August 28, 2014

How to become part of God’s church

To those who live in our country, immigrants are strangers and aliens from the outside. In the same way, to the Jews who rightly understood themselves to be the people of God, the Gentiles were aliens and foreign to God’s family, but Jesus Christ changed that by uniting both into one . . . 

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (Ephesians 2:19–21)

This union is not universality. That is, not every Jew and not every Gentile became part of the family of God. It happens only to those who receive Christ, who “believe in his name” for it is to these “He gave the right to become the children of God.” (John 1:12) That is, being part of the church is not about nationality or any other thing. It is about a mighty work of God who brings sinners to Himself “by grace through faith.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

In the early church, a man called Simon thought he could get in another way. He saw that the Holy Spirit “was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands” so offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

He wanted to buy his way into the family of God, but Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.” Simon asked for prayer, but nothing further is said about him. (Acts 8:18–24)

Money will not do it. However, being part of the church does require a confession of faith. Jesus and His disciples were traveling and as they walked, He asked them, “Who do people say that I am?” This is a crucial question. Very few understand the importance of knowing His identity.

The disciples answered, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets,” but Jesus pressed them further with, “But who do you say that I am?” and Peter replied, “You are the Christ.”

In Mark 8:27–30, Jesus strictly charged them not to tell anyone, but Matthew adds more. Jesus also said, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:13–20)

This understanding of Jesus’ identity was a revelation from God, but also the very foundation upon which the church is built. We don’t get in by money or anything else we might offer, but by the work of God who reveals the identity of Jesus as He chooses and gives eternal life to His people, putting them into His Body, the church.

Being in the Body of Christ is also about intimacy with Jesus and reliance on Him for life. At one point in His ministry, Jesus declared that living forever meant feasting on His flesh and drinking His blood. Those who heard Him were offended. His disciples grumbled. But Jesus explained that, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” He knew who did and didn’t believe, but He also knew that “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

This was a dividing point. Many of His disciples turned back. They knew their own motives and knew God had not drawn them. They were not interested in this kind of intimacy with Jesus, and Like Simon, their hearts were not right.

At this point, Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:60–70) The disciples knew who Jesus is, as do all who are saved and part of His Body.

Salvation has many facets. It is about being justified by faith, reconciled to God, forgiven of sin, regenerated to a new creation, adopted into God’s family, and having the identity of Jesus Christ revealed. It is also about a change of heart and repentance, and about becoming a part of His church. It is being no longer a stranger or an alien, but becoming a fellow citizen with the saints and members of the household of God. Together, we are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, and it is in Him that we are joined together and are growing into a holy temple in the Lord. None of this is possible without the work of God through the grace that is found in Christ Jesus, the Son of God and our Savior.

No comments: