Does going to church make you a Christian? Is showing up on Sunday and sitting in a pew what makes you a disciple of Jesus?
No. Just going to church on a Sunday morning doesn’t mean that you have a vital relationship with Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. Sadly, there are many people who are in churches, maybe who even grew up in churches, who don’t understand and embrace the gospel. Maybe for some, going to church is just a tradition. Maybe it’s a way of feeling good about themselves. But they’ve never really understood the message of salvation.
Just going into a church to pray or to visit or even spending one’s entire life in a church doesn’t make someone a Christian. If you don’t believe in Jesus and receive the gospel by faith, then it doesn’t matter where you are on Sunday morning.
One of the books in the New Testament that addresses this is Hebrews. The author of Hebrews is writing to people who were in church. They had experienced the rituals of the church—baptism and probably the Lord’s Supper— but they were beginning to drift away from Christ. He’s worried that like Israel in the wilderness, they’ll fail to reach the promised land—which for Christians is eternal joy and rest in God’s presence. So, the writer is really concerned for their souls. In Hebrews 4:1, he says, “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For the good news came to us just as to them (Israel).”
What if these people had been in the church all that time, but—like Israel in the wilderness—had never really believed the gospel message?
Do you know what the gospel is? It’s the fact that we were sinners and couldn’t earn God’s grace, mercy, love, or forgiveness, and yet he sent his Son Jesus into the world so that we might have life through his death and resurrection from the dead and our sins would be forgiven.
Do you believe that? Have you received that message? Have you placed your trust in Jesus? If you have, you’re a Christian.
And if you’re a Christian, you should be in a church. That’s because when we’re united to Jesus by faith, he unites us to the church—his people.
Christians should be in churches, but just because you’re in a church doesn’t mean that you’ve really received the gospel. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you believe in Jesus. And so we have to ask ourselves, do I believe in Christ? Am I trusting in him? And if I am, am I in a local church, which is the community Christ calls me to join?