If Jesus were to visit our church, would He find the Spirit-filled, rightly expounded Word of God? Or would he find a church devoid of the Holy Spirit? Photo by John Price on Unsplash.

If Jesus were to visit your church today, what do you think His reception would be?

American pastor, author and spiritual mentor AW Tozer once said: “If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95% of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.

“But if the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95% of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference.”

Would this be true of our churches today?

Let’s see what happened in Mark 1:21-28, an account of Jesus’ first church visit.

Beginning in a city of sin

After His baptism and temptation in the wilderness, the first thing Jesus did to begin His ministry was to go to Capernaum. In his first appearance for ministry there, He taught in the synagogue on the first Sabbath.

Why Capernaum?

Capernaum was a bustling city with great wealth. But with that came great decadence as well. Obviously, this meant there was great spiritual decadence, too.

When Jesus comes, will He first appear in our city or in our church?

In fact, in Luke 10:12-15, Jesus proclaimed this city worse than Sodom, Tyre and Sidon.

Considering Sodom was seen as the epitome of debauchery in the Old Testament, this says much about the spiritual and moral condition of Capernaum. Jesus prophesied Hades – death and destruction – to be its destiny.

So, it was perfectly understandable for Jesus to begin His teaching ministry in such a city. But what comes as a shock is that instead of where the crowds were, Jesus went to the synagogue and taught there. Why?

It is likely that the worldliness of the city had infiltrated the synagogue. Instead of being a bastion of holiness and godliness, they were indistinguishable from the filth of the world.

Can this be like the church of first world nations, the church of Singapore, today?

We live in a bustling city, full of wealth. We are busy with our lives, busy making money, busy enjoying life, busy living in the lap of luxury (even though many of us don’t feel rich).

Are we also guilty of the moral and spiritual decadence of Capernaum? When Jesus comes, will He first appear in our city or in our church?

Would the first thing Jesus does be to teach us, the ones in church?

The work of God’s Word

Why would He teach first? Why not pray over?

We are destroying arguments and all arrogance raised against the knowledge of God.”

Teaching confronts the unholy lies of the world with the holy truths of God. Spiritual warfare concerns truths, and obedience to these truths. So, victory comes when holy truths are proclaimed, received and obeyed.

Then unholy lies, thoughts, emotions and behaviours are exposed, confronted and eradicated. Unfortunately, spiritual warfare flies under the radar for many. 

As 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 teaches: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not wage battle according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.

“We are destroying arguments and all arrogance raised against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ”.

The battle for hearts and minds

Even before we embrace Christ, the Word has the power to destroy arguments of human philosophy and thinking. 

Not having the Word is like going to battle without a weapon.

Through the Gospel, the intellectual walls we put up are laid low so that what we previously thought were smart reasons and choices are suddenly exposed as foolishness.

The Gospel also works on our heart. Our arrogance of self-righteousness, self-assuredness of how smart or good we are – all these obstacles to the knowledge of God that our hearts have built up are humbled by the revelation of the Gospel in our hearts.

When we have embraced Christ, we will find the Word of God “taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ”. This can’t possibly be describing the spiritual dynamics taking place in the mind and heart of the unbeliever. So, it is describing the work of the Word in the soul of the Christian.

Until every thought, every thinking, every reason and justification is in obedience to Christ, the Word of God is actively battling all these untruths, half lies and hidden deceitfulness of the heart so that total obedience results.

Are you going into war unarmed?

In battle, the right weapon must be used.

We automatically lose the battle when we don’t wield our weapon.

When it comes to spiritual warfare, there is no greater weapon than God’s Word. If we have such a powerful weapon that can win battles, and against which Satan has no answer, how can Satan possibly win?

Simple – we automatically lose the battle when we don’t wield our weapon.

Satan doesn’t even need to attack us headlong. Through laziness, busyness, tiredness, ill-discipline, distractions, frustrations and our lack of awareness of spiritual realities, how many Christians today actually spend time in God’s Word outside of the worship service?

Some don’t even see the need to attend church. Not having the Word is like going into battle without a weapon. The result is obvious.

Rattled by the Word?

So, every time Jesus (the Holy Spirit) comes, He comes with the Word so that our filth can be exposed, confronted and cleansed.

That was what happened at Jesus’ first teaching event.

It is not mere preaching of the Word that rattles. It is the Spirit-filled, rightly expounded Word that rattles.

“Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying, “What business do you have with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are: the Holy One of God!”” (Mark 1:23-24)

The demon didn’t manifest when Jesus first entered the synagogue. It happened while Jesus was, or perhaps shortly after, He taught. It was Jesus’ presence and the Truth that rattled the unclean spirit.

The man probably was a regular attendee at the synagogue. Week in, week out, he was enjoying the worship and the Old Testament being read and expounded. And yet, it did not rattle him.

You see, it is not mere preaching of the Word that rattles. It is the Spirit-filled, rightly expounded Word that rattles. So, while the teachers of the Law may have been expounding the Word previously, something was missing.

But when the Word of God was proclaimed truly and powerfully, the insects began to climb out of the woodwork.

Christianity or Churchianity?   

We may not be demonised, but we have our fair share of spiritual filth. Do we get rattled at our worship service?

I am not saying that that is the only effect of the rightly preached Word. The Word encourages, edifies, comforts and imparts peace and joy.

But a major part of the function of the Word is to expose spiritual filth. So, it is inevitable that we get spiritually rattled. Even frequently, I might say.

There is no such thing as Christianity without Church in Scriptures.

So, if the Word doesn’t rattle, it is the fault of the preacher. But if it rattles and is suppressed, then, perhaps, it is the fault of the hearer.

Why might spiritual filth remain undisturbed in our church today?

I think the devil is opposed to Christianity but not Churchianity. In Churchianity, all the forms of religion are found – regular attendance, worship, offerings and so forth. But spiritual filth is not exposed, confronted and cleansed.

I know of many who have been disillusioned by the Christianity found in church. So, they stop attending the Institutional Church, preferring to carry on their faith in their own personal way and perhaps meeting with like-minded Christians to pray and share.

I think their criticisms are justifiable in many ways.

And yet, what they are upset with and have rejected is not Christianity in church but Churchianity in church.

While I can understand where they are coming from, there is no such thing as Christianity without Church in Scriptures.

Do you have a place for God’s Word?

As expected, after exposing spiritual filth, Jesus confronts it.

Would we commit ourselves to allowing God sacred space and time to expose, confront and cleanse us with His Word?

“And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” After throwing him into convulsions and crying out with a loud voice, the unclean spirit came out of him.” (Mark 1:25-26)

The man was now cleansed from the demonic spiritual filth. While it remains uncertain how much the synagogue was cleansed from their spiritual filth, what we do know is that they were so amazed by Jesus’ teaching that “they debated among themselves, saying, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.’ Immediately the news about Him spread everywhere into all the surrounding region of Galilee.” (Mark 1:27-28).

What is our response? Would we commit ourselves to allowing God sacred space and time to expose, confront and cleanse us with His Word so that Jesus won’t feel the need to visit us first to get rid of our spiritual filth if He were to come by in the future?


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About the author

Rev Wilfred Leow

Rev Wilfred Leow is the Associate Pastor of Paya Lebar Chinese Methodist Church where he grew up. Having heard the call to the ministry in his teens, he has been a Methodist minister for two decades. He believes in preaching the Word to change lives and finds John Wesley's brand of practical theology particularly relevant to Christian life today.