The Church belongs to God. Paul writes in I Cor 1:2, "Unto the church of God which is at Corinth". Jesus, speaking to Nicodemus in John 3:5, refers to entering, "the kingdom of God". Jesus is called, " the head of the body, the church", in Col 1:18. In Matt 16:18, Jesus says to Peter, "I will build my church". We understand in worldly matters that when something is mine, I have control over what happens to it. For example, I decide who to invite into my house. I have the authority to make that decision because the house is mine. Likewise...
God has authority over the Church. Just as I have authority over my house, God has authority over his house, the Church, because it is his. He is in the position of directing who may enter his house and how they should behave in order to remain in his house, and he has done so. We are told in Acts 2:47 that, "the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved".
God has expressed his will, what he wants, in the Bible. II Tim 3:16 instructs us that, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness". Because the Bible is God's word and the Church is God's house, we must turn to the Bible to find , "how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" I Tim 3:15 .
Remember, it is the Lord's Church and only He adds to it.
As we do so, we'll stop and examine the lives of two people,
God could have communicated to us in many ways. However, he chose one way, his inspired word, the Bible. Again, II Tim 3:16 instructs us that, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness". We need to pay attention to God's word.
God chose preaching. I Cor 1:21 states, "it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe". What was being preached? Go back to I Cor 1:18, "the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God". Hearing about "the cross", the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf, is essential. When the rich man wanted Lazarus to return from the dead and warn his brothers of his fate, he was told in Luke 16:31, "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead".
God expects us to hear His word. Paul warns about following a perverted gospel in Gal 1:6-8, "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed". He must have been serious as he repeated the warning in verse 9, "As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed". In verses 10-12, Paul tells us that the gospel that he preached was not his, but God's, "For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ". Matthew 15:8-9 admonishes us to listen only to God's word, "This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."
Hearing leads to faith. We are taught in Romans 10:17, "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God".
God expects us to hear and listen only to His gospel.
In Acts 8:26-35 we learn how the Eunuch came to hear of Jesus. An angel of the Lord instructed Philip where to go to meet the Eunuch as he returned from Jerusalem, sitting in his chariot, reading Esaias the prophet. Philip asked him if he understood what he read and he did not. To explain the meaning of the reading (v32-33), Philip preached unto him Jesus (v35). Notice that the angel did not instruct the Eunuch, but Philip preached to him.
We know that Paul heard of Stephen's defense of Jesus (Acts 7) because the witnesses laid their clothes at his feet in (v58) and he consented to Stephen's stoning in Acts 8:1. He also tells us of this in Acts 22:20. In Acts 9:6, Jesus tells Paul to, "Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do". Ananias speaks to him in Acts 9:17. Paul also recounts this event in Acts 22:12-16. Again, notice that when Paul asked in Acts 9:6, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?", Jesus sent Ananias to speak with him. God uses men to preach his message.
Let's continue to see what kind of faith hearing leads us to.
Belief is required. We are taught in Heb 11:6, "But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him".
Belief is more than just mental assent. Just acknowledging, or agreeing, that Jesus is the Son of God is a dead faith. We know that this is true because the Bible tells us that the devils had this kind of faith in James 2:19-20, "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?". We know that the devils have not entered the house of God! We must have an obedient faith.
Belief must lead to action. Acts 26:27-28, records a discussion between Paul and Agrippa, "King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest. Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian". Agrippa had heard the prophets and believed, but that belief was dead because he did not act on it. We must believe, but our belief must lead us to action. As James 2:21-22 gives us another example, "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?". Also, in James 2:26 we are told, "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also".
A living faith leads us to obedient action.
Let's continue to see the action God expects us to take.
Repentance is a change of mind. In Matt 21:28-31 we hear Jesus talking to the chief priests and the elders of the people, "But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. ". We need to be like the first, doing the will of God, changing our mind from disobedience to obedience.
We must repent of sin. Acts 2:37 records people hearing the gospel of Christ and believing, "Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?". The answer to this question as recorded in verse 38, begins "Then Peter said unto them, Repent...". What must we do? We must repent. In Acts 26:20, Paul told king Agrippa that the Jews wanted to kill him because he, "shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance". Paul apparently thought repenting important enough to risk death.
Repent or perish. Jesus warns us twice in Luke 13:1-5 that we must repent, "There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish".
All must repent. Acts 17:30-31 records Paul speaking to the Athenians, instructing them that God, "...now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead".
Let's repent of, turn from, our sinful life and turn toward God.
We don't have a direct record of the Eunuch repenting, but we do know that he turned from ignorance of God's will to understanding and obedience.
Paul's life suffered a direct about face from, "breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord", in Acts 9:1 to an attitude of acceptance and obedience in v9-18, ending with him staying, "certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus", in v19.
Let's repent from denying Jesus and turn to confessing him as the Son of God.
Confess or be denied. Jesus tells us directly in Matt 10:32-33, "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven". If Jesus denies us, we have no hope in the judgment. In John 12:42-43, we are given an account of some who refused to confess, "Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God".
Confess to dwell in God. I John 4:15 states, "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God".
Let us love the praise of God more than anything.
In Acts 8:37 the Eunuch stated directly, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God".
We do not have a direct record of Paul's confession, but we do know that he was told to, "arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord", in Acts 22:16.
Baptism is a burial and rebirth. It is the burial of our sinful self and the rebirth of a self that has been wash clean by the blood of Christ. Romans 6:3-5 affirms, "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:". If we are not like Christ in his death, through baptism, how can we expect to be like him concerning the resurrection? Baptism is done for the purpose of removing our sins.
Baptism puts us into Christ. Gal 3:27, "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ".
Baptism is immersion in water. Again, Romans 6:4 states that, "we are buried with him by baptism". In Acts 8:38 we see an example where, "they went down both into the water". Then, in v39, "they were come up out of the water".
Baptism is required. When we spoke of repenting, we began to answer the question, "what must we do to be saved?". The rest of the story is in the end of Acts 2:38, "Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost". In John 3:5, Jesus answered Nicodemus concerning the new birth said, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."
Baptism saves us. I Peter 3:20-21, "Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ". We are still lost without baptism.
Let's enter into the kingdom of God, The Church, by submitting our will to God's in baptism.
As we just learned, Acts 8:38 records Philip and the Eunuch both going down into the water and Philip baptizing him. Notice that the Eunuch wanted to be baptized (v36) because Philip, "preached unto him Jesus", in v35. Also, when he understood, he was baptized at the first opportunity.
In Acts 9:8, we follow Paul as he enters Damascus. In v9, "he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink". Immediately after Ananias spoke to him in v17 and he received his sight, v18 states that he, "arose and was baptized". After that, v19 records, "And when he had received meat, he was strengthened". Even after fasting for three days, Paul was baptized before he ate. When Paul recounts this event in Acts 22:16, he writes that Ananias said, "And now tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash way thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord". Before he was baptized, Paul still was in urgent need of having his sins washed away.
Let's allow God to add us to the Church.
Some say that we can't know whether we are in the Lord's Church, we can only hope. However, God has told us that we can know without a doubt where we stand. Watch for the contrasting actions and results.
God expects us to obey him. As Matt 7:21 teaches, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven". James 1:22 warns us not to be deceived, "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves". Romans 2:13 also teaches that we must act, "For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified". When Jesus returns, II Thess 1:8-9 warns what will be the fate of those who do not obey, "In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power". We will enter if we are obediently doing what God tells us.
Keep God's commandments. I John 2:3-5 tells us, "And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him". The message is the same, keep his commandments.
Live according to Jesus' example. Are we living as Jesus demonstrated while on the earth? I John 2:6 tells us, "He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked". Jesus followed the will of his Father. Do our deeds speak the same message as our words?
Act with love. Empty words only fool ourselves and are to no avail. I John 3:18-19 instructs, "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him". We know because we love in truth with our deeds.
Dwell in Jesus. I John 3:23-24 teaches us, "And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us". A spirit of love toward God will lead us to act on what he has commanded us.
John wrote to tell us we can know. I John 5:12-13 assures us, "He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God".
Are these the actions of people in doubt?
In Acts 8:39, the Eunuch knew that his sin's had been washed away because, "he went on his way rejoicing".
Paul knew as well. Acts 9:20 states, "And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God".
These are not the actions of people in doubt!