Identifying the Lord’s Church (Part 3): Who Makes Up His Church?

Identifying the Lord's Church

In this study, we have already seen that Jesus built just one church and that His church is to follow His will that is expressed in the New Testament. If we want to be part of this church, we need to be saved since the church is the body of the saved (Ephesians 5:23). Therefore, we need to know who will be saved in order to learn how we can become part of His church. So in this lesson, we are going to ask this important question: Who makes up His church?

Those Whom God Adds

As we discussed in the first lesson, the universal church is the body of all the saved. Jesus is “the Savior of the body” (Ephesians 5:23). We also noticed that God is the one who adds people to the church (Acts 2:47).

This means that man does not add anyone to the Lord’s church. Therefore, if we want to be added to the church – the body of the saved – we need to listen to what God says about this and not what men might say.

In order to help us understand this, we are going to look at what Jesus said in the Great Commission and compare it with what Peter taught on the day of Pentecost – the day when God started adding people to the church. First, let us be reminded of the commission given by Jesus to His apostles:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

Let us break this down into three parts and see the parallels with the preaching which was done on the day of Pentecost.

Those Who Are Committed to Being Disciples

In giving the Great Commission, Jesus told His apostles to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). A disciple is a learner or follower of Christ. They follow Him because He possesses “all authority” (Matthew 28:18) – we discussed this in the previous lesson.

The fact that the apostles were charged with the mission to “make disciples” implies two things about these converts. First, they would believe that Jesus is Lord. Second, they would change their lives (repent) in order to follow Him.

The work of making disciples began in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 1:8). Those who would be disciples would need to do those two things mentioned above – believe and repent.

In his sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter taught that Jesus was “Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Those who were in his audience needed to believe this and we must as well. Jesus said, “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). Sin causes us to be separated from God and ultimately leads to death (Isaiah 59:2; Romans 6:23). We can escape this fate, but it starts with a belief in Jesus as the Christ. Jesus said, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). In other words, believing in Christ gives us “the right to become children of God.” Belief alone does not make us children of God, but it is a prerequisite to salvation. This was why Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost was about convincing people that Jesus was “Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).

Peter also instructed the crowd to “repent” (Acts 2:38). This was the answer to those who evidently believed that Jesus was “both Lord and Christ” because they asked, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:36-37). They were told to repent – to turn away from sin in order to follow the Lord. Paul, in his letter to the saints in Rome, explained that Christians are to turn from sin so that they are no longer enslaved to it: “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:16-18). Those who desire to be disciples of Christ cannot continue to give their lives over to sin; instead, they must pursue righteousness. This is why Peter instructed those who believed his message to “repent” (Acts 2:38).

As we have seen, the Great Commission given by Jesus to His apostles was to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19) – those who would believe in Jesus as the Christ and repent of their sins in order to follow Him.

Those Who Are Baptized

In making disciples, the apostles were to baptize them (Matthew 28:19). This was not a supernatural act like the baptism of the Holy Spirit (cf. Matthew 3:11). Instead, Jesus described a practice in which one person could baptize another person.

Baptism, as it is described in the New Testament, is immersion. The Greek word means “to immerse, to submerge” (Thayer). We can also see from various passages that it is a burial in water. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5), clearly showing that baptism involved water. When the Ethiopian eunuch saw water, he knew he might have an opportunity to be baptized (Acts 8:36). Yet sprinkling or pouring water over someone does not constitute Scriptural baptism. Baptism is a burial. Paul wrote, “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death” (Romans 6:4).

On the day of Pentecost, Peter said that those who believe and repent must be baptized: “Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:38). This was not presented as optional. People either believed and were baptized or they did not believe and were not baptized. This harmonizes with Jesus’ words recorded in Mark’s account of the Great Commission: “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Those who believed, desiring to be disciples of Jesus (cf. Matthew 28:19), were to be baptized. This is exactly what happened on the day of Pentecost in response to Peter’s sermon: “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). These individuals were added to the church (Acts 2:47). Therefore, God adds to the church those who have been baptized.

Consider the following facts about baptism:

  • Baptism puts us in Christ – “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27).
  • Baptism puts us in His body – “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13).
  • Baptism puts us into a state of salvation – “Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).

Being in Christ, in His body, and in a state of salvation describes one who is in the Lord’s church – the church is His body, the body of all the saved (Ephesians 1:22-23; 5:23).

Those from Every Nation

The Great Commission was to make disciples “of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19). The apostles were to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). They were to be Jesus’ “witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). They carried out this work and “proclaimed [the gospel] in all creation under heaven” (Colossians 1:23), but it began in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.

Peter explained in his sermon that the promise of salvation was for all: “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself” (Acts 2:39). We are called through the gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:14) and the gospel is for everyone (Mark 16:15).

In prophesying of the coming kingdom, Isaiah indicated that everyone from every nation would be welcome: “Now it will come about in the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; and all the nations will stream to it” (Isaiah 2:2). No one would be excluded from this. When Peter went to the household of Cornelius (a Gentile), he explained, “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:34-35). The nation of one’s nativity or citizenship would not cause him to be barred from being able to enter the Lord’s kingdom. Anyone who would fear God and do what is right (believe and obey) would be welcomed by the Lord.

Not only was the church open to people of every nation, it was (and is) open to everyone regardless of their past. Even the worst of sinners can be saved. Paul’s life was an example of this: “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16). If the chiefest of sinners can be saved, anyone can be saved. No one is without the potential of being saved and added by God to the Lord’s church.

Conclusion

The Lord’s church is open to all. Therefore, we need to make the decision – if we have not done so already – to be part of it. We do not join the Lord’s church by doing what man tells us to do. Instead, we are added to it by God when we do what the Lord has told us to do.


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