One early-December Sunday morning, my 2020 devotional of choice had me read Mark 7:14-23. It goes like this:
And he [Jesus] called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
Jesus is telling the religious leaders and anyone else listening that their primary problem doesn't exist outside of them, but rather inside. Following the rituals that God ordained for them was important, but they were designed to point to and instruct them about something much larger than mere obedience to a handful of ceremonial laws. The law was given to point to their very inability to obey the law and achieve God's standard of holiness. Paul talks about how once we know the law it's like, "Man, I can't do this! I need help!" And on the other side of those exclamations, we find a Redeemer, a Savior, Jesus, who came to fulfill the law and set His people free.
Of course, a fulfilled law does not mean we're free to do whatever we want (check out Romans 6-8 today if you have time). But what it does mean, is that the rescue we're looking for from these troubles which beset us - evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness - won't come from simply trying harder, removing people from our lives, or getting ourselves out of circumstances. Those things can help a little, but darn it if I don't have evil thoughts even in the most holy of spaces with the kindest of people! Or even when it's just me, alone.
Gathering weekly in a space with people who I know need exactly what I need (even if they are dressed up and looking fine) to be pointed to our Great God, reminded of the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf, and reenergized by the presence of the Holy Spirit, is like a weekly treatment. The cancer of sin is still present with me, but its power has been overcome by the death and resurrection of Jesus! Praising, praying, confessing, and learning together with a bunch of sinners like me reminds me even more of the grandeur of God, the effectiveness of the blood of Jesus (ALL those people taking communion on a Sunday around the world! C'mon now!), and the glorious hope that is to come that one day the war within us will end and we will see Him and be like Him. I. Cannot. Even. Imagine.
In summary, (isn't that a classic high-school-term-paper way of beginning a concluding paragraph? ha!), I go to church because in myself I find only that which defiles, but in God - through the death and resurrection of Christ and the power and presence of the Holy Spirit - I find that which makes me righteous and a new heart, new way of living, new hope. I go to church because of who God is and His worthiness as both Creator and Redeemer. I go to church because the sick need a doctor, and until the Lord returns, I've got a chronic bent toward sinfulness that finds its treatment at the throne of my Creator.
I go to church because, to borrow from Peter the disciple, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God." (John 6:68) I go to church because I've tried myself out as lord of my life and that's more of a dumpster fire than 2020.
*by "go to church" I pretty much mean "why I am a Christian", but wanted to emphasize the importance of corporate worship - even if, at the moment, that is happening from the comfort and safety of my home with my family.