One of the dangers of being part of the modern-day Christian church is going through the motions without it having a real effect on our lives. We can go to church, go to meetings, go to retreats, and feel the important thing is that we just show up and that by doing so, we are pleasing God. If we just go through the motions, is that enough? God is not impressed with this. He continually rebuked the Israelites for taking this approach (Malachi 1:10,11; Isaiah 66:3; 58:3-9). The Pharisees also were rebuked for having this type of superficial spirituality (Matthew 23:23-28; 6:1-18; 5:17-20). Now I do not mean to say we should not show up for meetings, but we should not do it just to show up. We should gather together to encourage one another and to provoke one another to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24,25) and to be equipped for service, be grounded against error, and be built up in love (Ephesians 4:11-16). What, then, is our goal in doing these things?
The first thing we need is to be saved. Scripture says that we are all sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9) and that Christ died to pay the price for those sins (Colossians 2:11-15; 1 Peter 2:24,25; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Therefore, we can trust in Christ for our salvation (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Acts 16:30) apart from any good works we do (Galatians 2:21; Titus 3:5,6; Romans 3:19,20). But having been saved, God does not want to leave us there but to transform us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29) and to accomplish His purposes in the world (Ephesians 2:10; Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 3:6-9). This requires a response of obedience on our part (Romans 6:12-14; Titus 2:11-14; James 1:22-25) based on our love of God for what He has done for us (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; 1 Corinthians 6:20). But this involves effort and growth over time and is not just automatic (1 Timothy 4:7,8; Hebrew 5:12-14; Philippians 3:12-16). It is here we find a place for the spiritual disciplines: studying Scripture (2 Timothy 2:15), prayer (Ephesians 6:18), meditation (Psalms 1:2), fasting (Matthew 9:15), and the other things that are involved in following God. But the best place to accomplish this is with the fellowship and encouragement of other believers (Colossians 2:19; Hebrews 12:12,13; 1 Corinthians 12:20-27). Imagine a sports team. There is a member who does not show up for practice, does not know the plays, is out of shape, and is unfamiliar with the other players on his team. If he shows up on the day of the game, how much help is he going to be? Church meetings are the practice sessions for the game of life. They are necessary to prepare us for the real game. But it is a mistake to make them an end in themselves.