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Here are three categories.  One, the obviously horrible.  Two, the obviously glorious.  Three, the in-between kinda sorta okay allowable.  Where does your church draw the line of acceptability and unacceptability between those three categories?  Specifically, the in-between kinda sorta okay allowable — is that acceptable or unacceptable within your church culture?

The obviously horrible includes blatant sins like denying Christ and desecrating the Bible.  Your church draws the line of exclusion there.  None of that in your church!

The obviously glorious is exemplified in the prayer of Moses: “Please show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18).  Your church draws the line of inclusion there.  What church would argue with it?  It might feel – if we were honest – a bit super-spiritual.  But it’s biblical.

The in-between kinda sorta okay allowable is a big catch-all category.  Some churches might think, “If X isn’t horrible, we see no reason to exclude it.”

But is the merely acceptable really acceptable?  Is it really okay to exclude only the obviously horrible?  Did Jesus die on the cross, did he send out his Spirit, to create churches that settle for something?  It might seem unusual for a church to include only the obviously glorious.  It might seem bold if the only reason why people get in their cars and drive down to their church on Sunday morning is their desire to see the glory of Christ.  But real Christianity is bold, because the real Jesus is glorious.  He just is.

Maybe one reason why some churches limp along in spiritual mediocrity is this.  Once the in-between category is considered acceptable, it’s not as though a church will seek the glory of the Lord strongly while also making room for a few in-between attitudes and activities.  No, the mediocre will overwhelm the spirit of a church, and the glory of Christ will be pushed away as an obligatory ideal with little hold on the heart.  But maybe that’s what such a church wants – a little bit of Jesus, enough to be forgiven and go to heaven, but not too much of Jesus, not so much that his glory takes full command.

Revival can stand off at a distance not because our churches actively embrace the horrible but because they don’t actively reject mediocrity and halfheartedness and distraction.  To put it another way, until the only reason to go to our churches is that we are reaching by faith for the obviously glorious in Christ alone, we will inevitably sink into the in-between kinda sorta okay allowable.  And there we will stay, not even realizing our problem, until we wake up to the real Jesus and in repentance re-draw our line of exclusion to give place to his glory alone.

“Come to me” (Matthew 11:28).

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Ray Ortlund

Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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