our Heavenly Father. Unless we glorify God, unless we are challenged in our minds and hearts with the Word of God, unless we possess the mind of Christ, then everything else we do is useless. But Satan doesn’t want us to glorify God. And so he brings Hell into the Church and tries to divert our attention to other things. Hell causes us to be more concerned with performance than with praise; Hell causes us to get excited more about positions than about ministry; Hell takes our eyes off of Christ and diverts our attention in more self-serving directions. The Church struggles with Hell.
Then, a second purpose of the Church is to be an agent of God. We don’t represent ourselves; we represent Jesus Christ. When people see us they ought to see Christ in us. This is both a great honor and a tremendous responsibility. But Satan doesn’t want us to represent Jesus. And so he brings Hell into the Church. A sad reality is that much of the skepticism and ridicule that’s directed toward the Church today is because we haven’t been good ambassadors of Christ. Hell causes us to fight with each other and leaves the enemy free to have his way with the world. There’s an expression that says, “The world is going to Hell in hand-basket.” Well, if that’s true, then it’s because the Church lets it happen. When drug deals can go down right outside the Church, when prostitutes can stand in the shadow of the Church steeple and conduct their business, and all we do inside the Church is argue about financial reports; when we treat the Church more like a social club than like an agency of salvation, then Hell is in the Church, and Hell is struggling with the Church.
Then, a third purpose of the Church is to be active in the affairs of men. The Church is alive; the Church is the body of Christ. The Church has eyes that must see; the Church has ears that must hear; the Church has a voice that must be heard; the Church has hands that must work; the Church has feet that must move; the Church has a heart that must feel. If the Church is going to minister to hurting people, then it must be what God called it to be, and God called the Church to be alive.
But Satan wants the Church to be dead; Satan wants the Church to be silent. And so he brings Hell into the Church, and Hell works hard to keep us from working. Hell gets into folk and causes them to talk only about what we can’t do. “We can’t come together to minister to man’s physical and spiritual needs; we can’t help folks who can’t help themselves.” Satan keeps Hell up in the Church to try to keep the Church quiet. But Hell must not prevail against the Church. We must make it our goal to get the Hell out of the Church so that we can do the work of the Church.
Well, somebody may be asking, “How did Hell get into the Church in the first place?” And the answer is simple: Hell is in the Church because Hell is in us. If Hell is in the Church, it’s here because we allowed Hell to have a place in our hearts. The Church isn’t a building, but the Church is people who have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. We are the Church. And so if there’s Hell in the Church, that means that there’s Hell in us. If Satan is running loose in the Church, it’s because Satan is running rampant in us. That doesn’t mean that you’re not saved; but it does mean that you need to check yourself from time to time. Peter was saved, but Hell got into Peter, and Hell caused a saved Peter to try to keep the Gospel to himself. Paul was saved, but Hell got into Paul, and Hell caused a saved Paul to break fellowship with Barnabas. James and John were saved, but Hell got into those boys, and Hell caused a saved James and John to demand something from Jesus that didn’t belong to them. I’m not challenging the status of your salvation. But I stopped by to let you know that even if you’re saved, if you’re not careful, Hell will get into you; Hell will get all over you; Hell will cause you do things that you shouldn’t do; Hell will cause you to say things that you shouldn’t say; Hell will cause you to be a stumbling block in God’s program. And if you find yourself struggling with Hell, then you ought to want to get the Hell out of the Church.