Church Membership: Fact or Fancy?
Is church membership optional? Can’t I just wander around from church to church as I please and enjoy the fellowship of the Body of Christ? This is a very common belief and practice, especially among many who have no church to which they are responsible for their actions.
Why Is This Something Important To Consider?
To have a better understanding of what the local church is to look like and how it is to function. The biblical form of “church government” recognizes ultimate authority as residing with the congregation, not one or a handful of individuals. Who makes up the congregation? Anyone who happens to be there at that time, or individuals who have previously committed themselves with others to a common cause?
There are churches and believers who do not consider church membership biblical. Consider, for example, the Church of God denomination that exists in several strains: the Church of God in Christ, the Church of God of Prophecy, the Church of God: Cleveland, TN, and the Church of God, Anderson, IN. The last one listed rejects all forms of church organization, including formal church membership.
Those who trust Christ must recognize the necessity of church membership. Church membership is in a sense voluntary—it is not something forced upon individuals. But it is not optional or a matter of indifference. Christians are under moral obligation to become members of a local church for their and the church’s benefit. Refusing to become a member of a church is disobedience. Every believer is under the law of Christ and is sacredly obliged to follow Him. Christ has ordained that his disciples so unite together.
There is a distinct difference between church fellowship and Christian fellowship. The former includes the latter, but not vice-versa.
Church fellowship involves those united in covenant in one church; is not given unless requested and granted (churches have the right to grant, withhold, and remove fellowship); involves special/specific duties (particularly Lord’s Supper, baptism, receiving new members, care of members, participation in meetings, collections, support of and participation in worship, prayer, and ministry); and involves the honor and welfare of the church.
Christian fellowship exists wherever Christians are found; exists whether requested or not; involves general duties; and involves only the honor and welfare of individuals.
The character of our church depends on the members which constitute it, just as the character of a building depends very much on the materials of which it is constructed.
A church’s internal life, order, and ability to accomplish its God-given task are affected and controlled by the people who compose it. Imagine a building made up of bricks without any mortar holding them together!
The Biblical Basis for Church Membership
“The necessity of membership in the local church is never questioned in the New Testament. It is taken for granted. Had we asked the believers of the Apostolic period whether it was essential to join a church, they would not have known what we were talking about. Every believer became a member of a church. It was involved in the very profession he made in Christ. . . There is no authority for abandoning the local church altogether for a purely individualistic Christian existence. The very Christian profession involves fellowship with other Christians” (Alva J. McClain).
Five lines of evidence from the churches mentioned in the New Testament establish church membership as biblical and expected of every believer:
1. The Pattern of the First Local Church.
In the very first church the pattern is clearly demonstrated: “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). Sinners trusted Christ, testified of their faith through baptism, and were added to the disciples who already made up the church in Jerusalem.
2. The Church Knew How Many Were Identified With It.
In the same verse they knew how many were added to their number (three thousand). Acts 4:4 relates the same – “but many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.”
3. Officers Were Chosen From Among Their Members.
At this same local church the believers were to select “from among” themselves certain men for appointment to the position (Acts 6:2-5). The “whole congregation” (vv. 2, 5) knew who among their number were qualified for this office and chose men from among themselves.
4. The Practice of Church Discipline Assumes a Known “List.”
The three main passages that address the subject of church discipline are Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; and 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15.
The situation at Corinth was a difficult one: one of their own number was involved in immorality (1 Cor 5:1). Paul instructed this group of believers that when they assembled (v. 4) they were to “remove the wicked man from among” themselves (v. 13). These three verses demonstrate a definite knowledge of who belonged to the Corinthian church.
Also, the final aspect of church discipline – putting one out of the church – cannot happen unless that individual had at some point been taken in! Individual Christians were taken in, identified with a local church.
5. The Church Kept Special Rolls for Other Purposes.
The epistle of 1 Timothy deals with the subject of proper church order (“I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the…church,” 3:15). In 5:9-10 Paul states the necessary qualifying requirements for widows “to be put on the list” (v. 9). The fact that they had lists for such a purpose shows that the concept and practice of formal lists or rolls identifying individuals was not unknown among the early churches.
The Importance of Church Membership
For many American Christians today, the church as an actual body of confessing believers is simply a matter of convenience. Whether or not one joins – not to mention participate – is considered a personal matter. If someone in the church is offended, the pastor hits too close to home from the pulpit, or a pet program or agenda is rejected, the individual simply pulls up the stakes and moves to the next church. The fact and importance of the local body of believers as essential to Christianity and the Christian life has been lost, not to mention the concepts of commitment, obligation, responsibility, and dedication.
Being a member of a local church is essential to the individual Christian and the entire body. It is assumed and expected of true believers of Jesus Christ. The local church is the God-ordained vehicle for carrying out His program in this age. Membership is essential to the body of the local church, so that all may profit from their Christ-given spiritual gifts (Eph 4:11-16), fellowship (Acts 2:42, 47), and admonition (Heb 3:13).
Profitably Learning from the Bible
The Bible is inspired, inerrant, and infallible (see our doctrinal statement on the Bible). While the writers were human, its ultimate author is God. This fact makes what it says:
- Absolutely true
- The only authority for what you should think about God and how you should live before God
- All that you need to live a life that pleases God
Because of these things, unbelievers must hear the gospel message that is found only in the Bible (2 Tim 3:15) and Christians must continually listen to and learn from the Bible (2 Tim 3:16-17).
Christian, while holding a Bible in your hands and considering all that is in it, it can be very easy to get discouraged—“How can I ever learn all that is in this?” Don’t get discouraged! Remember that real growth in Christ takes time. You didn’t grow from an infant to an adult overnight, in a week, or even in a year! Physical growth and maturity involves slow and steady growth, and such growth only comes from eating food. Spiritual growth is no different—“like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord” (1 Pet 2:2-3).
Perhaps you say you’re a Christian but you really don’t see the importance of learning from God’s Word. “What’s the point?” you could think. “Jesus Christ saved me from hell, so I’ve got the most important thing taken care of.” Consider what God says in the Bible about why you must learn from Him in its pages:
- It is essential for spiritual growth (1 Peter 2:2), the “text book” for Christian living (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
- It is necessary for living a life that pleases Christ (Colossians 1:9-10)
- It is what the Spirit uses to make you holy (John 17:17)
- It is the tool for protection against temptation and sin (Psalm 119:9, 11)
- It is the means of learning Christian truth so you are protected against the many false teachers that would deceive you and take you away from Christ (Ephesians 4:14)
- It is the instrument used for serving the Lord (Ephesians 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16-17)
In a nutshell, it is impossible for you to be and do what God expects of you as a Christian apart from the Bible. You must learn from God in the pages of Scripture!
Hopefully by this point you agree with what God says about how important it is to learn from Him in the Bible. How can you? There are three essential activities that you must be involved in to grow and mature in the Lord.
- You must read and study God’s Word
- You must listen to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word
- You must meditate on and memorize God’s Word
Let’s quickly consider why these three activities are essential for you as a Christian.
First, your own daily personal reading and studying of the Bible helps you continually learn and gain encouragement from your God. Think about that! Sin’s power and penalty had separated you from God yet He saved you from that. Not only did He restore you to a special relationship with Him, He gave you His written Word so you can know exactly what He wants you to know! By learning and studying the Bible you will have a regular diet of God’s Word to help you grow, and you can never get enough of this good thing! Start with the New Testament and then work your way through the entire Bible.
Second, you must regularly listen to preaching and teaching at a good Bible believing and practicing church. You will receive correct, challenging, and helpful instruction aimed at helping you be more like Christ. This is important because your pastor and teachers are mature in the Word, and you’ll need the help and correction for your own personal reading and studying. It is so important to recognize the importance of learning God’s Word with God’s people (Acts 2:42)—too often the emphasis is on the individual, and while that is important, if you look in the New Testament you’ll see that more often than not God’s people learn God’s Word with each other.
Third and last, you must meditate on what you have learned (Joshua 1:8), memorizing important parts, so it is ingrained in your heart (Psalm 119:9, 11). Continually meditating (mulling over and over) will help you grasp the significance of God’s Word for your life. Memorizing passages of Scripture enables you to always have God’s Word ready to use for any situation in your life.
How, then, can you profitably learn from God’s Word through these activities? You must be in SHAPE, learning from God’s Word—
Submissively: Always be ready to change in any way when confronted with God’s Word (Proverbs 1:23; 2 Timothy 4:2-4; James 1:22-25). It is easier to think “so and so should read this verse,” instead of applying it to yourself. It is easier to criticize the pastor or teacher than to give serious consideration to what God is saying to you through him.
Habitually: Discipline yourself to regularly read the Bible and listen to preaching and teaching in order to learn about God and His will for you (Acts 2:42; 17:11; 1 Peter 2:2). This commitment adds discipline, which will help carry you through distractions, things that would pull you away, and simple laziness or neglect.
Accurately: When reading the Bible, let it speak for itself—don’t change or miss its plain meaning (2 Timothy 2:15). Using a good translation will be a real help (such as the New American Standard Bible). Be sure you’re being taught from a church that proclaims and practices what the Bible says, not what people want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
Prayerfully: Continually ask God to help you understand and apply what you’re learning (Psalm 119:18; Ephesians 1:18; Jude 20). Before and during your Bible reading time or listening to teaching, pray for God’s help in understanding the significance of the Word for your life.
Eagerly: This isn’t a chore to get out of the way but the wonderful Word to hear and obey! (2 Chronicles 36:15-16; Proverbs 1:24-33; 29:1; 1 Peter 2:2) Every time you have the opportunity to read or hear the Word, go expecting something good and looking for something helpful.
The Christian, Temptation, and Sin–Part 2
In addition to having a biblical understanding of the character and effects of temptation and sin, you need to have
Have a Biblical Approach to Temptation and Sin
First, you need to recognize the sources of sin and temptation. As a believer, especially if you’re a new believer, you may wonder “If Jesus saved me from the power and penalty of sin, why do I still sin? Why am I still tempted to sin?? Why do I still struggle with sin???” Good questions!
As a Christian, you still struggle with temptation and sin because:
You Still Have A Sinful Nature! As an unbeliever your life was oriented toward sin; your nature (what you were like, what you wanted) was oriented away from God. When you became a Christian, you received a new nature (a new character, set of desires) oriented toward God (see Rom 8:5-8; 2 Cor 5:17; 2 Pet 1:4). The good news is that your old, sinful nature does not dominate you anymore—it no longer has complete control of your life (Rom 6:6-14). The “bad” news is that the lusts of the flesh (sinful nature) continually “wage war against your soul” (1 Pet 2:11). Until you are glorified, you still have the capacity to sin; those desires and leanings to sin are still there. However, since Christ is in you, you now have the capacity to please God. Thus the lifelong struggle!
You Still Live In A World Dominated By Sin! Your “old” sinful desires seek fulfillment through the things of this sinful world (Gal 5:17; Eph 2:2). Your “new” Christ-like desires seek the things of the Lord (Rom 8:5-6). There is nothing in the world that pleases Christ, so your godly desires will never find anything that will please Him (Titus 2:11-14; 2 Pet 1:4). You live in a world that is entirely opposed to the things of God (Jas 4:4; 1 John 2:16), so it is a struggle to resist its temptations and allurements!
You Still Face The Sinful Schemes Of The Devil! As long as you are alive in this world, you are in Satan’s territory (2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2) and need to struggle, resist, and stand firm against him (Eph 6:11-17). Thankfully, because Christ dwells within you can successfully resist Satan because Christ is greater than he is (1 Pet 5:9; 1 John 4:4; cf. John 17:15)!
Recognizing the sources of temptation and sin is important so you will be aware of your own sinful desires and the sinful temptations Satan will assault you with while living in this world.
Recognizing where temptation comes from may be a bit discouraging though—you could be thinking, “Outside of me there’s an extremely powerful supernatural being who’s using everything in this ungodly world to get me to sin, and I still have a sinful desires and leanings that I have to struggle within myself. Ahhhh! I can’t do this by myself! Help!”
You are right—you can’t do it by yourself! Just as there was nothing you could do to save you from sin’s power and penalty, you can’t successfully live a holy life on your own.
There were false teachers in Galatia instructing believers that while Jesus saved them from sin, they needed to do their part to keep themselves saved by obeying the Mosaic Law. Paul emphatically says, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal 3:3) As they were saved by faith alone in Christ alone, so they must continue to live by faith in Christ, just as Abraham did (read Gal 3:6-5:15).
“But,” you may wonder, “I still have these sinful desires because of my sin nature. How can I not carry out those desires?” The answer: “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law…if we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Gal 5:16-18, 25).
Second, you must live by the Spirit. What does it mean to walk, or live, by the Spirit? For a fuller discussion about this, see the lesson on Making Christ Preeminent by Spirit Led Living. Here’s a quick review of the important points:
- While there are activities that are essential for living a spiritual life, relying on your performance of those is not truly walking with the Spirit. Instead of being freed from sin’s power you enslave yourself all over again. Keeping the checklist doesn’t make you right with God: it is “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6).
- Walking—living—by the Spirit means that your life (actions, thoughts, feelings, etc.) is governed or controlled by Him. This is not some weird, mysterious impression you feel at certain times during life. The Spirit-controlled life is just normal Christian living. When the Spirit controls you, your sinful desires are not controlling you! That’s great news!
- How does the Holy Spirit govern and control your life? The tool the Spirit uses is the Word of God. A Spirit-led life that results in not carrying out the desires of your sinful nature is a life governed and controlled by the Spirit’s sword (Eph 6:17).
- Note the following passages for additional teaching: Rom 8:1-17; Gal 3:2-3; 5:16-26; 6:8; Eph 5:18
Third, be in the Word of God. When we look to Jesus’ temptations for instruction we focus on His use of the Word, but we neglect the fact that He was under the direction of the Spirit. Because of that He responded to temptation with the Word.
Through the Bible you receive instruction on how you should live (involving your actions, thoughts, feelings, etc.), including how to avoid and resist temptation and sin (Psa 37:31; 119:11; Prov 19:27; Matt 4:1-11)
Through the Word you will grow in your understanding of Who God is and how God wants you to live. This will help produce in you a holy, reverential awe (“fear”) that will help you avoid sin (Prov 2:10-12; 13:14; 14:27)
Growing less like this world and more like the Lord begins with the mind (Rom 12:2). The objective is to take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5) and build your life on Him (Matt 7:24-27) by hearing and obeying the Word (Jas 1:22-25). Through God’s Word you receive instruction for every area of your life of Christ-like qualities (2 Pet 1:3-8).
In order for the Spirit to control you rather than your sinful desires, you need to trust and obey what He says in Scripture. The more you are in the Word, hearing and obeying the Lord, the greater control He will have in your life. You need to privately read, study, meditate, and memorize the Word, and you need to regularly listen to teaching and preaching of the Word in church services (see the lesson on Profitably Learning the Bible for more help in this regard).
Fourth, be constant in prayer. Trust God (1 Cor 10:13; Heb 2:18; 2 Pet 2:9) and pray (Matt 6:13; 26:41). How specifically should you pray? Pray specifically, asking for help, expressing faith in God’s promises (see previous passages). To be constant in prayer means to have a steadfast resolve—be faithfully praying; it’s a regular part of your life.
How does prayer help you resist temptation and sin?
- When you pray believing God will help you, He answers and will help you (Jas 1:2-8)
- While you are praying your mind is on the Lord
- By expressing faith in God’s promises you are strengthened to resist temptation and sin
- As a definite command from the Lord (Luke 18:1; Eph 6:18; 1 Thess 5:17; 1 Tim 2:1ff), when you gladly and willingly obey this you will be walking by the Spirit; He will be governing and controlling your life
Fifth, be separate unto God and from sin. Avoid anything that you know would provide the opportunity for temptation (Prov 4:14-15; Rom 13:14; 1 Cor 15:33; 2 Cor 11:1-3, 13-15; 1 Pet 2:11-12; 2 Pet 3:14-18)
Determine to dedicate every part of your life (actions, thoughts, feelings, etc.) to Christ and not to sin (Rom 12:1-2; 2 Cor 7:1; Heb 12:14). Set your mind on and seek Christ, not the things of this world (Col 3:1-4; 1 John 2:15-17). Make Christ the center of every aspect of your life (the “scent” in your car, home, etc) (1 Cor 15:33)
As a definite command from the Lord (see passages above), when you gladly and willingly obey this you will be walking by the Spirit; He will be governing and controlling your life
Sixth, regularly associate and fellowship with God’s people. By regularly associating and fellowshipping with God’s people, you will receive for instruction, help, encouragement, and see good examples on how to live a Christian life (Prov 12:26; Gal 6:1; Heb 3:13; 10:23-25). God’s plan is for you as a Christian to learn and grow with other believers and help them grow (Eph 4:11-16).
As a definite command from the Lord (note especially Acts 2:42; Heb 10:25), when you gladly and willingly obey this you will be walking by the Spirit; He will be governing and controlling your life
Seventh, recognize and reckon as true your position in Christ. Recognize that you are “dead to sin” (Rom 6:11), that “sin shall not be master over you” (6:14), and that you have “been freed from sin” (6:18). Because of these facts, you need to make those facts “real” in your life—reckon or consider them as true! (6:11-13).
This is especially helpful when you have feelings of hopelessness while struggling with temptation and sin. You can feel like sin is the master of your life and you’re powerless to fight against it. It isn’t, and you’re not! Read Paul’s own struggle with sin in Romans 7:17-24 and then his confident faith in verse 25!
Eighth, do right. Before you were a believer, you did not live for Christ. As a believer, you have been saved to “walk in good works which God prepared beforehand” (Eph 2:10), to be “zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:11-14). Thus, you must “be careful to engage in good deeds” (Titus 3:8) so that you will “meet pressing needs” and “not be unfruitful” (3:14). Just as you once lived to sin, now live to do what is right (Rom 6:19).
Be actively involved in obeying and serving God (Rom 12:21; Eph 4:27; 1 Tim 6:6-11). The old saying “idle hands are the devil’s tools” is true! Put your hands to work for Christ so they will not have opportunity to work for sin and Satan!
Ninth, don’t sin. This can sound too simplistic, but it really hits the nail on the head—a biblical approach to temptation and sin is to resist them (Rom 6:12-13; Jas 4:7; 1 Pet 5:7-9)!
Tenth, and last–look for Christ’s return. The “day of the Lord” refers to Christ coming in judgment and salvation (2 Pet 3:10). You will give an account for how you have lived your life as a believer, and you also look forward to Christ glorifying you so that you will be without any hint of sin (2 Pet 3:14-18; 1 John 2:28-3:3).
In light of that day, you need to “be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless” (2 Pet 3:14). Those who will see the Lord are those who are striving to be holy (Heb 12:14). It is a biblical fact that “everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:3).
If you are looking for Christ, that will affect what you think, want, and live for–seeing and being with Christ is what you will live for. Other passages to read about how Christ’s return is a help to holy living are Phil 1:9-10; 2 :14-16; 3:20-21; Col 3:1-4; 1 Thess 5:2-6; Titus 2:11-14; 1 Pet 1:7, 13.
Making Christ Preeminent by Spirit-Led Living
Wanting Christ to have first place all the time in everything and making Him that are two entirely different things, aren’t they?! Out of a desire to give Him the place in your life that He so richly deserves, it can be very easy to think about various things that you should do and shouldn’t do. To be sure, there are definite commands and exhortations that God gives Christians. There are things that you should do or shouldn’t do. What we’re talking about though is what do we depend on to give Christ the preeminence He deserves? Another way of saying this is what do you need to do to live a spiritual life?
Think about some specific things that are essential for living a spiritual life:
- Personal Bible reading
- Church attendance
- Avoiding wrong music, entertainment, etc.
- Dressing modestly and appropriately
- Serving the Lord
These are definitely good things! None of them are wrong. If you were a young Christian and knew someone who had been a believer for a long time and these are things that he did, you could quickly come to the conclusion that if you do them you can be just as spiritual!
If this is your approach, I want you to see what you would be relying on to live a spiritual or Christ-preeminent life: yourself. One of the problems with the “list” approach to spiritual living is that it can quickly and easily degenerate into a “check, done that—I’m okay with the Lord” attitude. The result is that you are spiritual because of what you’ve done. The objective was accomplished by your compliance with a “law” of spiritual things that spiritual people do.
There were some believers during Paul’s day who felt that by observing a certain “code of Law” they would be spiritual. But listen to the apostle Paul’s response to them: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal 3:3). If the Galatians continued believing this way they would not be freed from sin’s power but enslaved to it all over again (cf. 4:9-10). Paul says that if one is in Christ Jesus, “keeping the checklist” isn’t what gets you and makes you right with God: it is “faith working through love” (5:6).
So, how does a Christian live a truly spiritual life so that Christ is preeminent in all things? The Bible says that you must “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal 5:16). The idea of “walk” refers to how you live your life. Thus, to “walk by the Spirit” means that your life is governed or controlled “by the Spirit.” Another way that the Bible describes this is “being filled with the Spirit” (cf. Eph 5:18). This doesn’t mean that you get “more” of the Spirit. That’s impossible, because the Holy Spirit is God and omnipresent—you have all of the Holy Spirit. Being filled with the Spirit has to do with being controlled by the Spirit.
But how can you “walk by the Spirit” and “be filled with the Spirit”? Does the Holy Spirit “whisper” in your ear in some kind of weird way? Is it based on impressions or feelings that you have within your heart? How can the Spirit govern and control your life? Is it something that happens once in awhile at certain crisis times in the Christian life?
The Spirit-controlled and governed life is an ongoing thing; it is the normal Christian experience of walking with the Lord. The tool the Holy Spirit uses to govern and control Christians’ lives is the Word of God. Therefore, a spiritual life, one that has Christ preeminent all the time in everything, is a life that is governed and controlled by the sword of the Spirit (Eph 6:17). Consider these essential aspects of a life that is governed and controlled by the Holy Spirit:
1. Yielded to the Word (Simple Obedience)
- Rom 6:13 “present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” The more you’re in the Word, the more the Word is in you
2. Continual Prayerfulness, Asking for Help & Confessing Sin
- Eph 4:30 “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” Harboring sin grieves the Spirit
- There isn’t a special prayer you need to pray in order to be filled with the Spirit. The Spirit will be in control of your life when you gladly obey Him. God commands you to be controlled by the Spirit (Eph 5:18); He does not command you to pray to be controlled.
- There is, however, a relationship between prayer and being controlled by the Spirit. In Acts 4:24-31 the believers prayed and were filled with the Spirit. The Bible doesn’t say that they prayed to be filled with the Spirit but prayer was in the context.
- Before one is yielded and obedient there is a knowledge of the Word and a communication with God about the things to be obeyed. Prayer cannot be avoided; it is the expression of humility, submission, and yieldedness.
3. Obey, Depending on God’s Help and Enablement
- You must take that step of obedient faith and obey God, and you need to do it depending on God to help you.
A spiritual life, one that has Christ preeminent all the time in everything by walking by the Spirit, is simply a matter of knowing the Word of God and gladly and willingly obeying it by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:13). What can you expect to experience if the Spirit controls and governs your life?
- Strength in temptation (Luke 4:1-2)
- Witnessing (Acts 4:5-6)
- Boldness in testimony (Acts 4:23, 31)
- Equipping for service in your church (Acts 6:1-3)
- Courage in the face of death (Acts 7:54-58)
- Power to proclaim Jesus (Acts 9:17-20)
- Thanksgiving and singing in the heart (Eph 5:18-21)
- The fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23)
Walking by the Spirit, being controlled or governed, does not mean one instantly becomes spiritually mature. Consider a six-month old baby: she is in good health, but she is far from physically mature. So it is with a new Christian: you can be in excellent health but you have a long ways to go before you’re spiritual mature.
All this does not mean obedience will be easy and instantaneous. It does mean, though, that, regardless of how you feel or what the circumstances may be, you will do what God has said.
Remember, there are definite commands and prohibitions from Christ. The issue here is our attitude and approach to these. Don’t rely on keeping a checklist; rely on the Lord to gladly and willingly obey His Word. It is a freeing, liberating thing to realize that you obey God not out of a legalistic fear but out of a desire to walk with the Spirit.
The Christian, Temptation, and Sin–Part 1
How can a Christian resist temptation and sin?
Have a Biblical Understanding of the Character and Effects of Sin and Temptation
First, understand how the Bible describes sin. Remember this definition: Sin is a lack of conformity to the moral law and character of God, in acts, nature, thoughts or omissions (Rom 7:19; Jer 17:9; Eph 2:3; Gen 6:5; Jas 4:17).
It can be easy to think of sin only in terms of actually doing something wrong—you sin only when you say something hurtful, break a law, or lie. There is a real danger though in thinking that sin only happens when you do something: after awhile, if you think you’re not actively involved in actually doing much sin, you can develop a sense or feeling that you’re alright and are doing good.
Guess what? That “sense or feeling” is a disposition—an attitude, nature, or mood—and you can have sinful attitudes and dispositions!
As the definition states, sin is anything that falls short of who God is (His character) and what God expects (His law). That sounds a lot like Romans 3:23, doesn’t it? “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
You fail to conform to God’s character and law in your:
- Actions—“…I practice the very evil that I do not want” (Rom 7:19)
- Disposition/Nature—“The heart is more deceitful than all else, and is desperately sick” (Jer 17:9), “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh [sinful nature], indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Eph 2:3)
- Thoughts—“Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Eph 2:3), “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5)
- Omissions—“For the good that I want, I do not do” (Rom 7:19), “to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (Jas 4:17)
Temptation occurs when you are enticed or lured to sin. Through temptation you are being lured and persuaded to go astray from the course God intends you to follow. Temptation, like sin, can take many different forms:
- Deception—“Then the LORD God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ And the woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’” (Gen 3:13). Satan succeeded in getting Eve to rebel against God by planting the seeds of doubt and disbelief.
- Desires—Matthew 4:1-11. Satan failed to tempt Jesus to rebel against God through physical desires, pride, and greed.
- Doubt—1 Thessalonians 3:1-8. Satan tried to get the Thessalonians to turn their backs on God through doubt.
It is so important to know that temptation in and of itself is not sin—Jesus was tempted and He was without sin (Heb 4:15)!
You must understand and recognize that as a believer your battle against temptation and sin occurs in every aspect of your life, and that sin in any aspect of your life has serious, harmful, and detrimental effects. You must be committed to doing whatever it takes to resist the many different ways temptation and sin can erupt in your life
Second, have a biblical understanding of the effects of yielding to temptation:
- You will obey it and become the servant of sin (Rom 6:12-14)
- The Spirit is grieved (Eph 4:30) and quenched (1 Thess 5:19)
- Your zeal/enthusiasm to serve is lessened (Titus 2:11-14)
- Your experience as a believer of fellowship with God, joy in the Lord, and the peace He gives are lost (Psa 38:1-8; 51:8, 12)
- Your love grows cold for Christ and Christians (Rev 2:4-5)
- Your heart is calloused to sin (Heb 3:13)
- You’re deceived to think that you’re okay when in reality you’re headed for trouble (Heb 3:13)
- Growth is stunted (Heb 5:11-14)
- Ability to discern between good and evil is weakened, (Heb 5:11-14)
- Desire to pray and ability to continue in it are weakened (1 Sam 12:23; Jas 4:1-10)
- Provision is made for the sinful nature and you’ll stand aloof from Christ (Rom 13:14)
- Pursuit of sanctification is derailed (Heb 12:14)
- You’re conformed more to the world than to Christ (Rom 12:1-2)
- You will not want to do God’s will (Rom 12:1)
- You allow thoughts of rebellion against Christ to exist (2 Cor 10:5)
- Your prayers are unanswered (Jas 4:3; 1 Pet 3:7)
- You allow the enemy to infiltrate your soul (1 Pet 2:11-12)
Why Christians Need Each Other
A Christian is a follower, a disciple of Jesus Christ. You become a Christian when you understand and accept as true these biblical truths: you have sinned against a holy God; the just penalty for your sin is eternal judgment in hell; there is absolutely nothing you can do to make things right between you and God; Jesus Christ, the God-man, lived a perfect life, died for your sins, and was raised from the dead; the only way you can be delivered, saved, from sin’s power and penalty is to turn from it completely and trust entirely in Who Jesus Christ is and what He did on the cross.
The moment you become a Christian, many wonderful and amazing things occur: you are united forever with Christ; you are declared righteous before God; you are placed into God’s family as an adopted son, gaining all the rights and privileges that come with that; and God begins a work in you of setting you apart from sin to Himself. Your relation to God is completely changed, and that for the better!
What about your relation to other Christians though? Do you need them? Do they need you? If you are a Christian, you do need other believers. God expects believers to grow in their faith and to do so by growing together in God’s Word. The growth and protection Christians need to experience occurs as believers assemble together as a local church—it won’t happen by individuals or families attempting to do it on their own. Christians and Christian families need each other to grow in their Christian faith.
This isn’t ultimately an issue of joining an organization as if it were a civic or social institution. This is an issue of your obedience to Christ and attitude toward Christ’s people. I’d like you to consider six reasons why you need the fellowship of other believers if you are one of Christ’s followers:
Believers Are Known As The Church
In the New Testament, Christians are always identified with other Christians. The images used to describe this essential relationship between Christians are a body and a family.
The Bible describes the believers in Rome as being “one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5). It describes every Christian in Corinth as being essentially connected to each other—“the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body…the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’” (1 Corinthians 12:14-15, 21).
Almost 250 times in the New Testament Christians are called “brother,” “sister,” or “brethren.” These Christians were from different cultures, backgrounds, and races. In a single church fellowship there would be men and women; poor and rich; slaves and masters; Jews, Greeks, and Romans. Yet they were “brothers,” “sisters,” and “brethren.” It didn’t matter what their status was in this world because they were related to each other in Jesus Christ: “you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28).
Christians associate with and are committed to each other simply because they are Christians! That’s what Christians do because that’s who they are—a body and a family.
Believers Assemble To Grow In Their Faith
Being a disciple involves following the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. Since Christ ascended into heaven, how are Christians to realize God’s plan for their life of being “conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29)? How is a believer to grow in his faith?
Right after Christ ascended into heaven believers were “continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). Christ provided believers, the church, with pastors and teachers “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13).
Not only do believers assemble together to hear and learn from the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, they are actively involved in helping each other to grow in their faith—“Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
Learning more and living more like Jesus Christ has an important effect: “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). The result of growing stronger in one’s beliefs and Christian life is protection from wrong teaching and living. You will only be conformed to the image of Christ as God intended when you assemble with other believers and grow in God’s Word.
Believers Assemble To Obey Jesus Christ
Jesus gave believers special instructions before He ascended into heaven: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). Read the book of Acts and you’ll see that as Christ’s commission was carried out it resulted in people being saved, baptized, and organized into local churches. Then these believers who assembled together carried out Christ’s commission by spreading the gospel in their region (1 Thessalonians 1:8).
Jesus also expects believers to remember His death and look forward to His return by observing the Lord’s Supper. In the New Testament, whenever the Lord’s Supper was observed it was when believers assembled together (Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
The New Testament teaches that obeying Jesus Christ’s orders was accomplished by Christians who had gathered together for that very purpose. This is how God expects His work to be done!
Believers Assemble To Worship The True God The Right Way
When the Bible speaks of believers worshiping they worship together (Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 14:24-25; James 2:2). This isn’t to say that you can’t worship God alone in your car—you can! Rather, almost all of the biblical references to believers’ worship are when they have assembled together for that very purpose.
Christian worship consists of believers’ joining together for the heartfelt magnification of God. Believers’ worship occurs when they gather together to hear the preaching and teaching of the Word (Acts 2:42; 2 Timothy 4:2-5); prayer (Acts 2:42); singing (Colossians 3:16); giving of finances to help believers and the cause of Christ (2 Corinthians 8-9; 3 John 7-8); and observing the Lord’s Supper together (Acts 2:42; 20:7).
Is it possible to heed these commands by yourself? If you read the passages, No! If there is a good group of Christians in your area who meet for these purposes, think about the fact that their worship of the true God is enhanced when more believers gather with them! You need other believers to worship the true God the right way, and they need you to worship with them!
Believers Assemble To Help And Be Helped By Each Other
What kind of needs do you have? Your needs are probably like many other believers. One of the neat things about Christ’s body (the assembly of believers, the church) is that it is designed to help and be helped by its members. Remember, Christians are described as a body and a family. If your body and family are functioning correctly, pain is felt and taken care of!
This same kind of care is also what God intends for a church—“God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it” (1 Corinthians 12:24-26). If you read how Christians cared for one another in the New Testament, you’d find how they cared for each other’s physical needs (Acts 9:36, 39), financial needs (Acts 4:32-35), emotional needs (Romans 12:15), and spiritual needs (Ephesians 4:12).
The Lone Ranger was a resourceful, smart, and courageous lawman, but there were many times when he needed the help of a posse—and don’t forget about the many times Tonto came to his rescue! God’s plan is so wonderful that He has provided for every possible need we could have on this earth through His Word and His people, the church. You can’t be a “Lone Ranger Christian” because you need other believers’ help, and they need your help too!
Believers Assemble To Encourage Each Other To Continue In The Faith
The experience of people leaving or never joining a church is nothing new; it was present even in the New Testament! There were individuals then, as there are now, who really wanted nothing to do with a good church, who steered clear of other believers, who kept away and stayed away. Is that good? How can it be prevented?
God tells believers “let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). You can’t find a more clear and direct statement from God about believers’ need to assemble with other believers. There were people who said they were Christians but made forsaking the assembly of believers a habit, and God uses them as a negative example, something not to do. The positive side is that Christians assemble together to encourage each other to continue in the faith!
Before you read this pamphlet, were you of the opinion that you really didn’t see the importance of fellowshipping with other believers? Hopefully by now you do! Have you thought that you really didn’t have the time for that or felt that “church” isn’t really your thing? To believe either of these excuses shows either that you have some wrong priorities or that you’re really not a believer after all! “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).
Christians associate with and are committed to each other because they love Christ and His people—their desire to be with other believers shows they are a believer. Committing yourself to regularly assembling with other believers is the real evidence of true love for Christ and His people. You will gain their help and encouragement to be faithful to Christ through the trials of life, and you will be able to encourage others as well.
If you profess to be one of Christ’s followers, you need other Christians and they need you! What fellowship of believers are you a part of
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