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Recognizing the Church

Today, with so many churches professing Christianity while teaching widely divergent doctrines, how can we recognize the Church? What are the hallmarks of God's Church? What does it teach? What does it do?

Jesus said His Church would not die (Matthew 16:18). But today, with so many churches professing Christianity while teaching widely divergent doctrines, how can we recognize the Church? What are the hallmarks of God's Church? What does it teach? What does it do?

Just as at the beginning of the Church, God calls people out of the world (John 6:44; Revelation 18:4) and into His Church to do a job. Just as Peter called on his audience to repent and be baptized, those God is calling today realize the seriousness of their sins and commit themselves to God and a life of change.

How do those who accept God's call into His Church respond to that call?

"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'" (Acts 2:38).

"For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:13).

Water baptism, as discussed in Lesson 8, is a sign of the repentant Christian's belief in Christ's sacrifice to cover sins. It represents the death of the old person and the beginning of a new life committed to doing what God says to do. The resulting changes are made gradually through the power of God's Spirit, which God gives to the Christian at baptism.

How can we identify and avoid false teachers?

"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. 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. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (Matthew 7:15-23).

Christ warned us to beware of those who masquerade as true teachers, who outwardly might say and do the right things but whose real actions and achievements are not godly. Ultimately their teachings and doctrines amount to practicing "lawlessness"—rejecting obedience to God's laws. Christ says He will reject those who reject and disobey His laws.

What fruit will be growing in the lives of true Christians?

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law" (Galatians 5:22-23).

God's Spirit makes it possible for the new Christian to begin to produce the unselfish characteristics of God Himself. As with fruit on a vine, godly character traits do not suddenly appear at baptism, but must be nurtured and grow over time. A major purpose of the Church is to assist us in developing this spiritual fruit.

What is a hallmark of true Christians?

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35).

The Church of God will be growing in the same unselfish, godly love that Christ showed. This outgoing concern is far above the natural brotherly love or even a mother's love, which is often said to be the highest form of human love. God's love is totally unselfish and outgoing, as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 and exhibited by Christ when He gave His life for us.

Will members of the Church be perfect?

"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:8-9).

"For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?" (1 Corinthians 3:3).

God's Church is made up of human beings who still have weaknesses. Each has a long way to go in reaching for the perfection offered in Christ. Paul's words of correction in his letters to the Corinthians show some in God's Church can still have major human weaknesses to overcome. We can be thankful, though, that God looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). True Christians continue to repent and change as they recognize their shortcomings. They continue to forgive and support their brethren as they struggle for spiritual maturity in Christ (Galatians 6:1-2).

They cannot, however, continue to willfully and deliberately practice sinning as a way of life. "In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother" (1 John 3:10).

How does the Bible define the love of God?

"For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3).

"Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?' Jesus said to him, '"You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets'" (Matthew 22:35-40).

God's law defines God's love. Here Jesus summed up the meaning of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) in the two great commandments. The first four of the Ten Commandments show us how God expects us to show our love toward Him. The last six show how He expects us to show love for our fellow human beings. These fundamental spiritual principles are expanded throughout the Bible. For example, Jesus magnified the meanings of the commandments prohibiting murder and adultery in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-32), showing that thoughts of hate and lust violate their intent.

Will the Church always keep the Commandments of God?

"... The dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Revelation 12:17).

The woman of Revelation 12 represents God's people just before Christ returns. At that time the dragon (Satan; verse 9) persecutes the Church, which continues to faithfully keep the Commandments of God.

Will the Church today believe and practice the same things Christ and the early New Testament Church did?

"Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked" (1 John 2:3-6).

"Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).

The Church continues to obey God's commandments and walk as Jesus walked. It contends earnestly to follow the faith laid down throughout the Bible and practiced by the Church in the apostolic era.

This includes worshiping God on the days commanded in the Bible and observed by Jesus and the apostles. The Bible makes it clear that Jesus, Paul and the Church regularly assembled on the Sabbath, obeying the Fourth Commandment (Exodus 20:8-11; Mark 6:2; Luke 4:16, 31-32; 13:10; Acts 13:14-44; 17:1-3; 18:4). So today members of God's Church meet together on the Sabbath to worship Him, learn more of His ways and fellowship with each other—with even greater urgency as the return of Christ approaches (Hebrews 10:24-25). Members also observe God's other commanded festivals, just as Christ and the Church did (see "What Did the Early Church Believe and Practice?," page 8). As we will see in a future lesson, the festivals of the Bible help remind members of the Church about God's awesome plan each year.

The Church uses the Bible as its guide and does not seek to add nonbiblical teachings and practices.

What is God's Church called in the Bible?

"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" (Acts 20:28).

The phrase church of God appears eight times in the Bible (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 10:32; 11:22; 15:9; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:13; 1 Timothy 3:5). "Churches of God" appears another three times (1 Corinthians 11:16; 1 Thessalonians 2:14; 2 Thessalonians 1:4) and "the church of the living God" occurs once (1 Timothy 3:15).

What work will the Church of God be doing?

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them 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; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20).

"And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14).

God's Church continues to do the same work that Christ commissioned His disciples to do—part of the same work that Christ Himself did (Mark 1:1-2, 14).

The Church is to spread the good news of Christ's coming Kingdom to the whole world. The gospel of the Kingdom of God shows the hope beyond the bad news humanity is bringing on itself. Though few seem inclined to listen now, God's loving warning impacts everyone at some point. God wants all to come to the knowledge of the truth and to be saved at the appropriate time (1 Timothy 2:4). Members of the Church pray fervently that God will call more laborers now to help in this tremendous undertaking (Matthew 9:37-38).

The Church not only scatters the seed of the gospel (Mark 4:2-20), it also actively welcomes those God is now calling. It is teaching them the precious truths of the Bible and nurturing them in their spiritual growth.

 

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