I am writing to you as a type of warning and encouragement-- to press on with passion and courage to our ultimate goal as Christians of being reconciled to the Father through His Son and by the power of His Spirit.
I write this letter to you as your pastor, applying the truths of the book of Galatians to Journey Fellowship. As your pastor, called by God to shepherd you through the wasteland of legalism, self help and life enhancement religion, I take the task of typing this letter seriously. I pray that I would not misrepresent the grace and truth we find in the Word of God, but at the same time help you to grasp the dangers of being deceived by this false light religion, to which the world has become accustomed.
In America, I see the church compromising and turning from the grace we find in Christ to a false gospel that leads to slavery and death. We laid the foundations of Journey Fellowship in grace - let’s keep it that way, not turning to this outward-appearance, TV-performance, self- seeking, cold-hearted faith.
As a pastor called by God, I honor the purpose of my ministry to love the church He has given to me. This love that He has put in the fiber of my soul is a love that casts out the fear of what people may think of the message I have been called to give to you.
This message, the gospel that I have been teaching you for the last year, is not a mamby-pamby gospel like that which is being spread like dandelions in a lawn by weak so-called preachers.
I remember how God got this message through my thick scull so many years ago when I saw how dead religion really was while growing up in a church where outward performance was everything. As the seeds of faith died in my heart I ran from the church and from God as fast as I could. The longing to find my value and desire to quench my thirst for love, joy, and peace drove me down the party highway, leading me to hell on earth and a collision course with eternal damnation. God rescued me from that accident-waiting-to-happen by His grace alone, through me putting my faith in Him alone. What a beautiful mixture of unexplainable joy and painful sorrow of learning to die to my prideful self. A process the Bible calls sanctification, being made holy, into the image of Christ.
I remember how I would be taught by trial and error that surrender is the way to the grace offered by Jesus Christ our Lord. As I would find victory in my faith for a fleeting moment, God in His omniscience would allow me freewill to pridefully walk in my own strength… once again failing. I recall when I had come to the end of my own rope, if you will, of trying to live a life of performance, a life lived for my own gain, an un-surrendered life where I had professed Jesus as my savior but had failed to make Him my Lord. At that time I decided that I had nothing to lose because I had already tried to live a godly life and had succeeded in appearance alone, so I surrendered to the Grace of God in wild abandonment. Trusting in the God who is good and worthy of my trust, worthy of my faith, and capable of being the best insurance I would ever need.
Over the years of ministry I have found many people who try to exchange the grace of God for their own agenda of watered down truth or performance based dead faith. I remember one time a woman in Ohio tried to change the gospel of grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone-to one of: look good to the world, everything goes, Jesus is just one-of-the-ways religion. I ended up opposing her face-to-face in the heart of reconciliation. I have also run into men who claim to be friends but in the end are wolves in sheep’s clothing trying to change the gospel of grace to one of performance. Saying things like, “You’re only in the family of God if you get baptized, speak in tongues, share your faith with a certain amount of people, claim a certain political group, participate in our pet social movement, take the Lord’s Supper in a specific way,” and the list could go on and on.
But the Bible says that a person is not justified by good works, but through faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, we are to put our faith in Christ Jesus [to the end] that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by doing good deeds or works--by those things no one will ever be justified.
I know that you understand this because you and I both have tried to ease our consciences by being “good people” and have found that this is a vain practice. The harder we try to be good the more we realize it doesn’t work. This became more evident to me when I tried to create a Biblical checklist religion as a means to please the God of this universe. Read my bible, go to church, and pray, give a tenth of my income (you get the idea) - the checklist could go on and on and on, but the reality is God is not looking for a son who tries to manipulate his way in to His good graces! God is looking for a passionate love covenant that cannot be contained within a system of values or cold religious traditions!
If I, after experiencing the true life only found in abiding in Christ, try to love Him by stale works, I rebuild the life I turned away from in the beginning. This leads to the million dollar question – how can anyone be in a right relationship with God, if we are not supposed to try harder to accomplish it?! Eugene Peterson put it this way in his interpretation of what Paul wrote in Galatians 2:
“I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God and it didn’t work. So I quit being a ‘law man’ so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you and have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not ‘mine,’ but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.”
Or out of the New International Version of the Bible:
“I have been crucified with Christ AND I NO LONGER LIVE, BUT Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
In other words, this Christian life is lived in surrender to the power of God to be lived out through me rather than in my own gifts and strength.
This true gospel-living was so important to who we are as Journey Fellowship that we called a leaders’ meeting to discuss these very subjects so as to lay our foundation—as a baby church—on the solid rock of grace. We talked about the many temptations we face as a church that is just starting out. Like the temptation to sell our souls to the next great “church growth movement,” trying to become a church we were never called to be. Or the enticement of trying to compete with the world and entertain people rather than do the simple things of sharing the power of God’s Word, loving people, prayer, and fellowship. Or the lure to defend and justify our existence to the world around us rather than remembering that we are accountable only to God. Or the appeal to start programs for this cause, for this need, for that need, for this group of people or that group of people, instead of remembering we are a cell church that started in the home and that the only programs we need are in the home! Or the evil desire to serve out of a heart of duty (legalism!) rather than out of a heart of love. At the conclusion of the meeting, our leaders agreed to say “yes” to duties within the church ONLY IF WE COULD AGREE TO DO SO WITH A HEART OF LOVE AND PEACE… and not to satisfy some momentary wave of guilt.
We cannot allow ourselves to be fooled by the world and tempted to change who we are. Remember from the very beginning I made it clear what was the most important thing for Journey: love God and love people. Our church is called to do that by the patterns we see laid out by the first church who, in Acts 2, devoted themselves to the study of scripture, to worshiping together as a large church and in homes, praying with each other, caring for each other, living in harmony in spite of their differences, and as a result, people’s lives where transformed and the church grew in real authentic ways, not artificial fake growth that we see in these outward-appearance based churches.
We have to remember our own roots; we started in my own home having fun, playfully worshiping God, fellowshipping together, encouraging each other, and we sensed the smile of God on the planting of Journey Fellowship. We started that first year working out who we were and what we would be about-, defining the core of our beliefs as a church, trying to understand what Journey Fellowship’s mission would be. We adopted the war cry that God had put in my heart years before when He began to call me to plant a church: “Church done different!” If God really wanted me to plant a church, I knew He was calling me to do it differently. We then found our mission: “Extending the kingdom of God one community at a time.” We felt called to keep church simple as well as different. To reach lost people through authentic community—the kind of community which they can easily and comfortably access… in peoples’ homes, at cell groups that we call Journey Groups.
The next step was to define our core values: To be worshipers of our loving Creator, to have authentic community, to be a missional church, to be centered on prayer, to see transformation through Journey Groups, to be grounded in God’s Word, to exist not only for ourselves but for the lost, and to be a community that loves.
As we have been preaching through the book of Galatians this last year we discovered another core value which I believe we need to add: to be a church permeated by grace.
As we have been preaching through the book of Galatians this last year we discovered another core value which I believe we need to add: to be a church that is permeated with grace. This is an important core value to guard against falling into the devil’s traps of becoming a church where following the rules and checking off duties replaces the passionate love we have for Jesus our Lord. That is a death sentence for a church.
The only lifeline God has ever thrown to mankind is faith. Not an empty faith that is blind and dead but one of trusting in the savior of this world – Jesus Christ our Lord.
Grace and Peace to You,
Your Pastor, Jason Neal