There is much confusion in our modern day as to what the church is and who belongs and ultimately how we become members of the church. The bible teaches that the church is a company of special people who have been called by God to be in eternal fellowship with Him. They are all people from all times who are saved by the sacrificial death of Jesus upon the cross. This entire company of people is what the theologians describe as the universal or invisible church:
It is this church that Jesus promised to build in Mt. 16:16-18.
As we read the bible we find that there are also local communities of believers that are known as churches who meet and are organized for the worship of God. This grouping are known as the visible or local church. We are really an expression of the larger universal church. The universal church is pure and contains only those who are called and are saved by grace through Jesus Christ. It is more difficult and confusing for the local church because as sinful people we make decisions as to who can join. We are not infallible and so some may become members of our local church who are not converted. Despite our being filled with and led by the Spirit of God, Christians can easily make mistakes. God alone knows the heart and so we really accept people on trust of their testimony of faith. When we add to our weakness the skilful deceptions of the devil then the local church almost certainly will have impostors amongst us. This is why the Lord Jesus warns us about wolves in sheep’s clothing. The very fact that there may be those who are not believers amongst us does not mean that we are any the less the Church of Jesus Christ local we are still the beloved of God.
So, how can we truly belong to the church?
Let us look at Nicodemus as an example!
He was a man who thought he had the answers. He was a Pharisee, a very devout man who came to Jesus under the cover of night. As a Pharisee Nicodemus would have been convinced that he had done all that was necessary to please God. He believed that simply being Jewish was all of the qualifications that he needed to be saved and so to be a member of God’s special people who will inherit eternal life.
What are the necessary qualifications of belonging?
Nicodemus came alongside Jesus with a compliment. “We have observed you and what you are doing and we fully believe that you are special in some way and that God is working through you.” But look at how Jesus responds, He discerns that Nicodemus’ statement was really a disguised question. By a question of the heart. Nicodemus had said one thing with his mouth but his heart was really asking searching questions.
ARE YOU LIKE NICODEMUS TODAY?
Are you saying one thing with your mouth totally unsure in your heart?
Well read on!
On our Christianity Explored course there were many questions flagged up in the first 6 weeks, interestingly they became less as the weeks went on. In his final summing up my colleague was able in just a few moments to answer all of them clearly and very simply. You see he was able to say that all of these questions have logical answers if the greater question is first answered! That greater question can be summed up in our subject today: How do we belong to the church. God says to belong we need to be free from sin; to be free from sin we need a Saviour who can deal with sin because we cannot do it for ourselves! That then begs the logical question:
“Who is able to save us from sin?”
The answer is Jesus Christ!
Jesus addresses this with Nicodemus. As a good theologian he should have realised that he was dead in his sins and unable by his own efforts to deal with the problem. He knew that to come before God he had to rely on the sacrifice of an innocent animal and that it was only by the blood of sacrifice that entry into God’s presence was made possible. The blood of the animal signified THE perfect sacrifice to come. The bible tells us that Jesus is the fulfilment of that sacrifice. Nicodemus should have known that he was impotent in these things. In fact Nicodemus does give away the fact that he did expect one to come who was anointed by God to accomplish just that. Nicodemus knew that He would be a teacher and His work would be authenticated by signs and wonders. The prophets spoke of Him healing the sick, opening the eyes of the blind, making the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, raising the dead etc. Nicodemus recognises these signs in Jesus and also that He must be from God. He is displaying his desire to know the right way to God but to us his statement might not give that away.
The questions that we are asked are not always the motive behind them. We need to articulate the answer to the greater question just as Jesus goes on to do.
Jesus makes the most profound of statements when he speaks of the kingdom of God. He says:-
- It is exclusive. (No-one can see it unless!)and yet:
- It is attainable. (You must be born again!)
Nicodemus’ theology was being challenged. Remember that the Jews believed that they automatically belonged to the Kingdom. Nicodemus by belonging to the strictest of the Jewish religious sects would have believed that he had done enough to go into the kingdom!
Jesus was saying there is but one qualification and that was alien to Nicodemus’ understanding. It was outside of his theological framework!
At this point we need to recognise that theology and man's thinking has never saved anybody! They are not the required qualifications that Jesus is speaking of! Do you believe your particular idea, doctrine or lifestyle is the requirement for you to enter into heaven?
If you do then you are wrong.
If you are trusting in your particular strand of theology for salvation then you are deceived. Theology and doctrine are vital tools to understand the ways of God but if that is what you are trusting in then you are the same as Nicodemus, trusting a system and not the Saviour and hence you are unsaved. You do not belong to the church.
Jesus said the required qualification is that “You must be born again!”
What does that mean?
You need to be born from above! The Kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom, we therefore need a spiritual entrance into it. It is not by natural or theological right that we enter. It is not derived from our birth status but by spiritual re-birth.
Our natural state is that we are born in sin and shapen in iniquity. We are naturally born spiritually dead. We need to be made alive to God. If it were at all possible for anybody to gain the qualifications then Nicodemus was an excellent candidate to do so. But it was to self righteous Nicodemus that Jesus said “You must be born again.” The implications being that even Nicodemus with all of his religion would not see the kingdom.
Are you like Nicodemus constantly doing you best? Just as with Nicodemus your best is not good enough!
If Nicodemus was confused by this then so are we easily confused by such a concept. All of this flies in the face of religion and also of man’s thinking.
This means that the way into the kingdom of God is somewhat out of our hands and natural man does not like that!
This is the reason why people will believe anything other than the gospel.
Despite all of man’s philosophies and religions Jesus says in vs. 7 “You must be born again.” You have responsibility to make sure this is true of you. You can no longer assume that your heritage and theology are good enough; you must be born again. You are responsible! Jesus is saying today that;
“YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN!”
Each one of us reading this is responsible for our eternal destiny, you must be born again. Are you?? The consequences of ignoring this commandment are instead of entry into the Kingdom of God, hell is prepared for you because of disobedience! You may not be trusting in a theology but in your own ability and goodness. Let me say that there is nothing other than faith and trust in Jesus that is acceptable to God in order to belong to His people.
What is the way?
- John 3:16 God’s love! Not just an infatuation but total unremitting true love. For God SO loved. Immeasurable love.
GOD SO LOVED!
John also said this: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God.” 1John3:1
- The world! Is this just the chosen few? Is it simply the people of Israel or the church or the elect? NO God SO loved; He totally loved the world. All people of every tongue, tribe and nation. God loved them all and still loves them all! The Lord Jesus said that “He did not come into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved.” God made people to be special, not as animals but as capable of being in relationship with Him. He loves mankind and in Christ has done all that is necessary to save all who will come to Him in faith and repentance and be born again. That is from being dead to Him due to sin to being made spiritually alive by Him and being made into His special people which is the church upon which He pours out His special saving love.
- Sacrificial love. His love caused a reaction. Love causes men and women to do the most remarkable things. A few years ago 2 English policemen in an Ethiopian restaurant threw themselves on top of a bomb thrown through the window. Why? In order to save their wives. Their love was seen by their sacrifice. God’s love caused Him to throw Himself over a time-bomb. The time-bomb of sin! Sin is the equivalent of the cobalt bomb which theoretically would destroy all of the elements with catastrophic effects. Jesus threw Himself over the bomb of sin which was destined to destroy all men. And He took that destruction on the cross and in hell. He took our punishment!
God so loved the world that He gave (freely and unconditionally) Jesus!
- Who for? The whosoever!! Whosoever will believe. Those who like Nicodemus listen and believe. Nicodemus believed, it was he who took the body of the Saviour and buried Him. His theology had never saved him, but his belief did. You too can be born again! How? By simple faith! Salvation is for all who will believe. Your own personal beliefs, thoughts, trusts and efforts will never save you but God will if you put your trust in Him alone.
- Believe what? In Him; Jesus the Christ! The one who paid the price and made it all possible.
Do you want to enter the Kingdom of God? You can here and now, it is not a future kingdom but a present one. You need to be born again, a most painful experience but a vital one.
You want to know what the entrance qualifications into the church are:-
YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN.
The church is simply the company of God’s people who are saved by grace. The apostle Paul said:
“It is by grace you have been saved and this not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not by works so that no-one can boast. We are God’s workmanship.” Ephesians 2:8-9
God has done this miraculous work in the hearts of all members of the church; it is Him that gives us our membership credentials. He is sovereign over even the ability to turn to Him all that we can ever do is believe in Him and trust Him
So what is the way of belonging to the church? It is a saving work of God in the heart, being born again of His Spirit.
Do you belong to the church?