This is our final lesson on the theme: "The One, True Church." In this series we have seen from the Bible that Jesus wants unity in His church and that He and His church cannot be separated. We have emphasized that the church is part of God's eternal plan to save man and that the church belonging to Christ is not a denomination. We have shown that God's kingdom, the church, was established on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 in accordance with prophecy. We also have surveyed significant events in the history of Christianity (specifically, the great apostasy and the reformation and restoration movements).
However, in spite of all that we've considered, there is a vitally important question yet to be asked: How does one become a member of the one, true church? The answer is quite simple. The New Testament teaches that in order for man to have his sins washed away, he must obey the gospel. Specifically, he must believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, repent of his sins, confess Christ, and submit to baptism. This is how one becomes a Christian--a member of the one, true church. Now friends, only a fool would take my word for this! Let us show these truths in detail from God's word itself as we consider the five steps of obeying the gospel.
THE FIRST STEP IN THE PLAN OF SALVATION IS HEARING THE GOSPEL.
In order for an individual to be saved from sin, he must first realize that he is a sinner. He must learn of the terrible consequences that result from sin (cf. Rom. 6:23) and eagerly desire to free himself from this bondage (cf. Rom. 6:6). But, in order for him to be knowledgeable of these matters, he must either discover them himself by studying the Bible or have someone teach him these truths from the Scriptures. In either case, he must hear what the word of God tells him in regard to his currently sinful, spiritual condition. Once he becomes aware that sin has separated him from God, he will want to know what can be done about the situation. What should he do to be reconciled with God? Essentially, he will long to know the answer to this question: "What must I do to be saved?" Perhaps the most concise answer to this inquiry is found in Hebrews 5:8,9. This passage clearly states that Jesus Christ is "the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him." Thus, it is evident that in order to be saved, we must obey Jesus. The New Testament teaches that several things must be done in order to obey Christ. Romans 10:13ff shows the importance of hearing as the first step. If an individual does not hear the gospel, then he cannot properly build faith, because "faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God" (10:17).
THE SECOND STEP IN THE PLAN OF SALVATION IS BELIEVING THE GOSPEL.
After the gospel has been heard, the individual always has a choice to make. He can either reject the message (i.e., disbelieve) or he can accept the message (i.e., believe). To believe the gospel is to have faith, and as we have noted previously, it only comes through hearing God's word. Faith is not based upon guesswork, but upon factual "evidence" (Heb. 11:1). True biblical faith is simply taking God at His word. God requires that we believe in His Son if we are to have everlasting life (cf. John 3:16; 8:24; 20:30,31). But, it is important to realize that simply believing has never been the sole prerequisite for salvation. If all one had to do to be saved was believe, then not even the demons would be lost since they believe and tremble (cf. James 2:19)!
Faith is much more than just a mental conviction. Genuine faith is always accompanied by action. A brief perusal of Hebrews 11 will prove this to be the case. Throughout this chapter, the phrase "by faith," is used repeatedly regarding various individuals who performed a particular action of obedience that pleased God. James 2:14ff plainly affirms that faith must be accompanied by works or else it is dead and useless! "You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only" (James 2:24). Thus, according to James, there is a certain sense in which "works" can justify us or make us free from sin. However, Paul discusses another aspect in which "works" cannot save us. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Eph. 2:8,9).
How can these two passages be harmonized together? Obviously from the context, Paul is referring to works of merit; that is, good works that would be boasted about if they were responsible for salvation. But, Paul clearly states that man cannot earn redemption by doing good works. No matter how much good we may do in our lives for God, our salvation cannot be merited; it is a free gift of God. And, like any gift that is offered, we must choose to either accept it or reject it upon the terms of the gift-giver. The works that James discusses could be designated as works of God. These types of works are those of obedience to God's plan which He has set forth in order for man to actually lay hold of the gift of salvation (cf. John 6:29 - faith itself is a "work" in that context). Therefore, we are saved by works in the sense that when our faith prompts us to obey the gospel, then we are accepting the gift of God's grace, which is eternal life. Hence, we are actually saved by God's grace that has been activated in our lives through our obedient faith (cf. Rom. 5:1).
THE THIRD STEP IN THE PLAN OF SALVATION IS REPENTING OF ONE'S SINS.
Once we are convicted in our hearts of sin, after hearing and believing the gospel, then sorrow will surely follow. "For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death" (II Cor. 7:10). The word repent, as used in the biblical sense, simply means a change of mind. God expects us to not only realize that we have sinned in the past, but He also requires us to mentally turn from it and start going in the other direction. To repent is to commit oneself to changing his life from that which is filled with sin into that which overflows with righteousness. Genuine repentance will be demonstrated by a change in one's actions! When we repent, we die to sin by committing ourselves to a pure life. Jesus showed the necessity of repentance by stating twice that "...unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3,5).
THE FOURTH STEP IN THE PLAN OF SALVATION IS CONFESSING ONE'S FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST.
Even after you have heard the gospel, believed it, and repented, you are still not saved! "That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Rom. 10:9,10). Paul informs us that confession is also necessary for salvation. But, what exactly are we to confess? Christ! God expects us to verbally confess our belief in His Son, Jesus Christ. The conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40 gives an excellent example of this (note verse 37 in particular; cf. I Tim. 6:12).
THE FIFTH STEP IN GOD'S PLAN OF SALVATION IS IMMERSION IN WATER FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF ONE'S SINS.
There is one final step that must be taken in order to be reconciled to God. "Let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins" (Acts 2:38). This step is unique in that it is the dividing line between the saved and the lost. This is easily shown since salvation is "in Christ Jesus" (II Tim. 2:10), and baptism is what actually puts us "into Christ" (Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:3). Therefore, after one hears, believes, repents, and confesses Christ, the final step before forgiveness is actually realized is baptism.
For example, note that Saul of Tarsus was not saved until after baptism (cf. Acts 22:3-16). Once one is baptized, he is added to the church by God (cf. Acts 2:47), and is now a Christian (cf. Acts 11:26). Peter also tells us that baptism saves (cf. I Pet. 3:21). Biblical baptism is always immersion in water for the remission of sins. The New Testament Greek word baptizo (translated baptize) means to be immersed or submerged; it never means to be sprinkled or poured upon. The fact that baptism is an immersion is logical since one who has died to sin (via repentance) should be buried! And, once one is buried in baptism, he will be raised from the waters as a new creation (cf. II Cor. 5:17). Such a one now belongs to the Lord and should live his life for God as His servant, and no longer as a slave of sin (cf. I Cor. 6:19,20).
Once the barrier of sin is removed, then the person is in a saved state and is no longer separated from God. His sins have been forgiven and are no longer counted against him. This process by which we can be "set free from sin" results from obeying the gospel ("that form of doctrine" - Rom. 6:16-18), and this salvation is available to all mankind (cf. Acts 10:34,35; Gal. 3:28). It should be noted that those who are mentally incapable of distinguishing right from wrong (i.e., young children and the mentally handicapped from birth) are not saved from sin, but they are safe. Since these individuals cannot commit sin, they have no need to be saved from it. Hence, those who die in this state will have eternal life in heaven. Consequently, there is no Scriptural authority or need for baptizing babies.
Overall, we need to remember that when it comes to hearing, we are to listen. When it comes to believing, we are to accept. When it comes to repenting, we are to turn from sin. When it comes to confessing Christ, we are to speak. When it comes to being baptized, we are to yield to the will of God and be immersed. To do all these things is to do the will of God, to be restored to Him, and to be cleansed of sin (cf. Matt. 7:21). To do these things is not to earn our salvation but to claim the free gift that God has offered to all men. If we love God, we will desire to do these things (cf. John 14:15; 15:14; I John 5:3).
God has done His part. He has given His inspired word to guide us in this life, and He has given the life of His Son even while we were still His enemies (cf. Rom. 5:8). But, God cannot remove the barrier of sin on His own. He has left the rest up to man. Do you want to be saved? Do you want to make your spiritual relationship right with God? Will you do your part and submit to the Lord by demonstrating your faith in obedience? The choice is yours, but choose wisely, for no one knows when you will die or when the Lord will return, and then it will be too late to prepare to meet the Lord. Dear friends, is your life right with God?
Well, after baptism, then what? Once a person becomes a Christian, he cannot just sit back, relax, and do nothing for the Lord! There is much work to be done for the kingdom of God, and if one does not continue to live faithfully to the Lord, he will forfeit his salvation. Yes, man can "fall from grace" (Gal. 5:4). It is possible to become a Christian and then turn back to the ways of the world and be lost (cf. II Pet. 2:20,21).
So, what should one do to ensure his salvation after becoming a Christian? What should one do to remain a member in good standing in the one, true church? Jesus said - "He who endures to the end will be saved" (Matt. 10:22). Faithful endurance is the key! We must not give up and turn our backs on Christ and His church. We must continue to obey God by submitting to His divine will that has been revealed through the Scriptures. In general, this enduring obedience requires both worship and service.
Admittedly, it is somewhat difficult to distinguish between worship and service, and this is due to the fact that worship is a subset of service. That is, if one is worshipping God, then he is also serving God. Our worship to God is a type of service. However, the converse is not true. If one is serving God, he is not necessarily worshipping at that very moment. Although it may be sometimes difficult to differentiate between worship and service1, Jesus Himself affirmed that there is a difference when He said - "...You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve" (Matt. 4:10).
"Service" can be defined as the words, thoughts, or actions that are done by servants to please their masters. Christians are servants of God (cf. Rom. 6:22), and we should serve Him in all that we do. Colossians 3:17 teaches - "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." God expects us to glorify Him in body and in spirit (cf. I Cor. 6:19,20). Thus, we serve God in all things when we live faithfully for Him, and the New Testament prescribes how we can live faithfully. It must be our standard of authority when it comes to determining what is pleasing to God regarding our words, thoughts, and actions.
"Worship" can be defined in a similar manner as service, yet note that there are several important differences the Bible sets forth. First, worship has always been a distinct act rather than a continued attitude or relationship. In Genesis 22:5, Abraham instructed his servants to stay behind while he and his son would "go yonder and worship" and then return to them. The implication is that Abraham was not worshipping God as he spoke these words, even though he was serving God in his continued obedience. There are many other passages, which we have listed in the website transcript of this lesson, that clearly prove that worship is not continuous2. Of special importance is Acts 24:11, which specifically supports the notion that worship is not a continuous activity for Christians (contrary to the claims of some). In this verse, Paul states that he "...went up to Jerusalem to worship." Clearly, worship has a starting and stopping point. Second, the central element of worship always includes praise. However, worship is not praise alone because men are praised but are not to be worshipped (cf. I Cor. 11:2; Acts 10:25,26). Our worship should praise God as Creator and Savior. Our worship should recognize Him as an awesome Being who is infinitely superior to mankind in every way. Worship should also indicate our submission to the will of deity.
But, how can one know if he is worshipping God properly? As in all matters, we must consult the Bible for the answer. "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:24). God has always required that man worship Him with a proper attitude and with proper actions (cf. Josh. 24:14), and that is what is meant by the phrase "in spirit and truth." God must be the object of our devotion and no one else. We must have a proper attitude of submission and sincerity in order to be pleasing to Him. Also, we must demonstrate proper actions in our worship, that is, actions authorized by the New Testament. Let us consider five of these actions at this time:
As Christians, we are to be "speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Eph. 5:19). Colossians 3:16 explains that singing is to be done for edification and teaching. The Greek words used here clearly show that all Christians are to sing! God is not concerned if we are on pitch or not, but He does want us to praise Him by singing. Note that God has not authorized mechanical instruments for New Testament worship.3 No instrument can praise God except our own voices, and we would be wise to learn from the mistakes of Old Testament characters who transgressed by trying to worship God their own way (e.g., Gen. 4:3ff, Lev. 10:1,2; I Sam. 15; etc.).
Acts 2:42 is a very important verse for us to consider for the remaining four acts of worship we will consider. "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers." Here we have a list of four actions that were practiced regularly (steadfastly) by the first-century Christians. For a Christian living today to continue "in the apostles' doctrine" would be to diligently study God's word and obey it. II Timothy 2:15 states - "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." If a person is not regularly studying God's word, how will he be able to rightly interpret the Scriptures?
In addition to studying, one must also be actively teaching God's truth to others. As Jesus said in Matthew 28:19,20 - "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you."4
"And they continued steadfastly in...prayers" (Acts 2:42). God has communicated with us through the Scriptures, and Christians are to speak to Him through prayers. Jesus gave us a model prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. From this passage and Philippians 4:6, we learn that our prayers should be composed of four basic items: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication (note the acronym memory-aid: A.C.T.S.). After one becomes a Christian, he will still fall short of God's will sometimes. Thus, prayer is especially important because through it we confess our sins to God and can be forgiven (cf. I John 1:7-9).5
"And they continued steadfastly in...fellowship." (Acts 2:42). In this verse, fellowship may or may not imply the giving of a contribution (cf. Gal. 6:6). However, Christians clearly have the responsibility to do such. Consider the testimony of several passages by the apostle Paul: I Corinthians 16:1,2 - "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come"; II Corinthians 9:6,7 - "But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver." Although they were not required to give a certain amount, the first-century Christians gave generously on the first day of the week (i.e., Sunday) in order to meet certain needs. Today, we should show our love to the Lord by giving liberally to Him to help fulfill needs of evangelism and benevolence (cf. Matt. 28:18-20; Gal. 6:9,10).6
5. PARTAKING OF THE LORD'S SUPPER MEMORIAL
"And they continued steadfastly in...the breaking of bread." (Acts 2:42). The notion of "breaking bread" can refer to the eating of a meal or to the partaking of the Lord's Supper (context should be the determining factor). In the immediate context of 2:42, the most reasonable view is that the phrase is referring to the Lord's Supper. However, in 2:46 where a similar phrase is used, the context seems to be referring to the eating of a common meal.
The supper was instituted by Christ and was to be done in remembrance of Him (cf. Matt. 26:26-29; I Cor. 11:23-34). Christians gathered to partake of the unleavened bread and fruit of the vine on every Sunday to remember Jesus' sacrificial death upon the cross (cf. Acts 20:7).7
The New Testament is clear that Christians are authorized and obligated to engage in singing (cf. James 5:13), studying (cf. Acts 17:11), and praying (cf. Acts 16:25; I Thess. 5:17; I Tim. 2:8) at other times in addition to the assembling of the church on Sunday. However, there is no evidence to this effect regarding the collection and Lord's Supper. In general, one should also note that God demands male spiritual leadership in the assembly (cf. I Tim. 2:8-15). Women are authorized, however, to teach in other circumstances (cf. Titus 2:3-5; Acts 18:26).
It is of utmost importance that we worship God correctly. We can learn much from the examples of the Old Testament in this area (cf. Rom. 15:4). We must not go beyond the authority of the Scriptures or God will reject us. God does not accept worship that is not done "in spirit and truth" (John 4:24). To merely worship sincerely (i.e., "in spirit") is important but not sufficient in God's eyes. Most manmade churches engage in sincere worship, but they are sincerely wrong when they do not worship God with proper actions (i.e., "in truth"). But, on the other hand, one can be just as guilty of vain worship, even with proper actions, if he fails to be mentally focused on God with a sincere attitude. Thus, it is very possible for one to attend a worship assembly and never worship God in a way that pleases Him. If we sit in the pews and simply "go through the motions," then we are failing to worship "in spirit." If we sit in the pews and worship God in just any way that we please, then we are failing to worship "in truth." Therefore, it must be understood that both a proper attitude and proper actions are vital if one is to correctly worship Almighty God. Are you serving God according to His will and worshipping Him as He expects?
This lesson is the conclusion to our series on the one, true church, though there is much more we could discuss on this important theme. Friends, if the church you are affiliated with was established by a mere human, if it was founded at a time other than Pentecost and at a place other than Jerusalem, if it teaches an incorrect plan of salvation, if it does not worship God as the New Testament directs, then such cannot be the one, true church! Do not remain in a church that is only an imitation of the real thing! You need the one, true church of Christ! If we can be of assistance to you in any way, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.
2Worship is not a continuous activity - Judges 7:15; I Samuel 1:19; II Samuel 12:20; Isaiah 66:23; Zechariah 14:16; Matthew 2:2; 15:25; Acts 8:27; 24:11.
3For more detailed information on this important subject, please consider our three lesson series: "Where's the Piano?" (from 11/26/05, 12/03/05, and 12/10/05).
4Other passages that show the importance of teaching others include: John 8:31,32; 17:17; Acts 20:7; I Timothy 4:6ff; II Timothy 3:16,17; 4:1-5.
5Other passages to study on prayer include: Matthew 6:5-8; Acts 12:5,12; 20:36; I Timothy 2:1-3; Hebrews 4:14-16; James 5:16. Additionally, please consider our feature lesson from June 11, 2005, entitled: "How to Pray and How Not to Pray".
6Other passages to study on giving include: Matthew 6:1-4; Luke 21:1-4; II Corinthians 8:1ff. Additionally, please consider our feature lesson from February 18, 2006, entitled: "Some Principles on Giving".
7Additionally, please consider our feature lesson from February 26, 2005, entitled: "The Lord's Supper".