Identity Theft is one of the most costly and prevalent crimes being committed today. It occurs when someone obtains valuable personal information about someone else, and then uses that information to pretend to be that person – to purchase items in another person’s name or engage in business transactions as though they were someone else.
I want to suggest this morning that one of the costliest cases of identity theft is when humanly created religious institutions masquerade as Christ’s church.
- It is important that we think of the church just as it is defined and described in the N.T. The word church (Ekklesia) means assembly, and refers to people who are especially characterized or called out. The church of Christ are the people who belong to Christ.
- Not a denomination or part of something else. The church of the N.T. was not a group of affiliated congregations, it was, and is, a body of individual Christians related to Christ.
- Tragically, many sincere religious people have concluded that it doesn’t really make any difference what church one belongs to, as long as he is happy there and is sincerely attempting to serve God. Is this valid?
- Is it possible to positively identify the church that belongs to Jesus? How can we know if we are in it, or in a counterfeit church unlike the one described in the N.T
- Seeking a Positive Identification: Suppose you are asked to identify a mammal. What is a mammal? Well, you could look in a dictionary. Some definitions might be more specific that others but basically a mammal has 3 characteristics: It has hair. It is warm-blooded. And mammals nurse their young. A dog is a mammal. A dog has hair, is warm-blooded, and suckles its young. A cat is a mammal. Human beings are mammals – according to this definition. A whale is a mammal, having all three of these characteristics. But a bird is not a mammal. Though a bird is warm-blooded, it does not have hair, and it does not nurse its young. A caterpillar is not a mammal. A caterpillar has hair, but does not nurse its young. A mammal has all the previously mentioned traits.
- There are many churches in our community which have some of the traits of the New Testament church. But unless it has all of the qualities described in scripture it is not the church of the Bible. It consists of people who have done precisely what God requires in becoming a Christian. The Lord’s church consists of those who are striving every day to be what God wants them to be. Think very seriously. “Am I a member of Christ’s church? Or am I simply a member of a church?”
I. The Church that Belongs to Jesus: The Bible clearly indicates that the church as Christ established it is an integral part of God’s eternal plan. It is therefore very important to God. Ephesians 3:10-11 – 10 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places,11 according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord,
A. God purchased the church as His own possession. Acts 20:28 28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. Surely it is important enough to need appropriate identification. One doesn’t just flip through the yellow pages or just drive up and down the street, looking for a church (people) that suits me.
II. Its Origin: The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus established His church 50 days after His death & resurrection. The record of this is found in Acts 2. On Jewish feast known as the day of Pentecost the power of the Holy Spirit was poured out supernaturally upon Jesus’ apostles, and for the very first time in all of history, they began to proclaim the basic facts of the gospel message:
- Jesus had been crucified for the sins of humanity,
- He had been buried in a tomb.
- Three days later, he arose from that tomb,
- then, forty days later, ascended back into heaven to be at the right hand of God. He now reigns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords over His kingdom.
A. Peter, speaking through the Holy Spirit, declared that those listening were guilty of the sin of crucifying their Messiah. Acts 2:37-38 – 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Then Peter said to them,”Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” Luke tells us they who gladly received Peter’s words were baptized, and there were added together, that day, about 3,000 people. (v. 41).
B. Six months before His death Jesus had said, I will build my church.” This is the fulfillment of that promise. From the day of Pentecost on, in the book of Acts, we read that the church is in existence. And so, we conclude that the church was established at that time.
1. Notice carefully what distinguished (or established) them? Acts 2:41-47 “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. 42And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
2. Those who became the church were:
- those who “gladly received his (Peter’s) words”.. who repented and were baptized.
- those who continued in the apostles’ doctrine.
- those who fellowshipped one another, praising God in worship, giving to each other freely.
- those who were being saved (The Lord added them to the church). This marks the kind of persons who were added to the group. The church was the group (flock) of those who were being saved, by submitting to the allegiance of Jesus, the King & Christ.
- Who would be so bold as to instruct a person to respond to the gospel of Jesus in some other way than this? Who would dare tell someone that any part of their response was unnecessary or inconsequential?
3. This beginning speaks to the church in a universal sense – all the saved of every place and time. The word church is also used to describe local congregations of Christians that emerged as individual members of the Lord’s church gathered together to work and worship.
III. Its Allegiance: Eph. 1:22-23 – 22 And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
A. Jesus is the head of the body. Have you seen these photos where one person’s head is put on another person’s body? (George Bush’s on Superman’s body). Some are easy to spot – you know that it is a forgery. Others are more difficult. The body of Christ can be distinguished by how closely they match their Head. Some churches do not resemble Jesus at all.
1. Jesus said in Matt 7:21-23 – “Not everyone who says to Me,’Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.
2. Acts 11:19-26 – 19 Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. 20 But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. 22 Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. 23 When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. 24 For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. 25 Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. 26 And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
3. Possibly the best description of a Christian is found from Jesus’ own words in John 10:27 – My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.
4. Jesus is not the head of His church in title only as the queen of England -not right to act or command.) The church that belongs to Jesus occupies a responsibility to obey Jesus, and thereby demonstrate His glory. There has never been an apostle, college of apostles, pope, eldership or any group of men who has ever been the head of the church that is from God. (local or universal)! Our allegiance is to Jesus alone. The only creed that Jesus’ church pays attention to is the inspired teaching of the apostles and prophets contained in scripture.
- Eph 2:19-22 – Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. The church of the Lord still continues in the apostles’ doctrine in regards to its worship, work, and organization.
IV. Its Character – The church that is from God is made up of new people. Paul rold the Christiasn at Rome that they had been buried in baptism in order to rise in an newness of life (Rom. 6:4) The church does not make us new, God does. But the new character is a distinct characteristic of those who belong to God. Those who belong to God strive to sin less and are transformed through the power of the word of God in their lives.
A. The body is completely influenced by the Head. – Eph 3:16-19 – that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height — 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
B. Their renewed character is a testimony to the power and person of God. Christ lives in His people, and His character becomes their character. Col 3:10 – “…put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, “
- Rom 8:1; 5-9 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit…. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.
V. Its Focus – If there is anything that sets God’s church apart from the modern churches of today it is the focus or mission of the church. Churches today are oriented toward attracting the “unchurched” with entertainment and social programs. There is little or no talk about sin or righteousness. The story of the gospel is replaced with the story of ourselves and what we want. (The desire to be rich trumps any desire to be holy)
A. In Ephesians 4 Paul describes the growth process that God designed for the body of Christ. (a body that is not growing is dying). Eph 4:11-16 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ — 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
1. The church is dedicated to speaking the truth in love so that each member of the body will grow up to the measure of the stature of Christ. The focus of God’s people is the same as God Himself. Jesus came to seek and save the lost.
- Although Jesus revolutionized the society of His time, His mission was not socially oriented. His work was done from within as called people to be holy and separate from the world around them. John 17:14-17 – 14 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.
Conclusion: the church that is from God is a glorious church because she is united to a glorious Lord. We are what we are because of Christ. We must always recognize what it means to be a church of Christ.
In Ephesians 1:23 Paul says the church is “the fullness of Him that fills all in all.” If in Christ’s
body all men are filled, how can men say a person can be saved outside of it? This also forever
distinguishes the church of God from every institution of men. It also forever separates the
work of God’s church from every other church or religious institution. No human institution (even those made up of Christians) is the fullness of Christ.
- Paul prayed in Eph. 3:18-19 – 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height — 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
- “to be filled with the fullness of God” – Colly Coldwell states that this phrase means “perfect participation in all of God’s gifts and complete blending of our lives into His characteristics.” It is to be like Jesus in every compartment of our lives – His fullness fills us up. That is what it means to be in the church that is from God. Unlike the churches of men, this is not a social or religious affiliation – it is a spiritual relationship that even the gates of Hell cannot prevail against.
Are you in the church that belongs to Jesus. Have you been sanctified, cleansed, made holy & without blemish, so as to bring glory to Christ your Head & Savior?