Church Can’t Save You

Church Can’t Save You

August 02, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 Genesis 32:22-31                   Romans 9:1-5             Matthew 14:13-21


It seems like everyone is always looking for the easy way out.

You can’t blame us.  Easy always seems better than hard.  But often, the only way to get from “worse” to “better” is to travel down the hard road.  If you want to be an accountant, an engineer, or a nurse, there’s no easy way that doesn’t involve going to college.  And, if you want to be a doctor, then the only path that gets you there goes through medical school and some grueling years as an intern and a resident.

But that doesn’t stop us from trying.

As we do battle with the Coronavirus, we know that developing a new vaccine from scratch typically takes five to ten years.  We also know that there has never been a successful vaccine against any of the other viruses in the coronavirus family.  But a vaccine is the “easiest” path forward that most of us can see, so we’re going to spend a lot of time, money, and effort in hopes that our best doctors and scientists can do what’s never been done before.  And others are pinning their hopes on a variety of unproven drug therapies that might work, that might not work, or that might be more dangerous than the virus they’re trying to fight.

But, as is often the case, the easy way, may not be the best way.  In fact, the easy way, may not get us anywhere near our intended destination.

And the same is true in the spiritual world.  The easy road may not lead us to the place we had hoped.

But before we get to that, let’s go back to the story of Jacob, and rejoin his story as he prepared to meet his long-estranged brother Esau, from whom he stole his father’s birthright. (Genesis 32:22-31)

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, [Israel means “struggles with God”] because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face [Penial means “face of God”], and yet my life was spared.”

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.

 God appears to Jacob in human form (which, in theological language, is called a theophany).  All night long, Jacob wrestles with God and, in the morning, demands a blessing from him.  Because of our understanding of the events of the New Testament, the name that we usually use for God in human flesh, is Jesus.  So, if you want to bend your understanding of time and space a little bit, we might think that Jacob spends the night wrestling with Jesus.  And, if you think that’s impossible, consider John 8:56-59 where Jesus argued with the leaders of his church saying:

56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”

58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.

 In any case, Jacob wrestles with God, receives God’s blessing, and is given the name, Israel, or wrestles with God, that will remain with his family for thousands of years.  Then, in Matthew 14:13-21, Jesus performs miracles as a sign that he is the fulfillment of that blessing, and the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, and one of those is the spectacular moment when Jesus feeds ten to fifteen thousand people, possibly more, with the contents of one small boy’s sack lunch.  This story begins immediately after the execution of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist.

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

In the gospel stories of his miracles, Jesus demonstrates his command and authority over time and space, over the wind, rain and weather, over disease, demons, and death, and, in this story, over the laws of matter itself.  The contents of a small boy’s lunch, five small loaves of bread (probably small flat breads like a pita) and two fish are multiplied to feed five thousand men, and all the women and children that had come with them.

And so, as we come to church, we often arrive at the belief that everyone who believes the story of Jesus, is adopted into the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and, like the people of Israel, we inherit the blessings of God.

Not so fast.

Let’s not be too hasty.

It was exactly that line of thinking, in the time of the disciples, that led the Apostle Paul to weep over the Jewish people of Israel.  In Romans 9:1-5, we hear him explain it this way:

9:1 I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship, and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

Paul says that he weeps over the people of his own race, the people of Israel, who are, as we know, the genetic and philosophical descendants of Jacob and the inheritors of his blessing.  But Paul’s grief was that the people believed that this was all that was necessary.  They believed that being the heirs of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was enough. 

But it wasn’t. 

Even though Paul was the ultimate Jew, who was born into the right family, who followed all the right rituals, who went to all the right schools, and had all the best teachers, Paul knew that his genetic lineage was not enough.  Paul knew that the Jews of his day were excluding themselves from God’s kingdom and from God’s blessing by their failure to believe, and to follow, Jesus Christ.  As evidence, Paul points to Isaac’s half-brother Ishmael and, by inference, to Jacob’s twin brother Esau.  Even though they were genetically connected to Abraham and to Isaac, the blessing of God did not automatically flow to them.  Even though Ishmael and Esau believed in God, they did not follow God in the way that Isaac and Jacob did, and so, God’s blessing did not come to them, or to their families, in the same way.  And Paul says that this same rule applies to all the Jews when it comes to their belief in Jesus.  Paul’s message is that the promise of God does not come to us because of our family ties, or our genetics, or our church membership, but only to those who choose to accept the gift, follow God, and live a life patterned after that belief.

In more modern language, we need look no further than Billy Sunday, a professional baseball player and internationally known evangelist of the early 20th century, who said,

 “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.”

Just as Ishmael and Esau walked away from God’s blessing, Paul wept as he watched his own Jewish race, whom he loved more than life itself, walk away from the blessings of God because of their failure to accept, and follow, Jesus.

And Paul’s message for us is pretty much the same.  We aren’t saved because our family was saved.  We aren’t saved because we believe in God, or because we go to a Bible believing church, or because we believe that Jesus was a real person, or because we believe that the stories in the New Testament actually happened.  We are saved, and we receive the blessings of God, because we have put our full faith and trust in Jesus, and allow that faith to change the way that we live our lives, as we pattern our lives, our behavior, and our actions after the life and the teaching of Jesus.

So yes, church is important.  And yes, I am convinced that every person who believes in Jesus must belong to a fellowship of Christian believers (whether you call that a church or not).  But going to church is not the easy way out.  Going to church will not save you no more that going to a garage will make you an automobile.

Each person must put their full faith, and trust in Jesus, and then live a life that reveals Jesus to the world around them.

That is not always going to be the easiest path.  But it’s the only path that leads to the destination that matters.




Have a great week everybody.



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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

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