The Church - Part 3

Christianity is about the internals, not the externals. It is not about how you look, how much money you have, or how many friends you have, it is about whether you have been changed by the life of Jesus Christ. This key distinction is made clear by the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles in the gospel. 
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He himself is our peace, who made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility (Eph. 2:13-16).
The big debate in early Christianity was about whether Gentiles had to follow Jewish customs, specifically circumcision, to be a Christian(Acts 15:1). It was decided that the Gentiles did not have to participate in circumcision, since it is only external. Thankfully, circumcision is not a major issue anymore but there are other issues today that are basically the same. Some churches insist that people dress, sing, and speak in certain ways. They emphasize ecclesiastical correctness above righteousness. When God broke down the barrier between Jews and Gentiles, He broke down the barrier of external adherence. It is about being in Christ, not about following rules made by man. Many church groups believe that they do things the right way but that is just a return to Judaism. We look at the outward appearance, but God look at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7).

Anyone who is a Christian is a member of the Church. Churches who put extra hurdles to participating in the life of the Church are out of step with God's desire. When Peter first preached the gospel to the Gentiles and saw that God accepted them too he exclaimed, "can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? (Acts 12:47)" Water baptism was the external sign of becoming a member of the Church. Peter understood that the acceptance of God by the bestowal of the Holy Spirit was greater than the acceptance of man. Peter also knew that focusing on ecclesiastical correctness would lead to disaster and insisted that acceptance into the church should only be based on grace of God.
And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, "Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as He did to us, and He made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to ear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will (Acts 15:7-11).
Being a member of a church is not about proving to somebody else that you are a Christian, it is about somebody else recognizing that you actually are a Christian. Singing the right songs, wearing the right clothes, and saying the right things will not get you to Heaven, these are external. The only thing that matters is if you have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit changing you, this is internal. This is the only distinction that matters to God, and this is the only distinction that should matter to us.


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