“So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).
Luke wrote that many of those present in Jerusalem that Pentecost Sabbath had witnessed the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, heard Peter’s explanation, and believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. About 3,000, had “received his word,” that is, they had welcomed and embraced the gospel of grace with glad hearts and were born again.
Today, we see many people who are drawn, not to Christ Himself, but to preachers’ promises of all the goodies they’ll get if they trust Jesus. That kind of conditional faith is artificial and doesn’t save anyone. They dive into the excitement of a moment with gusto, as at a revival meeting when everyone’s enjoying a good cry. Later, though, when waves of doubt, trouble, or persecution break over their bow, they retreat from Christ, horrified at the cost of following Him. They drift away because they were never really the Lord’s in the first place (1 Jn. 2:19).
Those who genuinely receive the gospel of grace have reached the end of themselves and joyfully surrender the wreck and ruin of their lives to the only One who can save them. Their concern isn’t so much with what they stand to gain, but with the glory and goodness of the Savior Himself. They love Him, not because they’ve weighed all the evidence and decided that the benefits outweigh the liabilities and, therefore, trusting Christ is advantageous, but because the Holy Spirit reveals His loveliness to them.
The modern church growth movement began with a sincere concern for gospel proclamation and the procreation of genuine disciples of Jesus Christ, but it’s been derailed by desires for ambition and self-aggrandizement. Local church leaders view other congregations as the competition, and not as the body of Christ. Institutional growth has usurped kingdom growth in determining what the church must be and do. Joining the local church to gain false promises of self-indulgence has supplanted the gospel of grace. Secular facilities and programs have replaced biblical fellowship. Self-help and recovery classes have superseded genuine discipleship.
Think about it, why would 3,000 people join a church that had no building at all, let alone one without reclining theater seats, surround sound, and the latest acoustical equipment? Why would they join a church with no coffee bar, youth or children’s programs, day care nursery, or a family life center?
Simple – they were joining Christ, not a country club.
Pastors who buy the lie that they can talk people into faith in Christ by wheedling, cajoling, and manipulating the unconvinced will continue fill congregations with unregenerate unbelievers. Churches that pack the pews with the unconverted will remain enslaved to the tyranny of religious hypocrites who dominate the agenda with their own egos and quest for control. And they will add not a single soul to the kingdom of God.
When we recognize that the church consists only of those whom Christ has redeemed by grace, we’ll set our churches free to be who they truly are in Jesus. When pastors accept the reality that conversion is a gift of grace and not a human concoction, the gospel preached will ring true in the ears of those appointed unto life. Instead of adding nickels and noses to budgets and roles, churches will begin to make real disciples for the glory of God. When churches jettison the country club notion and return to the gospel by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, the weeds will fail, the goats and wolves will leave as there’ll be no fresh game to hunt.
Instead, we’ll see churches flourishing in fellowship, growing in prayer and being enriched by God’s Word; and the Lord will add to their number daily as many as are being saved (Acts 2:47).
May God grant His church a harvest of souls for His name’s sake.