What God Wants in the Community of Christ

What God Wants
in the
Community of Christ

early believers

What God Wants in the Community of Christ

How did the early believers live?
What did these believers believe?

What were chief traits of the body of Christ?

How do churches today differ from Christ’s body?

Have you ever asked the questions: What were the early Christians like?  What was Christ’s desire for His body?  What was God’s plan for His family, the community of saints?  What divine instructions were given to the early believers?  Long before the Catholic and Orthodox Churches arose in the fourth century, long before the Protestant Churches developed in the sixteenth and following centuries, long before the various cults were founded in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, what were the first Christians like?

We know that not every aspect of the congregations of believers in the first century is worthy of emulation, for the early believers did have faults, defects, failures, and sometimes outright sins.  They needed to be admonished and corrected by the apostles and urged to follow the will of the Lord.  However, we also know that Scripture records God’s ideal will for His people.  As God gave Moses a “pattern” for the tabernacle, priesthood, and sacrifices in the period before Christ (Hebrews 8:5), so the Lord gave His apostles the basic instructions to form, govern, discipline, and teach the early assembly of saints in the first century (1 Timothy 3:14-15).  Therefore, let us “not imitate what is evil, but what is good” (3 John 11).  We should seek to follow the will of God reflected in the life of the early followers of Christ.

If you happen to be part of a church or denomination, have you ever given serious consideration to the will of Christ Jesus for His followers?  Have you merely supposed that your church leaders, doctrinal statement, and the prevailing lifestyle of your church please God?  Don’t assume that what you know and experience is a reflection of God’s perfect will!  Simply because a church or fellowship claims to be Christian, purports to teach the Bible rightly, worships enthusiastically, speaks of the gospel of Christ, and goes through religious ceremonies—this does not guarantee that it should be called Christian and rightly represents the will of the Lord in our day!  Much that is portrayed under the guise of Christianity today is far from the ideal will of the Lord for His spiritual body of believers!

Let’s look at a number of characteristics of this early body of Christ, contrasting this with what we often see in our day and what most people would assume to be God’s will.  What does the Bible say about this?

  1. Believers in Christ are Loyal to Christ the Head.

Scripture says that “Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. . . . the church is subject to Christ” (Eph. 5:23-24).  “[God] gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body” (1:22-23).  Christ, the head of the body, rules in heaven over all.  As a human body has only one head, so the spiritual body of Christ has only one Head—Jesus Christ.  There is no earthly head (president, leader, superintendent) to this body.  Since Jesus is the only supreme “Head” over the body of believers, He has the right to command His followers to believe and live as He desires.

Many earthly denominations have earthly heads and churchly authorities.  The Roman Catholic Church has a Pope; the Orthodox Churches have a Patriarch; Lutherans and Mormons have a President; the Methodists have a Bishop; the Anglicans have an Archbishop.  All of this is in conflict with God’s Word, the Bible.  Jesus Christ is the one and only head, leader, and source of authority for His body.  True believers, as members of His body, must give total allegiance and absolute obedience to Jesus the Head.

  1. Believers in Christ are under the Authority of the Lord and His Word, through chosen Apostles and Prophets.

The Lord Jesus declared, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18).  He is the only one who can command obedience to His will.  Jesus knew “that the Father had given all things into His hands” (John 13:3).  Christ delegated His authority to His chosen apostles (those sent by Him into the world) as well as other chosen prophets: “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (Matt. 10:40; Luke 10:16; John 13:20).  Paul and the apostles could therefore say, “The things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment” (1 Cor. 14:37; cf. 2 Peter 3:2).  Paul the apostle pointed out that “God’s household” has “been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone” (Eph. 2:20; cf. 1 Cor. 3:11).  We are to believe and obey the truth that Christ revealed, either directly or through His specially chosen ambassadors (cf. 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Thess. 2:15; Phil. 2:12; 2 Cor. 13:10).  We reject Christ’s divine commands at our peril.

Many human churches and denominations have formulated their own confessions, manuals, disciplines, rulebooks, and statements of church polity.  Human sectarian and denominational disciplines differ from each other and often conflict with Christ’s own words.  Many denominational groups also have rejected the authority of Scripture, considering the Bible to be the result of fallible human authors rather than the inspired words of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21).  Numerous liberal religious groups pridefully assert that they will not be bound by what they call the outdated directives and old-fashioned lifestyles of Jesus and the apostles.  The result is that there is little resemblance between these churches and the body of Christ.

  1. Believers in Christ are under Christ’s great commission to His followers.

Between His resurrection and ascension, Jesus declared, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20).  Mark records a similar commission: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.  He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16; see also Luke 24:44-49).  These commands were of great importance.  They were the Savior’s parting words to His followers.

Jesus came primarily to the Jews but, when He departed, He extended the full good news of salvation through His death and resurrection to all people in all nations on earth.  His followers were to share the blessed message of salvation to all, calling on people to believe it, to repent of their sins, and to be baptized in His name.  It was a message that was to be proclaimed until the end of the age (Matt. 28:20).  These final orders of our Lord must be considered a priority in the life of His devoted followers in our day—both personally and corporately.  Apart from our own salvation from sin, the salvation of others should be our primary task on earth.

Today, many professing Christians are too occupied with worldly affairs and pursuits to be interested in saving lost humanity from an eternity in hell so that they may enter God’s coming Kingdom. Further, some churches are more interested in charity, in education, and in social activism, than they are in proclaiming a message of repentance to lost humanity.  Many churches are more interested in entertainment, worldly pursuits, and social activities than they are in a passion to reach those under God’s righteous wrath.  Additionally, vast numbers change Christ’s words of salvation according to their own defective theology.  For instance, instead of teaching that men must believe the gospel and be baptized to be saved, some teach that one must “baptize” a baby and then later the child is to believe.  Still others teach that one is saved through mere belief, and then later he should be baptized.  Vast numbers either minimize or compromise the vital need to repent of all sin and submit to Christ’s Lordship.  The message of Christ’s redemptive death is an embarrassment to many liberal denominations.  Christ’s followers know and submit to the Lord’s enduring words in His commission.

  1. Believers in Christ live in and by the Holy Spirit.

On the day of Pentecost, those who repented of their sins, trusted in the crucified and risen Christ, and were baptized in His name were given the promised gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39).  The Spirit of God was given to all who believed in Christ (Ephesians 1:13) and obeyed the Lord (Acts 5:32).  Luke tells us that the early disciples “were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (13:52), a filling that enabled them to “speak the word of God with boldness” (4:31).  All true Christians are commanded to be “filled” with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).  The Spirit strengthens us (Eph. 3:16), enables us to pray (Jude 20) and worship (Phil. 3:3), encourages our singing (Ephesians 5:18-19), helps us to overcome sin (Rom. 8:13), and produces both fruit and gifts in our life (Gal. 5:22-23; cf. Rom. 12:3-8).  All of this means that the Christian is a Spirit-filled and Spirit-enabled person.  The Spirit dwells in him and he dwells in the Spirit (Rom. 8:5-11).  Members of the body of Christ live in and by the Spirit of God!

People who are caught up in Churchianity know little of the Spirit.  While some claim to be filled with the Spirit and thereby do religious works or claim to do miraculous deeds, they usually are not living holy, obedient, and faithful lives in Christ Jesus.  This reveals the hypocrisy that permeates the religious world.  Millions of professing Christians are more interested in the spectacular, the public display, and the emotional release that they interpret as evidences of the Spirit, but they overlook the power of the Spirit to live righteous lives!  They are “holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power.  Avoid such men as these” (2 Timothy 3:5).  Jesus said that even those who profess to be great Christians, do great religious activity, and even call Jesus, “Lord,” will be separated from the Lord Jesus since they refused to do the will of God the Father (Matt. 7:13-23).  They refuse to build their life on Christ’s words and will (vv. 24-27).  While professing to be led of the Spirit, they grieve and reject the Spirit’s holy influences.

  1. Believers in Jesus Christ are encouraged to have a deep and profound inward relationship with the Lord.

Jesus Christ wanted members of His body to have a deep spiritual relationship with Him.  They are spiritual persons and their relationship with Jesus through the Spirit must be spiritual in nature.  They were to have a meaningful fellowship with Christ: “Our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).  They were to have an intimate, life-giving, and personal “knowledge” of Him: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).  They were to dwell in Christ (John 15:7) and He was to dwell in them (Romans 8:10).  “Abide in Me, and I in you,” said our Savior (John 15:4).  Paul added, “The one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him” (1 Corinthians 6:17).  This speaks of a profound, meaningful, and intense spiritual relationship with God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

This means that God wanted His saints to work and serve from the heart and not merely outwardly.  Their outward activity was to be motivated by inward attitudes—a deep love for Him (Hebrews 6:10), a love for the Lord Jesus (John 14:15), a love for other believers (1 John 3:14-18), and a love for all men (Luke 6:27-28).  Worship itself originates in the heart and the spirit and is not only with the mouth (Matthew 15:8).  It is not merely singing and praying outwardly, but it is worship “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).  Believers’ worship must not be an external response to church rituals, liturgy and forms, but it must reflect a proper attitude of heart and soul.  The early saints were to walk in daily, moment-by-moment communion with God in the “inner man” (2 Corinthians 4:16) and were to worship by the Spirit of God (Philippians 3:3).

The spiritual and inward relationship with God does not receive the emphasis it should in most churches.  Many go through a ritual on Sunday mornings, following the prescribed form of religious liturgy, while the heart is cold and the soul barren.  While feeling the need to go through a worship ritual, the normal church member is unchanged, unregenerate, unrepentant, unbelieving, and without a fervent devotion to the Lord Jesus.  The daily life continues with little regard for what pleases the Lord and without a conscious sense of God’s presence and fellowship.  “This people honors Me with their lips,” charged Jesus, “but their heart is far away from Me” (Matthew 15:8).  What is true of most church members is true of entire religious organizations. 

  1. Genuine believers in Christ seek true spiritual and practical unity with each other. 

The early followers of Jesus are described in this way: “All those who believed were together and had all things in common. . . . They were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:44, 46).  Luke further writes, “The congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them” (4:32).  Later, when Paul wrote to the Philippians, he said, “I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (1:27).  He went on to urge unity and togetherness: “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (2:2).

Although divisiveness sometimes overcame them (cf. Phil. 4:2-3; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13), the apostles constantly sought to instill a loving unity: “Put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col. 3:14; cf. Eph. 4:1-3).  Paul said that believers were to be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).  This unity rested on the foundation of basic truths—one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God (vv. 4-6).

The divided state of Christendom is proverbial and appalling.  Many actually boast of their denominational differences and sectarian distinctives.  They think it is well to create sectarian bodies, with their own names, their own headquarters, their own creeds and confessions and disciplines.  They set up presidents, governing boards, overseers, and committees that promote their distinctive denominational agendas.  We see a wide array of different beliefs, different lifestyles, different practices, different worship patterns, different governments, different structures, and different programs.  Paul’s command is grossly neglected: “. . . that you all agree and there be no divisions [schisms] among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10). 

  1. Believers in Christ are to have true love for one another. 

The hallmark of the body of Christ is love—genuine, sincere, expressive, and active love.  Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).  Why do Christ’s followers have this deep love for each other?  John explains, “Let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).

Is this love merely an emotional feeling of affection?  It is far more than this!  John says that we are to love “in deed and truth”—a love that is modeled after Christ’s own self-giving, sacrificial love for us: “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16-18).  In a world of hatred, the body of Christ is to love.  In a world of violence, animosity, resentment, and indifference, the body of the Lord must have loving fellowship, compassionate care, tender affection, and outgoing concern.  True believers may be known by their outgoing love for each other!

Sadly, religious institutions and churches know little of this dimension of love.  Although they speak about love, the members are too caught up in their own lives, their own agendas, and the ways of the world to be genuinely interested in the needs and concerns of other professing Christians.  While there may not be outright violence among these members, they simply live lives of selfishness and indifference.  They are more concerned about their own bank account, their own plans and programs, their own schedules, and their own possessions.  God would say, “Let love of the brethren continue” (Hebrews 13:1).

  1. Believers in Christ are to have genuine sharing and fellowship with each other.

 “Fellowship” refers to sharing a common life, a sense of togetherness, an attitude of participation with each other in a great and noble goal—that of sharing Jesus Christ and glorifying God in a sinful world.  Those who responded to the gospel on the day of Pentecost were described as those who “continued steadfastly” in “fellowship” (Acts 2:42).  They were “sharing” their possessions with each other and took “their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (vv. 45-46).  They were of “one heart and soul” (4:32).  Paul explained further: “The members may have the same care for one another.  If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:25-26).  Paul instructs the early believers to share their substance so that one may not live in splendor and luxury while another lives in poverty and need (2 Corinthians 8:12-15).

This genuine spiritual fellowship was manifested in the repeated emphasis on relating to one another in Christ.  Carefully read Romans 16:1-16 to see the kind of genuine, warm, and intimate relationships that Christ Jesus wanted in His body.  These saints recognized that they were brothers and sisters in “the household of God” (1 Timothy 3:15; cf. Ephesians 2:19).  Through the Scriptures, we read of praying for one another (James 5:16), being kind to one another (Eph. 4:32), living in peace with one another (1 Thessalonians 5:13), bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), serving one another (Galatians 5:13), having the same care for one another (1 Corinthians 12:25), confessing sins to one another (James 5:16), and being of the same mind toward one another (Romans 12:16).  We see that these believers were to be hospitable toward one another (1 Peter 4:9), build up one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11), teach one another (Colossians 3:16), forgive each other (Ephesians 4:32), admonish one another (Romans 15:14), and give preference to one another (Romans 12:10).

This spiritual relationship between brothers in Christ was to be far deeper and richer than merely physical and human relationships (cf. Matthew 12:46-50; 1 John 3:14-18; 4:7-21; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; 5:26; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Philippians 4:1).  Spiritual relationships must always surpass those relationships that were merely earthly.  True brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus—the saints of God—are to know each other intimately, speak with one another personally, as well as share with each other their thoughts and convictions, their hopes and fears, their trials and concerns, their dreams, their plans, and their very life.  This is the fellowship that God wants, a true “fellowship of the Holy Spirit” by those who are living by the Spirit.

It is clear that the world of churchianity or institutional religion is a world of superficial relationships and spiritual indifference.  The only “fellowship” that most know anything about is sharing a church dinner once a month, or an afternoon playing golf, or drinking coffee together before the Sunday meetings.  Most members have not even been in the homes of the other members—other than a few close friends.  It is rare that a member knows the names and much about other members, for each one lives for himself or herself rather than having a sacrificial love for others. Many do not share meals with each other or mutually seek the Lord together in their homes.  Home gatherings for prayer and songs are seldom encouraged (Acts 12:12).  True hospitality is lacking (Acts 2:46).  They are impersonal, closed, and isolated from intimate relationships.  In short, the intimate brother-sister relationship is lacking.

  1. True believers are to love and respect all people.

The first century was filled with ethnic and social prejudice as in our own day.  Romans and Jews were opposed, slaves and masters were divided, and educated Greeks despised the uneducated Barbarians.  This was the world that Jesus entered with a message of equality and brotherhood before God.  He said that “One is your teacher, and you are all brothers” (Matthew 23:8).  Since His followers were all spiritual brothers and sisters, external differences were of no importance.  There was no barrier to salvation or fellowship.

Paul explained this spiritual equality further: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).  Regardless of ethnic, social, and sexual differences, true believers are united in Jesus Christ!  There was no distinction between “Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).  The apostle said that “by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13).  When sinners were baptized into one body by [or in] one Spirit, they were simply brothers and sisters in God’s family and members in Christ’s body.

In our day, there are many separations between people.  The Catholics and Protestants in North Ireland fight and kill each other.  The Jews and Muslims in Israel are constantly at war.  The Hindus and Muslims continue to shed blood.  The Black Panthers were radical African-Americans, while the Aryanists and KKK taught white supremacy.  Professing Christians also have conflicts.  Many churches have cliques based on social or ethnic positions, as well as groups based on differences in wealth, nationality, or color.  While unity is often preached, there are great divides within the denominations.  Why is it that religionists do not remember that we are all related in the flesh—for  all have descended from Adam and Noah.  More importantly, true Christians are related in the Spirit—for they all have the same God and Father.

  1. Believers in Christ are to have a total, passionate, and life-changing love for God and for Jesus Christ.

What is the chief requirement in Scripture?  The Lord Jesus said that the greatest command is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).  He also said that love for Him must far surpass any other love—including love for father and mother, son and daughter, husband and wife (Matthew 10:37; Luke 14:26).  Because of this, we can understand why it is true that “if anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed” (1 Corinthians 16:22).

This love for our God and love for Jesus our Savior must be the motivation for our life.  God has created us and saved us!  Jesus Christ has redeemed us and cares for us!  It is only natural that we would love the God who loved us.  John makes this connection: “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).  We love the One who loves us with an inexhaustible love: “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are” (1 John 3:1).  What was the nature of this love?  Jesus answers, “If you love Me, you will eep My commandments” (John 14:15).  If one truly loves the Lord Jesus, he will obey Him (vv. 21-24), and he will obey God the Father (1 John 5:2-3).  The early believers were to have this self-denying, life-dominating, all-encompassing love for the Lord!

Sadly, church members may profess a love for Jesus and may sing about a love for Him, but their hearts are more in love with the things of the world.  They freely speak of “loving” baseball, a Hollywood celebrity, a political figure, a favorite pet, a delectable food, or a prized possession—while love for God is seldom a concern.  They may claim a love for the Lord but their family and friends come first.  They seldom think about Jesus, read His words, pray to Him, sing to Him, or speak about Him to others.  Jesus is not their passion or their very life!  Their lack of submissive obedience betrays their lack of love or a love grown cold (John 14:24; Matthew 24:12)..

  1. Believers in the Lord Jesus are to have their entire life centered in Christ and His life.

The entire life of the Christian is to be focused on Christ, the living Lord over His body.  Paul was able to say that “to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21).  He said that Christ is “our life” (Colossians 3:4).  He also revealed that Christ “will come to have first place in everything” (1:18).  Since Christ died for our sins, since we live in and for Him, since He rules over his body today, and since He will return one day in glory and power to receive those who belong to Him, we can understand why He must be at the very heart and core of the believer’s life.

This passion for the Lord Jesus Christ is a radically different change of perspective for those who are transformed by His grace.  Paul wrote to the Colossian community of Christians: “If you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (3:1-2).  Do we really seek the things above and do we really set our mind on the things above?  Do thoughts of Jesus and His love permeate our daily life?  Is our heart really occupied with Jesus Christ?  Are we really God-centered, Christ-focused, and Spirit-filled people?  This is what God wanted from the beginning—and it will be what His children want in their life today.

Churches today are filled with members who have Christ on the periphery of their life—not at the very center.  Such members are church-centered or, more likely, world-centered—and not focused on Jesus Christ, the kingdom of God, and heavenly things.  Sports, TV, money, cars, radio, music, education, games, magazines, movies, shopping, restaurants, as well as other pastimes and forms of entertainment become the dominating influences in the life of most church members. Many church members can hardly wait for the Sunday meeting to be over so they can depart and begin a day of excitement and revelry.  This is far different from what is expected by Christ, the Head of His spiritual body. 

  1. Believers in Christ are to worship the Lord in spirit and truth.

Since the early Christians loved God, feared Him, and were grateful to Him for His wondrous salvation, they manifested their adoration through fervent praise (Acts 2:47), humble prayer (4:24), and worshipful singing (Eph. 5:18-20).  Christ had earlier said, “The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers” (John 4:23-24).  God eagerly “seeks” those who will honor, revere, and exalt Him in public and in private.  God wants true worshipers and not half-hearted, compromising, and insincere religionists.  These early saints realized that God had called them to glorify Him in word as well as heart attitude, “so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).  Jesus added, “You shall worship the LORD your God, and serve Him only” (Matthew 4:10).

Today’s churches often are amusement centers and entertainment oriented.  Special singing with instrumental accompaniment, choirs and choruses, prideful solos, and worldly sounds appeal to the emotions of the “worshipers.”  Other churches are cold and formalistic, with stately music that fails to reach the heart.  Externalism reigns.  Worldly music with religious lyrics is the order in many church groups, rather than holy, uplifting, and deeply spiritual worship experiences.  When was the last time you were brought to tears in prayer and praise?  When was the last time you fell to your knees in worship?  Is your heart lifted up in worshipful adoration as you raise your voice in song?

  1. Believers in Christ are saved by faith and continue to live by faith.

The early Christians were called “believers in the Lord” (Acts 5:14).  True faith was their trait.  They had been saved by faith (Acts 16:31), forgiven by faith (10:43), justified by faith (Romans 5:1), and given eternal life by faith (John 3:16).  This faith was an obedient and active faith (John 3:36; James 2:14-26), a “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6).  Instead of making their decisions and ordering their life according to their physical senses, the early believers were to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).  Theirs was a faith that was “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).  Because of this, they could face the rejection of the world, the condemnation of evil men, and the ridicule of an unbelieving world.  Not only did this genuine faith in God through Christ bring them to new life in the past, but it would carry them through this life to eternal life: “. . . obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:9).

For many professing Christians, what is seen is the major factor in life.  In contrast, Scripture says that “we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).  Ornate cathedrals, high steeples, elegant furnishings, perfect landscaping, fine vestments, images and ceremonies—all show that the emphasis is on “the things which are seen” while “the things which are not seen” are not in the forefront.

  1. Believers emphasized the absolute necessity of repentance.

Sincere and genuine repentance was a hallmark of the early followers of Christ.  John preached a message of repentance (Matthew 3:2) and proclaimed “a baptism of repentance” (Mark 1:4).  Both Jesus and His apostles taught the indispensable necessity of repentance (Matthew 4:17; Mark 6:12).  Our Lord also said that repentance was to be proclaimed to all nations (Luke 24:47).  Both Peter and Paul continued to emphasize the demand of repentance (Acts 2:38; 20:21).  Repentance is a change of heart and mind, brought by a sorrow for sin that issues in a change of life.  It means turning from sin and self to God and His holy will and service (1 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 Peter 2:24).

Repentance is closely linked to restitution.  Although either overlooked or denied by many, when one repents of sin, he should make restitution or make amends for the wrongs he has done.  He should seek to undo his past sins, ask forgiveness of others for his wrongs, and live a different life (cf. Luke 19:8-10).  If one has stolen property, it should be repaid; if one has been dishonest, he would seek to reveal the truth; if one has been lazy, he should seek to live in diligence; if one has offended another, she should ask forgiveness.  Repentance also means that one’s life will dramatically change since he has a new ruler, a new standard, and a new purpose in life.  The repentant person “puts off” his past and “puts on” righteous qualities in the future (cf. Ephesians 4:22-6:9).

The vast majority of churches in our day fail to emphasize the need of repentance.  Some popular preachers, authors, and televangelists refuse to even mention sin and don’t want to make sinners feel bad!  They insist on preaching a “positive” message that makes people feel good about themselves!  They tickle selfish egos because this is what many demand (2 Timothy 3:1-5; 4:2-4).  Even those who do mention repentance see no need to instruct people to make restitution for their past wrongs.  Neither do they see the necessity of a drastic change of orientation in life.  The result is that churches are filled with unrepentant, unregenerate, and unsaved members!

  1. Believers were warned against the dangers of this evil age, the present world, and a materialistic, earthly focus.

Jesus and the apostles insisted that God’s people are part of a spiritual and heavenly kingdom (John 18:36), whereas the kingdoms of the world are ruled by Satan, the ruler and “god” of this age (Luke 4:4-6; John 12:31; 14:30; 2 Corinthians 4:4).  God’s kingdom and Satan’s kingdom, the heavenly focus and the earthly focus, a mind set on the Spirit and a mind set on the flesh—these perspectives are diametrically opposed and in conflict.

The believing community of Christ must always have a spiritual, heavenly, eternal mindset.  True Christians must ever turn from being worldly-minded and oriented to this life.  This has much to do with how we think, what we speak, where we go, how we use our money, how we look on earthly possessions, and what captures our heart.  Jesus said that we are not to be focused on what we eat or what we wear (Matthew 6:24-33).  He brought this radical teaching: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth” (v. 24).  Our Lord plainly said that one must either serve God or serve money.  He must either focus on spiritual realities and the kingdom of God, or he must devote himself to earthly pursuits and the ways of the world.  He must either look to this life or the life to come.

Throughout the Scriptures, we are warned to turn away from the world (kosmos) or this evil age (aion).  We are to be “unstained by the world” (James 1:27), “not be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2), and must never “love the world nor the things in the world” (1 John 2:15-17).  “Friendship with the world is hostility toward God” (James 4:4).  Jesus came that He “might rescue us from this present evil age” (Galatians 1:4).  In contrast, the followers of Christ had their citizenship or commonwealth in heaven (Philippians 3:20-21), thus they were to seek the things above and set their mind on eternal realities (Colossians 3:1-4).  They were very much engaged with living now—but their purpose was to prepare for the eternal life to come in the Kingdom of God!

This “otherworldly” perspective is nearly forgotten in our day.  Professing Christians are determined to get rich, though this will plunge them into destruction (1 Timothy 6:9-10) and “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:23-25).  Good church members crave the latest designer clothes, the luxury cars, the fine home furnishings, the palatial mansions, the lavish cruises, the expensive restaurants, and the pleasures of this world—while the lost are plunging over the cliff to an eternity without God.  Professing Christians fill their stomach with the finest of food, while their soul is weak and dying.  They are willing to spend their money for earthly mansions and designer clothes while other saints are suffering need.  Sadly, they would rather selfishly lavish money on themselves than lovingly give of their substance to win the lost.  They would rather seek the pleasures of this life, just as their neighbors do, instead of using their time, their money, and their possessions for spiritual and eternal purposes, as good stewards of God.

  1. True believers are all baptized into Christ Jesus.

In the early days of the gospel, there was no debate among the believers about the place, time, meaning, and importance of baptism.  Jesus emphasized the worldwide scope of this vital response to the gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in [into] the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).  The great commission in Mark says much the same thing: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.  He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (16:15-16).  The task was great but the instructions were simple.

Every one of the early Christians had been baptized, and every person who received genuine baptism (as an expression of faith, repentance, and commitment of life) was a Christian.  Paul could write, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” (Romans 6:3).  The apostle wrote, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (3:26-27).  He also penned these words: “By one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13).  Notice that “all” had been baptized—and Paul includes himself—“all of us.”

Significantly, the term “baptize” is from the Greek baptizo and means “to immerse, to dip, to sink, to submerge, or to overwhelm.”  Baptisma, is a term, “consisting of the process of immersion, submersion and emergence (from bapto, ‘to dip’)” (W.E.Vine).  All of the followers of Christ were immersed in water and lifted from the water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Why?  So that they might demonstrate their faith (Acts 8:12) and their repentance (Mark 1:4; Acts 2:38), so that they might receive the forgiveness of sins or the washing away of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16), so that they might enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ and be united to His death (Galatians 3:27; Matthew 28:19), and so that they might die, be buried, and rise together with Christ (Colossians 2:11-13; Romans 6:3-11).  It was a simple act but it carried a profound meaning to the early believers—and to genuine believers today.

In sharp contrast, in our day, most professing Christians actually have not been immersed in water, and most of those who have, do not acknowledge the meaning and purpose of baptism as taught by Christ and the apostles.  Further, in most churches of Christendom, little babies are “baptized” rather than responsible,  repentant and believing adults.  Sadly, most people are either sprinkled or poured rather than actually baptized (immersed) in water.  Tragically, a ritual or ceremony that churches label “baptism” may merely be an expected door of sectarian or denominational  membership—or the ceremony may be considered a semi-magical means of salvation.  Thus, it has become a church ritual, an ecclesiastical form, or a means of saving little infants!  How different from Biblical baptism!

  1. Genuine believers participated in the life of the body and were instructed to use their gifts to bless others.

The first brothers and sisters in Christ participated in the life of the body.  Paul said that the gifts of the Spirit would enable each Christian to serve others for their blessing and benefit.  The apostle wrote, “To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7).  He told the believers, “Seek to abound for the edification of the church” (14:12).  Paul further explained, “Just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:4-5).

This means that each Christian was equipped to serve and build up his fellow believers: “When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation.  Let all things be done for edification” (1 Corinthians 14:26; cf. Ephesians 4:7, 16).  While one may not have any of the gifts mentioned by Paul here, each person can do something—whether it be serving others, teaching the Scriptures, exhorting the believers, giving large amounts of his income to the Lord, leading the flock of God, showing mercy to those in need, or dozens of other works of the Lord (cf. Romans 12:6-8).

Further, God equipped certain men to be evangelists (Ephesians 4:11), teachers (Acts 13:1), servants (1 Timothy 3:8ff), and overseers or shepherds (1 Timothy 3:1ff; Titus 1:5ff).  Women also were able to help and serve in various capacities (cf. Acts 9:36; 18:24-26; Romans 16:1-2; 1 Timothy 3:11), though they were restricted from leading in public (1 Timothy 2:8, 11-15; 1 Corinthians 14:33-37).  The point is that the early members of Christ’s body were participants—and not merely spectators.

In many respects, the modern church is dominated by professional clergy, those who are paid full time to be “ministers” or “priests” in a religious institution.  In the early body, each of the early Christians was a minister (a servant of the Lord) and a priest (with full access to God in prayer), today most people think that only a special class of clergymen (or cleregywomen!) is able to publicly serve in a religious way.  Generally, in our day, the “pastor” leads, whereas in New Testament times, the older, married, specially-qualified men were shepherds (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).

In our day, only this preacher, minister, or pastor is thought to be worthy and capable of giving a sermon, whereas in New Testament times the overseers were to be “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2) and “to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9).  Each capable brother could personally admonish others, as God gave him the ability (cf. Romans 15:14).  The evangelist or bearer of good news also publicly taught the assembled believers (2 Timothy 4:2-5).  While elders, teachers, and evangelists could be supported (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:3-18; 1 Timothy 5:17-18), they often supported themselves with their own labors (Acts 18:1-3; 20:32-35).  Today, some preachers earn very high incomes and live in regal splendor, driving luxurious cars, living in extravagant homes, and dressing in high fashion clothes.  This is far removed from the apostle Paul and his associates who had little, kept little, and gave much away (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:11).

  1. Believers in Christ looked on money as a means to glorify God rather than an avenue to prideful and selfish luxury and extravagance.

We have already noticed that Jesus said we cannot serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24).  Those who “want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).  Scripture says that the way we look upon money and material possessions is a gauge of our faithfulness to the Lord (cf. Luke 16:9-15) and a “test” of our love for others (2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 24; 9:6-15).  Generally, it was the poor in this world who were rich in faith (James 2:5) and would enter the kingdom of God (Luke 6:20, 24).  Wealth could be positive and especially helpful—if used for loving purposes in the Kingdom (cf. 1 Timothy 6:17-19).

In our day, the “Health and Wealth” televangelists and preachers have “a heart trained in greed” (2 Peter 2:14).  Peter warns that “in their greed they will exploit you with false words” (v.3).  As Paul says, they “suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Timothy 6:5).  He says that they teach “things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain” (Titus 1:11).  Indeed, this well describes the money-loving Charismatic teachers of our day!

These contemporary false teachers and false prophets live in opulence, while their followers may barely make ends meet.  They live in palaces, drive Mercedes and Jaguars, own the finest of clothes, and are known for their lavish lifestyle, while poverty-stricken devotees may send the televangelist their last dollar.  How different are these counterfeits from the lowly Jesus of Nazareth who lived a very simple life (cf. Luke 8:1-3; 9:58).  What a contrast these charlatans are in comparison with the apostles who lived as common people (1 Corinthians 1:26-28; 4:11-13; Acts 20:31-35).  How different their present luxury is compared with what awaits them in the future (cf. Luke 16:19-31; James 5:1-6).

  1. Early believers were taught to maintain the purity of Christ’s body.

The Bible uses the image of a bride to reveal Christ’s desire for His body of believers.  This bride was to be pure, holy, undefiled, and uncontaminated.  Paul explained that Jesus loved and died for His people “so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25-27).  Christ “sanctified” his bride (His people), which means that He “separated” her from all sin and defilement.  He “set her apart” from all evil.  He cleansed her from all sin and wants her to be holy and pure.  How was this to be maintained in the ongoing life of His community of saints?

Many means are used by God through Christ to keep true Christians free from sin.  The word of God must be preached (2 Timothy 3:16-4:2), and the Holy Spirit uses this Word to accomplish His purposes of leading us to growth and maturity (Romans 8:6-14).  However, this teaching and admonishing did not always accomplish the intended purpose.  Sometimes a member of the body deliberately sinned, purposely turned away, fell into sin, or accepted false teaching.  When this happened, more drastic measures were required.

A leading way the community of believers was to be purified was through the exclusion of all members who would defile the body of saints.  Just as a member of the physical body must be severed if it contracted cancer, so a member of the spiritual body of Christ must be removed in order to maintain the health of the community of believers.  With love, gentleness, patience, and truth, spiritual brothers were to reach out to those who compromised the will of God and bring them back to faithfulness again (Galatians 6:1-2; James 5:19-20).  Those who refused to repent were to be excluded from the fellowship of saints.

This exclusion from the fellowship of the body included those who lived immoral lives (1 Corinthians 5:11-13), those who did not submit to the apostles’ teaching (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15), those who sinned privately but refused to repent and reconcile (Matthew 18:15-20), those who were trouble-makers (Titus 3:10-11), those who taught false doctrines (Romans 16:17-18), and those who were worldly, fleshly, selfish, and carnal (2 Timothy 3:1-5; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13).

As a warning to those of all ages, we read of a greedy and prideful couple who publicly lied to an apostle and dropped dead on the spot (Acts 5:1-10)!  Scripture then says, “Great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things. . . . None of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem” (v. 11).  This shows that dealing decisively with known, unrepentant sin will bring a fear of sinning (1 Timothy 5:20) and a respect for a God of holiness and truth in those who hear and observe.  The purpose of excluding sinful brothers, those who teach false doctrines, and those who live worldly lives is to keep the body of Christ pure (1 Corinthians 5:6-8) as well as to reclaim the brother by bringing him to repentance, confession, and even restitution, if need be (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15; 1 Corinthians 5:4-5; 2 Corinthians 2:4-11; 1 Timothy 1:19-20).

Like other teachings of Scripture, this teaching of rebuking sinful brothers and withdrawing fellowship from the unrepentant is largely lacking in modern Christendom.  In fact, it is seldom if ever employed.  Some professing Christians have never heard of such a practice and consider this to be unkind and unloving—the very opposite of what God has revealed!  In most Protestant churches, for example, members may live worldly lives, show little interest in Jesus Christ, hold sinful jobs and occupations, knowingly and publicly sin in various ways, teach a wide range of false doctrines, commit fornication and adultery, and some even open their doors to sodomites!

Because of this reluctance to obey the Word of God in this difficult matter, Protestant and independent (as well as Catholic) churches look little different from the world around them!  Those members who are sinful, disobedient, and worldly dilute and affect the entire church, like leaven influences the entire lump of dough (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).  In the name of a false love, churches tolerate and condone so much that is an offense toward our holy God.

  1. True believers focus on the great themes of truth.

The Word of God is not just a repository of good stories and moral platitudes; it is a storehouse of saving truth!  The Bible is the Word of the living God!  It is inspired of God (God-breathed) and “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:17).  Therefore, the Word of God must be thoroughly, incessantly, fully, and continually taught in public and private, that God’s people might be perfected in the truth (2 Timothy 4:2).  Paul says that “the household of God, which is the church of the living God” is “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).  This truth was to be paramount in the life of the early disciples.

Among the great themes of truth that should be prominent in the life and preaching of the body of Christ is the death of Christ (Romans 3:24; 5:6-11; 1 Corinthians 15:3).  It is through Christ’s sacrificial, redemptive, reconciling death on the cross that we are saved from sin and prepared for heaven!  The early believers also emphasized the resurrection of Christ from the dead (Acts 2:29-36; 5:30-32; 17:30-31; 1 Corinthians 15:4-20).  The second coming of Christ with power and glory as well as the coming Judgment were chief truths proclaimed (Acts 3:19-21; 10:42-43; 17:31).  The kingdom of God or God’s righteous rule or reign in our lives, in the body of Christ, and in the whole universe, and how this is to be manifested in practical life was also a key theme in the early proclamation of truth (cf. Acts 14:22; 20:25; 28:23, 31; Romans 14:17; Colossians 1:13; 2 Timothy 4:1, 18; 2 Peter 1:11).  The early community of Christ was to rest upon these and other great truths.  They were to be proclaimed to the ends of the earth!

Sadly, many churches are more interested in the entertainment of the world that they have brought into the church.  They run after the “fun and games” that they think will draw the crowds.  They also are attracted to the presumed miracles and prophecies of false teachers; they are drawn to the worldly music of worldly performers; they enjoy the social activities, golf tournaments, and ball games of worldly leaders; and they seem to delight in anything that does not require diligent study of the Word!  They find it terribly painful to “endure” two hours of solid Bible study.

Paul warned, “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).  The truth of God is not valued in most churches today.  Most members are not regular Bible readers, and fewer yet diligently study their Bibles.  Vast numbers of church members are more knowledgeable of the scores of ball games, the personal life of Hollywood celebrities, the theme of television programs, and the technical facts of their given professions, than they are about the fundamental content of the Word of God.  Most have never really given a serious attempt to memorize Scripture, to learn the background facts of Scripture, and to study the great themes of the Bible.  In short, the Basic truth of the Word of God is either lacking or denied.

Various studies reveal the widespread lack of Biblical faith among many church members.  How many members can affirm that “the Bible is the word of God and is not mistaken in its statements and teachings?”  Here we discover much unbelief.  Consider one survey.  Only 41% of Catholics, 53% of Southern Baptists, 53% of other Baptists, 33% of Methodists, and 50% of Lutherans could accept this fundamental truth!  How many in the various churches believe that “the Devil is a personal being who directs evil forces and influences people to do wrong?”  The survey discovered that only 32% of Catholics, 53% of Southern Baptists, 52% of other Baptists, 24% of Methodists, and 34% of Lutherans could affirm this Biblical teaching!  One more truth may be mentioned.  Consider the Biblical teaching that “God created Adam and Eve, which was the start of human life.”  These percentages were willing to agree to this: 47% of Catholics, 58% of Protestants, 68% of Southern Baptists, 68% of other Baptists, 55% of Methodists, and 62% of Lutherans.  It is obvious that churches are filled with unbelief and denial of basic Biblical truths!

  1. Believers only support and promote teachers who proclaim the truth without error.

As we have seen above, the early believers looked upon the truth of Scripture as vital and indispensable.  The foundation of the apostles and prophets supported the body of Christ or the household of God (Ephesians 2:19-20), and that same body was “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).  Paul showed the importance of publicly standing for the truth of God and proclaiming it to the body of Christ.  He said, “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20).  He went on to affirm, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God” (v. 27).  Only the truth was to be taught; all error was to be renounced.  Paul then went on to declare the very means by which God would protect his hearers from error and bring spiritual growth to their lives: “I comment you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to built you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (v. 32).

The full truth is rare today in many churches.  Error is promoted in theological schools and seminaries, in books and literature, on the radio and television, and from the pulpits.  Surveys indicate that major denominational leaders deny basic Biblical truths.  For example, how many preachers and pastors accept the statement: “Scriptures are the inspired and inerrant Word of God not only in matters of faith but also in historical, geographical and other secular matters.”  Only 13% of Methodists, 5% of Episcopalians, 12% of Presbyterians, 33% of American Baptists, 23% of American Lutherans, and 34% of Missouri Synod Lutherans could affirm this!

Consider also the question: Do you believe that “Adam and Eve were individual historic persons?”  Only 18% of Methodist pastors, 3% of Episcopalians, 16% of Presbyterians, 45% of American Baptists, 49% of American Lutherans, and 90% of Missouri Synod Lutherans were willing to agree to this truth!  Another question would be the following: Do you believe that “the virgin birth of Jesus was a biological miracle?”  Only 40% of Methodist pastors, 56% of Episcopalians, 51% of Presbyterians, 56% of American Baptists, 81% of American Lutherans, and 95% of Missouri Synod Lutherans could affirm this truth!  Notice another question: Do you “believe in a divine judgment after death where some shall be rewarded and others punished?”  The results: 52% of Methodist pastors, 55% of Episcopalians, 57% of Presbyterians, 71% of American Baptists, 91% of American Lutherans, and 94% of Missouri Synod Lutherans could agree with this truth.

A final question deals with a truth that is absolutely essential to salvation: Do you believe that “Jesus’ physical resurrection [was] an objective historical fact in the same sense that Lincoln’s physical death was a historical fact?”  Some 49% of Methodists, 70% of Episcopalians, 65% of Presbyterians, 67% of American Baptists, 87% of American Lutherans, and 93% of Missouri Synod Lutherans affirmed this truth.  Some years ago, we carefully studied the teachings of a local United Methodist minister, the pastor of the third-largest Methodist Church in the country (or the world).  This renowned television speaker denied special creation, the virgin birth of Christ, the sinlessness of Christ, the atoning death of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ, the existence of miracles, the second coming of Christ, the great judgment, and the existence of hell!  While most Protestant and Catholic clergymen do not go this far, we must see that churches usually deny various basic Biblical truths—ones absolutely necessary for salvation!

  1. Believers are to live radically different, distinctive, and devoted lives.

Although the early Christians failed in many ways and under many circumstances, God wanted His children to be different from the people in society around them.  They were to be like a shining light in a dark and evil world (Matthew 5:14-16; Philippians 2:15-16).  They were to be moral in thought and deed, while living in a world of lust and sexual immorality (Ephesians 4:17-24; 5:1-14).  They were to follow the ways of God while the world around them was following their own selfish ways (Proverbs 3:5-6; Isaiah 53:6; 55:9-10).  They were to have purity of thought, purity in speech, purity in behavior, and purity in relationships, in a world that was impure and defiled (Matthew 5:8; 1 Peter 2:11-12; 4:1-5).

These early believers were to shun all violence and retaliation (Matthew 5:38-48), all immodesty in clothing and behavior (1 Timothy 2:9-10; 1 Peter 3:1-4), all compromising and defiling speech (Ephesians 4:29; Matthew 12:34-37), all close and compromising association with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14-18), all unlawful and rebellious activity toward the government (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17), and all sinful and compromising jobs, professions, and occupations (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; 4:11-12; Ephesians 4:28; Titus 3:14; Proverbs 28:13.  They were to utterly renounce their former sinful relationships and behavior, even when this would mean economic and social hardship (cf. Acts 19:18-20; 1 Peter 4:3-4).  This all means that their way of thinking, their way of speaking, their way of living, and their way of viewing life in general was diametrically opposed to the society in which they lived!  When the Christians showed signs of sinful compromise with the sinful world in which they lived, this inspired directive was issued: “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?  Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

In our day, God also wants His faithful children to live radically different, distinctive, and devoted lives.  True believers must speak the truth with love and kindness and must refrain from careless, worldly, and profane speech.  They must separate themselves from worldly activities, compromising jobs and occupations, along with worldly pastimes and amusements.  Brothers and sisters are to dress modestly, properly, and economically—rather than in the fashionable styles of the world.  True disciples should choose their vehicles for their economy and simplicity rather than for their luxury and high cost.  The saints should be different in their use of money and possessions, knowing that God owns all material things and recognizing that each Christian is a steward of the Lord.  The body of Christ is to be a family of love, caring, and fellowship—rather than a religious institution that is uncaring, impersonal, cold, and heartless.  In nearly every way, God wants His community to be different and distinctive.

The world of religion knows little of this radical difference that must be seen in the body of Christ.  Generally, members of churches do not live in a way different from their pre-conversion lives.  They speak the same way, they have the same hobbies, they follow the same sports, they go to the same movies, they watch the same television programs, they take the same courses at the university, they hold down the same jobs and follow the same professions.  These compromising members hold the same opinions, enjoy the same conversations, dress the same way, buy the same luxurious homes with opulent furnishings, indulge in the same recreation, listen to the same music, and take the same vacations.  Where is the difference in these religious people?  How has God changed and transformed them?

  1. Believers were willing to suffer persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ.

Jesus warned that His followers should expect to face rejection, ridicule, slander, and outright persecution for their commitment to Him and the way of righteousness.  The Lord forewarned, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).  Jesus said that some would even need to die for their faith in Him!  (24:9; Luke 21:16).  Notice also these solemn words: “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.  You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved” (Matthew 10:21-22).

Paul also warned those who came to Christ with these words: “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).  He said, quite frankly, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus, will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).  There is no way to escape at least some suffering if we would be true to our Lord.  The Lord was hated by the world and those who would follow Him as committed disciples will also be hated by the world (cf. John 15:18-25).

In the first century, followers of Christ faced rejection by their family and friends, were cast out of the synagogue, lost their jobs and houses, were thrown into jail and prison, were beaten with rods and whips, and were cruelly put to death (cf. Matthew 10:21-23, 34-38; Mark 13:9-13; Luke 12:51-53; Acts 5:40-41; 7:54-60; 12:1-3; 16:19-25; Philippians 1:29; 2 Corinthians 11:23-29; Hebrews 10:32-34).  Jesus said that His disciples would need to suffer for Him (John 16:33).  It may require the loss of a job, the loss of family, the loss of friends, the loss of marriage, the loss of favor from others, the loss of money, the loss of property, and many other forms of deprivation.  The body of Christ, in this age and in this world, must be seen as a suffering fellowship of saints!

Church members today are far removed from the experience of the rejected and suffering “little flock” of Christ’s day.  Professing Christians aim to be respected members of society, want to be held in high esteem in the community, and desire to be admired by the world.  They are elected to public office, they rise to places of prominence in their firms, they play golf with the socialites, they are invited to parties by their fellow-workers, and they seldom hear a negative word.  How many have lost their job because of their Christian convictions, how many have lost a spouse because of loyalty to Christ, how many have been rejected by their family and friends because they would not participate in worldly entertainment, and how many have lost income or possessions because they refused to lower their ethical standards?  In short, religious people today are not persecuted by the world, because they are actually part of the world!

* * * * *

Dear friend, have our words touched your heart today?  Have you clearly seen the contrast between the body of Christ as He formed it and religious institutions as you have known them?  Indeed, there is a great chasm between true followers of Christ and compromising church members of the twenty-first century!

Where do you belong?  Are you willing to identify yourself with a modern church, denomination, or sect?  Are you content to be a loyal adherent of a religious organization or ecclesiastical institution, with an unscriptural name, nonbiblical organization, and compromising lifestyle?  On the other hand, do you find your heart longing to belong to the body of Christ in our day?  Do you want to be a true child of God, a member of God’s eternal family, and aspire to believe what they believed, love the way they loved, speak the way they spoke, and live the way they lived?  The choice is before you!

In order to be a member of the body of Christ or the family of God the Father, you must respond to Christ just as people did two thousand years ago.  They didn’t subscribe to a false doctrinal statement, agree to unscriptural requirements, submit to an unbiblical clergy, take a human religious name, or become part of a denominational organization of a compromising church.  Rather, they simply responded to the Lord Jesus as Scripture requires.  They were content to be simply a follower of Jesus their Lord.

What do we mean?  These people repented of following their own way and living in sin.  They believed in God and placed their faith in the crucified and risen Son of God, Jesus Christ.  They confessed Jesus as Lord of their lives and Savior from sin.  They were baptized (immersed) into Jesus Christ and His death and rose to walk in newness of life, with their sins forgiven and their heart transformed by the power of God.  They began a new journey with God as their Father, Jesus Christ as their living Lord, and the Holy Spirit as the inward gift from God.  They became pilgrims on earth and heaven was their true Home.  “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Have you seen the vision of Christ’s desire for His body, the body of believers?  Have you been gripped with His plan and program for this community of saints?  Be willing to study the Bible to learn more about God’s will for His people.  Request the literature we offer below.  Contact us if we may be of further assistance to you in understanding the Scriptures.

Be like the Ethiopian who requested to be taught further (Acts 8:30-31).  Be like Cornelius who eagerly wanted to be taught the truth of the Lord (Acts 10:33).  Be like Lydia whose heart was opened by the Lord to receive the truth from Paul (Acts 16:14-15).  Be like the Bereans who “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).  Be like Apollos who wanted to learn “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26).  Seek further light from the word of the Lord that you might be able to compare and contrast the religious institutions of  our day with the Lord’s body of twenty centuries ago.  What will you do?


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