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STAY IN YOUR CHURCH!
by Dr. C. L. Cagan
A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
“And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me” (Ruth 1:16-17).
These words were spoken by a woman called Ruth. Many Jewish parents name their daughters Ruth in her honor. But the original Ruth was not Jewish. She lived in the land of Moab, where the people worshipped idols and false gods. What happened to Ruth has spiritual meaning for us today.
More than a thousand years before Christ there was a famine in Israel. So a Jewish man from Bethlehem took his wife Naomi and their two sons to the country of Moab. There the man died. Naomi was left with her two sons. They married two women from Moab. One of the women was named Orpah and the other was Ruth. Then the two men died. Naomi was left alone with her daughters-in-law.
The famine ended in Israel. Naomi got ready to go back to her country. But what would Orpah and Ruth do? Would they go with her, or would they stay home in Moab? One of the women stayed back, and the other went with Naomi to Israel. “Orpah kissed her mother in law” (Ruth 1:14). She showed affection, but she stayed back in Moab. Orpah was never saved. But “Ruth clave unto her [Naomi].” She stuck with Naomi as though she was nailed to her.
Naomi said to Ruth, “Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law” (Ruth 1:15). It was if she said, “You may as well go back with her.” But Ruth answered in the words of our text,
“Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me” (Ruth 1:16-17).
Ruth was “stedfastly minded to go with” Naomi back to Israel (Ruth 1:18). She had made up her mind to become one of the Jewish people. She was “stedfastly minded” to trust in God. Ruth went to Israel and married a Jewish man – and she became an ancestor of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:5). Ruth was a lost woman from an unclean people – but she came over to Israel and to Israel’s God!
Ruth did two things. She trusted Israel’s God. But most of our text is about the other thing Ruth did – and that’s what I want to talk about tonight. Ruth decided to be with the people of God for the rest of her life. She said,
“Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried.”
The words of Ruth are sometimes quoted at weddings. When two people get married, they promise to live together and belong to each other for the rest of their lives. That’s what Ruth did. She left her country behind, and committed herself to the people of Israel – for the rest of her life. She crossed over to the other side, the side of Israel.
I have a question for you. Have you done that? Are you going to be with God’s people? Have you come into the church? I know you come to our church. You like it here. You like the people. You enjoy the parties. But have you come away from the world and into the church – for real and for good? Are you like Ruth or like Orpah?
Ruth did two things. She trusted God, and she decided to be with God’s people. Some people do both things at the same time. Dr. Chan was converted the first time he heard the Gospel. He’s been in our church ever since. Mrs. Hymers trusted Christ the first time she heard the Gospel. She’s been here ever since.
But that’s not what happens to most people in Los Angeles today. Most people spend weeks or months just going to church. Some of them “fall away” and stop coming. But others decide to be with the people of God. Then, later, they think seriously about their sin and their need for pardon by the Blood of Christ, and experience real conversion.
Why is it important where you want to be? Why can’t you just learn a few things about religion and then walk away? Because you can’t separate who you trust in Heaven from who you trust on earth. If you trust Jesus, you will stay with His people just as you stay with Him. The two go together.
Is that Biblical? Of course! Christ talked about that in the Parable of the Sower. He said some people are like seed that was sown on stony ground. Jesus said,
“These are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when [trouble, NIV] or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they [fall away, NIV]” (Mark 4:16-17).
Some of you are stony ground people. You like to hear the Gospel. You “receive it with gladness.” You are happy to hear that God loves you. You like being in church. You like being here with your friends. You like coming to the birthday parties. But then some “trouble or persecution” comes, and you fall away.
Christ said people who do that “have no root in themselves.” They may say nice things about church, or about Jesus. But they never trusted Him. They were never converted. That’s why they don’t stay. Peter was like that at one time. He said, “Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death” (Luke 22:33). But he “forsook him, and fled” that night (Mark 14:50). Even more, Peter denied Christ three times. He was not yet converted (see J. Vernon McGee on John 20:22).
What will you do? You like being with your friends in church. You like the parties here. But what will you do when something comes up? Will you miss the Christmas banquet on Sunday, December 20? Will you go to a wild, drunken party on Christmas Eve? Will you go to Las Vegas to gamble on New Year’s Eve? Will you be a stony ground person? Or will you be with the people of God?
What if “trouble or persecution” happens to you? What if worldly people talk bad about you? They may say, “Don’t be a fanatic.” “Don’t do too much.” What will you do? Will you fall away? Or will you stay with the people of God?
There was another Disciple who thought about where he wanted to be. He saw that Christ wouldn’t rule over the world right away. That man saw he wouldn’t get rich. Being with Jesus was a “mistake” by his thinking. He thought he’d wasted years of his life. So he made a plan to get out and start again. He took thirty pieces of silver to betray the Saviour. Judas “went...out, and it was night” (John 13:30). Two thousand years later Judas is remembered as a traitor. Are you like that? Will you wind up re-thinking the time you spent with God’s people? Was it a waste? Will you decide to “get off the ship” and go on another path? Will you go to Hell with Judas?
Someone asks, “Why are you connecting my relation with church and my relation with Christ?” Because the Bible connects them! The Apostle John wrote,
“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” (I John 2:19).
Some people “went out from” the church. They weren’t “of” the church. They weren’t real Christians! If they had been “of” the church – real Christians – they would “no doubt have continued [stayed] with” them. But they “went out,” which showed that they were not “of” them – not Christians at all!
Dr. John MacArthur, though wrong on the Blood of Christ, was right when he said,
They arise from within the church and depart…The ultimate test of true Christianity is endurance. The departure of people from the…church is their unmasking (John MacArthur, D.D., The MacArthur Study Bible, Word Publishing, 1997, p. 1967; note on I John 2:19).
Dr. J. Vernon McGee, the great radio Bible teacher, wrote,
[The Apostle] John says that the way you can tell whether or not one is really a child of God is that eventually a man will show his true colors and will leave the [church] if he is not a child of God. He will withdraw from the Christians, the body of believers (Thru the Bible, vol. 5, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983, p. 777; note on I John 2:19).
The Bible makes a close connection between “with” and “of.” Who you are with shows who you are of. The theologian and martyr Cyprian (200-258) said, “He who has not the church for his mother cannot have God for his Father.” The great Reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) also said, “the church is called the mother of believers. And certainly, he who refuses to be a son of the church desires in vain to have God as his Father” (“Calvin on the Church as the ‘Mother’ of Believers,” ETS paper, 11/22/10). And I agree with him! If you walk away from your “mother” it shows you did not have God for your Father. If you walk away from the church it shows you were never converted.
I didn’t say that going to church saves you. You can go to the meetings of the church without trusting Christ. Going to church never saved anyone. Only the Blood of Christ “cleanseth us from all sin” (I John 1:7).
But I did say that trust in Christ cannot be divorced from trust in the church and its people. That’s the error of Southern California new-evangelicals. They say, “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian. Stay home on Sunday. Go to the mountains. Go to the beach. Do what you want.” Baloney! He who has not the church for his mother cannot have God for his Father! They’re not Christians!
You can’t break your trust relationship with the church and expect to have trust in Christ. Here lies a warning for some of you. You may be sitting here, but you don’t really trust the church and its people. Nor do you have a real trust in Christ. You may be thinking of not being here some day. Oh, I beg you to wake up before it’s too late! Don’t go out from us because you were not of us! I pray that you will trust Christ soon.
But now I want to speak to those of you who have come for weeks or months, but who have not decided where to be. You come to the services. You come to the parties. You like it here. You like the people. You learn a few things. But in your heart, you’re not like Ruth. You haven’t committed yourself to stay with the people of God. You haven’t “thrown in with them,” to use a common phrase.
That’s why you haven’t decided to “strive to enter in” at the narrow gate of conversion in Christ (Luke 13:24). You haven’t been striving to enter into Christ until you find Him. You’re sitting here, but in your heart you’re really outside the room watching and listening, until you make up your mind. God knows you better than I do. God knows you better than you know yourself! Don’t expect to be converted if you haven’t decided where to be. Don’t expect God to draw you to Jesus if you haven’t decided to trust His people and be with them. That’s what I’m asking you to do. Decide where you will be. An old hymn says it well,
We turn from the world, with its smiles and its scorning,
To cast in our lot with the people of God.
(“The Master Hath Come” by Sarah Doudney, 1841-1926).
What does it mean to “cast in our lot”? It means to put in your choice, your vote, your loyalty. It means to throw in your time, your trust, and your choice of belonging. Turn from the world and come in with the people of God!
Oh, be like Ruth! Decide where you will be! Decide to be with God’s people! Come into the church. You will never regret it! If you don’t do it, don’t expect to find Christ, for God knows your heart. But if you do come in, it may not be long before you come to Christ as well! Amen.
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(END OF SERMON)
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