Friday, January 27, 2012

The Explicit Gospel

by Matt Chandler: “Response” (Excerpt, Chapter 4)

We have seen tons of people at The Village who sat here for years just hearing but not hearing, seeing but not perceiving, and then all of a sudden, at some random worship service or Bible study, the Lord just hijacked them.

Jesus puts it simply: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matt. 12:30). The gospel is such power that it necessitates reaction. Jesus Christ has worked such an outrageous wonder that he demands response, whether hatred or passion. Anyone ambivalent about what Christ has actually done just isn’t clear on the facts. To present the gospel, then, is to place a hearer in an untenable position. The heart of the hearer of the gospel must move, either toward Christ or away from him. Pastor Chan Kilgore puts it this way: “True gospel preaching always changes the heart. It either awakens it or hardens it.”

We certainly see this alternating affection and aversion in the four Gospels, as Jesus and his disciples persevere in their itinerant ministry, declaring forgiveness of sins and the inbreaking of the kingdom of God. Some are drawn; others are repulsed. But nobody hears Jesus and just says, “Eh.” In some cases, as in the feeding of the five thousand in John 6, they are drawn by his miracles, then repulsed when he connects the miraculous deeds to the miraculous words of the good news.

Knowing this, we don’t need all thirty-six verses of “Just As I Am,” a plaintive pleading from the altar, heads bowed, eyes closed, and shaky hands raised to issue a gospel invitation. No, the invitation is bound up in the gospel message itself. The explicit gospel, by virtue of its own gravity, invites belief by demanding it.

We each stand from birth on the precipice between life and death. Because we are stained with sin from conception, we are rushing headlong into the fires of hell before we can even walk.

Jesus lays his body across the path; there is no ignoring him. If it’s headlong into hell we want to go, we have to step over Jesus to get there.

Many Christians desire to say yes to the gospel, but one of our biggest problems is mistaking the gospel for law.

Faith Versus Works

 Here’s the funny thing about the Old Testament: 85 percent of it is God saying, “I’m going to have to kill all of you if you don’t quit this.” Seriously, 85 percent of it is “I am destroying you” or “I am going to destroy you.” Because of this, there’s a lot of attempted appeasement going on. A lot of scared Israelites need a lot of sacrificial animals. I have no idea how they stocked that many animals. But in all their scurrying around from slaughter to slaughter, God is not just frustrated with their unrepentance, but with their approach to the sacrificial system that they’re trying to leverage. Let me show you what I mean:

Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom!
Give ear to the teaching of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.
“When you come to appear before me,
who has required of you
this trampling of my courts?” (Isa. 1:10–12)

This selection from Isaiah highlights the problem with the sacrificial system, both then and now. God doesn’t need sacrifices. God is saying, “I don’t need your bulls. I don’t want your goats. You’re missing the point. I’m trying to communicate to you how disgusting and how horrible and how costly your sin is before me. And instead of feeling the weight of that and actually repenting, you just keep doing what you’re doing, all the while bringing me goats and bulls like that’s what I really want.” They’re like the wife beater who brings his wife flowers. She doesn’t want his stupid flowers. She wants him to repent; she wants to be honored.

The same thing plays out even to this day. Christ’s work demands the response of faith, but we want to make donations. It is astounding how many evangelicals are not doing Christianity at all; they’re doing the Levitical priesthood. They’re trying to offer God good behavior so he’ll like them.

We continue living with unrepentant, faithless hearts, making religious pit stops along the way, even frequently, to keep laying things on the altar, and in the end, the altar’s closed. When someone dares to insert the unadulterated gospel into this religious mess, we get discombobulated. We get confused. I’m sure the Israelites were confused over prophecies such as that in Isaiah 1. God commands them to come into his temple courts and make these sacrifices, and then he says, “Who has required of you this trampling my courts?”

They’re thinking, “Um, you did. You told us to do this.”

Their heartless obedience—and our heartless obedience—demonstrates the bankruptcy of the sacrificial currency.

I’m a fixer, a type-A personality. I like problem solving. Give me a dry-erase board and some markers and throw the problem out there, and I think, “Let’s go; let’s fix it!” But I learned early on in my marriage that my wife doesn’t really appreciate that. She would be telling me about her day, about some problem or frustration she encountered, and say something like, “And this happened and this happened and this happened,” and my response was typically, “Let me show you what your problem is.”

Husbands, you know this does not go well. I’m a slow learner, but after all these years of marriage, when she tells me something now, I always say, “Are you saying these things because you want me to hear and empathize or are you asking me for help?” I’m so confident in all kinds of areas in my life, but while listening to my wife, all of a sudden, I’m thinking, “Is this a trap?” And I’m realizing something now. I’m realizing that after years of my asking, “Do you want me to empathize or do you want me to help?” I don’t think she’s ever said, “I’m asking for your help.”

The hard-won lesson I’ve learned in marriage, something I’m very grateful for knowing now, is that there are some things in my wife’s heart and some struggles she faces in life that I cannot fix. It doesn’t matter how romantic I am; it doesn’t matter how loving I am; it doesn’t matter how many flowers I send, or if I write her poetry, or if I clean the kitchen, or if I take the kids and let her go have girl time—I am powerless to fix Lauren. (And she’s powerless to fix me.) Doing all those things to minister to her are right and good, but there are things in my girl that I can’t fix, things that are between her and the Lord. Just like there are things in me that she can’t love me enough to overcome.

But the only way I would ever have learned this is to try, try, try—try to fix her, let her try to fix me, and then watch the escalating conflict that takes place when we try to do that.

What if the sacrificial system was given so that we would learn, no matter how much we gave and how much we worked and how many pricey things we sacrificed, that we still can’t fix what is broken?

By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation. (Heb. 9:8–10)
The author of Hebrews is saying that we can sacrifice all we want, and that we can obey all the regulations we can get our hands on, but in the end, if our heart isn’t changed, we’re no better off. Answer me this: Is the alcoholic free if he doesn’t drink on Monday but everything in him wants to and needs to, and he’s in agony because he wants to do something he knows he can’t? Is that freedom? Of course not.

This is what Jesus emphasizes when he says, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Matt. 5:21–22); and, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (vv. 27–28).

You may be able to control yourself against sleeping with somebody you’re not married to, and you may be able to avoid taking someone’s life, but if you are a slave to lust and anger, you are not any more free than somebody who can’t control his urge to murder.

Acts of sacrifice, in the end, don’t do anything. They do not cleanse your conscience, and they do not set your heart on the things of God. The routine sacrificial system, then, was not empowered to or designed to cleanse the Israelites’ hearts any more than good works are empowered to or designed to cleanse our own. Even our most rigorous of attempts reveals the hardness of our hearts and the insurmountable brokenness inside them. This whole enterprise is a blessed exercise in frustration, but it is one that points beyond itself. Hebrews 10:1 tells us the law is just the shadow of the good things to come.

Similarly, the shadow of good works ought to proceed from the light of the good news. Our endless, bloody religious sacrifices ought to push us to look to the one sacrifice to rule them all. The gospel of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, then, is not an invitation to moralism; it is an invitation to real transformation. Our works don’t work. “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law,” Paul writes in Romans 3:28. The only acceptable response to the gospel is nothing less than a heart of faith.

Clay and Ice, Cuts and Scars

 The Puritans had a saying: “The same sun that hardens the clay melts the ice.”

I was converted to belief in Jesus Christ as savior and Lord over a period of time, so I don’t have the testimony of those who say, “I was at a Billy Graham Crusade; I heard the gospel for the first time, and I was all in.” Although my justification was secured in a moment, the process of my understanding and acceptance took place over a year-long time of some guys being patient with me and loving me and walking with me. They invited me to church gatherings and spiritual events, and they even allowed me to mock those things. They just patiently explained them to me more fully. I asked a lot of questions that I now know won’t be answered this side of heaven, but they let me ask them anyway, and they tried to answer. Sometimes they’d give me books to read. Through that whole year, God began to gather kindling around my life.

You start a fire with small pieces of grass and wood, and once that’s caught, you put on bigger sticks, and then you put on bigger sticks, and then you put on even bigger sticks. In those early conversations with my friends Jeff and Jerry and others, God was laying kindling around my heart, and then, three days before my eighteenth birthday, he lit it up. What’s funny is that in that moment I no longer needed all my questions answered. It took me a while to catch, but when I did, that’s when I was all in.

Before that, though, I needed to know how it all worked; I needed to know how everything fit; I needed to know why God would say such-and-such. But when the Holy Spirit opened up my heart to Christ my savior and God my Father and reconciled me to God, I didn’t need those questions answered. Even after my conversion, the residual contention I held out, that some specific complexity has to be solved for this whole thing to be credible, melted away in the light of God’s grace and mercy in my life. In May of that decisive year, I was an aggressive agnostic. In June I was converted and began to share the gospel.

I should explain what I mean when I say I shared the gospel. At that time, I knew that if you don’t love Jesus, you are going to hell, and therefore you shouldn’t drink beer and try to sleep with girls. That was the sum total of my frame of reference; I wasn’t theologically built out. But I had an insatiable thirst for the Word of God, so I studied the Bible constantly. Even so, I knew nothing of deep books, deep thinking, and the deep realities of the good news. I just knew that I loved Jesus, that I wanted other people to love Jesus, and that if you didn’t love Jesus the way I did, you were going to hell. That was my evangelistic strategy, so I told almost everyone I knew about this fantastic news: “This is what has happened to me. This is what God has done. This is what Jesus has done for you!”

In God’s mercy, he covered my naivete and honored my sincerity with the powerful gospel in spite of me, and I actually won people to Christ. I began to see a great deal of openness to the good news among my friends. Several came to know the Lord right after I did and began to follow him, love him, and serve him, and they continue to do so to this day. What I learned in those early days is that the proclamation of the glory of God, the might of God, and the majesty of God brought to bear on the sinfulness of man in the atoning work of Jesus Christ actually stirs the hearts of men. And men respond to that stirring. Some are stirred to belief; some are not.

I remember some friends who were stirred not to belief but to interest. “Explain this to me,” they’d say. “Help me understand this.” But, in the end, those guys were hardened to the gospel, and as time went on, and as they asked more questions, they didn’t become more and more open to Christ but more and more closed to him.

This is what the gospel does. This is why the gospel of Jesus is dangerous. When we hear the gospel word, we are opened up to the Word of God. We’re subjected to God’s Word reading us. We sit underneath it, and for the moment of our hearing, it rules us. It does not save all, but all who hear it are put in their place. This is dangerous, because the proclamation of God’s Word goes only one way or another in the soul of a man, and one of those ways is the hardening of a man toward the grace of God.

This means, for instance, that nobody can really attend church as though it’s a hobby; to do so does not reveal partial belief but hardness. The religious, moralistic, churchgoing evangelical who has no real intention of seeking God and following him has not found some sweet spot between radical devotion and wanton sin; he’s found devastation. The moralism that passes for Christian faith today is a devastating hobby if you have no intention of submitting your life fully to God and chasing him in Christ.

It is an amazing thing, but this one message can reach both those who are near and those who are far (Eph. 2:17) and bring one person near and push another farther away. The same sun that hardens the clay melts the ice.

Jesus gives us some insight into this phenomenon in his parable of the sower in Matthew 13:1–8. The sower does not offer a different seed in all his scattering; he apparently doesn’t even adjust the way he scatters. He has one seed, and evidently he distributes it indiscriminately. He knows every soil needs this one seed to grow what only this one seed produces. The different responses to the seed are contingent upon the receptivity of the soil. The seed finds purchase in soft soil but does not in hard soil.

I think of the way the Word of God, which is “sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12), cuts into the soul of every man and woman. The Word is sharp; there’s no doubting that. But some souls it cuts to the quick, breaking open like freshly tilled soil; others it bruises, leaving marks scarred over. This is not because the sword is not sharp enough, or that God cannot cut to the quick any soul he wants. Our softness or hardness is subject to the good pleasure of God (Rom. 9:18). Nevertheless, the effect is such that the sharp word of the gospel cuts some open, and others it scars, further callousing them against its promise of life. There is no one in between.

Response and Responsibility

 A lot of Christians love Isaiah 6, and this is because they stop reading before the story is over. Let me show you what I mean:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim few to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (vv. 1–7)
Evangelicals love this text. It radiates the exaltation of God. It conveys a thrilling bigness. Then you have verse 8, which is a definite coffee-cup verse: “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me.’” We absolutely love Isaiah 6:8. We romanticize it. So when we hear a sermon on missions, and the preacher has moved into leading a “Let’s do something good for the Lord” cheer, we feel the gravitational pull toward Isaiah 6:8: “Here am I! Send me.” It sounds gutsy, masculine. We can hear Braveheart’s guttural yawp in there. “Let’s do it! Let’s take it! Let’s go get ’em!”

We are as zealous about Isaiah 6:8 as we are oblivious of Isaiah 6:9. There is a roadblock waiting for us there: “And he said, ‘Go, and say to this people: “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’” Do you see what is happening here? God says, “Here’s your ministry, Isaiah. Go tell them, ‘Keep on hearing but do not hear.’”

Experientially, we know exactly what this means. We have all at some point said the right words to people who simply are not hearing them. The phrase “It’s like talking to a brick wall” is common for a reason. One of my frustrations living in the Bible Belt is that the gospel and its ancillary truths have been so divorced from actual living that a lot of beautiful theology has become cliché. There is a sentimentalization of the faith that occurs when you sanitize the gospel of Christ crucified or sift it from the substance of the Christian religion. The result is a malleable Jesus, a tame Jesus. The result is, as Michael Spencer says, “a spirituality that has Jesus on the cover but not in the book.” When we dilute or ditch the gospel, we end up with an evangelicalism featuring special appearances by Jesus but the denial of his power (2 Tim. 3:5).

I meet a lot of people swimming neck deep in Christian culture who have been inoculated to Jesus Christ. They have just enough of him not to want all of him. When that happens, what you have are people who have been conformed to a pattern of religious behavior but not transformed by the Holy Spirit of God. This explains why we see a lot of people who know objective spiritual truths but in the end have failed to apply them in such a way that their lives demonstrate real change. They’re hearing, but they’re not hearing.

A really vivid way we see this occur at The Village is in response to what the staff jokingly calls my “State of the Union” addresses, in which I say to the congregation, “Hey, quit coming here. If you’re not serious, if you don’t want to plug in, if you don’t want to do life here, if you don’t want to belong, if you’re an ecclesiological buffet kind of guy, eat somewhere else.” And then people who are doing all of those things will sit there in the crowd and say, “Yeah! Get ’em. It’s about time someone said this.” I’m thinking, “I’m talking to you! You’re who I’m talking to.” It makes me want to pull my hair out. They hear the words coming out of my mouth, but they’re not listening.

God commands Isaiah, “Tell them to keep on seeing, but not to perceive.”

Have you ever come across someone who absolutely knows his life is a mess but cannot put the dots together to see that he’s a part of the issue? If you run into someone with a victim’s mentality, someone who is constantly leaving carnage in her wake, someone who has a new group of friends every twelve to fifteen months, someone who has story after story after story about how this person betrayed him and another person did him wrong, but he has no ability to see or comprehend that he is the common denominator, you’ve run into someone who can see but can’t perceive. Such people know their life is a mess, but they can’t figure out, “Hmm, I seem to be the major malfunction here.” As it relates to spiritual matters, this seems to apply to all mankind.

God continues in Isaiah 6:10:

Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.
Now, nobody wants this ministry. Can you imagine this want ad?

“Now hiring: Pastor. Must make hearts dull. Those seeking fruitful ministry need not apply.”

For all the ambition that I’ve seen in young preachers, not a single one of them has said, “I want to be faithful to the Word of God and have no one respond to it.” So Isaiah does what any of us would do, and he asks about it:

“How long, O Lord?”
And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
and the land is a desolate waste,
and the Lord removes people far away,
and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
And though a tenth remain in it,
it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak,
whose stump remains
when it is felled.”
The holy seed is its stump. (vv. 11–13)
God’s response to Isaiah is simply this: “I’m going to gather the remnant. I’m going to gather the genuine believers. I’m going to work this thing over until all that is left are those who really love me, trust me, and seek me.” Isaiah, then, is not called to be fruitful but simply to be faithful. And, in fact, he’s told he will not be fruitful. The priority God charges him with is not success but integrity. He is sent to proclaim a word to people who in the end can see but not perceive, who can hear but can’t hear.

Let us allow the implications of this for Christian ministry settle into our minds. Let’s steep in this text; let’s wrestle with it. Let all of us Christians do this, but we in church leadership especially need to come to terms with what exactly happened there in the temple.

God’s commissioning of Isaiah is a torpedo into the way ministry is appraised in the church today. God is saying, “Isaiah, you’re going to proclaim faithfully, but they’re going to reject continually. And I’m at work in that.” Now, if Isaiah was a minister within today’s evangelicalism, he’d be considered an utter failure. Jeremiah would be an utter failure. Moses didn’t get to enter the Promised Land. John the Baptist didn’t get to see the ministry of Jesus. On and on we could go. We would not view the ministry of these men as successful.

One of the things we don’t preach well is that ministry that looks fruitless is constantly happening in the Scriptures. We don’t do conferences on that. There aren’t too many books written about how you can toil away all your life and be unbelievably faithful to God and see little fruit this side of heaven. And yet God sees things differently. We always have to be a little bit wary of the idea that numeric growth and enthusiastic response are always signs of success. The Bible isn’t going to support that. Faithfulness is success; obedience is success.

What we learn about God’s call to Isaiah provides a strange sense of freedom. A hearer’s response is not our responsibility; our responsibility is to be faithful to God’s call and the message of the gospel. No, a hearer’s response is his or her responsibility. But one of the mistakes we can make in our focusing on individual response in the gospel on the ground is to lose sight of God’s sovereign working behind our words and actions and our hearer’s response. Receptivity and rejection are ultimately dependent upon God’s will, not ours. Paul reminds us, “[God] says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom. 9:15–16). From the ground, we say what we choose to say and hear what we choose to hear. From the air, our saying is clearly empowered—“No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3)—and our hearing is clearly God-contingent—“having the eyes of your hearts enlightened” (Eph. 1:18).

You can find a whole bunch of verses about God’s moving and gathering large groups of people, which means if there’s numeric growth and much enthusiasm, we can’t say that it’s not a work of God or that God isn’t moving. I’m just saying that I guarantee you there’s some old dude in some town that most of us have never heard of faithfully preaching to nine people every week, and when we get to glory, we’ll be awed at his house. We’ll be awed at the reward God has for him. In the end, we have this idea being uncovered in Isaiah that God hardens hearts, that people hear the gospel successfully proclaimed and end up not loving God but hardened toward the things of God.

I know some people think, “Well that’s Old Testament, and God was really angry then. But Jesus is a lot nicer than God.” (Should we set aside the fact that Jesus is God?) But God’s sovereignty over the hardened response of hearers is well laid out in the New Testament too. Let’s return to the parable of the sower. In Matthew 13 Jesus tells us about the guy who casts the seeds. Some seeds land on the path, some land among the thorns, some land on shallow ground, and some land on good soil. After Jesus tells the parable, his disciples approach him confused because nobody can understand it. They ask him, “Why do you do this? Why do you tell these stories? Nobody knows what you’re talking about.” Here is Jesus’s response: “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matt. 13:11).

Now if we just stopped there and stared at this verse, we could find real joy for a long time. Right now, there are millions and millions of people who have no idea about the kingdom of heaven. But not you. You know the secret. They have no idea about the kingdom, no idea about God’s grace, no idea of God’s mercy. But not you. You know. You get to worship him, you get to walk with him, and you get to hear from him. Jesus tells his disciples, “It hasn’t been given to them. It has been given to you.” And he continues:

For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.”

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. (Matt. 13:12–17)
So on both sides of the covenant—old and new—we see that God is in control. His sovereignty is not diminished or thwarted. The hearer of the gospel is responsible for his response, but God is responsible for his ability to do so. The preacher of the gospel is responsible for his proclamation, but God is responsible for the transforming power.

The gospel message goes out, and while some hearers respond with faith in Christ, some people simply can’t hear.

The Unadjusted Gospel Is the Empowered Gospel

 It is all of grace that some do hear. At the close of chapter 3 we asked, “What will we do with Christ’s substitutionary work?” The answer is, “Whatever the Spirit allows us to.” Blessed are the eyes that see and the ears that hear because the Spirit of God has opened them to do so. The power in the gospel is not the dynamic presentation of the preacher or the winsomeness of the witness, although the Spirit does empower and use those things too. The power in the gospel is the Spirit’s applying the saving work of Jesus Christ to the heart of a hearer. Charles Spurgeon puts it this way:

“You cannot induce them to come; you cannot force them to come by all your thunders, nor can you entice them to come by all your invitations. They will not come unto Christ, that they may have life. Until the Spirit draw them, come they neither will, nor can.”

In Acts 2 we find the first post-ascension sermon of the Christian church. The apostle Peter addresses the crowd that has witnessed the response of many to the outpouring of the Spirit:

Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

“And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of 
the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:14–21)
Peter begins the very first Christian sermon with the majesty of God. If there is prophecy, if there is utterance, if there is the miraculous, if there is power, if the sun is darkened, if there is vapor, if there is blood and fire, where does it all start? With God.

God prophesied; God said this would happen, and he brought it about. Peter is basically saying, “All that you understand about the prophets, all that you understand about the miraculous works of God, and all that you understand about how God moves is wrapped up in the Godhead, who saves all who call on him.” Look what he says next:

Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him,

“I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”

Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

“The Lord said to my Lord, 
‘sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.’”

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. (vv. 22–36)
So we have this incredible sermon exulting in the majesty of God, tying God’s work in the incarnation of Jesus Christ back to the promises of the Old Testament, specifically to David’s promise of an eternal king. But the refrain echoing in this text is, “You crucified him, you killed him, you did this.”

This is not a seeker-sensitive sermon. Peter does not shrink back, fearing, “Oh man, this is going to be offensive.” He is not thinking, “How can I make this sound cool to the young Jerusalemites that are here? How can I soften this?” He knows that if he tells them they killed Jesus, they’re going to get really angry. But he says anyway, “You killed Jesus.” Then he says it again. “Oh yeah, this majesty? You killed it.”

We are never, ever, ever going to make Christianity so cool that everybody wants it. That is a fool’s errand. It is chasing the wind. We can’t repaint the faith. It doesn’t need our help anyway.

Every effort to remake the Christian faith leads to wickedness. Every effort to adjust the gospel so it appears more appealing, more palatable, is foolishness. This is liberal theology’s only play in the playbook. “Let’s get rid of the atoning work of Jesus Christ because it’s harsh. Let’s get rid of hell because it’s offensive. Let’s save Christianity by changing Christianity.” But in the urban context of Acts 2, with people all over the ancient world gathered in Jerusalem, Peter announces, “You killed him. This majestic one true God of the universe—you crucified him.” And what happens?

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (vv. 37–41)
All they did was preach the gospel, and men were cut to the core. They wanted to know, “What do we do in response to this news?” Peter tells them, “You repent and get baptized.”

What saved them? Their faith. No action brought about their salvation. They hadn’t fed any poor people. Apart from what Peter is saying here, they hadn’t been sitting under teaching or going to church each week. They hadn’t, in the end, done anything but heard, “God is majestic, and you have sinned, but in Christ you can be reconciled to him,” and they were so cut to the heart that they responded with saving faith.

Acts 2 takes us back to the truth that we simply have to tell. God does the opening of hearts. God opens minds. There is such freedom in this! Do you see how that takes weight off the perfection of our presentation? We don’t have to be able to explain it absolutely or completely or be able to apologetically defend creationism or argue the falsity of materialism or whatever. I’m not saying we shouldn’t pursue those things. I’m saying that in the end it is God who opens up eyes and ears. Our responsibility is to tell them. It is as simple as that.

Some people won’t like hearing it. What else is new? This has been true as far back as Genesis. It has always been true that some people do not want to hear this message. But some are going to hear it and be saved. So, relational evangelism? Go for it, as long as it turns into actual evangelism. You hanging out having a beer with your buddy so he can see that Christians are cool is not what we’re called to do. You’re eventually going to have to open up your mouth and share the gospel. When the pure gospel is shared, people respond.

The spiritual power in the gospel is denied when we augment or adjust the gospel into no gospel at all. When we doubt the message alone is the power of God for salvation, we start adding or subtracting, trusting our own powers of persuasion or presentation. We end up agreeing with God that preaching is foolishness (1 Cor. 1:21) but disagree that it is required anyway. This is a colossal fail. Only the unadjusted gospel is the empowered gospel. And this message of the finished work of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and the securing of eternal life is carried by the Spirit like a smart bomb into the hearts of those the Spirit has given eyes to see and ears to hear.

Response to the Gospel Is Not the Gospel

 One crucial thing that viewing the gospel on the ground helps us do is distinguish between the gospel’s content and the gospel’s implications. One danger of viewing the gospel in the air is the conflating of the good news with its entailments. As we rightly see the gospel as encompassing God’s work, through the culmination of Christ, of restoring all things, we can be tempted to see our good works, whether preaching Scripture or serving meals at a homeless shelter, as God’s good news. This is a temptation that honing in on the ground gospel can help us identify and mark out. We need to rightly divide between gospel and response, or we compromise both. D. A. Carson writes:

“The kingdom of God advances by the power of the Spirit through the ministry of the Word. Not for a moment does that mitigate the importance of good deeds and understanding the social entailments of the gospel, but they are entailments of the gospel. It is the gospel that is preached.”

We can exercise this delineation by continuing in Acts 2:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42–47)
All the things that prompt people to mistakenly say, “This is the gospel,” can be found in this passage. What we actually see in Acts 2:42–47 is the beautiful fallout of the proclamation that precedes it. This list tells us the hearers’ response to the gospel. Why did they start living in community? Because the gospel had made them a people. Why did they begin to share their goods with one another? Because the gospel had made them a people. Why are they now on mission? Because the gospel had made them a people. Why are they seeing signs and wonders? Because the gospel had made them a people. All of these workings are outworkings of the gospel.

If we piggyback the work of the church onto the message of the gospel, we don’t enhance the gospel. It is just fine without us; it doesn’t need us. Furthermore, doing that results in preaching the church rather than preaching Christ. “For what we proclaim is not ourselves,” Paul writes, “but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5).

Believing the news that God is holy, that you are a sinner, and that Christ has reconciled you to God by his life, death, and resurrection is what justifies you. This is our foundation, our root. The things that we read in Acts 2:42–47 are the fruit. They show the building of the home, but they are not the foundation.

If we confuse the gospel with response to the gospel, we will drift from what keeps the gospel on the ground, what makes it clear and personal, and the next thing you know, we will be doing a bunch of different things that actually obscure the gospel, not reveal it. At the end of the day, our hope is not that all the poor on earth will be fed. That’s simply not going to happen. I’m not saying we shouldn’t feed and rescue the poor; I’m saying that salvation isn’t having a full belly or a college education or whatever. Making people comfortable on earth before an eternity in hell is wasteful.

The Response of Faith

 Everybody comes out of the womb in rebellion. David says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5). David doesn’t even get himself out of the birth canal before he thinks, “Sinner!” What are we like apart from Christ? What is our default position from conception? Ephesians 2:1–3 says that we’re: (1) dead; (2) world followers; (3) devil worshipers; (4) appetite driven; and (5) children of wrath.

I am not sure it is possible to be worse than this. But the good news is that upon the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, God raises, rescues, ransoms, reforms, and reconciles. God saves sinners. Does he save all? No, but he saves.

People are going to respond to the gospel every time it is presented. They’re going to respond in belief, or their heart is going to become more and more hardened toward God. But no heart can ever be too hard for God. Some hearts will grow harder and harder each day until the day God’s mercy blows them up like dynamite. We have seen tons of people at The Village who sat here for years just hearing but not hearing, seeing but not perceiving, and then all of a sudden, at some random worship service or Bible study, the Lord just hijacked them, the way that Paul was apprehended (Phil. 3:12). In that moment of rebirth, all those steps toward hardening get evaporated in fire from heaven.

The gospel is news, not advice or instruction, but it nevertheless demands response. So, if we look at our lives today, a question I think we have to ask ourselves is this: “How am I responding to the good news of Jesus Christ? Am I stirred up toward obedience, or is Jesus becoming cliché to me? Am I becoming inoculated to Jesus, or do I find myself being more and more stirred up to worship him, to let other people know him, to submit my life fully to him?” We have to ask these questions, because everybody responds to the gospel. We must test ourselves to see if we are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5), because it is faith by which salvation comes. Faith is the only saving response to the gospel.

Every good gift the Father gives—every richness from Christ, every blessing from the Spirit—flows from the gospel and is received through faith.

• We receive righteousness through faith (Rom. 3:22).
• We are justified through faith (Rom. 3:30; Gal. 2:16).
• We stand fast through faith (Rom. 11:20).
• We are sons of God through faith (Gal. 3:26).
• We are indwelled by Christ through faith (Eph. 3:17).
• We are raised with Christ through faith (Col. 2:12).
• We inherit the promises through faith (Heb. 6:12).
• We conquer kingdoms, enforce justice, and stop the mouths of lions through faith (Heb. 11:33).
• We are guarded through faith (1 Pet. 1:5).

We live through faith, and we die through faith. Everything else is garbage. Even works of righteousness, if not done through faith, are works of self-righteousness and therefore filthy rags. Be very careful about going to church, reading your Bible, saying prayers, doing good deeds, and reading books like this through anything but faith in the living Lord. Because the result of all that is belief in a phony Jesus and inoculation to the gospel. You can end up knowing the jargon and playing pretend. Be very careful. Watch your life and your doctrine closely (1 Tim. 4:16). Some of you are so good that you’ve deceived yourselves. God help you.

On the ground, the gospel comes to us as individuals, as the crowns of God’s creation, as people made in his image, and puts before us the prospect of joining the forefront of his restoring of the cosmos. It says something personal about us: “We are rebels.” It says something specific about this rebellion: “Christ has made atonement.” It holds out a promise requiring individual response: “If you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).

The gospel on the ground, then, reveals the integral narrative we can outline this way: God, sin, Christ, response. But this is not the only gospel narrative in the Author’s revelation.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Ideal Christian Community

by Robert Hach

Having spent nearly fifteen years (my entire adult life up to that point) as a professional "minister," it was with great difficulty that I finally concluded that I could only achieve the goal which both I and the religious group to which I belonged constantly professed; "the restoration of New Testament Christianity"; if I left the ministry. This conclusion was based on my growing recognition that I could find neither my employment nor my employer in the New Testament , the Christianity of which I was sworn to restore. Certain truths had become painfully evident to me.

First, I had come to realize that the religious organization that I had been calling "the Lord's Church" and "the Body of Christ" (in both its local congregational sense and its international sectarian sense) was not a restoration of the spiritual community of the New Testament. Even the word "ecclesia," typically translated "church" in English versions of the New Testament, was not a "Christian" nor even a religious term in its New Testament context; it simply meant "assembly" and applied to any assembly of individuals for any purpose, as indicated by its use in Acts 19:32,39 & 41. Indeed, the notion of restoring the Christian community, either internationally or locally, is absurd in that it is a spiritual community, that is, a community of faith, which means that it exists as long as and wherever there are individuals who believe the good news that the crucified and risen Jesus is God's Messiah. As the New Testament Jesus said, he would build his assembly on the rock of the faith that he is "the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16-18). While believers have always needed instruction and encouragement in the faith to hope for the kingdom of God and to love one another, the New Testament "authorizes" no organization to fulfill this purpose.

Second, it had become clear to me that the ministry of teaching and encouraging in the faith, according to the New Testament, is not the work of a professional "minister" ("diakonos," which means "servant") but, rather, belongs to every member of the body of Christ. By prohibiting religious titles, such as "Father" and "Teacher " (Matthew 23:8-12), for anyone but God and his Messiah respectively, the New Testament Jesus abolishes any distinction between "clergy" and "laity" and equates spiritual leadership with egalitarian servant-hood. The only New Testament term consistently used for spiritual leaders is "elders," which (popular usage notwithstanding) does not designate an official position of authority in "the Church" but, instead, refers to older believers whose teaching and example can be safely followed due to their wisdom, that is, their spiritual maturity (as described in I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9; 2:3-5). These are not members of a board (an "eldership") which rules over, by making decisions for, an organization but, rather, individuals who live "among you," not to "lord it over" but to "be examples to the flock" (I Peter 5:1-3). The New Testament ideal is that all believers, with age and experience, become elders who teach and encourage their younger brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Third, I had concluded that professional ministers (who often "serve" as either the CEO's or PR men of their religious organizations which employ them, depending on their personalities and the ecclesiastical traditions of their Churches) represent the misguided and ill-fated effort to institutionalize the original authority of the New Testament apostles. When professional ministers stand in pulpits, symbolically mediating between God and humanity, they almost invariably speak as if revealing "the inspired Word of God." What they reveal, of course, are the authorized doctrines and traditions of the Churches which employ them. And even if they depart from those traditions at some points, they do not acknowledge that what they say is a matter of their own interpretation (as opposed to the ecclesiastically authorized interpretation) of the inspired scriptures. Indeed, they cannot a c k n o w l e d g e i t w i t h o u t surrendering their credibility and the authority of the position which they occupy.

But the authority to reveal the truth of the gospel is delegated by the New Testament Jesus only to his "apostles," whom he chose to speak on his behalf, and through the apostles, to other inspired speakers called "prophets," and others called "evangelists," and still others called" pastors and teachers" (Ephesians 4:11). Rather than permanent "offices" in the government of "the Church," these were temporary gifts which the risen Lord gave to the Christian community in its infancy "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God , to maturity ..." (Ephesians 4:12-13).  This was the work of New Testament prophets like Agabus (Acts 11:27-30; 21:10-11), New Testament evangelists like Philip (Acts 8:4-12; 21:8), and New Testament pastors and teachers like Timothy and Titus (I & II Timothy and Titus). They were inspired apostolic delegates who, along with the apostles, brought new Christian communities into existence all over the first century world and guided them to maturity. When, by the close of the apostolic period , communities of faith led by the teaching and example of mature believers (that is, "elders") existed throughout the first century world, "the faith [having been] once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude:3), the work of the apostles and their inspired delegates had come to fruition and completion. Their work is now preserved in the New Testament. Apostolic authority is perpetuated, then, not in official positions in the structure of an organization but in the New Testament faith itself, the inspired message which indwells the hearts of mature believers.

The passing of the gifts of inspiration from the Christian community also marked the passing of the "signs and wonders" which signified to believers and unbelievers alike during the infancy of the community of faith that the Christian message was indeed "the word of God." The inspired "knowledge" that came through the gifts of "prophecy" and "tongues" would cease, says Paul, when "the perfect comes" (I Corinthians 13:8-10). Perfection ("teleios") is synonymous with maturity, also indicated by Paul's equation of the gifts of inspiration with "childish things," which are "put away" when the child reaches adulthood (I Corinthians 13:11). Which is to say that maturity is realized when the Christian faith--"the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 8:12)--makes its way from the mouths of inspired speakers into the hearts of spirit led believers. The faith which begins as spoken message (Galatians 3:1-5) gradually takes root in believing hearts and eventually bears fruit as indwelling spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

Many present-day "apostles" and "prophets" claim, of course, that "signs and wonders" continue, a claim that validates their authority to lead their disciples out of the mainstream denominations of Christianity into their sectarian fiefdoms. The authority of the priests and pa stors and preachers of orthodox Christianity, by comparison, needs no such validation insofar as it is upheld and perpetuated by the force of longstanding tradition. The New Testament, however, gives further indication that the signs passed away with the apostolic generation.

The Gospel of John characterizes itself as a book of Jesus' "signs ... written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God ..." (John 20:30,31). The apparent need for such a piece of writing seems to suggest that at the time John's Gospel was composed (late in the first century according to most New Testament scholars), the gifts of inspiration and their accompanying signs may not have been nearly as widespread as they had been when most of the apostolic generation was still alive. Moreover, the Jesus of John's Gospel identifies the "sign" that would show the unbelieving world the truth of the believers' claim that Jesus is God's Messiah and that they are his disciples. It would not be gifts of tongues or healing or any other "miraculous" display; rather, it would be the disciples' "love for one another" (John 13:34-35), the unity of believers that would reflect the spiritual oneness of Jesus the Son with God the Father (John 17:20-23).

Which is to say, along with Paul, that when the worldwide community of faith would mature to the point at which mature believers in each locality would be "speaking the truth in love," the Christian community would function in such a way that "the whole body, ... as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love" (Ephesians 4:15,16). In summary, rather than depending on a class of professionals for spiritual life support, the community of faith would be self-edifying.

This is the New Testament ideal, a vision of the community of faith that emerged in the apostolic mind from the faith itself, the truth of  the gospel. To say that it is an ideal is, perhaps, to say that it is  unrealizable in this age, that it is a vision of life in the age to come, in the kingdom of God. The question is not, however, a matter of how practical or possible the New Testament portrayal of Christian community is for the present day, just as serious Christians do not ask how practical or possible it is to follow the teaching and example of Jesus. Indeed, they know that following Jesus is both impractical and impossible in the present age and they continue, by the grace of God, to try anyway. Moreover, the New Testament portrayal of Christian community is simply an extrapolation of the teaching and example of Jesus, out of the individuality of the believer into the community of faith. This kind of transformation happens not in the structural and systematic workings of religious organizations but in the interpersonal and informal workings of spiritual relationships.

The foregoing analysis is my own interpretation of New Testament teaching, a combination of reflection on my own experience and the influence of various strands of the Christian tradition. As such, I bind it on no one but offer whatever truths of the gospel it may embody for the edification (I hope) of the present-day community of faith as it exists both inside and outside the structures of organized

The Church Needs Discipline

by Chuck Jones

For the church to be salt and light in the world it must follow the instructions given in Scripture. In the matter of church discipline, the Church of God has no option to choose or reject this principle. It is mandatory for a church that has Christ as Lord to follow all of the commands and directives of its Lord. From the great commission, Jesus’ instructions were plain: “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19).

It’s the “teaching them to observe ALL things” that’s important

Responsibility for this lies with the congregational leadership, the pastor and elders. The idea of church discipline is not based on personal preferences. It can’t be stated too firmly that all we have to go by is what is revealed in Scripture. We have an example in the Bible of this sort of activity taking place, and we can also see the outcome. It would be good to visit this passage and see what we can learn from it. That passage is 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 (verse numbers were purposely left in to aid in following along).

1. It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife!

2. And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.

3. For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed.

4. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,

5. deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

6. Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?

7. Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.

8. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

9. I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people.

10. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.

11. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.

12.  For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside?

13. But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.”

Starting with verse 1, the situation is explained. The details are not really necessary, except to know that this group allowed a sin to continue that even outsiders and unbelievers would not tolerate. How far could the church fall?

In verses 2 and 6 we see the condition of the membership. They thought they were quite forgiving. They allowed this sin to continue with no restraint, no confrontation, no rebuke. The standards for Christian conduct were thrown out, and they felt they were still right. It is this “forgiving and accepting” attitude, contrary to God’s word,
that Paul was disgusted with.

In verses 3 and 4 Paul states his authority to speak as he does, and that he didn’t need to know more than he already did to make a judgment. His judgement was “in the name (authority) of Jesus Christ.”

In verse 5 is the penalty Paul passes down on the one “that has so done this deed,” to deliver or give into the hands of satan, for the destruction, ruin or punishment, of the flesh (body) that the spirit (life) may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. I will advance two reasons why this judgment was given.

1) For the benefit of the offending person. “Do this,” says Paul, “that his life may be saved.” Anyone breaking fellowship with God must also have a break in the fellowship with the Church. This helps them see the seriousness of their action and sin and it will provoke them to repentance and reconciliation.

2) It keeps the Church pure. Those who do not follow the leading of Jesus should be put out. The rottenness of sins makes the Church weak and feeble. Jesus stated in Matthew 18:17, “But if he neglects to hear the church, let him be to you as a heathen or a tax collector.” Which should indicate that he does not have standing within the group. Especially the leadership.

Verses 9-11 give us more insight into this process. We are told, “not to keep company with any brother that is…” Paul broadens the limit of this principle by showing it involves any sin, not just fornication. I want to be clear here that I am not advocating the process of shunning. It is rather a process by which we do not socialize with them, “with such a one do not eat.” Total avoidance would not do what is expected, therefore, “Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (2 Thessalonians 3:15).

Those who choose to live in disobedience must be disciplined. It is for their good to direct them to repentance. The purity of the congregation is at stake as well. “A little leaven will leaven the whole lump.”

Is Church Discipline Effective?

We will see later in this article how this situation turned out. Before that, I think it is wise to speak to some questions that may be floating around. “Is this good for Church growth?” So many now a-days will try any number of methods if church growth is assured. That isn’t the case here. What is assured is being in the will of the Father. We haven’t the choice of choosing this or rejecting it. We must do it. It will produce personal spiritual growth. That congregation, that chooses discipline, may well be the place Yahweh calls others that are being saved into a group that is growing spiritually mature and following His spirit. The effectiveness of this may only be seen by our Heavenly Father.

In being honest, there are some who fear it will drive people away or that it won’t have the correct effect. Yes it may drive some people away. But remember that it’s better to fear Yahweh than man. Yahweh will uphold the people who are faithful to His word!

How This Process Works

We have our Lord’s teaching on this issue. It’s best to go there and see what he teaches about it. Matthew 18:15-17. This passage does not stand alone. It comes in a chapter that highlights the importance of each individual. This chapter starts out with a teaching on who is the greatest in the kingdom...those like little children. Jesus warns anyone who would choose to offend one of these little ones. The parable of the lost sheep is also found here. The one that strayed away is as important as the ninety nine that didn’t stray. Restoration is a top priority to our Savior. In this chapter we are taught the importance of forgiveness. Forgiveness is an vital element in fellowship. The whole of chapter 18 teaches us the significant worth of each individual and reconciliation of fellowship.

This chapter does not tell us how to weed out those who don’t conform to our personal preferences. Or use exclusion as a threat to press our ideas on others. As you read it you will see how to regain our brothers through repentance and forgiveness. The idea of Church discipline is positive rather than negative and this must be remembered. This process is not used to simply punish someone. This helps them see the seriousness of their action and sin and it will provoke them to repentance and reconciliation but to encourage them to repentance. Let’s take a closer look at what Jesus taught. “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17). I want to consider these as four steps to reconciliation.

Step one

“If your brother shall trespass against you...go!” This statement carries a great deal of weight. It is often hard to go to someone who has offended us, and point that out. However, in order to be obedient of our Lord, we must do what he says. This directive is similar to the one found in Matthew 5:23-24; “If you remember that your brother has anything against you...go!” The shoe is as it were on the other foot. By these instructions Jesus has taken care of every excuse we could muster. If an offense has been brought to your attention, whether you caused it or received it. Go. Ideally, this step should happen half way between the homes of both people involved.

The excuses dissolve. One like, “I didn’t do anything wrong.” Jesus didn’t say the guilty party only was to go. Or, “I’ll try to work it out myself. Give me some time.” This won’t work either because if you can’t readily forgive...then go.

A blessing is connected with this step. “If your brother hears you, you have gained your brother.” This is the real reason to go. We don’t want to dump a lot of guilt on our brother, we want to gain him back. There is the possibility that your attempt at reconciliation may fail. Surely you’d try more than once or twice. If this possibility does present itself, Jesus gave us more instructions. This first step cannot be by-passed so we can jump to the next step.

Step two

If there can be no reconciliation between these two people, then (and only then) two or three others are to be brought into the situation. This is to hear the whole story, both sides. This establishes the “facts” so that the story can’t be changed later. In this step too, it may be that the offended party learns (through sound counsel) that they were wrong. Those who are brought into the process here can perhaps shed light on God’s word in such a way that will stimulate reconciliation. However, if after a reasonable time and repeated attempts, the offender remains in a hard hearted state and is unwilling to listen, there is yet another step to take.

Let me say here that if any person hardens himself to the word of God to the extent that the case must go this far, it is an unusual case. If two people who love the Lord Jesus are separated and don’t want to remain that way, what can keep them apart? Therefore for a case to go this far would be unusual.

Step three

If it has been impossible for you and the pastor and elders to provoke the offender to reconciliation, a more severe step must be taken. As Jesus said; “tell it to the church.” How much information is disclosed when the church is told? All the “juicy details” don’t need to be made public. Nothing more needs to be said than that these two people remain in an unreconciled condition. It isn’t the place of the congregation to judge who is right or wrong. It is enough to know that
reconciliation is needed. It may be stated that the Pastor and Elders have had unsuccessful at tempts at secur ing reconciliation between these two, and now the whole congregation is being brought into this process. The overseers of the congregation will be able to decide whether or not reconciliation is being worked toward.

So, now what is the congregation supposed to do with this information and charge? The Apostle Paul gives us commands to this question. “And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him [to be intimate with], that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as
an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15). “And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed.” “Do not keep company with him” is not a shunning process, but rather indicates a socializing or mixing with this brother. This will bring him shame. That’s the sting of the process. In giving this brother the reason for not being willing to socialize with him is where the admonition comes in. It should be more important for us to help this person be restored to fellowship with God than to have a relationship with him as if nothing happened. Remember the slogan; “a real friend won’t let a friend drive drunk”? By that same token, a real Christian won’t let his brother remain unreconciled to a brother.

The lack of socializing shows the seriousness of the problem. The congregation must stand together in a united voice to say we do not condone sin. We cannot allow you to remain in this state of sin as if nothing happened. Yet, if this member does not repent, or show signs of a desire for reconciliation, there is only one final step to take.

Step four

This final step is described in different ways in the New Testament. From Jesus’ teaching we have, “But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” This is a stand the congregation must take. These standards cannot be compromised. Nothing is being “imposed” upon this brother, the congregation is simply responding to his choice. Status and privilege as members is given to individuals because of their choices. By their choices that status and privilege should be removed as well.

This whole process must be started with humility and sincerity in truth. The goal of this process is reconciliation, not guilt building, or blame assignment. If two people are separated by an offense and come together in the power of Yahweh to find reconciliation so that Yahweh may be glorified, then the second through fourth
steps will seldom be taken. The congregation must stand together in a united voice to say we do not condone sin.

“From Here to Eternity!”

Four Ingredients In Salvation

The Bible records that Jesus preached the gospel, and this is what it says: “Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into  Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15).

The Gospel of the Kingdom contains these elements: Time is fulfilled. There is no reason to wait any longer. Now is the time. The Kingdom is at hand. God’s reign has come to us. We can live under His rule. Repent. Turn from the world and its system and turn to God and His Kingdom. Believe the good news. You must act on the information that has been given to you.

Ingredient One

Hear the good news of God’s reign. It is compared to seeds planted in the ground.

Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. When any one hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand, then the wicked one comes, and snatches away that which was sown in his heart. But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that hears the word, and right away with joy receives it; Yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while: for when tribulation or persecution arise because of the word, he is offended. He also that received seed among the thorns is he that hears the word; and the care of this world, and the deceit of riches, choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. But he that received seed into the good ground is he that hears the word, and understands it; which also bears fruit, and brings forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty (Matthew 13:19-23). The necessity is to hear and understand. Letting the full weight fall on our hearts.

Ingredient Two

Repent. Turn from the world system, and all it teaches us about life, how to deal with people, how to do business, how to live with our family, and how to walk with God, so that we can turn to God and His kingdom. Repenting is more than being sorry for our sins. It is a change in the direction of our life and affairs. Repenting is leaving the Broad way which leads to destruction... and taking the Narrow way which leads to life. Repenting is getting out of the rut of the World... and getting into God’s way. Repenting is turning from the counsel of the ungodly... To the law of the Lord. Repenting is refusing the world’s wisdom and accepting God’s wisdom. Repenting is turning from death and cursing to life and blessing.

Ingredient Three

Believe the gospel. Trust what God says: God promised Abraham that he would inherit the world, and with him all who believe. Trust what God can do. God, quickens the dead, and calls those things which are not as though they were. Through him we have life...

Trust His Son

God demonstrates his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life (Romans 5:8-10). Because Jesus died, and God raised him from the dead.

Ingredient Four

Confess Jesus as Lord!

That if you will confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart man believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture says, Whosoever believes on him shall not be ashamed (Romans 10:9-11).

And follow Jesus

In baptism, just as Jesus considered it important to be baptized, we should follow his example.

In learning obedience

Jesus too learned to be obedient. He has set a perfect example for us. ±In serving. Jesus has given his followers a command to serve one another. The greatest are the servants.

Receive the holy spirit

Because Jesus has gone to heaven, the holy spirit has come to us. This is our guide and strength.

With these ingredients we can with confidence look forward to...

Christ’s return

Immediately after the tribulation of those days... then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth... see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his
elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other
(Matthew 24:29-30).

Eternal life

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand (John 10:27- 28).


And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be (Revelation 22:12).

On the renewed Earth

And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth (Revelation:10).

Has this information raise more questions? Would you like more help? We would be delighted to help you get more answers from the Bible, and help you on your way to the Kingdom. Talk with the person who gave this article to you.

A Special Creation of God

Luke makes it very plain that Yeshua was a special creation of God brought about by the power of His Spirit. Luke was not a Trinitarian and neither was the angel Gabriel who brought the message of the one God to Miriam and answered her question about how she could have a child without knowing a man. Gabriel gave her the answer, that her pregnancy would be the result of the creative power of God's Spirit.

Yeshua was a special creation of God brought about in the womb of Miriam just as Adam was a special creation of God formed from clay. As a result Adam was called the "son of God" and Jesus also as a result of his special creation status is also called the "son of God" and also Paul refers to him as the second man [specially created], Adam being the first man [specially created]. Yeshua is also referred to my the apostle Paul after his death and resurrection as the LAST ADAM, Why? because Yeshua had fulfilled God's covenant faithfulness and accepted his perfect sacrifice when he shed his blood on the tree [staros], after which God resurrected him from the dead and placed him as His right hand as a glorified man giving him authority to act as His agent over all things Himself excluded. Thus there was no need for another ‘Adam’. As Adam is the federal head of the human race, so Yeshua is the beginning of the new creation of God, and the federal head of the new race of which believers constitute as new creations in him who will have life in the coming new age.

There was no Trinitarian doctrine until 381 A.D., and even then it wasn't settled completely for another 200 years. Paul had warned the assembly of the Messiah Yeshua to beware of being mislead by Greek philosophy and obvious after his death the mystery of iniquity advanced to the point that a false triune god replaced the one true God YHVH and a false Christ as so-called god/man replaced the real Yeshua Messiah who was all man in a short 400 years.

Everything that God has given man to do since Adam; man has speedily ruined. Adam choose to follow his wife in believing Satan's lie "you shall not die" and now we have the false doctrine of the so-called immortality of the soul which like the trinity cannot be proved from scripture as says the Roman Catholic Encyclopaedia. Noah immediately after the flood gets drunk and bad things happen. Israel fails almost immediately to carry out what they had said they would do at Sinai, and the list goes on and on. We are in a time period close to the end of the age where we need to get back to the faith once delivered to the saints [holy ones], that's those who are in the Messiah Yeshua. Jude makes it very plain what we aught to be doing, as does James and the other new testament writers. We are to live out the lord Yeshua in our lives as God enables us to do by and through the power of His Spirit, the same spirit that has begotten us as sons, the same Spirit that begot the lord Messiah Yeshua in the womb of Miriam. Yeshua was uniquely begotten by a special act of creation, and we become new creations by that same beautiful process as a result of the action of God's Spirit working in us and through us as we humbly submit to His plan and purpose in our lives. May we continue to do so to the end of the age or our days. Amen

A People Special to God

To most people, a church is a building where people meet. But in Scripture, the word refers to a group of people; those called-out to follow Jesus the Messiah. It's important that we understand the spiritual heritage of these people special to God.

"But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy" (1 Peter:2:9-10).

Jesus the Messiah poured out the holy spirit upon  the called-out assembly [the Israel of God] in the city of Jerusalem on the biblical festival of Pentecost 50 days after His resurrection from the dead.

Between the time of His resurrection and the pouring out of the holy spirit on the called-out assembly, the Messiah appeared to his apostles over the course of the first 40 days, further enlightening them concerning the nature of the coming Kingdom of God (Acts:1:3). During that time "He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father" (verse 4). He explained to them, "You shall receive power when the holy spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (verse 8).

Later He inspired the apostle Paul to explain the crucial importance of the receiving of the holy spirit in the process of becoming a truly converted member of His Church: "Now if anyone does not have the spirit of the Messiah, he is not his. And if the Messiah is in you, the body is dead [symbolically] because of sin, but the spirit is life because of righteousness" (Romans:8:9-10).

Through the dwelling of the holy spirit within Christians, Jesus the Messiah and God the Father actively participate in their lives to strengthen and inspire them in their obedience and service to God (Philippians 2:12-13).

Therefore the called-out assembly, the spiritually transformed body of believers, began when the Messiah's apostles received the holy spirit, just as He had promised (Acts:2:1-4). The spirit of God instantly empowered  them. A great many who heard them realized they had received special inspiration and power from God.

The apostles at once began preaching to those gathered in the temple area in Jerusalem on that Day of Pentecost that Jesus of Nazareth was the long-awaited Messiah (Acts:2:36). They urged their listeners to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus - Yeshua (verse 38).By the end of that day about 3,000 people were added to the called-out assembly (verse 41).

The called-out Assembly that Jesus had promised to build had begun! Its members were repentant people who "gladly received" the truth of God (verse 41) and were baptized (immersed into water); symbolizing their acceptance of the sacrificial death of the Messiah for forgiveness of their sins and the burial and washing away of their old, sinful ways.

The biblical view of the ‘Church’

As we examine the called-out assembly Jesus built, we see how the word ‘church’ is used in the Bible. Throughout the Scriptures ‘church’ and congregation refer to people, never to a building. The ‘Church’ (the Body of the Messiah) or the ‘church’ (a congregation of members of the ecclesia) is made up of people called-out to follow Jesus the Messiah.

The concept of people assembling to learn the teachings of God is embedded in the writings of the Old and New Testaments. It is closely associated with one of the Ten Commandments, the law concerning the Sabbath.

During times of general obedience to God, the ancient Israelites assembled every Sabbath as a congregation. The seventh-day Sabbath (defined in the Bible as lasting from sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday) is a "holy convocation"; a sacred assembly. God ordained that "six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation" (Leviticus:23:3). The New International Version translates the same verse, "The seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly."

The equivalent concept; a congregation of disciples assembling to learn the message of the gospel of the Kingdom of God; was practiced by the early Christians. Notice Acts:11:26 regarding the apostles Barnabas and Saul (better known as Paul): "So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the ecclesia - called-out assembly and taught a great many people. And the disciples [Greek mathetes, meaning learners or pupils] were first called Christians in Antioch."

The ecclesia - called-out assembly, is made up of disciples or students of Jesus Messiah who convene to receive God's instruction.

The scriptures are the textbook for these students of the Messiah. Paul explains that "all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable ... for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy:3:16-17).

The teachers are elders of Jesus the Messiah who preach the message of God’s coming Kingdom (Romans:10:14-15; 2 Timothy:4:2). God holds them accountable for "accurately handling the word of truth - the message of the Kingdom of God" (2 Timothy:2:15, New American Standard Bible) and for "being examples to the flock" (1 Peter:5:3; 1 Timothy:3:2-7).

The ecclesia, however, is far more than just a spiritual assembly of students who gather to be instructed for their own benefit.

The special people of God

The Church of God can best be described as the special people of God, called and chosen by Him to receive salvation (eternal life) as the children of God. Their hope and future are inseparably tied to the return of Jesus the Messiah.

God calls; invites; people from all walks of life to become His servants. The apostle Paul, however, observed that the proud and powerful rarely repent and become members of the Church (1 Corinthians:1:26-29). They tend to be more reluctant to forsake the sinful ways of the world.

Those who willingly respond to God's call are sealed as His holy people by receiving His spirit (Ephesians:1:13). The Bible frequently refers to them as the saints (holy people) or the righteous.

The apostle Paul explained that "Jesus the Messiah ...gave Himself for us, that He might ...purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works" (Titus:2:11-14).

The apostle Peter likewise calls members of the called-out assembly, "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, [God's] own special people ...who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy" (1 Peter:2:9-10). This harkens back to the role given to God's nation of Israel in the Old Testament (see Exodus:19:5-6).

Christians are special to God in the sense that they are cherished for their faith and obedience (Ephesians:5:24, 29); not because God regards them as inherently more worthy than others (Romans:2:11; 3:23).

As is clear from the tie to ancient Israel, the idea of a special people, chosen to be the servants of God, is not unique in Scripture to the Christian era. God inspired the introduction of the concept in the earliest pages of the Bible; well before the existence of Israel.

Since His creation of Adam and Eve, God has worked with particular people. Between the time of our first parents and the first appearance of Jesus the Messiah, God called and worked with many men and women, including the prophets.

God counts the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament among His special people. Jesus spoke of a time when "Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets [will be] in the kingdom of God" (Luke:13:28). The ecclesia - called-out assembly itself is "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus the Messiah himself being the chief cornerstone" (Ephesians:2:20).

Hebrews 11 explains why certain outstanding people in the Old Testament were special to God. The traits they held in common were their obedience and their unshakable faith in their Creator.

The earliest roots of the Church

Israel, a nation descended from the patriarch Abraham, are God's holy people. Moses further told the Israelites, "For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of the earth" (Deuteronomy:14:2). They were God's "congregation" (Acts:7:38) or "called-out assembly".

God promised Abraham in the first book of the Bible that he would be the father of a special, chosen people.

The Bible describes the extraordinary relationship between Abraham, the Messiah and the called-out assembly. The New Testament begins by reminding us that Jesus is the descendant of Israel's King David and of Abraham (Matthew:1:1)

Why was Abraham such a significant figure in the Bible?

Abraham, who lived almost 2,000 years before Jesus the Messiah, was the patriarch of the people of Israel through his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob, whose name God changed to Israel. We read of Abraham as "the father of all those who believe" (Isaiah:51:1-2; Romans:4:1, 11-12). He shines as an example of faith in and obedience to God. Because of his obedience, God gave him a promise; a sacred covenant; that he would be the father of a great nation (Genesis:13:16; 15:5; 17:2-6).

God's promise to Abraham involved much more than the promise of many descendants. The apostle Peter reminded his Jewish countrymen of the importance of God's promise to Abraham: "You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, 'And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed'" (Acts:3:25; Genesis:22:18).

The apostle Paul explained that the promised "Seed" is Jesus the Messiah: "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He does not say, 'And to seeds,' as of many, but as of one, 'And to your seed,' who is the Messiah" (Galatians:3:16).

The spiritual heirs of Abraham

Only through the Messiah can anyone claim the inheritance promised to Abraham's seed: "And if you are the Messiah's, then you are [also] Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians:3:29).

Christians, those who make up the called-out assembly, are Abraham's spiritual descendants, being united in one body with the promised singular seed, Jesus the Messiah. They are the heirs of the inheritance promised to Abraham. This concept must be clear in our minds if we are to fully appreciate the biblically defined and sanctioned role of the called-out assembly Jesus the Messiah was the head of.

One might ask: Are all of Abraham's physical descendants; all descendants of the tribes of Israel; included in the seed that is the Messiah?

Notice how Jesus handles this question when confronted by some who, although descended from Abraham, rejected Jesus as the Messiah: "They answered and said to Him, 'Abraham is our father.' Jesus said to them, 'If you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham'" (John:8:39).

Not all of Abraham's physical descendants followed his example of faithfulness and obedience. Paul explained: "I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from the Messiah for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption [or son-ship as God's children], the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises" (Romans:9:1-4).

Paul explains that more is required to be counted among "the children of promise" than being physically descended from Abraham: "For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham ... Those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed [of Abraham]" (verses 6-8).

Israel and circumcision re-defined

Two things stand out in these words of Jesus and Paul. First, only those who are the "children of promise," those who "do the works of Abraham," are considered to be Abraham's spiritual seed as members of the called-out assembly Jesus is the head of. Second, those in the called-out assembly have received the status of being the children of God. Therefore the called-out assembly - ecclesia is the "Israel of God" (Galatians:6:16), the heirs of salvation.

Paul explains why the spiritual heirs of God's Kingdom take precedence over the physical descendants of Abraham as the recipients of salvation: "For circumcision [the ancient sign of the covenant with Abraham's physical descendants] is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision" (Romans:2:25). Disobedience nullifies the value of physical circumcision.

"Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law?" (verses 26-27).

"For he is not a Jew [in the context of the inheritance promised to Abraham] who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God" (verses 28-29).

The conclusion of the matter is that faith and obedience from the heart, not one's physical parentage, are essential to please God. Only those who share Abraham's heart; whose hearts are spiritually circumcised (Deut:30:6); are the heirs of the promises made to Abraham. For this reason, salvation is available to people of all nations who are willing to be circumcised of  heart. It is spiritual circumcision of the heart, not physical circumcision of the flesh, that identifies the spiritual children of God.

God's obedient people

Reaffirming the promise He made to Abraham, God told his son Isaac, "In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis:26:4). Notice that God chose him for this honour "because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws" (verse 5).

Abraham's attitude of obedience, coupled with his complete faith in God, distinguished him as God's friend forever (2 Chronicles:20:7). As the apostle James states: "Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness' and he was called God's friend" (James:2:21-23, NIV).

Things haven't changed. Those who are God's "special people" still both believe and obey God, just as Abraham did. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth about tests of faith: "For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things" (2 Corinthians:2:9).

Paul explains that one's obedience, like Abraham's, must spring from within; from the mind and the heart: "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled"
(2 Corinthians:10:4-6).

God's people are special to Him because they, like Abraham, trust Him and wholeheartedly obey Him.

Grafted into the Israel of God

We have already seen that Paul regarded the gentiles (non-Israelites) in the Church as spiritual Jews, even though they were not of Israelite descent physically and were literally uncircumcised. As Christians, they became an integral part of "the Israel of God" (Galatians:6:16).

What makes this remarkable relationship possible between gentiles and spiritual Israel? Paul wrote to gentile converts: "Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh, ... were without the Messiah, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in the Messiah Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near [to the commonwealth of Israel and the covenants of promise] by the blood of the Messiah" (Ephesians:2:11-13).

In Romans:11:13-21 Paul uses the analogy of an olive tree to represent God's people (compare Psalm:52:8; 128:3) to explain how converted gentiles can be members of the "Israel of God." He shows that gentiles, "being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them [circumcised Israelites], and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree" (Romans:11:17).

Paul plainly shows that God's inclusion of gentiles in His special people does not mean He favours gentiles over Israelites. "For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?" (verse 24).

God plays no favourites. In this analogy, even those who are Israelites by physical descent have to be grafted into the tree; having been cut off due to disobedience. Thankfully, there is a way to be grafted back in; and that way is the same way available to gentiles.

Jew and gentile alike enjoy access to God's promises to Abraham through the Messiah: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in the Messiah Yeshua - Jesus" (Galatians:3:28).

The special and holy people of God, like Abraham, are obedient people; selected from all nations; who have chosen not to live by bread alone, "but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matthew:4:4). Their trust in God comes from the heart and is demonstrated by their obedient actions. God's spirit works in them to produce faith and obedience, making them special to God.
"Church" and "Congregation" in the Scriptures

What does God's Word say about the relationship of the New Testament Church to the congregation of Israel in the Old Testament?

The relationship of the New Testament Church (Greek ecclesia) to the congregation of Israel in the Old Testament can be better understood when we learn the different interpretations placed on the two Hebrew words for "congregation": 'edah and qahal.

The Holman Bible Dictionary, in its article "Congregation," explains that these Hebrew words were used with a significantly different meaning in the days of Christ and the apostles: "In the Greek Old Testament [the Septuagint] 'edah was usually translated [into Greek as] synagogue, [and] qahal [as] ecclesia. In late Judaism synagogue [from which derives the word synagogue] depicted the actual Israelite people and [the word] ecclesia [depicted] the ideal elect of God called to salvation. Hence [the Greek word] ecclesia became the term for the Christian congregation, the church...There is a direct spiritual continuity between the congregation of the Old Testament and the New Testament Church. Significantly the Christian community chose the Old Testament term for the ideal people of God called to salvation (ecclesia), rather than the term which described all Israelites collectively (synagogue)."

This explains why the New Testament word for the Church, ecclesia, refers only to those people, Jews and gentiles, who are called by God to receive salvation through Jesus the Messiah. Therefore, the Church of God, the term most generally applied to God's people in English translations of the New Testament, is the body of people who are special to God because they obey His Word and accept His son, Jesus as the Messiah.

Biblical Phrases and Terms for God's Special People

The called-out assembly - ecclesia is a group of believers invited to come out of the world for God's special purpose.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia summarizes other descriptions of the people of God in the New Testament (emphasis added):

"This Church is not a human organization; it is God's workmanship (Eph:2:10) It may thus be described in several pregnant phrases, of which the following are to be noted.

"The Church is the people or Israel of God (Eph:2:12; cf. 1 Peter:2:10), in whom there is fulfillment of the ancient covenant promise: 'I will be your God, and you shall be my people.'

"It is the household or family of God (Eph:2:19; 3:15; 4:6), consisting of those who are adopted [or, rather, spiritually begotten] by God as sons and heirs in Christ.

"It is the planting of God to bring forth fruit to His glory (1 Cor:3:10: cf. Jn. 15:1f.).

"It is the temple of God, built by God Himself in the Messiah Jesus to be His dwelling and therefore to be the center of true holiness and worship (Eph:2:21f.; cf. Jn. 2:19f.; 1 Cor:3:9; 1 Pet:2:4f.).

"It is the bride of the Messiah for which the Bridegroom gave himself that it might be presented, cleansed, sanctified, and pure at the eternal marriage feast (Eph:5:25).

"It is the body of the Messiah, the fullness of Him that fills all in all, the Messiah himself being the head (Eph:4:15f.) and yet also in a true sense the totality (1 Cor:12:12), with each Christian being a member in particular (1 Cor:12:27)."

These references tell us much about the biblical definition of the Church. Rather than a building, the Church is a called-out assembly; the group of believers invited to come out of the world for God's special purpose, to have a part in the coming Kingdom of God and be a part of the Theocratic Government under the Messiah Yeshua - Jesus..