Vol. 8, No. 6
~ Page 10 ~
It is not uncommon to hear a brother mention in his prayer that "we are thankful to be able to come out to God's house and worship." Also, you will hear from time to time a member of the church referring to that part of the building where the assembly of worship is conducted as being the "sanctuary." If you were to bring someone to visit our buildings, most likely the person would refer to the place of worship as being "a beautiful sanctuary." To some degree, most of us have been affected by Judaism or Catholicism whether we realize it or not.
The Lord God had Moses to erect the tabernacle. This portable tent of meeting was to be the center of worship until many years later when Solomon would build the temple in the city of Jerusalem. In Exodus 25:8, we read that the purpose of such a place was "that I may dwell among them." In this verse, the whole of the tabernacle was referred to as the "sanctuary." However, in Exodus 25:22, we learn that it was at the mercy-seat between the two cherubim, atop the Ark of the Covenant and located in the Most Holy Place that God said, "I will commune with thee." In short, the sanctuary, whether speaking of the tabernacle as a whole or the Most Holy Place, was a dwelling place of the presence of the Almighty God.
In contrast, the place of worship in the Christian age is of no significance. Jesus taught the Samaritan woman that it would not matter where one worshiped God (whether in the mountains or in Jerusalem) as long as such was done "in spirit and truth" (John 4:20-24). Paul declared that the "Lord of heaven and earth dwells not in temples made with hands" (Acts 17:24). The Lord's called out congregation is never a place but always a people. The church is "a spiritual house," not a physical building, "to offer up spiritual sacrifices" (1 Peter 2:5). Again, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:16 that "You [Christians] are a temple [sanctuary] of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you." Therefore God's sanctuary today is his kingdom, the church, and not where the saints meet to worship.
One of the frustrations experienced by preachers is knowing that the Gospel has been taught, yet there have been no responses by the hearers to obedience. This may occur when sinners refuse to obey the Gospel of Christ and/or when members of the church fail to comply with the teaching of Christ to mature in the faith. There can also be puzzlement in the teacher's heart when one family obeys and another family rejects the same teaching while being instructed privately in their homes. The same Gospel is being taught but is bringing different responses. It is easy to become discouraged, blaming oneself for the failure to convert all the people being taught the way of salvation.
We must understand and come to realize that all who hear will not believe and obey the Gospel. The hearer has a responsibility in the process of conversion. This principle is clearly taught in the parable of the soils presented by the Lord and recorded in Matthew 13:1-23. In the usage of the words of Isaiah, Jesus mentioned that there were those who would hear but not understand. The apostle Paul referred to this prophecy of Isaiah on various occasions in his work when the Jews would not respond to the teaching of this inspired man (Acts 28:25-29; Romans 10:16-21).
While it is true that faith is produced by the hearing of the Word of God (Romans 10:17), there are times when the Gospel is heard but obedience to Christ is not the end result. Why? The answer can be found in the example of so many Israelites who failed to enter the promised land. The writer of the Book of Hebrews informs us that the glad tidings had been preached to the children of Israel "but the word of hearing did not profit them, because it was not united by faith with them that heard" (Hebrews 4:1-3). Earlier we learned that the reason why some did not enter into that rest was because of unbelief (disobedience) (Hebrews 3:18-19). Had they not heard? Yes, but the Word of God had not been united or mixed with faith on the part of the hearers. And without faith a person cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6).
The hearer of the Gospel indeed has a great responsibility. If the heart is not receptive, there cannot be any faith. As food eaten cannot benefit the body if it is not digested, neither can the Gospel of Christ save the individual unless it is united with faith. We are exhorted to "receive with meekness the implanted word which is able to save your souls" (James 1:21). It is only then that the desired result will occur.