Vassar: preach the Gospel in truth

Dallas Basing his message on Ephesians 4:25, J. R. Vassar, pastor of Church at the Cross in Grapevine, challenged listeners to view the church as a place of truth, restoration and generosity as he delivered the convention sermon at the SBTC annual meeting Nov. 14.

“Christianity is not primarily about a new start; it’s actually about a new self,” not experienced from the “outside-in,” but “from the inside-out,” Vassar said.

In the “new community” formed by the God of Jews and Gentiles, regardless of race, socioeconomic status or geography, “the church stands as a sign to the world of the truth of the gospel,” Vassar said.

“It’s not enough to simply stop sinning,” Vassar said, adding that Christians must “grow in virtue,” seeing people as Jesus sees them. For example, the tongue can “bring righteousness to life” when instead of gossiping, it spreads news of Jesus.

Putting sin to death means letting the Holy Spirit work, Vassar said, calling for “a people of truth”  to renounce the lies, spin, exaggeration and half-truths we employ to “make ourselves look good.” Instead, “the gospel gives us all the validation that we need.”

He urged the audience to “Speak Jesus to each other. Have Jesus saturate your conversations.” 

Reminding his audience that the church is “primarily a people and not a place,” Vassar warned that a church’s goal must not be to “capture the market share of the Christians in the community. When you treat [the church] as a place, you don’t raise up disciples, you raise up consumers.”

Instead, Vassar reminded listeners of  Proverbs 27:6, “faithful are the wounds of a friend,” countercultural in a world of college safe spaces and the “ultra-fragile psyche[s].”

“If we love others we will speak truth and allow others to do that…. The truth hurts but we welcome it…. Ultimately, the truth was hurt for us. The truth was crucified for us. We need not fear,” Vassar said, adding, “We don’t need to recover from the truth. We need to let the truth recover us.”

“We are a people of restoration,” Vassar also exhorted listeners, citing the example of Jesus encountering the man with the withered hand in Mark 3 and discussing the restorative place of righteous anger.

“The absence of right anger itself might be a sin,” he claimed, mentioning changes motivated by anger such as Wilberforce’s crusade against the slave trade and today’s Human Coalition prolife campaign.

“We should be angry at the evil in the world,” Vassar continued, admitting that the 24-hour news cycle desensitizes us to violence. Sin in the church—racism, infidelity, pride, sexual abuse—should engender an “appropriate anger,” but “true righteous anger is always mixed with grief and tears,” as it was with Jesus.

Calling “Judge not lest ye be judged,” the “only verse modern America has memorized, Vassar explained that Jesus commanded we first remove the log from our eyes so we can “gently remove the speck” from another. 

Some have the gift of making money, he noted, remembering his childhood when his parents struggled financially: “If it wasn’t for our church dropping groceries off on our doorstep we would have gone hungry.” Indeed, the “rhythm and pattern of the gospel is that we would go broke to help others.” 

Truth, restoration and generosity must mark the lives of those who know the truth, Jesus Christ. 

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