One of the moments I treasure most is praying with people as they stand before the congregation and publicly take vows as members of Christ Community Church. What a joy to witness people making the move from casual enquirer to committed member, in many cases for the first time in their lives declaring their allegiance to Jesus and his people. This is a deeply moving moment in their lives, and in ours as well.
When we become members, we respond to five questions that form our covenant vows, answering each question by saying, “I do” – a very potent little phrase. Its the English equivalent of the Biblical word, “Amen”, which means “Yes, it is so!”
Saying “I do” in a covenant vow changes the status of the people saying those mighty words, as any witness to a wedding knows. The people who say “I do” in the vows enter into an entirely new kind of relationship. The days of casual acquaintance are over and the days of loving, total commitment have begun. That’s huge! Covenant vows change the way we relate to one another, and it’s why we should take seriously our vows as members of Christ’s Church. That’s also why we need to understand the questions we’re being asked in order to make those vows sincerely and intelligently.
The first two questions are all about the Gospel, and they offer everyone an opportunity to publicly confess their faith in Christ. Everything has to start with the Gospel. Apart from the good news that God has acted to save his people and restore our broken world, there wouldn’t even be a Church. The Gospel is what creates the Church. God’s love is what transforms people and shapes a new humanity filled with and moved by his love.
John wrote ‘We love him because he first loved us’, and that’s why our vows begin with the saving initiative God has taken in and through Jesus. The only reason we can stand before others and truly confess our love for God, and that we will love one another in the community of the Faith, is because God has already loved us so completely and beautifully. Made new by his love we are learning to love as well.
Let’s take a look at the first question, followed by a brief discussion of what it means. If we are convinced that these things are true, we really will be overflowing with joy because these Gospel truths taste so sweet.
Question One: Do you acknowledge yourself to be a sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save in His sovereign mercy?
If I say “I do” to this question, I am confessing that like all people I have sinned against God and stand under his judgment, and remain afflicted by indwelling sin. I am confessing that God would be completely just if he punished me fully for my sins. I am also confessing that my only hope of eternal life and ultimate freedom from sin and its consequences is found not in any action I might take, but instead rests exclusively in God’s immeasurable and undeserved mercy.
This must be so because every part of my life is tainted by my fallen condition, and while I am not as bad as I might be (things could be far, far worse than they are!), things are so bad that only God can help me. I can’t help myself when it comes to salvation. Its mercy and grace – or nothing.
But there’s more.
If I say “I do”, I am confessing that while I am in far worse shape than I ever really knew, I also believe that God loves me more than I could possibly imagine. Far from treating me like a prisoner and assigning me a punishment to meet the demands of justice, God declares me not guilty and free of every obligation my sin justly warrants. Far from treating me like a hired hand who is given a chance to work off his debt, God accepts me as his son, and forgives every wrong I have committed against his love. Far from holding me at arm’s length until I prove my fidelity, God welcomes me as his child and brings me to his feast with a loving embrace. God never looks at me in suspicion, asking me to give or do something to prove my love or repentance, and on that basis forgive me. No, a thousand times, no. God looks instead on Christ and his perfect life and sacrificial death, and on the basis of his life and death freely and mercifully declares me righteous, adopts me as his child, and liberates me from all my guilt.
This means that God looks on me not as a criminal that needs watching, but as his child who who is beloved. Every dimension of this mercy and love is revealed and grounded in the life and atonement of Jesus Christ, who gave himself for me, the just for the unjust, the son for the slave, the holy for the unholy, to reconcile me to God and others in his kingdom of grace.
Just sing the old hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ and really listen to the words you’re singing if you want to understand the first vow we make as members. Can you sing ‘Amazing Grace’ and mean it? You can? Great! Take the vow!
Next Up: The Second Question
Categories in: General