September 7, 2017

Is the Church a Hospital for Sinners?

Is the church a hospital for sinners? Some people would immediately say, “Yes, of course!” After all, we have heard people say that and it sounds good. The church isn’t meant to be a museum for perfect saints but a place of rescue. Jesus once said to the Pharisees, “Those who are well have no need of a physician. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). We don’t need to make ourselves healthy before we come to the Physician. That would be foolish and impossible. 

On the other hand, is there a potential danger in thinking of the church as a medical center? There might be. The church is not a spiritual health spa. We don’t go to this hospital just for therapy or self-help. It is not somewhere we go for elective minor surgery. It is not a dermatology office where we go to look better on the outside. The church is also not an emergency room where we come to be patched up from the wounds of life and sent back out until next time. 

So, is the church a hospital for sinners? Yes, but only if we think of it as the right kind of hospital. There are different types of medical centers with different specialties: children’s hospitals, cancer hospitals, women’s hospitals, plastic surgery, and more. The truth is that the church is a hospital for sinners, but only if we realize the specialty of this hospital. The church is a hospital that specializes in heart transplants.

Specifically, the church specializes in three things (1) diagnosis, (2) heart transplants, and (3) rehabilitation after heart transplants.

  1. Diagnosis. First, the church gives diagnoses. No one is willing to have a heart transplant just for fun. When someone has a diseased heart their first need is to realize the mortal danger they are in. A good doctor will care about you enough to tell you the tough truth that you don’t want to hear. Only a very bad doctor would keep that information from you—thinking that you will like him more if he only tells you what you want to hear. Likewise, in love a good church will tell you that you are a rebel sinner in grave danger before God. We have all sinned and the wages of sin is death (Rm. 3:23; 6:23). They will make good use of God’s law to convince you that you need heroic measures (Rm. 3:19-20).

  2. Heart Transplant. You are flatlineing in sin! Scripture often describes God’s sovereign work of salvation as a heart transplant. Ezekiel 36:26 says, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Romans 2:29 describes salvation as a “circumcision of the heart.” All of these are references to what John 3 describes as being born again. This is regeneration. Saving faith involves a radical procedure. It is a surgery that we cannot perform on ourselves. We are helpless and can do nothing but trust the Physician to save us. He receives all the glory.

  3. Rehabilitation. Rehabilitation comes after the surgery—or it does no good. You don't need rehab first. You need a heart transplant first! Then, after the surgery, recovery and rehab is necessary. As Christians gather together as the church, it should give us humility and hope to remember that we are all here together recovering from our heart surgeries. We are getting stronger but we are still weak. Rehabilitation is a long—life-long—process.

So, yes, we can think of the church as a hospital if we think of it the right way. With that in mind, let me offer some further implications:

  • If you are not well you should go to the Doctor. Go immediately. Don’t be a fool and think that you need to get better first. You can’t and you won’t. You don’t have to clean up first so that you make a good impression.  
  • We should expect to see sick people around the Doctor. Get used to it. A church that only allows perfect people would be as pointless as a hospital that didn’t admit sick patients for care because they didn't want to wreck the pleasant atmosphere.
  • On the other hand, you don’t go to the hospital just to hang out. No one should be at a hospital just because they have free TV and nice people. You shouldn’t be there because you love the food, the comfortable bed, and you enjoy being waited on hand and foot every time you press a buzzer. And yet don’t many people treat church this way?
  • What if a patient isn’t at a hospital in order to get better? What if he refuses to listen to the doctors? What if he is there to cause problems with the other patients? There may come a time when the staff will need to act for the good of the other patients. The hospital should have patience with the patients but expect them to want to get better. The church is a hospital not a resort.
  • Also, remember that the church is a teaching hospital. Instead of checking out, we stay to learn how to help other patients. We learn how to give an accurate diagnosis, how to bring them to the Chief Physician for their heart surgery, and how to grow in rehabilitation afterwards.

The church is a hospital, but it does not primarily exist for the health of the patients. Even more, it exists for the glory of the Physician.

Have you had a heart transplant yet? The doctor stands ready. He is calling for you.

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