April 26, 2013 10:36 pm

The New Testament Church Part 3

Posted In: The Blog, The Church

Re- Blogged From  Dewayne Dulaney

Introduction

As I have had the privilege of preaching and teaching from the Bible over the years, I've always kept in mind the above admonitions from the New Testament. It is a weighty responsibility to teach God's Word, for the eternal destiny of those who hear (or read) is at stake. I feel this as I write the articles for this blog, as well. In keeping with that thought, I want to make clear something that needs to be understood by all who read these articles on the New Testament church. Again, unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations in this article are from the Today's New International Version (TNIV).

I may have unintentionally given the impression that Christ's church is the source of salvation from sin; if so, I regret this. I want to make absolutely clear that the New Testament teaches, and we who seek to be Christ's church today teach, that Jesus Christ alone is the Savior, not the church. “Salvation is to be found through him alone; in all the world there is no one else whom God has given who can save us." (Acts 4:12, Good News Translation) The church is Jesus' bride, bought with his blood (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:25—27), as we saw in the second article in this series. But the church is not the savior; it is the body of the saved. To anticipate a little bit (which we will discuss more at the appropriate time), Acts chapter 2, which tells about the birth of the church, concludes by saying, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47) Although the best-attested text of Acts does not use the word for “church”, ἐκκλησία (ekklēsía) until Acts 5:11, all students of Acts agree that the people referred to in 2:47 were the church.

I agree with what Brother T. Pierce Brown wrote in a recent article:

"...for those of us who speak so highly of calling Bible things by Bible names and doing Bible things in Bible ways, it is amazing that more of us do not realize that in New Testament times, no Apostle ever preached to an alien sinner anything about a blood-brought institution into which he must come in order to get salvation. Did Jesus die to save an organization or institution, or did He die to save individuals who were then classified as a part of the body of Christ, the church?

Surely it does not take an especially astute person to see the difference in the concept of the church as a sort of glorified country club in which one should seek membership if he wants to be saved, and the concept of rendering obedience to Christ at which time he is saved and placed in God's record among the other called out ones. Is anyone so naive as to think that when Peter preached on Pentecost any one of the 3000 who obeyed the gospel had any concept at all of trying to do whatever it took to get membership in the church?

There is almost as much difference in the concepts as there is in night and day. It is our conviction that much of the lethargy we see in [the] church of today is because most of the members think getting membership in the church saved them...Of course no gospel preacher ever preached it that way, but many that claim membership in the Lord's church seem to think that getting membership in the church is what saved them. Whether they submitted to Christ as Lord was not at the center of their consciousness...."

—“"Should I Change Churches?”, Gospel Light, July 2007, p. 103.

 

At the same time, it is important to maintain the biblical perspective of the importance of the church: it is God's household, or family (Galatians 6:10; 1 Timothy 3:15). Nor is it an afterthought in God's plan, as some have claimed: instead, it is a vital part of his eternal purpose, chosen to reveal his wisdom (Ephesians 3:10—11). The church, as it embodies and serves as a conduit for the power of God to work in human lives, gives God glory (honor or praise), Ephesians 3:20—21. And, not only is the church the divinely-chosen messenger of salvation through Jesus, it is God's agent to serve the hurting by acts of mercy and service such as feeding the hungry, healing and tending the sick, visiting prisoners, etc. (Matthew 25: 31—46).

So, What is the World's Greatest Question? Is it Really “What Must I Do to Be Saved”? 

The answer to this question is supremely important, if the Bible's teachings are true, for as it says, “ Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). Jesus himself noted that, as the Great Physician, he came to heal those sick with sin: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick....For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12—13). Those unconcerned with spiritual matters find other questions more important, but Jesus did not. As he also stated, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). As Brother F. Furman Kearley, who correctly termed the question about salvation as “the world's greatest question” noted, if one believes that God and the devil exist, and that there is a heaven and a hell, and that we each have an eternal soul that will spend eternity in one realm or the other, then the most important questions are spiritual ones (“Editorial: The World's Greatest Question”, Gospel Advocate, January 16, 1986, p. 1). Jesus and the inspired writers of the Bible thought likewise, and taught that these are spiritual realities that must be faced. In fact, Jesus talked more about hell and eternal punishment than anyone else in the New Testament. So, yes, this is the most important question in the world.

The Holy Spirit of God, who inspired Luke, the Apostle Paul's fellow missionary, to write the record of the church's beginnings and early growth in the Book of Acts, had Luke record three occasions where the question “What must I do to be saved?” or its equivalent is asked and answered (Acts 2:37—41; 16:30—34; 22:10—16). By studying these divinely-given accounts, we also can learn what we need to do today to be saved by Jesus. Before we look at the answers given, however, we need to consider another question: Why do people need to be saved from sin?

The Question Behind the Greatest Question: Why do I Need to Be Saved?

From Genesis to Revelation, that is, throughout the Bible, it is taught that God is holy and righteous—he is pure from sin and does what is right. It is also taught that he expects humans as his creation to do the same. When Adam and Eve chose to violate God's command and ate the forbidden fruit, sin entered the world and it caused a separation between mankind and God; they became alienated from God, and he expelled them from his presence (Genesis chapter 3).

At a later period, God spoke through the Israelite prophet Isaiah concerning the effects sin has on our relationship with God: “But your iniquities have separated 
you from your God; 
your sins have hidden his face from you, 
so that he will not hear” (Isa. 59:1—2). Now, many people today have the notion, as many did in Bible times, that they can close the gap between mankind and God by being “good people” and outweigh the effect of sin by their good deeds. Brother Larry West, in his audio Bible lesson “Heaven: Have We Lost It?”, tells about many people he has met and talked with who express this belief. They say things like, “I'm a good grandfather/mother/parent. I pay my taxes, I'm honest; while I've done some things in my life I'm not proud of, I haven't done anything to seriously jeopardize my relationship to God.” Brother West then asks, “Well, what would it take to 'seriously jeopardize my relationship to God'?” He then points out that, even with conservative estimates, everyone commits thousands of sins over the course of a lifetime, even if it is as few as 1 or 2 a day. And God, who inspired the Apostle Paul to write, “There is no one righteous, not even one....for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10, 23) also had Paul record that “...the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in [or “through”, margin] Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

As brother West points out, there are two sides to God: one side is holy and righteous—and just, which must punish sin, and the other side, which is loving and merciful. However, he adds, God only has to be holy and righteous; if he is not these, he is not God. But he chooses to be merciful and loving. Brother West illustrates this with the story of a young woman who committed a serious traffic violation and was found guilty. The sentence could either be a fine or 90 days in jail. The judge passed sentence: the fine would have to be paid. However, he then stepped down from the bench, took out his wallet, and laid the money on the bench to pay the woman's fine. You see, the judge happened to be the woman's father. He had to pass sentence, and the sentence had to be carried out, for him to be a just judge. But he chose to pay the fine himself out of love for her as her father. Well, God is the same way. God is holy, righteous, and just: sin must be punished. As Paul pointed out, the “wages of sin is death”. That is, sin deserves death; it is the just sentence God has passed on sin. So, death has to be meted out as a punishment for our sins. But because God is merciful and loving, he gave his Son, Jesus to die in our place so we could be in a right relationship with God. He, in effect, paid our fine, took our punishment.

Jesus himself taught that good works, even those done out of religious motives, are of no value if a person is living in disobedience to God (Matthew 7:21—23). He also emphasized that most people are going to be lost because they do not choose to travel the right way: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Mt. 7:13—14; Kearley, Ibid., p. 2). And, contrary to the thinking of most people that there are many ways to heaven, Jesus taught otherwise. He said “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved....I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 10:9; 14:6). To sum up, it does not matter how good we are; if we commit even one sin, that is enough to break our fellowship with God and cause us to need to be saved. Remember, as far as we know, Adam and Eve only committed one sin and were cast out of Eden.

So, on our own merits, our own resources as human beings, things are absolutely hopeless! But, thank God, that is not the last word! God himself, foreseeing that this would happen, planned even before creating the world to provide salvation to those who would believe and obey him through Jesus. The Apostle Peter reminded the Christians of his day of this truth when he wrote, “Realize that you weren't set free from the worthless life handed down to you from your ancestors by a payment of silver or gold which can be destroyed. Rather, the payment that freed you was the precious blood of Christ, the lamb with no defects or imperfections. He is the lamb who was known long ago before the world existed, but for your good he became publicly known in the last period of time” (1 Peter 1:18—20, GOD'S WORD Translation). In the last book of the Bible, John the Revelator calls Jesus “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). God is so good! So, now that it has been established that people need to be saved from sin, and we now know God has provided the way of salvation through Jesus, how can people be saved? How can they access this salvation? This brings us back now to the question “What must I do to be saved?” and the answers given in the Book of Acts. We will start to look at the answers in the next post.

Works Cited

Brown, T. Pierce. “Should I Change Churches?”. Gospel Light. July 2007, Pp. 103, 109.

Kearley, F. Furman. “Editorial: The World's Greatest Question”. Gospel Advocate. January 16, 1986. Pp. 1-2.

Microsoft Office 2004: Mac: (Clip Gallery included images). I found the green question mark image here. © 1983-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Microsoft Office Online: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/default.aspx (Clip art and photos). I found the "Roman Librarian" image (by the "You're Invited to Comment" statement) at this site. © 2008 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Mac Gallery: http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Ridge/1217/MacGalleryIndex.html (No copyright info listed) I found the "Made with a Mac" banner here.

West, Larry. “Heaven: Have We Lost It?”. Tape 1 in the Son”Words” 3-tape series Heaven: From God's Heart to Yours. Monroe, Louisiana: World Radio Gospel Broadcasts, © 1996.

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