When a professed sinner behaves as a sinner, we should not be surprised; grieved for sure, but not surprised. But when those who profess to belong to Christ live according to the world’s sinful pattern, we should be shocked and grieved. Yet for many it has become the normal pattern of “Christian” life. Many professing Christians are living in the world instead of the kingdom of God. I would like to take a look at two “churches” that are active today. I realize we cannot point out individual congregations as being in one category or another. We should never try. Just as God’s true church is made up of all born-again believers from every nation and every generation, so is the church of man. Let’s look at them both to bring it to a personal level and determine in which we as individuals have our membership.
THE CHURCH OF MAN – I have read accounts of the “great awakenings” and revivals in the 1700’s, 1800’s and early to mid 1900’s. In recounting their experiences, several of the revivalists noted a common problem. Many of the old established churches were the root of the greatest opposition to what God was doing. I saw that personally in the 1970’s. It seems some churches had left their first love and were carrying on in the power of man. There was no evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit among them. They, like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day had exchanged the power of the Holy Spirit for the traditions of men. Jesus said, “so you nullify the [authority of the] word of God [acting as if it did not apply] because of your tradition which you have handed down [through the elders]. And you do many things such as that.” (Mark 7:13, Amplified) They were so accustomed to their false religion that when the real came, they thought it was false and rejected Jesus. What about our day? Have we not done the same? We need to examine our beliefs in light of Scripture, not traditions. Be careful what you accept as truth. Know the Word of God and follow it. The church of man has attempted to lower the standards of God’s Word and limit the power of the Holy Spirit. But God’s standards, commandments and teachings cannot be lowered or His Spirit limited.
I heard a message from a pastor who spoke passionately for the church to return to the teachings of Jesus. His heart was broken because the church has stood by and said nothing as the Word of God has been compromised. Church leaders have lowered the standards to allow what Jesus does not allow, and they have had no resistance in doing so in most cases. Jesus never compromised truth. He did not run after the rich young ruler who wouldn’t submit to the cost of discipleship. Yet no one loved him more than Jesus. Jesus laid down His life for that young man, but He did not make an exception to allow Him to enter the kingdom of God without full surrender because the kingdom of God is a place of full obedience to the will of God. Jesus has not changed, but the church has. It is not only a matter of allowing what Jesus condemns, but of not doing what Jesus gave us power to do. It is alarming to see that much of the church has evolved into a powerless, sin-ridden organization devoid of the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Where is our brokenness and repentance for what we have lost?
The church of man convenes to rethink the commandments, judgments and teachings of Jesus so they can keep the Word of God updated and in step with our culture. Instead of changing the world, they attempt to change the Word. But God’s Word is timeless, just as God Himself. It never changes. “All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, But the word of the Lord endures forever. Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:24-25) Who are we to take the Word of God to task, and try to adjust His words to be politically correct for our times rather than standing firm on the permanence of God’s commands? We are here but a moment. God has always been and always will be. Yet the church has reestablished itself on the foundation of human wisdom and a changing world rather than the truth of God’s enduring Word and the power of His unchanging Spirit. The church of man is very tolerant of those who practice what God says is sin and, in fact, takes pride in its alliance with the world. It has a full house of compromised Christians with no spiritual power. It is a religion strong in number that soothes the conscience of those who profess Christ with their mouths but continue in ungodly lives. There are no uncomfortable conditions of discipleship in this religion. Every person is free to do as they please with the leaders’ guarantee of their place in heaven. They have made their gospel so soft and cheap that when the real gospel of truth is spoken, they draw back and say that surely God would not expect that of anyone. They are like the crowds in Jesus’ day who said, “This is a hard saying” and quit following Him. When we read the Bible as it is, we find that Jesus never side-stepped issues of truth. They are too important to water down. Why do they try to change God’s Word? To make it easier to gain members, to allow for worldly pleasure, to avoid persecution and to create a sense of assurance of heaven, among others.
Religion runs deep, but the true character and authority of Christ are missing from the church of man. Many moral doctrines are taught but there is no regeneration to transport its members into the kingdom of God. The church of man is void of the presence of God, the power of the Holy Spirit and the conviction of sin that accompanies the Spirit’s moving in both saint and sinner. It offers a neatly packaged religion that assures you of a home in heaven, no problems or difficulties on earth, and no need to abandon your worldly pleasures and sinful lifestyle. It allows one foot in the kingdom and one in the world. It is a dangerous place to be because it is false. It is an organization of man with no power and no life. God does not accept such doctrines.
Many believe we are okay as long as we are sincere in what we believe. That is not true. We are not right with God until we are born again and surrender to Him. We cannot enter the kingdom of God by joining a church, observing the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, turning over a new leaf, paying tithes, giving to religious causes or any other works. Those are all good things to do, but they will not save us. If they could, there would have been no need for Jesus to die for us.
The church of man is an apostate church. They have abandoned the faith of Jesus Christ and created a church instituted by man for man. It is not the true church. They have left behind the genuine foundation, leading many to spiritual ruin and destruction. The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy about such a ‘church’ in the last days. “Holding to a form of [outward] godliness (religion), although they have denied its power [for their conduct nullifies their claim of faith]. Avoid such people and keep far away from them.” (2 Timothy 3:5, Amplified) When we deny the blood of Jesus to cleanse us from sin, the power of God’s Spirit and His grace to make us a new creation and to empower us to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, we are turning our backs on our only hope of entering into the kingdom of God. There must be a regeneration, and only Jesus can accomplish that. Then, on our part there must be a full surrender to Jesus, leaving this world behind us.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 tells us clearly that practicing sin will keep us from the kingdom of God. “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”
Are you free to practice these things? Yes! But the consequence is not worth it. God will not change His commandments for any of us. He has not only made a provision to cleanse us from sin, but to deliver us from it, too. It was with great love and sacrifice that God made that provision. Those who refuse His sacrifice and continue to practice sin (make it their lifestyle) are allied with this world. They are the enemies of God. If we are to live in the kingdom of God, we have to let go of our former love and live true to Jesus. “You adulteresses [disloyal sinners – flirting with the world and breaking your vow to God]! Do you not know that being the world’s friend [that is loving the things of the world] is being God’s enemy? So whoever chooses to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4, Amplified) When we read such passages of Scripture, we tend to skim over them and think we are better than that, so it doesn’t apply to us. We consider our good qualities and say, “God wouldn’t keep me out of His kingdom.” But we keep ourselves out if we are not living in obedience to His Spirit and Word. God is a God of love and comfort, but He is also a God of wrath against all ungodliness and sin. We decide which side we will be on. If we align ourselves with sin and live according to this world’s dictates, we set ourselves against God as His enemy. We don’t have to do that!
The power of God is available to change us from sinner to saint, from an enemy of God to His child; but we must abandon ourselves to Jesus. He will accept no less. He does not accept membership from a manmade religion. Search your heart and the Word of God. Don’t compare yourself with other people, it may give you false security and make you seem to be a pretty good person. Compare yourself with Jesus and His teachings. Are you sure you are in His church? The church of man gives false hope. Wake up before it is too late, and listen to the voice of Jesus calling you away from the world, into His kingdom.
THE CHURCH OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST – This church is made up of people who have acknowledged their utterly sinful state in contrast to the holiness of God. They recognize they are hopeless on their own merits, but have accepted the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to make them righteous. The conviction of their sinfulness has thrown them on the mercy of God and has brought about true repentance and remission of their sins. They are like Isaiah. When he stood in the presence of God his hopelessness was overwhelmingly evident, and he cried out, “Woe is me! For I am ruined.” He had no way to purify himself. He confessed his sinful state in the presence of God and an angel was sent with a coal off the altar to cleanse Him.
Our “coal from the altar” is the blood of Jesus Christ. He is the only hope we have to be cleansed and to appear righteous before God. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot change ourselves. We cannot please God in our flesh. We must be born again. When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, He said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3, NKJV) What? Did Jesus realize who He was talking to? Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a teacher of the Law of God. He was about as holy as you could get. Was he not allowed into the kingdom of God? No! Not in his present condition. Our natural, fleshly self cannot enter the kingdom of God. It is a friend of the world. We must be transformed from the sin nature of mankind to the righteous nature of God. It is a spiritual transaction that takes place. John G. Lake said, “the secret of Christianity is not in doing. The secret is in being. Real Christianity is in being a possessor of the nature of Jesus Christ.” Through the blood of Jesus, our penalty has been paid, but we must accept it and be born again. Then we leave the world behind and surrender ourselves to follow this new nature, the nature of God. We begin to grow from our infancy of the new birth into men and women of the kingdom. Born again believers live and move and have their being (existence) in Christ. They live in His presence and grow more like Jesus every day, exhibiting His character, power and authority. The world is of little interest to them, not because they have a duty to leave it behind, but because they have found a greater, lasting joy. This world pales in comparison to the revelation of Jesus Christ in their lives. They have been raised in newness of life in Christ.
“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Colossians 3:1-2, NKJV) Those in the true Church seek the heavenly things and find them. They have their eyes enlightened by the Holy Spirit. “But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him. But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.” (1Corinthians 2:9-10) Their understanding comes from the Spirit of God, not man’s intellect. They understand God’s Word and His ways because they are taught by His Spirit and led by His Spirit.
The true Church seeks to have the vision of Christ, His compassion for the lost, and His power and authority. They do not follow the path of the world. They have no desire for it. They overcome the world because they are born of God. “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith.” (1 John 5:4) They overcome the pull of the world because of the Spirit of God within them, not by the strength of man. The grace of God is at work in them; the Divine influence in their hearts, changing them more and more like their Master. They have a zeal for the presence of God. This transformation flows out of their lives as a witness to the world. “And they overcame and conquered him” [Satan, the accuser of the brethren] “because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, for they did not love their life and renounce their faith even when faced with death.”
You might say, “What powerful people!” Yes they are, but they are not powerful in themselves. It is only by the power of God within them. They are not proud or arrogant. They are keenly aware that without Jesus they are nothing! They want to do nothing outside of Him. And with Him, they can do anything. They are ordinary earthen vessels, but filled with the glory, power and character of God. If the world can see an example in the lives of those in the true Church, their eyes will be opened to believe in His love and glory. The world has seen so much from the church of man, that they do not believe Christ. But if we are living, shining examples of truth and power, we can make a difference in the world, showing them there is hope and transforming power in the new birth.
The true Church follows the teachings of Jesus, and is living from the new nature, the nature of God. The closer they come to Jesus, the less the world appeals to them. But they also know that those who live godly will suffer persecution. They know the world will not love them and the church of man will oppose them. Jesus didn’t hide anything. He said, “If you belonged to the world, the world would love [you as] its own and would treat you with affection. But you are not of the world [you no longer belong to it], but I have chosen you out of the world. And because of this the world hates you.” (John 15:19, Amplified) Yet we are left in this world to be light in the darkness and examples of the work of God in these earthen vessels. We are living witnesses of the miracle of the new birth! Jesus has given us everything we need to be overcomers. Are we living up to our full potential in His Spirit? Are we members of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ?
Once again, please note that I speak of the church at large, both false and true. I would never attempt to label local churches or denominations as one or the other of these two categories because there may be a mixture of members in each local congregation as was the case in the church at Sardis. Jesus said to them, “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” (Revelation 3:2-5)
The point is to narrow down our focus to the individual. You and me. Which church holds our membership? Are we a member of God’s kingdom or the church of man? We need to examine ourselves according to the Word of God and allow God to change us into His image more and more every day. If we do not have a consistent personal encounter with Christ, we are not alive in the Spirit. It may appear on the outside that we belong to Christ, but Jesus knows His own, and those who are imposters. Consider this parable of Jesus’.
“Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Matthew 13:24-30)
The enemy, Satan, has successfully sown evil seeds among the good. So the wheat and tares grow together. But the day will come when the tares will go into everlasting torment and the wheat into eternal life in the kingdom of God. Make certain you know which church you belong to while the grace and mercy of God is still being extended. One day it will be too late. Don’t wait.