|Vol. 13 No. 2 February 2011||
Robert D. Rawson
Jesus promised to “build my church” (Matthew 16:18). The church is owned by Jesus Christ (Romans 16:16) and is spoken of as “churches of Christ.” However, let’s take a look in this article from the other side of the coin. What was the relationship of the church back to Jesus?
The church in the New Testament upheld the Lord in a mighty way and a frail way. The members were human beings seeking to be more spiritual in their outlook on life while they lived in various cities of their time like Jerusalem, Corinth, Ephesus, Thessalonica and Rome. The directives of 1 Corinthians 15 are to be steadfast and unmovable and always abounding in the work of the Lord. The imperatives continue in the next chapter: watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit (act) ye like men and be strong (1 Corinthians 16:13). This is the teaching to those of the first century church. Did they follow the orders given? We must note that some did and some did not. Now, down the stream of time to our day, are we following these admonitions? Some are and some are not. So, what should we all do? Certainly, teachers and preachers of God’s Word must continue the faithful presentation of the message (2 Timothy 4:1-4). Fellow brethren should listen and heed the message because Jesus would have it to be this way.
Without love the early church was taught that their labors amounted to no value (1 Corinthians 13). They were taught that love bears, believes, hopes and endures. In the first few verses, we read of some who might give their bodies to be burned or give all their goods to feed the poor. However, from what motive? Was the motive a ‘just cause’? Was it ‘the thing to do’? Was it ‘what my parents did’? Paul writes, ‘if it’s not of love, the sacrifices profit us none.’ Now, down the stream of time to our day, are we serving with the motive of love in mind? Some do and some do not. Yet, what should be the motive of all of us?
The church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7) had investigated doctrines and claims of men. They appear to have successfully held on to sound doctrine. Yet, in the midst of this letter from the Lord to them, He admonished them that He might have to come and remove ‘their candlestick’ from out of its place (the recognition light of the faithful church according to the two closing verses of Revelation 1). What was so wrong with a doctrinally sound church? They had left their first love! They were told to repent and do the first works. I really don’t know the specific love they didn’t have any longer, but they knew, and they were to repent to please the Lord. Those who desired their relationship with the Lord to remain unbroken did repent. Down the stream of time to our day, the same New Testament admonitions should be followed if we desire our relationship with the Lord to remain unbroken.
The relationship with the Lord is preached and served by the faithful brethren of the first century and our twenty-first century. We must hold to sound doctrine with the attitude and motive of love. Further, we must repent if we aren’t serving this way.
“For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). We often use this verse to contrast the old Mosaic Law with the new way of grace and truth through Jesus Christ. We emphasize to our religious neighbors that we are no longer under the Law of Moses but under a different system made possible by the death of our Lord. However, we must be careful that we do not leave the wrong impression in the minds of others, that is, the Law of Moses was void of God’s grace or that the system of grace excludes law.
The grace of God preceded the Law of Moses and was included in it. Regardless of when a person lived in ages past, there had to be a response to the unmerited favor of God in order to receive the benefits therein. Paul declared in Romans 4:16, “Therefore it is faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of all.” A person was never accepted of God simply because of his/her race or national origin. He/she had to possess that faith like Abraham had in order to be blessed by the grace of God. That kind of faith motivated one to obey the commands of God. “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain” (Hebrews 11:4). “By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household” (Hebrews 11:7). “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance” (Hebrews 11:8). These are just a few examples of faithful men who responded to God’s grace as recorded in Hebrews 11.
The grace of God was evident in the overthrow of the city of Jericho. “And the Lord said to Joshua: See! I have given Jericho into your hand, its king, and the mighty men of valor” (Joshua 6:1). Now that is unmerited favor! Joshua and the people of Israel had not done anything toward capturing the city, yet God said, “I have given Jericho into your hand.” Instructions were given from God and followed by Israel relative to what God wanted them to do. In their faith, the people marched. At the blast of the trumpets and the shout of the people on the seventh day the wall of Jericho fell. “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days” (Hebrews11:30). The works performed by Israel did not cause the city walls to fall; rather it was by God’s grace. However, the walls would not have fallen if the Israelites had not done what God commanded them to do.
God’s grace can also be seen in the curing of Naaman (2 Kings 5). This man had leprosy. There was no earthly cure for this terrible and fatal disease. However, when Naaman finally obeyed the command of the prophet of God to dip seven times in the Jordon River, “his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” (2 Kings 5:14). The waters of Jordan did not cleanse him. It was when his faith motivated him to obey the command of God that the grace of the Lord was bestowed upon him. Throughout the Old Testament, the wonderful grace of our heavenly Father is clearly seen. Law does not exclude grace.
In contrast, the system of grace does not exclude law. God is the Giver, salvation is the gift and man is the recipient. No student of the Bible denies that we are saved by the infinite grace of the heavenly Father. The apostle Paul made this truth evident in his writings: “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) (Ephesians 2:4-5). “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste of death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9). Does this mean that God saves people without an individual having a choice in the matter? Certainly not! Jesus taught in Matthew 7:13-14 that the “many” in contrast with the “few” would be eternally lost, the reason being that a person determines whether he/she will obey or disobey Christ.
However, someone is ready to reply, “If a person has a part in his/her salvation, such works nullify the grace of God.” Not so! That grace of God which “has appeared to all men” also instructs mankind to deny “ungodliness and worldly lusts” and informs us how to “live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:11-14). We have to respond to the grace of God by living in harmony with the teachings of the Word of God. In Ephesians 2:8, we learn, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” Faith is a person’s part of his/her salvation that is required by God. “Therefore it is faith that it might be according to grace” (Romans 4:16). If there is not a response (faith) on the part of an individual, God’s grace will not save. In the great Roman letter, Paul mentions “obedience of the faith” in the beginning and in the ending of this epistle (Romans 1:5; 16:26). Faith is the foundation of obedience. The faith that saves is one that obeys (Hebrews 5:8-9). It is a living, vibrant, obedient faith (James 2 24, 26). While the works of the law could not justify anyone, it is a work of God that we believe on His Son (John 6:29). Paul wrote in Galatians 2:16, “knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” The Lord also requires that a person repent of sins, confess his/her faith in Jesus Christ and be immersed for the remissions of our sins (Acts 17:30; Romans 10:9-10; Mark 16:16). When in our faith we respond to the commands of God, we know that we have not merited salvation. Jesus taught, “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do’” (Luke 17:10). It is not a matter of who saves, but rather when God saves a person.
Paul declared that “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). Yes, there is law under the system of grace, and the commandments ordained of God for mankind to obey do not nullify His grace.