Fort God 


Intro: What are you looking for in a church? Maybe you haven’t thought about that question lately. But take a moment now to ask yourself, what does the ideal church look like? “The ideal church is a place with …”  


Beautiful music—music that shows training and practice. Maybe you do not prefer guitars and drums. You want a choir and an orchestra. Beautiful music glorifies God. Or maybe you do want guitars and drums, something contemporary and up-to-date. That’s what people listen to on the radio and streaming services, so let’s meet them where they are.  


Maybe the music is not as important to you as the preaching. You want a church where the sermons are good—meaningful, but not heavy-handed; biblical, but not boring; practical, but definitely not legalistic. Of course, the kind of man the preacher is plays into what his sermons are like, and there are all kinds of preachers out there: the intense scholar who loves doctrine and never smiles, the funny guy with a million stories, the family counselor who has “been there.” Yes, I’m just caricaturing, but most of us do have some expectations of what a pastor should be like, don’t we? 


Or perhaps you’re looking for a church where the people are at the same place in life as you are. You can connect with them. They understand what you’re going through because they’re going through the same. They’re just out of college like you. They have young children like you. They are nearing retirement like you. They know what it’s like to shop at thrift stores like you, or designer boutiques like you. They are from the inner city like you, or maybe it’s the country. 


Then again, maybe the most important thing for you about a church is whether or not there are opportunities to get involved—places to serve, places to do good. Is the church big on evangelism? What does it do for world missions? Does it on help the poor? Does it provide opportunities for you and your son to meet with other fathers and sons? What about opportunities for you to be involved the children’s ministry? Does it have programs that hold the attention of your teenagers? College students? 


I expect that some people are looking for a church that is “Spirit-filled?” The Spirit is the one who guides us, so you want a church where people are quick to listen to his voice, quick to watch for his work, quick to believe the remarkable things He can do. You’re tired of being around Spirit-quenchers and tradition-lovers. The Spirit’s doing new things! He’s giving us new songs! He is speaking! 


Or maybe you’re just looking for a church that feels a certain way. Not that you’ve ever said it like that. But if you are used to a church that feels kind of like a mall, or an old chapel, or a coffee house, it makes sense that your ideal church feels the same. That’s to be expected. Didn’t many of us, when we moved away from our parents’ home, occasionally find ourselves nostalgic for certain sights, smells, or sounds of the way mom or dad did things? 


A lot of these things can be good, or at least neutral. Really, I just want you to start thinking about what you value most in a church. 

What are you looking for? A place that’s welcoming? Passionate? Authentic? Big? Medium? Small? Intimate? Trendy? Exciting? Hard core? What should a church be? 


Mark Dever – Many Christians in the West today (and elsewhere?) tend to view their Christianity as a personal relationship with God and not much else. 


They generally know that this “personal relationship” has some implications for how they should live.  


But I’m concerned that many Christians don’t realize how this most important relationship with God necessitates a number of secondary personal relationships—the relationships that Christ establishes between us and his body, the Church.  


God doesn’t mean for these to be relationships that we pick and choose at our whim among the many Christians “out there.” He means to establish us in an actual flesh-and-blood, step-on-your-toes body of people. 


When a person becomes a Christian, he doesn’t just join a local church because it’s a good habit for growing in spiritual maturity. 


He joins a local church because it’s the expression of what Christ has made him—a member of the body of Christ. Being united to Christ means being united to every Christian. But that universal union must be given a living, breathing existence in a local church. 


A true Christian builds his life into the lives of other believers through the concrete fellowship of a local church.  


He knows he has not yet “arrived.” He’s still fallen. He still needs the accountability and the instruction of that local body of people called the church. And they need him. 


As we gather to worship God and exercise love and good deeds toward one another, we demonstrate in real life the fact that God has reconciled us to Himself and to one another.  


How do we demonstrate to the world that we have been changed? Is it primarily because we memorize Bible verses, pray before meals, tithe a portion of our income, and listen to Christian radio stations? 


No. It is because we increasingly show a willingness to put up with, to forgive, and even to love a bunch of fellow redeemed sinners! 


You and I cannot demonstrate love or joy or peace or patience or kindness sitting all by ourselves on an island. No, we demonstrate it when the people we have committed to loving give us good reasons not to love them, but we do anyway. 


Can you see it? It’s right there—right in the midst of a group of redeemed sinners who have committed to loving one another—that the gospel is displayed.  


The church gives a visual presentation of the gospel when we forgive one another as Christ has forgiven us, when we commit to one another as Christ has committed to us, and when we lay down our lives for one another as Christ laid down his life for us. 


So who’s responsible for thinking about what the gathering of people called the church should be like?  


Is it pastors and church leaders? Definitely. How about every other Christian? Absolutely.  


Being a Christian means caring about the life and health of the body of Christ, the church. It means caring about what the church is and what the church should be because you belong to the church, Christian. 


Indeed, we care for the church because it’s the very body of our Savior.  


Have you noticed the words that Jesus used with the Christian-persecuting Saul—soon to be called Paul—when he confronted Saul on the road to Damascus? “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). Jesus called the church, “Me.” 


Christian, do you identify yourself with those whom your Savior identifies Himself? Does your heart share the passions of his heart? 


Christian, are you ready for the day on which God will call you to account for how you have loved and served the church family, including your church leaders? Do you know what God says the church should be? 


God will ask each member of the body… 


“Did you rejoice with the other members of the body when they rejoiced? Did you mourn with those who mourned?”  

“Did you treat the weaker parts as indispensable, and did you treat the parts that most think less honorable with special honor?” 

“Did you give double honor to those that led and taught you?” (see 1 Cor. 12:22–26; 1 Tim. 5:17). 


Did you know that the church is not a place? It’s not a building. It’s not a preaching point. It’s not a spiritual service provider.  


It’s a people—the new covenant, blood-bought people of God.  


That’s why Paul said, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). He didn’t give himself up for a place, but for a people. 


The church is a people, not a place. The church is a group not a statistic. It’s a body, united into Him who is the head. It’s a family, joined together by adoption through Christ. 



Mark 3:32 And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.” 

Mark 3:33 But He answered them, saying, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?”  

Mark 3:34 And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers!  

Mark 3:35 For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.” 


When it comes to battling sin in our lives, the difference between Christians and non-Christians is not that non-Christians sin whereas Christians don’t.  


The difference is found in which sides we take in the battle. 


Christians take God’s side against sin, whereas non-Christians take sin’s side against God.  


In other words, a Christian will sin, but then he will turn to God and his Word and say, “Help me fight against sin.” A non-Christian, even if he recognizes his sin, effectively responds, “I want my sin more than God.” 


A healthy church is not a church that’s perfect and without sin. It has not figured everything out.  


A healthy church is a congregation that increasingly reflects God’s character as his character has been revealed in his Word. 


So if a pastor were to ask me what kind of church I would encourage him to aspire to have, I might say, “A healthy one, one that increasingly reflects God’s character as it has been revealed in his Word.” 


And Christian, what kind of church might I encourage you to join and serve and patiently work toward? A healthy one, one that increasingly reflects God’s character as it has been revealed in his Word. 


We preach, evangelize, and do the work of the kingdom because God says to do these things in his Word. 


After all, history is not principally divided between those who evangelize and those who don’t. That’s not fundamentally what defines the church. It’s divided between those who listen to God and those who don’t. 


That’s why Matthew reported what Jesus said to Satan concerning man’s living on “every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4), as well as Jesus’ final words to his disciples—to make disciples in all nations, baptizing them and “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). 


That’s why Mark reported Jesus’ parable of the seed that is planted in four different soils as a parable about the Word of God (Mark 4). Some will receive it. Some will not. 


That’s why Luke described himself as an eyewitness and a servant of the Word (Luke 1:2), and why he reports Jesus’ promise, “Blessed … are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:28). 


That’s why John reported Jesus’ last words to Peter as the thrice-repeated “feed my sheep” (John 21:15–17). Feed them with what? The Word of God. 


That’s why, when the early church in Acts gathered, they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). 


That’s why Paul told the Romans, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). 


That’s why he told the Corinthians that the “message of the cross” is the “power of God” unto salvation (1 Cor. 1:18): for “God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21).  


That’s why he told the Galatians that if “anybody is preaching [to them] a gospel other than [what he preached to them] let him be eternally condemned!” (Gal. 1:9). 


That’s why he told the Ephesians that they were “included in Christ [when they] heard the word of truth, the gospel of [their] salvation” (Eph. 1:13).  


That’s why he told the Colossians, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom” (Col. 3:16). 


That’s why he told the Philippians that, because of his chains, “most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” (Phil. 1:14). 


That’s why he told the Thessalonians, “We also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13). 


That’s why he told his disciple Timothy that the elders he chose for the church must be “able to teach,” while the deacons who served in his church “must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Tim. 3:2, 9).  


That’s why he rejoiced with Titus that God had “brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to [him] by the command of God our Savior” (Titus 1:3). 


That’s why Paul encouraged Philemon to be active in sharing his “faith”—the word “faith” referring not to an emotionally subjective state but to a defined set of beliefs (Philem. 6). 


That’s why the author of Hebrews warned, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). 


That’s why James reminded his readers that God “chose to give us birth through the word of truth” and to “not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:18, 22). 


That’s why Peter reminded the saints scattered over several regions that they had “been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). It’s also why he said in a second letter, “No prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20–21). 


That’s why John wrote, “If anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:5–6); and why he said, “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands” (2 John 6); and why he declared that he has “no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4). 


That’s why Jude spent almost his entire letter warning his readers against false teachers (Jude 4–16), and promising that the Lord was coming to “judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (Jude 15). 


And that’s why John, in the book of Revelation, commended the church in Philadelphia, “I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name” (Rev. 3:8). 




Friend, the church finds its life as it listens to the Word of God. It finds its purpose as it lives out and displays the Word of God. 


The church’s job is to listen and then to echo. That’s it.  


The primary challenge churches face today is not figuring out how to be “relevant” or “strategic” or “sensitive” or even “deliberate.” It’s figuring out how to be faithful—how to listen, how to trust and obey.