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Do you want a stronger faith? Would you like to learn more about God's word? You don't need to wait for a miracle. The Bible teaches that "faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God" (Romans 10:17). The following studies are built to guide you through God's word and to provide a basic knowledge of what God has said to man. Fifteen scripture-filled lessons await you! You will begin "in the beginning" with the creation and work through the issues that affect your soul today - sin, grace, obedience. . . By the end, you should know enough to make preparation for eternity.

What is Confession?

According to the scriptures, confession is a significant factor in one's attaining and sustaining a saving relationshipto God. What God has said on the subject must therefore be of vital interest to everyone truly concerned with the eternal welfare of himself and others.

In the New Testament, the Greek word commonly translated "confess" means literally to say the same thing as another, and thus to agree, acknowledge, or confess. This term and its cognates are employed in a variety of contexts, sometimes conveying such ideas as thanks, praise, or promise. But predominately the idea is that of confession.

Sometimes it is sins that are confessed. We are informed, for instance, that many people went out to hear John the Baptist, "And were baptized of him in Jordan, confession their sins" (Matthew 3:6). And the Apostle John assures his Christian readers: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just ot forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9). More often, however, it is confession of faith which is in view. That will be the focus of the remainder of this lesson.

Peter's Confession

Jesus asked His disciples: "But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 16:15-17).

This is the confession of faith which God requires of all men. He has not, however, required it without first providing us with an adequate basis, and strong incentive, for making that confession. He has graciously given us the testimony of His word. John accordingly writes: "If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar: because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God hath given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life" (I John 5:9-12). John further emphasizes the vital role of this confession in one's relation to God when he says: "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God" (I John 4:15).

Confession and Salvation

As with faith and repentance, God has also made confession a condition upon which he bestows the gift of salvation. Paul thus remarks: "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Romans 10:9-10).

Public Confession of Christ

It is not enough to acknowledge Christ in one's heart, or simply to privately confess Him to God. One must publicly confess his faith in Christ. In Christ's own words: "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 10:32-33).

Confession and Commitment

It should be noted that the sort of confession demanded by Christ involves not merely a formal admission of His identity, but also a commitment to His cause. Hence He says: "Not every one that saith unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven: (Matthew 7:21). Paul also indicates the commitment which one's confession requires when he says: "And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in thename of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father by Him" (Colossians 3:17).

Costliness of Confession

Confession of one's faith in Christ can sometimes be costly in terms of social position, personal relationships, or worldly possessions--a cost which many regrettably have been unwilling to bear. We read, for example, that during Jesus' personal ministry many of the Jewish rulers also "believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God" (John 12:42-43).

On the other hand, many, like Stephen, James, Peter and Paul, have confessed Christ even at the cost of their lives. Eusebius, the early church historian, reports, that when the Roman governor ordered Polycarp to renounce Christ or be put to death, the aged disciple steadfastly refused, saying, "For eighty-six yeas have I been His servant, and He has never done me wrong: how can I blaspheme my King who saved me?"

Confession and Faithfulness

As we have seen, confession, if it amounts to more than a mere repetition of words, must involve a commitment to Christ. That commitment, moreover, demands fidelity to His service. "And he," says Christ, "that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me" (Matthew 10:38). Paul accordingly urges Timothy to "follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, where unto thou art called, and hast professed a good profession (i.e., confessed a good confession, ASV) before many witness" (I Timothy 6:11-12). Having publicly confessed his faith in Christ, Timothy was to be committed to a life consistent with his confession. Jesus says: "be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Revelation 2:10).

All Men Shall Confess Christ

Scriputre teaches that sooner or later every souls shall acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord. One may freely confess Him in this life with joy and the assurance of eternal bliss, or on shall be compelled to confess His Lordship at the judgment with sorrow and the certainty of everlasting woe.

Christ came and died on the cross for the sins of all men. "Wherefor God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11). We further read: "For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God" (Romans 14:11, cf. Isaiah 45:23).

Summary Truths

When one publicly declares his unqualified confidence in Christ and His claims, he has made the good confession which God requires. Confession must hten be followed by that course of actions, beginning with baptism, which conforms one's entire life to God's will. And, finally, to everyone who remains faithful to his confession, Christ promises" :I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels" (Revelation 3:9).

What is Baptism?

The word "baptize" is essentially a transliteration of the Greek term which, according to virtually all lexicons, means to dip or immerse. It should also be pointed out that the word may be used in either a figurative or a literal sense.

The element in which someone is baptized or immersed must in each case be determined by the context or by comparing related passages of scripture. Christ commanded His disciples to be baptized in water. It is this baptism (i.e., Christian baptism) that is the subject of this lesson.

The Great Commission

A short while before His ascension, Christ, in what is commonly called The Great Commission, instructed His apostles to baptize those who became His disciples. He commanded: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in [i.e., into] the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. . ." (Matthew 28:19-20).

According to this scripture, when the disciple of Christ is baptized, he is brought into the possession of and into union with the Godhead--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When therefore the disciple is "baptized into Christ" (Galatians 3:27), he becomes a partaker of "the divine nature" (II Peter 1:4), privileged to share in "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost" (II Corinthians 13:14).

Baptism in Water

It is clear that water is the element of Christian baptism. Scripture relates, for instance, that Philip the evangelist preached Christ to the Ethopian eunuch. "And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, if thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ in the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him" (Acts 8:36-38).

Similarly, when Cornelius and his household believed the gospel, Peter asked: "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord" (Acts 10:47-48).

Baptism is Immersion

In his letter to the Romans Paul writes: "Know ye not, that so many of you as were baptized in to Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection" (Romans 6:3-5).

Notice the striking symbolism here. According to the figure, the "old man" with his sinful ways is buried beneath the water and a "new man" emerges from the water to live a new life in Christ. Moreover, there is in this operation a likeness to the burial and resurrection of Christ. "Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead" (Colossians 2:12). Surely it must be evident that only immersion corresponds with the symbolism of these passages. There is nothing in either sprinkling of pouring which can be likened to a burial and resurrection. Immersion is uniformly the practice set forth in the New Testament Scriptures.

Faith and Baptism

Like repentance, valid baptism is an expression of faith in Christ We are told, for example, that when Peter first preached Christ to the Jews, "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls" (Acts 2:41). Luke also reports that Paul preached Christ in Corinth and that "many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized" (Acts 18:8).

Again, we read of Philip preaching to the Samaritans. "But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women" (Acts 8:12). It is thus evident from these passages, as well as others, that faith is a prerequisite to scriptural baptism. It must be concluded, therefore, that infants are not valid candidates for baptism inasmuch as they are incapable of believing. Accordingly Philip, the record says, baptized men and women--i.e., only individuals capable of believing.

Baptism and Remission of Sins

One cannot be saved without receiving the remission or forgiveness of sins. God, moreover, has made baptism a condition for the bestowal of foregiveness--i.e., God forgives one of his sins when he in obedient faith submits to the ordinance of baptism. Thus, for example, when the believing Jews on Pentecost asked Peter what they must do to be saved, he replied: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call" (Acts 2:38-29).

The account of Paul's conversion confirms the place of baptism in forgiveness. When he had entered Damascus believing in Christ and had received hi sight, he was instructed: "And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). There is of course no suggestion that the water itself removed Paul's sins. It is simply that when he submitted to the "washing" of baptism, God cleansed him of his sins. And so it is with everyone who in faith is baptized into Christ.

Baptism and a Good Conscience

An evil conscience (i.e., a sense of guilt) is characteristic of the sinner. The procurement of a good conscience is therefore one of his great needs. Such a guilt-free conscience, according to Peter, is acquired when one is baptized. Having first spoken of Noah and his family being saved by water, he then says: "The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God). . ." (I Peter 3:21).

God has promised that He will forgive one's sins when one is baptized. Hence when the believing sinner, cognizant of the promise, is baptized, he has a sense of forgiveness and freedom from guilt--i.e., he has the answer of a good conscience toward God who has pardoned him.

Baptism and the New Birth

Jesus teaches that one must be born again in order to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3). He goes on to say: "Expect a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). It is, then, a spiritual new birth which is in view here. And it takes place when one is baptized into Christ. "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (II Corinthians 5:17). This union with Christ thus calls for a new outlook, a new moral life, a change from mere self-interest to devoted Christian service.

Summary Truths

Baptism is the Divinely appointed ordinance by which on enters into Christ through whom only there is life everlasting and all heavenly blessings. To disregard this ordinance is to deny the force of Jesus' words and jeopardize one's soul. For Jesus commanded: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark16:15-16).

What is the Word of God?

The word of God may be either spoken or written. On occasion it is even used as a title. Christ, for example, is sometimes called the Word of God (cf. Revelation 19:15). But usually when we speak of the word of God we think of the scriptures or the Bible. In the Bible the term "the scriptures" often refers particularly to the canonical religious writings of the Jews. After the New Testament writings were completed, however, the term generally came to denote the entire Bible, with its 39 books of the Old Testament and 27 books of the New. This collection of sacred writings was penned by at least 40 different writers over a period of about 1500 years.

The Inspiration of the Word

There are those today who would have us believe that the scriptures are simply men's ideas about God. But the Bible teaches that they originated with God. They are God's revelation to men. In Paul's words, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

The Method of Revelation

God selected certain individuals through whom He revealed His words. The writer of the Hebrew letter, for example, says: "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by the son." (Heb. 1:1,2). Peter adds: "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter 1:20-21).

The Word Christ-Centered

Someone has said that something about Christ, either typical, prophetic or historical, can be found on virtually every page of the Bible. It is indeed true that Christ, as the Redeemer of man is the ultimate focus of all the scriptures. And it is this good news concerning Christ which God "had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures" (Romans 1:2). Christ himself says: "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me" (John 5:39).

It was entirely appropriate, therefore, that when the Bereans heard the message of Christ, "they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so" (Acts 17:11). And it was equally fitting for Paul to remind Timothy "that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15).

The Truth of the Word

It is "impossible for God to lie" (Hebrews 6:18) for He is "a God of truth" (Deuteronomy 32:4). We can therefore be certain of the truth of His word. Christ in fact speaks of God's word as synonymous with truth. In praying to the Father for His disciples, He says: "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth" (John 17:17).

Belief of the word of truth as we have seen, is essential to salvation. And that involves believing in Christ. Regarding this saving faith in Christ, Paul says to the Ephesians: "In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory" (Ephesians 1:13-14).

The Constancy of the Word

The word of God, like God Himself is unchanging. Accordingly the Psalmist writes: "For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven" (Psalm 119:89). The word of God, Isaiah declares, is fixed in perpetuity. He says: "The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of God shall stand for ever" (Isaiah 40:8). Peter fully concurs: "For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower there of falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth fore ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you" (1 Peter 24-25). This same Divine unchangeableness, we should note, is also characteristic of Christ's word. For He insists: "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away" (Matthew 24:35).

The Power of the Word

The power of God's word is expressed in various ways. The Psalmist, for instance, writes: "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth" (Psalm 33:6). Thus, "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God." (Hebrews 11:3).

The power of the word, however, is not manifested only in visible or external things. "For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and morrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). With good reason, then, Paul can say, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16).

The Invincibility of the Word

Jesus tells us that "the scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:30). That being the case, it cannot fail to achieve its purposes. Accordingly the Lord declares: "For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereunto I sent it" (Isaiah 55:10-11).

Man's Only True Guide

Jeremiah acknowledges: "O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). Only God can direct man's steps. And this He does through His word. Hence the Psalmist says: "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" (Psalm 119:105). He further writes: "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping them there is great reward" (Psalm 19:7-8,11).

Summary Truths

It is hardly possible to place too great importance on the need for God's word in one's life. For Jesus says: "It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4; cf. Deuteronomy 8:3). Jesus, however, has in view not simply this present life but ultimately eternal life. Thus He further remarks: "He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come unto condemnation; but is passed from death unto life" (John 5:24). "Wherefore," says James, "lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves" (James 1:21-22).

Our Responsibility to Christ

Christ says: "no man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9: 62). In view of all that Christ has done for us, we are deeply obligated to "put our hand to the plow" and steadfastly follow him.

Paul's words of reminder therefore are always timely: "wherefore we labor, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him... he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again" (2 Cor. 5: 19, 15). The apostle further writes "as ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: rooted and built-up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with Thanksgiving"

Steadfastness in Faith

Each one of us must steadfastly maintain and nurture his faith in the Lord. Paul's admonition to Timothy is thus still just as appropriate today: "holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck" (1 Timothy 1: 19).

Again we are exhorted: "take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin" (Hebrews 3: 12, 13). Therefore, "let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised)" (Hebrews 10: 23).

Steadfastness in Worship

From the very beginning of Christianity, the disciples on the first in the week regularly "came together to break" (Acts 20:7). In their weekly assemblies "they contended steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, and breaking a bread, and prayers" (Acts 2: 42).

This communal worship is vital to our spiritual growth and well-being. Hence we are urged: "and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another..." (Hebrews 10: 24, 25).

Nothing is more important to Christian growth than faithfully studying the Word of God. Hence Peter instructs: "wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that you may grow thereby" (1 Peter 2: 1,2). Remember, too, Jesus words: "if ye continue in my Word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8: 31, 32).

On the other hand, neglecting the word leads to ruinous consequences. "Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the Word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him" (Hebrews 2: 1-3).

Steadfastness in Prayer

The need for prayer to remain steadfast in ones calling is well illustrated in Jesus own life. The record indicates that he prayed frequently. On one occasion he "went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God" (Luke 6: 12). Paul makes it clear that steadfastness in prayer is essential to successfully meeting the tests of life when he says: "wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand... praying always with all prayer and supplication in the spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all sites" (Ephesians 6: 13, 18).

It is equally important that one be thankful for all of the countless blessings God bestow. And that thankfulness, Paul further tells us, ought to be steadfastly expressed. He urges: "prayer without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will God in Christ Jesus concerning you" (1 Thess. 5: 17, 18). And here let us not overlook the reassuring words of James: "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5: 16).

Steadfastness in Doing Good

Scripture informs us that Jesus "went about doing good" (Acts 10: 38). If we are truly his disciples we will steadfastly follow his example. Inasmuch as we can accomplish nothing without the Lord's help, Paul's prayer for the Colossians also addresses our need today. He petitions: "that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Colossians 1: 10).

Since good works are essential to pleasing the Lord, Paul also exhorts: "therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:58). Again he writes: "and let us not be weary in well doing; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not" (Galatians 6: 9).

Steadfastness in Resisting Temptation

Since the Christian is confronted with countless temptations, he must be constantly on guard. Peter warns: "be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring Lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5: 8). In another place we read: "resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you" (James 4: 7,8).

Drawing near to God is crucial. For we must have his help to withstand temptation. And this, Paul promises, God will give to the humble. "Wherefore," he says, "let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10: 12, 13). Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him" (James 1:12).

Steadfastness Leads to Hope

Success in the Christian life demands a steadfast hope in Christ. We must not allow ourselves to be "moved away from the hope of the gospel" (Colossians 1: 23). And we desire," says the writer of Hebrews, "that everyone of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: that ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (Hebrews 6: 11, 12).

Reward for Steadfastness

The rewards for steadfastness are incalculable. Jesus, for instance, promises that "he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved" (Matthew 24: 13). We are further assured that God "will render to everyman according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and immortality, eternal life" (Romans 2: 6,7).

Summary Truths

Scripture constantly emphasizes the necessity for steadfastness in all areas of the Christian life. "Ye therefore, beloved; seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3: 17, 18).

The word "church" is derived from a term meaning "of or belonging to the Lord." But in the New Testament it commonly translates the Greek word ekklesia which denoted "the called out," i.e., in the Christian sense, basically the community of believers called out of the world to serve Christ.

It should be noted, however, that even the word "church" bears slightly differing shades of meaning.

  1. In the broadest sense, it signifies collectively all Christians of every locality, i.e., the church universal. Paul uses the word in this sense when he says: "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it" (Ephesians 5:25).
  2. Sometimes "the church" signifies the community of believers living in a particular locality. Thus, for example, the apostle writes "Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints. . ." (I Corinthians 1:2).
  3. At other times, the term refers to the assembly of Christians gathered for worship. Such assemblies are what Paul has in view when he commands: "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. . . for it is a shame for women to speak in the church" (I Corinthians 14:34-35; cf. I Timothy 2:11-12).

The Promise of the Church

When Jesus asked His disciples about His identity, Peter responded, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:16-18).

The Establishment of the Church

It is evident that when Jesus made the foregoing statement He had not yet established His church, but had only promised to do so. The church as not established until Pentecost following Jesus' ascension. On that occasion Peter first proclaimed the gospel of Christ and the terms of admission to the church. "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same there were added unto them about three thousand souls. . . . And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:41, 47).

The Church is the House of God

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul says: "These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (I Timothy 3:14-15). When the apostle speaks of the church as the house of God, he does not refer to a physical or material building. It is rather, as Peter says, "a spiritual house" (I Peter 2:5).

In other words, the house of God is equivalent to "the household of faith" (Galatians 6:10; cf. Ephesians 2:19), i.e., the family or children of God by faith. Accordingly Paul writes: "For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians 3:26-27). To be baptized into Christ is to become a member of the church or house of God. Moreover, this house is also "His own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end" (Hebrews 3:6).

The Church is the Body of Christ

God, Paul tells us, has given Christ a position of preeminence, "And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all" (Ephesians 1:22-23). Again we read: "And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence" (Colossians 1:18). "Therefore. . . the church is subject unto Christ. . ." (Ephesians 5:24). And being thus subject to Him, every member of the church is obligated to bring "into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (II Corinthians 10:5).

The Uniqueness of the Church

There is only one church authorized in the New Testament. For the church, as we have seen, is the spiritual body of Christ and there is only one such body. Paul accordingly reminds the Ephesians: "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all. . ." (Ephesians 4:4-6).

While, however, there is only one body, that body is made up of many members. "For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another" (Romans 12:4-5). The apostle additionally remarks: "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the one body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body. . ." (I Corinthians 12:12-13).

Moreover, it is vital that every member recognize this oneness, "That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether on member suffer, all the members suffer with it: or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it" (I Corinthians 12:25-26). We further read: "And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body. . ." (Colossians 3:15).

Offices in the Church

In the early church there were special offices, such as that of apostles and prophets, which were not limited to one locality but served the church at large. On the other hand, in each individual congregation there was a plurality of elders (or bishops) and deacons who carried on the affairs of the local church.

Thus, for example, when Paul wrote to the Philippian church, he addressed the letter to "all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons" (Philippians 1:1). Those appointed to serve as bishops and deacons must be men of ability and high moral character, leading exemplary lives (see I Timothy 3:1-10; cf. Titus 1:5-9).

The Work of the Church

As "the pillar and ground of the truth" (I Timothy 3:15), the church has Divinely ordained work to do. Chief among its functions are the following:

  1. Developing its members, i.e., "the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God. . ." (Ephesians 4:12-13).
  2. Caring for its needy: "Distributing to the necessity of the saints; given to hospitality" (Romans 12:13). This includes provision for widows and orphans (James 1:27).
  3. Continuing the proclamation of the gospel to the world: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16:15-16).

Summary Truths

Comprised of the "called out" believers in Christ, the church is the spiritual body of Christ, of which He is Head and Savior (Ephesians 5:23). And, further, it is the household of God (Ephesians 2:19), the glorious fruition of His redeeming grace. "Unto him," therefore, "be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen" (Ephesians 3:21).

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