“Come As You Are” by John Burke

At Gateway Church, we are going through a series called “Made for This.” This series will go through our core values which are also a path towards spiritual growth based on the letter to the Ephesians. “Made for This” will look at how God intended people to function together as His church.

John Burke spoke at the McNeil campus, and I spoke at the South Campus. Here are some of the ideas we shared:

In the 1990s, Nirvana had a song out called “Come as you are.” The title captured perfectly the longing people have for God’s grace. God doesn’t make us get our act together, jump through religious hoops, or prove we can change. He takes us “as is.”

We’ve had this value: “Come As You Are.”  As a result, we’ve taken heat for it. We’ve been accused of watering down the Bible, not taking sin seriously, of being an easy-believism church that just tries to entertain people. We’ve been accused of being a “beginner church” but not one for the spiritually mature.

Even still, we’ve never wavered from this value for two reasons. First, this is the way of Jesus.

We’ve taken heat from religious people and other churches, but I think we’re in good company.

Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them! – Luke 15:1-2 

In this same chapter, Jesus shares 3 parables (the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son)  that illustrate God’s heart of grace for people wandering far from home.

As we learn to fully value each other as human beings, created by God, invited by God to come to His party, God does something beautiful in us and through us that changes the world.

Second, you actually cannot grow into spiritual maturity if you don’t learn to live out this value.

God wants his church to start with grace: “Come as you are” because that’s how he changes the world, life by life. Living in God’s grace on a daily basis and extending God’s grace to others is our calling.

But let’s be honest, grace gets messy. Some people say they believe it, but they don’t like the smell of it because it often smells like cigarette smoke. They don’t like the sound of it because it sounds like profanity. They don’t like where grace starts because it starts where real people end up.

As a result, some people want church to be an exclusive club to differentiate the “good guys” from the “bad guys,” the ‘righteous’ from ‘the sinners.’  “A Come As You Are” environment will be offensive to those people because it doesn’t feel right to them. In “A Come As You Are” environment, you get homeless people sitting by doctors and lawyers. You get Democrats sitting next to Republicans. You get extreme diversity, and yet equal value.

In the Book of Ephesians, Paul is writing to this church in Ephesus. He starts by reminding the church who we are and what God wants to do through us:

Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself. – Ephesians 1:21-23.  

Jesus demonstrated the humility of God – the Greatest came to serve and give His life. He triumphed over death and is now the ruler and authority over everything in this world and in the world to come. God did all this for the benefit of His church which is His body.

This is mysterious, but here’s what we must see. Jesus, by His Spirit, fills all things everywhere. Nothing keeps going and nothing holds together without Him. He is never far from you because He is the reason you’re still living and breathing. That’s true whether you acknowledge it or not. When someone does acknowledge their need for God and dependence on Him, they become a member or part of His Body – His church.  As we live “in Christ” and let him live in us He uses us together as His Body to love and serve the world.  That’s who we are. That’s why the local church is God’s plan to change the world. That’s why God loves his local church in all her imperfections—it’s how He wants to change things. As we learn to stay connected, listening to the Head of the Body, we love and serve the world together as He did.

That’s not where we start. We all start spiritually dead.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world…. – Ephesians 2:1-2

There are two kinds of death: a physical death which happens when our soul gets separated from our bodies and there’s also a spiritual death which is when our spirit gets separated from God’s Spirit. Spiritual death is where we all begin. We live in a world where God’s will and God’s loving ways are NOT the norm. We all get swept along in the current and go away from God to go our own way.  It’s so normal, we don’t realize anything’s wrong until we try to change ourself. It is then we realize we can’t. We’re unable to change without God’s help.

God’s grace rescues us AND helps us grow.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions… For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. – Ephesians 2:4-5, 8-9

Think about this: you know deep inside, you were meant for more. You know you have far greater potential, but the problem is that we can’t become who we were Created to be without the Creator.

Because of God’s great love for us, because of his mercy, He extends Grace to people who don’t deserve it. Grace means unmerited favor. Grace is the gift of life with God. Grace is offering relationship to those who didn’t earn it and don’t deserve it.

Are you growing in grace? Do you offer love, mercy, and relationship to those who can’t do anything for you, don’t earn it, or don’t deserve it?  Living in grace is what our world needs, but it’s an area of ongoing growth for us all.

Here’s what this is like: Imagine you did some wrong, and the penalty was either you pay back the victim for the cost of damages, or you go to jail. Problem is, you don’t have the money to pay. You go before the judge, and to your surprise, the judge is your father. He looks at the case, slams down the gavel and declares you guilty, sentenced to jail according to justice.  You’re dumbfounded—how could he declare me guilty? Because he’s just—it wouldn’t be right or just if someone didn’t pay to set things right for the victim. Then he stands up, takes off his robe, walks down from the bench—and holds out a check in the full amount you owe and says, “I love you, and I don’t want you to live separated from me. I want to pay what you owe. Will you accept it and come home?”

This is the gift of God. Grace. We didn’t deserve it. We can’t earn it. We just receive it by faith, and we get to live at home with God now and forever.  Here’s the catch: in your pride you could say “I don’t need your help. I’ll get out of this mess myself.” And you can stay locked in your own jail cell of self-will forever, but if you receive it you can’t lose relationship with God because it was never dependent on you in the first place. What you can do is learn to live in that Grace—because Living IN Grace begins to change us.

It’s like a baby learning to run. God’s a good parent. He doesn’t hit us or condemn us when we stumble and fall. He reaches out to pick us up and set us back on our feet and says: “hold my hand, and let’s try again.”  As we walk with God, we fall less and less. Soon we can walk and before you know it—we run.

“Come As You Are” – creating a culture of grace giving acceptance is where people find faith and grow, but if you think grace is something you only needed when you started faith—you’re horribly mistaken.  We must learn to live in grace. How can we do this?  Ephesians 2 goes on to say:

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:10

Before you were born, God had plans for you. He sees you as His work of art in process: His masterpiece. Grace was offered to you, so that you could reconnect to the Master Artist who wants to restore you fully into the work of art He had in mind.

In order for that to happen, we’ve got to start seeing ourselves through God’s eyes and seeing others the same way. Mud and the Masterpiece was written to help us see ourselves and others through the eyes of Jesus.

Paul is saying to the church in Ephesus that because of grace, you are now “In Christ.” He uses that phrase “in Christ” to show us that God sees you differently, and you must see yourself as He does. All of us grew up in a world disconnected from God and His ways so we formed our identities apart from the One who alone knows Who we were Created to be. Living in Grace means living in this New Identity as God sees us.

We’re like a masterpiece covered in mud.  The mud is all the junk, all the labels, all the false identities we’ve taken on or believed, but under it all is a beautiful, multi-million dollar masterpiece. The key is that we’ve got to stop identifying with the mud. When we do, we let people throw mud on us because we think that’s what we are. We roll in the mud thinking: “hey, that’s just me.” No it’s not! You’re all these other things God sees “in Christ.”

For instance. Many of us feel like we don’t have what it takes. We see ourselves as cursed, or inferior, or deficient. Paul reminds the church in Ephesus—because of grace:

“[God] has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.” – Ephesians 1:3 

Every spiritual blessing—confidence, courage, peace, joy, love, security, hope—it’s already yours to possess. God has already given it to you (has blessed is past tense). All you have to do is claim it and live in it. When you feel inferior, ask God for the confidence that belongs to you in Christ. When you feel insecure, ask God for the truth about your identity in Christ. These spiritual blessings are yours—everything you need is yours, but you have to know it, and claim it.

Many of you have received Christ, but you’re not experiencing all the blessings that are yours in Christ. We must claim what God says is our new identity and live in it—not just react out of the old lies.  So some of you believe lies: “I’ve failed, God can’t love me because of what I’ve done. I’m condemned and sees me as stained, damaged goods.” But that’s not true if you are “in Christ.”

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. – Ephesians 1:4 

He loved you before the world was made and “in Christ” he sees you as “holy and blameless” in his eyes. Did you know that? When God looks at you “in Christ” he doesn’t see what you do wrong (the mud), He sees you as you will be, holy (set apart for Him) and blameless (His masterpiece).

We are not condemned, even when we fail.

He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding. – Ephesians 1:7-8

So it’s not true that God turns his back on me when I sin or fail or keep falling in that same pit of temptation again and again.  He’s not showering me with judgment, turning his back in disgust, saying “get your act together then come to me” That’s a lie! Those accusations and judgments are lies designed to keep us separated from His power to free us. He doesn’t want us to keep doing wrong because it hurts us and others. Mud is not our identity. By His power, we can overcome. In Christ His power and authority is available to us.

When you live out of a muddied identity, you make muddied, compromising decisions. That’s not who you are In Christ! 

God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. – Ephesians 1:5

You belong to God’s family as His unique son, His special daughter. God is so great—he created us each unique because you have a unique place in His heart. You belong to Him. You have a one-of-a-kind relationship with the Ruler of the Universe. Live that way!

Some of us Identify ourselves by earthly titles, bank accounts, positions—but that’s not who we are either. That keeps us worried and fearful that we will lose it. But united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan. Ephesians 1:11

We are His adopted sons and daughters, and we have an inheritance. We don’t have to worry or fret about what we gain or lose because God has a way to work out his plan regardless. We have so much to look forward to, all the inheritances of earth piled up together cannot compare. Live with that security!

That’s what Grace has done for us. And that’s why we’re never done learning to live in Grace.  It’s what God wants to do for every person who will accept his Gift of Grace.

So how do we live out this value as His church?

•  Participate in the Inspire service – We create this service to be a place to learn about what it means to follow Christ. Whether you have walked with God for years or you’re just exploring faith, make a commitment to regularly attend. Each of us have a next step we can take in our spiritual journey.

•  Explore Faith (GatewayChurch.com) – There are many past messages addressing the doubts, concerns and barriers to faith most of us had to work through. And don’t be afraid to ask people questions around here—no question’s a dumb question.

Maybe you’ve been following Christ for a while—how do you live out this “Come As You Are” value?

•  Serve your neighbors – Extend grace-giving acceptance to those you live around. Just think, there are about 10 people living life right around you right now—probably don’t know of the incredible blessings God wants for them. They still think God hates them, or there’s no hope for them, or God’s wanting to ruin their lives, but the opposite is true. God has put you in people’s lives to serve them and love them—to offer Grace-giving acceptance and relationship just like God offered you. Grow in grace so you can also help people know of the endless treasures God has for them.

Living in grace means simply getting to know those 10 neighbors and coworkers, listen to their story, find ways to serve them. Don’t be afraid to talk about what God’s done for you and wants to do for them.

•  Invite your neighbors
– invite them to come explore faith and learn with us each Sunday.

•  Read Ephesians, personalize it, and live it out. – Start learning to stand in God’s grace!
“God has blessed me with every spiritual blessing…He loved me and chose me in Christ to be holy and blameless in His sight.” 

  • Glen McGraw

    Absolutely wonderful post! Sometimes a church with a “come as you are” philosophy is the most difficult to minister in. You have to teach to those who don’t know anything about the Christian faith and still give applicable teachings to the spiritually mature. Kudos to y’all down in Austin and keep up the wonderful work!

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