How To Know If You and Your Congregation Are Dying
    
Adapted from J. J. Turner and P. Noble
By Paul Robison

The word “checkup” is a popular word in our vocabulary.  Our cars need checkups.  Our houses need checkups for pests, our bankbooks need checkups for errors, and our bodies need checkups health purposes.  Perhaps we also need to have spiritual checkups to evaluate our spiritual strength.  The apostle Paul admonishes in 2 Corinthians 13:5: “Examine yourselves, as to whether you are in the faith.  Test yourselves.  Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless indeed you are disqualified.”  Listen to what the Great Physician tells the congregation that was located in Laodicea in Revelation 3:17-19: “Because you say, 'I am rich, having become wealthy; and have need of nothing'--and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked―I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.  As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.  Therefore be zealous and repent.”  Doesn't that church sound like their spiritual checkup was showing many signs of weakness?  Weren't they dying spiritually?  And wasn't Jesus trying to help them to change the course of the direction in which they were going?  Let's return to physical checkups for just a moment.  The American Cancer Society has what they called “Seven Danger Signs of Cancer”.  These are symptoms that warn that cancer could be in the making.  To help you remember them, you must use “caution”: C = Change in bowel or bladder habits, A = A sore that doesn't heal, U = Unusual bleeding or discharge, T = Thickening or lump in the breast, testicles, or elsewhere, I = Indigestion or difficulty in swallowing, O = Obvious change in size, color, shape, or thickness of a wart, mole, or mouth sore, and N = Nagging cough or hoarseness.  These symptoms help to warn us if cancer may be present.  Now let's go back to the spiritual.  Another preacher has come up with seven symptoms to help you determine if you are dying spiritual and another individual suggests ten symptoms to determine if a congregation is dying spiritually.  Let's examine ourselves spiritually this morning to see if we have any of the symptoms of dying spiritually, first as a congregation, and then as an individual.
 
Here were ten symptoms to check if your congregation is dying spiritually.  Notice this chart and see where you would rank the Prescott church of Christ.  There are four answers to each symptom: never, seldom, frequent, always.
1. We make excuses about the way things are instead of working to solve the problems (never, seldom, frequent, always).
2. We are content with receiving people rather than seeking to find them (never, seldom, frequent, always).
3. We are more focused on the natural instead of relying on the supernatural (never, seldom, frequent, always).
4. We view success in terms of “feeling pumped up” instead of fulfilling the Great Commission (never, seldom, frequent, always).
5. We view everything as ho-hum instead of having a sense of urgency: hell is no longer hot, sin is no longer wrong, and the cross is no longer moving (never, seldom, frequent, always).
6. We put more importance on connecting with culture than following the Bible's teaching (never, seldom, frequent, always).
7. We are reactive (letting things happen; being passive) rather than being proactive (making things happen; be involved) (never, seldom, frequent, always).
8. We want to maintain the status quo and never consider making any changes (never, seldom, frequent, always).
9. We do not care about the obvious and spiritual needs of our community (never, seldom, frequent, always).
10. We allow the preacher to do most of the church work instead of getting all members involved (never, seldom, frequent, always).
How many of these symptoms does our congregation have?  Does this little checkup reveal that we are strong or weak spiritually?  If we are proven to be weak, is some repentance in order?
 
Now let's look at seven symptoms for individuals that another preacher has suggested.  The first symptom is this: Is the Gospel no longer moving to you?  Even in the first century, there were people who viewed the Gospel as foolishness.  “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.  For the Jews request a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:21-25).  Paul says that the death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus is God's power to bring about salvation to all people (Romans 1:16).  Jesus told His disciples to preach this good news everywhere (Mark 16:15-16): “And He said to them: 'Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.  He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believed will be condemned.”  You obeyed the Gospel because the story of Jesus' death, resurrection, and exaltation moved and touched you.  Its tremendous story must continue to motivate us: “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  Now the Lord Supper helps us to remember that great story, but does the routine ritual of this activity cause us to become numb to its transforming significance?  There is no emotion or gratitude in the prayers that are prayed at the Lord's Table.  For many Christians, the Gospel has become no more than just academic knowledge and knowing where passages can be located.  Their yawns, glazed eyes, and nodding heads show that they are basically bored when the Gospel is being preached.  They think: “On brother, here it comes again.  The same old cross and tomb stuff, yada, yada, yada.”  They have lost all excitement.  They don't weep over Jesus' shed blood, they don't perk up when His resurrection is mentioned, and they show no positive facial movement when His glorification is announced!  When they hear a passage like Revelation 1:5: “To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and princes to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever”, it just draws the same old blank stare with all its display of deadness.   If Gospel no longer moves you, it is a danger sign.  This symptom means that something is wrong with you spiritually!
 
The next danger sign is this: “Have you left your first love?”  Jesus said in John 14:15: “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”  Our love for Jesus prompts our obedience to His teachings.  Jesus told the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:4: “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love ... repent, and do the first works.”    “The congregation at Ephesus had a diseased heart, and their love for Jesus was now diminishing.  Their original devotion was expressed in eagerness and gratitude, but now these members just practice rituals and habits ... without any enthusiasm or appreciation” (McGuiggan).  Devotion and affection have been replaced with doubt and suspicion.  Here's an old poem that's a little difficult but listen closely: “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove.  O, no, it is an ever fixed mark, that looks on storms and is never shaken.  It is the [steadfast] star to every wandering [ship] ... Love alters not with [life's] brief hours and weeks, but bears it out even to the edge of doom” (Shakespeare).  How close and devoted to Jesus are you?  When was the last time you shed some tears because of Him?  When was the last time you rejoiced or laughed because of Him?  When was the last time you stuck up for Him when someone else tried to put Him down?  When was the last time you either thanked Him for some kindness or you did act of kindness in His name?  Is the Lord still the first love of your life?  “He who loves father and mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of Me” (Mt. 10:37).  Are you still singing with feeling and devotion: “All to Jesus, I surrender; all to Him I freely give.  I will ever love and trust Him, in His presence daily love” (De Venter)?  If you are in the process of leaving your first love, you are in serious spiritual trouble.  It takes great honesty to admit this.  The prodigal son told his father, “Give me”, but before the story ends, He says, “Make me”.  Are you still letting Jesus be the Lord of your life and loving Him for the transformation He continues to bring about in your life?  Don't fool yourself.  Think seriously!  Have you left your first?
 
The next symptom is this: Do church services bore you?  Listen to two Old Testament passages.  The first is Amos 8:4-6: “Hear this, you who swallow up the needy, and make the poor of that land fail.  Saying: 'When will the New Moon be past, that we may sell grain?  And the Sabbath, that we may trade wheat?  Making the ephah small and the shekel large, falsifying the scales by deceit, that we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair sandals, even sell the bad wheat?'”  Here's a paraphrase: “We just can't wait for the Sabbath day to be ended, so that we can start cheating people with dishonest deals!”  Do you feel like you just can't wait until the dismissal prayer is over so that you can blank (and you can fill in the blank with whatever your heart is desiring)?  Now look at the second passage in Malachi 1:1-12: “'But you profane it [God's name] in that you say: 'The table of the Lord is defiled, and its fruit, its food, is contemptible.'  You also say: '“Oh, what a weariness!” and you sneer at it,' says the Lord of hosts.”  Have you ever heard some member here complain about the Lord's Supper coming at the end of the worship?  “You see,” they say, “if it came earlier we could get it over with, and get on about our business.”  “Oh what a weariness!  And you sneer at it!”  This surely sounds like worship is a burden to be endured rather than a blessing to be enjoyed.  Have you ever noticed that some members never crack open a songbook, but they sure don't mind checking their cell phones regularly?  Have you ever noticed how some members never bring a Bible to worship nor do they ever use the New Testaments provided in the pews?  Have you ever noticed that if we have a baptism on Sunday morning, some members either won't stay or they start tapping their watches to remind us all that we've gone way over schedule?  “Oh what a weariness!”  No, it should be: “Oh what a blessedness!”  To praise God!  To thank Jesus!  To adore the Holy Spirit!  Aren't they the real audience in worship?  To pray for one another!  To strengthen one another!  To complement one another!  To forgive one another!  Don't we all need that brotherly love?  To hear God's Word!  To remember our Redeemer who gave His all for us!  To keep heaven as the ultimate goal!  To help support the expansion of the New Testament church!  Don't we all need the spiritual nourishment that these activities provide?  One last question: How much of yourself are you putting into the worship service?  You could be dying spiritually if church services bore you!
 
The next danger sign is this: Have you lost interest in saving souls?  What did the apostle Paul do immediately after his conversion?  Acts 9:20 tells us that he entered into the Jewish synagogues and began trying to persuade his fellow Jews that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God.  Sharing good news is usually a pretty easy thing to do.  And many of you probably used to teach others about Jesus and His church!  You were proud to be a member of the Lord's church and share the plan of salvation with your friends and neighbors.  But something has happened.  “Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity” (Luke 8:14).  Who sowed the thorns that choked us?  Our culture.  There was the materialism of the 60s, followed by the secularism of the 70s.  Then came the hedonism of the 80s, followed by the liberalism of the 90s and the postmodernism of the past decades.  Some of our elders and preachers became ashamed of our pleas and saw our restoration stance as arrogant and egotistical.  In our age of tolerance, how dare we call anybody “unsaved, or lost, or a sinner”!  Yes, political correctness has now replaced biblical correctness, and the plant of evangelism has just about been choked death in many congregations.  Many members are now ashamed of the plan of salvation and don't even know five scriptures that could explain it to another!  Jesus accused the Pharisees once of not lifting a finger to help bear the burdens of others.  Would Jesus accuse us today of not moving a finger to reach out to those who are perishing in wickedness?  The old spiritual says: “If you cannot sing like angels and if you cannot preach like Paul, you can tell the love of Jesus and say He died for all!”  Yes, telling about Jesus' love is not just the church leader’s job, it's all members' responsibility.  “Therefore, those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).  “But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus” (Acts 11:20).  “Walk in wisdom towards those who are outside, redeeming the time” (Colossians 4:5).  Now all these passage show us that common ordinary Christians CAN spread the good news about Jesus and be effective in converting others to Him!  Do you realize that when we don't share the Gospel with others we are displaying an attitude that is not at all like Jesus?  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has appointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor (Luke 4:1).”  “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).  “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth” (Mark 1:38).  Jesus was continually going, seeking, preaching, and saving.  Now if He is the Teacher and we are His disciples (or students), shouldn't we be imitating those same actions in our lives and in our world?  According to Luke 15, there is joy in heaven when a sinner repents, and God Himself even throws a big “Welcome Home” celebration!  You too will share in that great joy as you watch another person being born again in baptism!  If you have lost interest in saving souls, then you are dying spiritually.
 
The next symptom is this: Do things of the world attract you?  This was the downfall of Bro. Demas in 1 Timothy 4:9-10: “Be diligent to come to me quickly; for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world.”  John warns us very frankly in 1 John 2:15: “Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  We are supposed to be children of light and not children of lusts!  You are dying spiritually if you find your satisfaction in the allurements and pleasures of this world!  Don't settle for the temporal because the world and its lusts are passing away (1 John 2:17)
 
The next danger sign is this: Are you accepting the world's standards?  The world teaches: “Just go to church about twice a year.  God won't punish sin, and everybody will be saved.  Jesus and His disciples were probably homosexuals.  A moral life makes no difference in today's world.  Truth is no longer important.  It's wonderful to make up the rules as you go.  It's not the destination, but the journey that's important.  There are no wrongs; there are just differences.”  Every statement just made was a lie that undermines scriptural truths, and they are a sandy foundation on which to build a life.  If you are buying into the world's lies, you are dying spiritually!
 
The last symptom is this:  Are you failing to live righteously?  Jesus wants us to have an abundant life, even while we live on this planet (John 10:10).  The apostle Paul exhorts: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts , we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12).  And the apostle John is very clear: “Little children, let no one deceive you.  He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as Jesus is righteous” (1 John 3:7).  Failing to live righteously means that you are succeeding to live wickedly and to die spiritually!
 
Symptoms of cancer should not be taken lightly, and symptoms of dying spiritually should not be just brushed aside.  Do you have any of these symptoms?  Do you need to ask the Great Physician to help you make changes?  Consider these symptoms seriously.