Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature
Churches of Christ: Who Are We?
Your Soul
The Judgment
A Sound Church
The Establishment & Membership of Christ's Church
What is you Destiny

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                                            Churches of Christ, Who Are We?                                                    
Acts, Chapter 2

Who are the people that comprise the membership of the church of Christ? Are they some kind of "cult-like-sect”? You may have heard that said about the church of Christ because I have! Well, what do members of the church of Christ believe? Are they a cult-like-sect? If you were watching the Nancy Gray segment of the CNN nightly news a while back, you may have witnessed a defamation of the church of Christ. Now I do not know if it was an evil intent of the hostess of that particular segment of the program, to deliberately smear churches of Christ, or not. I have no way of knowing her intent, but I know for certain that God knows her motives because Psalms 44:21 says, “God knows the secrets of the heart.”

Now to me the most disgusting thing about that program, which caused me to question the host’s motives, was that she was the one who established the procedure to learn who we are and what we believe by inviting a Baptist preacher to define who and what we are? I wonder if she thought a Baptist preacher would know more about those who are members of the church of Christ than the members themselves, or was she deliberately trying to slander the church of Christ.

Anyway, the result was that the Baptist preacher defined churches of Christ as a "cult-like sect," which was founded about 150 years ago by Alexander Campbell. You know, this charge is not something new. The church of our Lord has been mistakenly, and derogatorily, dubbed “a sect” for about 2,000 years. And if you doubt what I am saying, get your Bible and read about it in Acts, chapter 28, verse 22. In this verse some of the leaders of the Jews said to the imprisoned Apostle Paul, "We desire to hear from you what you think; for concerning this sect, we know that it is spoken against everywhere." Notice that for the Lord’s church to be described as “a sect” is not a new thing. It happened in Paul’s time, and obviously it is happening today. And just as it was in the 1st Century, that charge is absolutely, unequivocally false.

Now I believe that there are members of the Lord’s church that are ready to address the matter of who we really are—and what we believe. I know there are those in the membership of the Midwest City Church of Christ on Post Road who are more than willing to comply with defending the truth about churches of Christ to anyone, at any time, at any place.

As a background for our lesson we will be going to the Book of Acts, Chapter Two. In Acts, Chapter Two one of the most memorable and important occasions in all of the Bible is chronicled. At this time we see the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise that the Holy Spirit would come upon the apostles, and the church of Jesus Christ would be established. In Verses 1-13 of Acts, chapter 2, we see that the Holy Spirit did come as promised, and He came with power, and glorious things happened, and the church of Jesus Christ was established.

In Verse 14 we are told that the apostle Peter stood up with the eleven and preached the first gospel sermon. And then dropping down to Verse 41 we find these words, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”

And Verses 42-47 of Acts, Chapter 2 reads, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” Now this is the first time that we read about the church in existence in the Bible. That is indeed a great and wonderful message!

I must say at this time that neither you, or I, or any other one person, or one congregation, or a group of persons, or a group of congregations, or a university, or a publication can speak "officially" for the church of Christ. Our headquarters are in heaven. And our beliefs and practices come from the Word of God.

Today, baptized believers who the Lord has added to the church are said to comprise around 9,000 autonomous congregations, and encompass about 1,400,000 to 1,500,000 individual members. Notice I said around and about. Only the Lord knows for sure who and how many are among the faithful. Remember according to Acts 2:47 the Lord adds the saved to the church, not men. Men make mistakes, God does not make mistakes.

Now there may be some that the Lord has added to the church that we know nothing about. Several years ago, it was reported by some American travelers in India that they came upon some people who taught, believed and worshiped just as members of the Lord’s church did in the 1st century. Until then, no one on earth knew anything about them. But certainly the Lord did, because when individuals comply with the conditions given by Him, He adds them to the church just as He did on that Pentecost day when the church was first established.

Now just as it was in New Testament times, churches of Christ today are completely autonomous. They are truly self-governing and self-determining based solely on Bible standards. That is, they are not bound together by the acceptance of a common human creed, or a catechism, or a confession of faith--or by any kind of ecclesiastical hierarchy such as a convention or conference. Yet, members of the church of Christ share a common faith; worship alike; and preach the same gospel. Oh yes, there are some struggles in some local churches of Christ, as there were in some of the New Testament congregations. For that, we stand reproved by New Testament teachings, just as those churches mentioned in the New Testament were scolded. But when it comes to the Biblical tenants of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we must all agree and be obedient to them, or we are “none of His” as stated in Romans 8:9.

This is also the message in Revelation 2:2-5 when the church at Ephesus quit following the teaching of Jesus. In Verse 5 of Revelation, chapter 2 Jesus said to the church, “repent or I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place.” Certainly, we can and must continue to strive for unity among brethren based on New Testament instructions. There can be no doubt about that!

Then there is the admonition by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:1-6, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling;  one Lord, one faith, one baptism,  one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. Notice in this passage that in spite of some differences among some members of the church, Paul says that brethren must diligently work to preserve the unity of the spirit in the bond of peaceAnd he said that we can do that by exhibiting humility, gentleness, patience and tolerance for one another in love. Now this does not mean that we compromise the truth of God’s word, but rather we are to display the qualities that Paul enumerated as we examine the scripture together to determine what God would have us to know, to do and to believe. And then we must let God’s Word have free-course.

"Churches of Christ" are bound together by three important fundamental rudiments:                 First, there is a common love for God and His Son; Jesus Christ, and a common faith that God is the Father of us all, and Jesus Christ; His Son, redeemed us by His precious blood.      Second, we are drawn together by our love for one another. That is, we walk together in the light of God’s Word with humility, and gentleness, and with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love as we strive for unity of spirit.                                                              Third, we accept the obligation to adhere to Biblical authority for our faith, our work, our worship and our teaching. As members of the Lord’s church, it is essential that we have Biblical authority for everything that we believe, teach, and practice. That is, we live by the rule, as some of the older preachers use to say, “Speak where the Bible speaks, and remain silent where the Bible is silent.”

Now in view of the disbelief and disrespect for anything called "church," that is prevalent in our society today, I think it is necessary to examine the word “Church.” Did you know that one of the definitions that some modern dictionaries have for the word, "church," is "a building for public worship; especially Christian worship." And those same dictionaries give a synonym for the word, "church." And that word is "denomination."

Now, we know that the English and American dictionaries define words according to their common usage. But the word translated "church" in the English or American versions of the Bible does not mean either a building or a denomination. But rather it is the entire collective body of people that are called out for a specific purpose, while "denomination" means to divide and name. For example, we divide and name our coins “pennies,” "nickels," "dimes," and "quarters." They are divisions of a greater whole.

The church of Christ in the New Testament is not divided into denominations and named accordingly. Jesus prayed in John 17:20-21 “For those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” Don’t you see that Jesus prayed that there would not be any factions or divisions (that is, denominations) among true believers? Therefore, according to our Lord’s pray and other New Testament passages (Ephesians 4:4-5; Galatians 1:6-8; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Corinthians 11:4), we must conclude that self-named denominations with their many different names, beliefs and practices cannot be the Lord’s church.

What do you think that Jesus meant when he said in Matthew 16:18: "I will build my church?" Do you think that He was saying, "I will build My denomination?" And do you think when the Bible describes the church in Acts, chapter 20, verse 28 as "...the church of God which He purchased with His own blood," that it means, "…the denomination which He purchased with His own blood?" No, my friend, you do not get that idea from Holy Scripture. The church that belongs to Jesus Christ is not a denomination, or a blending of man-made denominational churches, that are fashioned to conform to someone’s own personal charm—or opinion. The one true church of Christ is the one, and only, church of the Living God! And the only one you can read about in God’s Holy Word.

Well! Do you think a congregation right here in Midwest City, Oklahoma that is following the New Testament pattern, could possibly be the church that Jesus purchased with His own blood? Now I do not just think it is possible, but according to Holy Scripture, I know that it is true. Does that make it is a cult? No Sir! Or is it a sect? No Sir! Also, can the people around the world, who are striving to adhere to the pattern that you find in the New Testament, possible be part of the Lord’s church. According to Holy Scripture they are! You know, we should get excited about that thought! I know that I want to be a part of the one true church of Jesus Christ! And, if that isn't what the Gospel of Christ is all about, I have missed something very important along the way.

Now, what do churches of Christ believe? One way we can know what a person or a group of people believe, is by knowing what they say, teach and do. The churches of Christ with whom I have been associated--and am presently associated-- believe the following things:

First: We believe there is one God. Ephesians 4:5-6 says that there is “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.  And we believe that the God of the Bible is manifested in three ways. (1) There is God, the Father. When Jesus was instructing his disciples how to pray in Matthew 6:9, He said that they were to pray ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.” (2) There is God, the Son. When Jesus was being baptized by John the Baptist, Matthew 3:17 reads, “A voice out of the heavens (now that would be God, the Father) said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.’” (3) There is God, the Holy Spirit. In John 14:26 Jesus said “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” And in Verse 8 of 1 John we are told that “these three are in agreement.” You know, God knew the need for human redemption; He planned it; Jesus Christ procured it; and the Holy Spirit revealed it.

Second: We believe that the Bible is the inspired (that is the God-breathed), all sufficient Word of God. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 reads, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”  Now that is to say that the Word of God is absolutely authoritative, and it completely supplies or furnishes the child of God with everything needed for directing his life to God, for directing his work for the Lord, for directing his worship to God, and for directing his relationships with self and others. Yes! God’s Holy Word is complete, and thoroughly furnished, and supplies or equips one with everything that is needed to take one from earth to heaven when this life is over.

Also, members of the church of Christ believe that any human creed, that contains more than the Bible, contains too much; that contains less than the Bible, contains too little; and if it contains the same as the Bible, it is unnecessary, redundant and dispensable. And not only that, but human creeds are divisive, by whatever form they take, or by whatever name they are called, or by whomever they are written, or regardless of whatever good intent was behind their writing.

They are divisive because they come from the minds of men and contain man’s thoughts, not Gods. In Isaiah 55:8 God said, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.” The Bible which is from the mind of God is what man needs, and is all that man needs. And let me say this emphatically and unequivocally, we do not believe that when members of the Lord’s church explicitly follow the Bible, and just the Bible, that we could in any shape, form, or fashion be classified as a cult. We are Christians; followers of Jesus Christ; and members of His church.

One of the earmarks of a cult is that it is founded by some charismatic character, who is supposed to have had some special communication from God. That is, behind every cult there is someone who claims to have received some new and different directive from God, and as a result, that new and different disclosure supersedes or replaces the Bible.

Churches of Christ have no such person, nor do we accept such a person. Nor do we accept such an idea. We believe in the all sufficiency of the Word of God. We do not need any latter-day revelations or any new directives. We have Holy Scripture as our guide! Remember 2 Timothy 3:16-17 reads, “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, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”

Third: We believe that some behavior is sinful, and that everyone sins. Therefore, everyone needs the forgiveness of sins. Now that is not being judgmental. We know that some behavior is sinful because God said so in His Holy Word. Romans 5:12 reads, “Just as through one man, sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” And Romans 3:23 reads, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Then Paul goes on to say in Verse 24 that “redemption (that is, forgiveness) is in Christ Jesus.” Now when we put it all together, the inevitable conclusion is that all people, who have grown to the state of mental accountability, have sinned and must get forgiveness of their sins in order to be saved.

Now we do not believe that we were born totally depraved, unable to think a good thought, or do a good deed on our own, or that we inherit the guilt of Adam's transgression. God speaking to Ezekiel said in Ezekiel 18:14-18, “Now behold, he has a son who has observed all his father’s sins which he committed, and observing does not do likewise. He does not eat at the mountain shrines or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, or defile his neighbor’s wife, or oppress anyone, or retain a pledge, or commit robbery, but he gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with clothing, he keeps his hand from the poor, does not take interest or increase, but executes My ordinances, and walks in My statutes; he will not die for his father’s iniquity, he will surely live. As for his father, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was not good among his people, behold, he will die for his iniquity.” Notice that God said that we are not held accountable for the sins of our fore-parents. But rather we are only guilty of the sins or iniquities that we commit after we are born—not before.

And we are told in Isaiah 59:2 that your iniquities have separated between you and your God.” It is not your parent’s sins. It is not society’s sins. Nor is it any of your church brethren’s sins. The responsibility and guilt is upon each individual that commits sin. And, because a person is unable to save himself by his own scheme, or plan, or work, or by any other human endeavor, one must appeal to the grace of the God for the forgiveness of sins. This is the very message that the apostle Paul told the brethren in Ephesians 2:8-10 when he said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

Fourth: We believe God was so gracious that He gave His only begotten Son, that through Him, any sinner can be forgiven and reconciled Him. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 reads, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.  Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Don’t you see that when we sin we can get forgiveness and be reconciled to God because Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us? That is, He paid the price for us by dying on the cross in our stead to redeem us from our sins. And there is no other way that one can get forgiveness of sins, but through Jesus Christ. We find these words of Jesus recorded in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."   

And because the Bible teaches it, we know that God requires the sinner to believe in His Son in order to be saved. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Now that is not a request, or a helpful suggestion; it is an absolutely necessity; a requirement; a command. Jesus said in John 8:24, “Unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”

Now while God has opened the door wide enough to include, "whosoever will," as stated in Revelation 22:17, He does exclude people who will not believe and obey Him. Jesus said in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone 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.

Fifth: We believe that one must confess before men that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. The Apostle Paul wrote these words in Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” And Jesus said in Matthew 10:32, “Everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.” And the Apostle John by inspiration wrote these words in 1 John 4:3, “Every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist.”

Sixth: We believe that one must repent and be baptized in order to be saved. You know, Jesus preached "repentance" more than any other preacher or writer in the Bible. Jesus said in Luke 13:3, "Unless you repent you will all...perish." And after His resurrection, He charged His apostles saying in Luke 24:47, "Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations." And Jesus commissioned the apostles to begin that work in Jerusalem, which they did. And the very first time that one of the apostles preached repentance was when Peter said in Acts 2:38, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." 

You know, those of us who are members of the church of Christ, tell people who want to be saved today, the very same thing that people were told in the first gospel sermon every preached. Remember when those people on that Pentecost day heard the apostle Peter tell them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, those who gladly received the word were baptized. And according to Acts 2:41 that day “about 3,000 souls were added to them.” And verse 47 says, “They were praising God and having favor with all the people and the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”

Seventh: We believe that faithfulness is essential. Jesus is quoted as saying in John 8:32, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed." And Jesus asked His disciples in Luke 6:46, "Why do you call Me Lord, and do not do the things which I say." You know, that is a good question for anyone at any time.

Members of the church of Christ believe that the faith that saves is not the "dead faith" that James describes in James 2:26, but it is an active faith that causes one to continue to do what the Lord says. Surely, no one seriously thinks that a person, who just will not continue to do what the Lord says, is going to be saved. If so, that one needs to read 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 where it says, “The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And Jesus said in Revelation 2:10, Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

Now just as we said in the beginning of the lesson, the church is people-- saved people. They are called of God out of the world to form the body of the redeemed. And it is the Lord that saved them and added them to the church. Therefore, according to Holy Scripture, the church and the saved are the same people. You know, that clears up the issue of “I am saved, but I don’t want anything to do with the church.” I want to say this kindly, but emphatically. It has everything to do with the church, because, according to Revelation 3:5, the Lord adds to, and deletes names from the book of life. Now does that make the church of Jesus Christ a “cult?” I don’t believe it for a second, and I hope that you don’t either.

The word "church" appears 114 times in the King James Version of New Testament; 77 times in the singular number and 37 times in the plural. Even when it is plural it does not mean "denominations." In the plural form its reference is to congregations of like precious faith in a general locality such as in Galatians 1:2, where it says, "The churches of Galatia." And in Acts 9:31 there is the reference to the "churches throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria." Now there are times that the word, church, is used to denote the membership of a church. For example Romans 16:4 says, "The churches of the Gentiles." And in that same chapter Romans 16:16, says, "The churches of Christ greet you," indicating that the congregations were the sole possessions of Jesus Christ.

Jesus "purchased the church with His own blood,” one soul at a time. And when each one is saved, the Lord added that one to the church. Therefore, the church is the blood-purchased possession of Jesus Christ. And why anybody would not want to be a part of the church puzzles me.

You know, it is obvious there are a lot of misunderstanding about what the Lord's church is all about. And that is one reason for devoting sermons to the subject of the church. It is not my purpose to be combative or offensive, but the intent is to be helpful and informative, and to defend the truth.

Are you a member of the church? 

Your Soul

One day, you will separate yourself from everything you possess except one thing. Do you know what that is? For our time this time we are going to consider something that many people ignore, but is of utmost importance. Now we will be going to the Word of God for the lesson, because where we spend eternity depends on our obedience to God. And we cannot be obedient to God without knowing what He tells us to do in His Holy Word.

You know, every blessing that we enjoy comes from God. And this life is short and swift. It is filled with many joys and sorrows. It contains victories and defeats. It provides hopes and heartaches. There are some things we can control, while there are other things that we cannot control. And when this present life comes to a close, there are many earthly things that we must leave behind. We will leave behind our possessions, our treasures, and our families. Paul said in 1 Timothy 6:7, “For we brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either.”

Now there is one exception to that statement. There is one thing that you and I will take out of this life. And, the decisions that you and I make every day will determine its destiny when this life is over. What is it? What will you take with you? It is your soul!

Now the word, “Soul,” is a word that you do not hear much these days. But my friend, you have a soul! You have always had a soul. God gave you a soul, and you are determining each day that you live on this earth what is going to happen to your soul. You see, it matters what you think about God, and it matters how you respond to Him. And make no mistake about it, God is taking notice. He knows everything about your heart, your life and your soul. You cannot fool him. Now for a most important question. What is God seeing in you?

Our reading today comes from the words of Jesus in the Gospel according to Luke. Luke 12:16- 21 reads, “The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘this is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and I will build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” Now those are the words of Jesus Christ and they need to be taken seriously.

Well! What is the soul? The Hebrew word for soul is “nephesh,” and its original meaning is “to breathe.” That is, God gave us life and breath and we became a living soul. That is the very truth expressed in Genesis 2:7 which reads, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

Now to have a soul means that you and I have a personal existence. Sometimes the word “soul” is translated “life,” or “being,” or “self.” While animals also have a life force, only man is spoken of as having, as a part of that life, a spirit. According to Stephen Renn’s Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, the underlying essence of the word “nephesh” or “soul” is described as “that quality which lends to human beings their distinctive individuality as creatures made in the image of God.” You see, your soul is what makes you what you are as a person.

The Bible translates the word “soul” in a variety of ways and with different meanings. In our study, we will be exploring some of those meanings.

First, the word “soul” can sometimes refer to that inner person. That is, sometimes it is the equivalent to the word “heart.” For example God asks us to love Him with all our heart and soul. Both refer to that inner person, the seat of our emotions, our intellect and our will. And essentially there is no difference between the two words in Holy Scripture.

The word “soul” is found 143 times in the book of Psalms. And when the word “soul” is used, it is usually speaking of a being’s inner passion.  In Psalms 103:12 David worshiped God saying, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.”

And in Psalms 139:14, David said to God, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; and my soul knows it very well.”

And the prophet, Isaiah expressed the feelings of his soul when he said in Isaiah 26:9, “At night my soul longs for You, indeed, my spirit within me seeks You diligently; For when the earth experiences Your judgments, The inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.”

And when Mary found out that God had chosen her to bear a holy child, the Son of God, she said in Luke 1:46, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”

And when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, He told His disciples in Mark 14:34, “Oh, my soul is very sorrowful, even to death.”

Notice that according to Scripture, the soul can refer to one’s innermost thoughts and emotions. But, the reason the soul is able to feel and to reason is because it is spiritual in nature. Jesus issued a warning in Matthew 10:28 with the words, “Do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Don’t you see that the spiritual part of us, our soul, is not a material thing? It will last beyond this life.

The Hebrew writer tells us in Hebrews 12:9, “Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?”  You see, we have a spirit (a soul) that is given to us by God. That is what makes us a creature made in the image of God. It is the spiritual part of us that we will take into heaven, or into hell, when this life is over. And that makes our soul of utmost importance!

Now Jesus is a comfort to our souls. Not only does He offer us forgiveness of sins, but He also provides a way that our souls can endure. Christianity is livable! It is not impossible to live the Christian life. It is not so difficult that we cannot live the kind of life required in order to go to heaven when this life is over. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Yes! Jesus loves your soul and mine, and He wants to give us an abundant life. And that means giving us peace and comfort and hope.

Second, sometimes the word “soul” refers not to some part of us, but to the whole person. For instance, Acts 2:41 reads, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls (or three thousand persons).” And in 1 Peter 3:20 the Apostle Peter spoke of Noah and his family being saved on the ark and said, “the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls (or eight persons), were saved through water.” Don’t you see in these two passages the soul refers to the whole person?

Third, sometimes the word “soul” refers to the life force in a person. That is, that part of a person which gives life. While soul and spirit are sometimes speaking of the same thing, there are times when they emphasize different aspects of the spiritual nature of man. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The idea here is not so much that these terms are opposed to one another, as it is that they overlap and emphasize different aspects of the inner man. And the Hebrew writer tells us that it is extremely difficult to discern where one stops and the other begins. But the point of emphasis for our lesson is that the word “soul” emphasizes the life force within a person, while the word “spirit” emphasizes the thoughts, the understanding and the emotions of a person.

1 Thessalonians 5:23 also seems to distinguish the soul and the spirit. This verse reads, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit, and soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Notice that God wants to save us completely: body, soul and spirit, but God saves us as whole people. This phrase is also included in the greatest commandment of Jesus recorded in Mark 12:30 where He says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The heart, soul and body is all of us! Every aspect of us! And just as we give our all to God, so God saves all of us completely: body, soul, and spirit.

Fourth, there are times that God distinguishes the body from the soul, or spirit. That is, one can loses his life physically when his body dies, and yet not lose his soul. Jesus gave the warned in Matthew 10:28, as we have already mentioned, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Death is a separation of the body from the spirit or soul. James 2:26 says, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”

Now while the body dies, the spirit remains alive. Ecclesiastes 12:7 describes what happens at death, “then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit (that is, our soul) will return to God who gave it.” Notice that at death our body will decay here on earth, but our spirit, or soul returns to God. This is why Paul could say in Philippians 1:21-23, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart (that is to die) and to be with Christ, for that is very much better.” You know, when we are a faithful Christian like Paul, we have the promise of being with Jesus Christ when this life is over. And that is one of many reasons to become a Christian.

Now the way to become a Christian is to believe and obey the Lord. We must never think that Christianity is somehow a trivial matter that has no personal connection. Our faith and our soul are unchangeably united. What we believe and do will affect our soul for all eternity. So, I hope you believe in Jesus Christ, and have obeyed His gospel, And I hope you are living for the Lord, the way you ought to. James 1:21 says, “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.”

When people believe, and confess their belief in Jesus Christ, and repent of their sins, and are obedient to the word of God by being baptized for the forgiveness of their sins, the word of God saves their souls. Do you believe the gospel message is true? Have you obeyed it? Have you committed yourself to it in word, and in deed?

You know, after we get right with God, we must stay right with Him. Unfortunately today, there are many that are leaving the Lord, and quitting His church, and wandering off into false religions or into no religion. When Christians stray from the truth of the Word of God, they are putting their soul in jeopardy. James 5:19-20 says, “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

When people give up on their faith, or they start believing something that is false, or they begin to practice things that are sinful, they are in danger of losing their souls. And if one continues down that road, they will lose their soul. This is why we need to study God’s Word and hold fast to it. Our home in heaven with Jesus depends on us knowing the Word of God and following it. One can know all kinds of technology, history, science, literature and every other human endeavor, but if it is your desire to live with the Lord forever, you must know the Scriptures, believe them and follow them.

Our soul is accountable to God. God said through the prophet in Ezekiel 18:4, “Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.” Notice that God said that our soul belongs to Him, and if we sin against Him, we will die. Now this death is not simply a physical death, as some wrongly suppose, but it is a spiritual one. And if we continue in sin, we will separate our souls eternally from the grace of God.

Don’t you see that death is a separation? And the one thing you should never want is to be separated from the God in heaven who created you. God’s Word clearly says in Romans 2:6-11 that God in Judgment, “Will render to every man according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give them eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, He will give them wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.” Did you get it? The message is that if our soul is right with the living God when we die, heaven will be ours to gain. How about you? If the end of life’s journey for you were imminent, would you have the same disposition as Paul who said in Philippians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

You and I only have one life, and you and I only have one soul. Therefore, we must make our time on earth count, if we are to have glory, and honor, and immortality with Christ. We must do what is good and right. We must be obedient. We must not let sin overcome us. The wise man tells us in Proverbs 23:23, “Buy the truth, and do not sell it, get wisdom and instruction and understanding.”

Yes! You and I must follow the Lord all the way. You know, because the God of heaven willingly sacrificed His Son, Jesus Christ, on a cross in order to save you and me from sin, shows not only how much He loves us, but also how much our soul is worth to Him. The question for us is, “how much is our soul worth to us”? Jesus asked in Matthew 16:26, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” Now this is Jesus’ way of saying that we should esteem our soul more than anything else in the whole world. We must realize that we only have one soul; therefore, we must get our soul right with God and keep it right with Him.

On the Day of Judgment, nothing else will matter but whether, or not, our soul is right with God. Remember the rich young farmer that we read about earlier. Luke 12:16-21 reads, “The land of a rich man was very productive. ‘And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops? And then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do: I will tear down my barns, I will build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” My friend, one day, the Lord will require your soul of you.

The question for you is, “are you right with God?” To get right with God, you must believe with all your heart that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; you must repent of your sins; you must confess Jesus Christ as the Son of God; and you must be baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Now baptism is an immersion in water in the name of Jesus Christ. It is in Baptism that God washes away our sins and gives us a newness of life. If you are not right with God, we urge you to get right with God today!

“The Judgment”

The Apostle Paul speaking by inspiration said in Romans 14:10, that when Jesus comes again, “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” I will be there, and you will be there, and everyone that has ever lived from Adam and Even right on down until time will be no more will be there.

Well! What will happen on that day? Today, we are going to explore what the Bible says about the Judgment Day. Of all the books that you might study, none is more crucial to your soul than the Bible. It, and it alone, has the words of eternal life, because it contains the spiritual criteria by which your soul will one day be judged, and upon which your eternal destiny will be determined.

You know, we need to know what God’s Word actually says on any given subject, because no book is filled with more love; no book has any wiser counsel; and no book will give us a greater hope than the Bible. This is why we should take the time to explore God’s Word each day of our lives, meditate upon it, and let it guide our footsteps while we live on this earth.

I grew up watching Perry Mason on television. As a defense attorney, Mason nearly always demonstrated in each episode that there was a reasonable doubt about his client’s guilt. And generally the judge would dismiss the case because someone else was exposed as guilty, or sufficient information was given to indicate that Mason’s client was not guilty. And the television producers designed each episode into an exciting judgment drama, that was over in less than an hour.

Now the Bible describes the Judgment Day differently than traditional human court procedures. And the main reason is that the Lord knows all things. He already knows those who love Him, those who have obeyed Him, and those who have their names written in the book of life. He also knows those who have refused Him, and have followed their own path.

We are told in Matthew 25:33 that on Judgment Day, the righteous judge will separate “the saved on His right, from the lost on His left.” Now that means that Judgment Day will not be so much a day of trial, as it will be a day of recompensing everyone for their deeds while in the body. That is, on Judgment Day some will enter into their reward in the heavenly city, while others will be taken away from God forever.

For our time this time we want to examine what the Bible says about the Judgment Day. First, because as a Bible subject, it is worth our time to consider it. Second, we do not want such an important day to arrive and catch us unprepared. Third, over the past few years, I have heard members express a genuine interest in what will happen on Judgment Day.

The text for today’s lesson will be Revelation, Chapter 20, Verses 11-15. We will read that text, and then we will enter into our study about “The Judgment Day.” Revelation 20:11-15 reads “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” That is a reading from God’s Holy Word, and it will serve as the background text for today’s lesson.

Now I believe that we need to pay close attention to that reading because it describes what will happen to you and me on Judgment Day. No matter who you are, where or when you lived, what language you speak, or how important or unimportant you are considered to be in this life, you will be present on Judgment Day, and you will appear before the great white throne. And the Lord will judge you on that day! That is, the great and the small will all be accountable before God on that day? That is the very message in Revelation 20:12, that reads, “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”

Those who died and were resurrected at the second coming will be there, whether righteous or unrighteous. The sea will deliver up its dead. Death and Hades will deliver up their dead. Those whose names are in the Lamb’s book of life, and those whose names are not found in the book of life will be there as well. Some will try to flee out of fear, and some will try to hide, but there is no place for them to go. No one can escape their appointment with the Lord on Judgment Day. Could it be any plainer that 2 Corinthians 5:10 where it reads, “For we must (notice, that it says, “we must”) all appear (now the “all appear” takes in everyone, including you and me) before the judgment seat of Christ (Jesus Christ will be the Judge on “the judgment seat”), so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body (“each one” will receive justice), according to what he has done, whether good or bad (our deeds, “what we have, done” will determine our fate).”

Don’t you see that how we live our lives here on earth will determine our recompense for all eternity? That is, on that last day; the Day of Judgment, we will be judged by how we have conformed our lives to the words of Jesus. Jesus said in John 12:48, “He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.” The Day of Judgment is called the last day, because there will be no other days after it. It is the end of this age, and the beginning of the “eternity age.”

We will not be judged by councils or creeds. Popular culture will not decide what is moral or right, or what pleases God. Jesus will not take any opinion polls, or ask any talk show hosts, or have (so-called) experts tell Him what should be done. What Jesus said, and what is recorded in His books, will be the final, and the only basis of authority to determine our eternal destiny.

On that day Jesus Christ, the righteous judge, will sit on that great white throne. The Apostle Paul said in Acts 17:30-31, “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, (then, he tells us why?) because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” Now just as sure as Jesus Christ arose from the dead, we can be assured that there will be a second coming and a final Day of Judgment.

Now I don’t know about you, but I am so thankful that Jesus Christ will be the judge, because the Bible says that He is a righteous judge. Listen to the words recorded in 2 Timothy 4:8, “There is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” And Ephesians 5:2 says that “Jesus loved us, and gave himself on the cross for us.” And according to 1Timothys 2:5, He is our “mediator with the Father.” And according to 1 John 2:1, He is our “advocate with the Father.” Now the truth contained in these statements is that Jesus is the personification of love, and kindness, and mercy. And He will exercise those attributes to the fullest extent consistent with His perfect sense of justice and truth on Judgment Day.

And because He lived on earth as a man, He has complete sympathy and understanding of our weaknesses and frailties as human beings. The Hebrew writer expressed this very sentiment in Hebrews 4:15 when he wrote, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Yes! Jesus will do what is right on Judgment Day. You can count on it!

On Judgment Day the Lord will judge us individually. We are told in Romans 14:12, Each one of us will give an account of himself to God.” My friend, no one can believe for you, or repent for you, or obey the gospel for you. And no one can appear on Judgment Day for you. God will hold each one of us personally responsible for the sins that we commit, and for the things that we have failed to do. Matthew 16:27 says that “The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.”  

You know, there are those who often judge others harshly for their sins, while ignoring their own. And sometimes people think that while God will condemn others for their sins, He will forget about their sins. The Apostle Paul said in Romans 2:1-2, “Therefore you have no excuse, every one of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge, practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.” Yes! My friend, sin is sin, no matter who commits it. And the Apostle Paul’s words are true, when he said that God will apply the same standard to every individual alike.

On Judgment day the Lord, the righteous judge will judge each and every one impartially. That is, He will not play favorites. Romans 2:6-11 says that God “Will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.” God will judge us on the basis of truth, not out of prejudice or favoritism.

The Lord will judge us honestly and righteously. And there will not be anything hidden from His sight. Hebrews 4:12-13 reads, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and the intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” You see, when we stand before the Lord on Judgment Day and the books are opened, He will judge us accurately, fairly and openly. Now you and I might be able to hide things in this life, and we might be able to deceive others, but everything will be laid bare to the eyes of God.

Well! By what will we be judged?

First we must realize that on Judgment Day we will be judged by our thoughts, our intentions, and our motives. Jesus said in Matthew 15:19, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.” Now that is to say that what we think in our hearts leads to action in our lives. And this is why harboring sin in our heart is condemned. In Matthew 5:27-28 Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery;’ but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Don’t you see that Jesus knows what is in your heart and mine. John 2:24-25 says, “But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because of this He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.” And Romans 2:16 reminds us that on that day, “God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.”

Friend, if you are harboring evil in your heart, or you are dwelling upon evil thoughts, remember that God knows what is in your heart. Proverbs 21:2 says that, “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, But the LORD weighs the hearts.” Now that is to say that the Lord knows the real reasons that you do what you do, whether you are sincere or insincere, whether you are honest or dishonest, and whether you have genuine or ulterior motives.

Each of us should guard our heart and keep it in such a way that we can say as King David did in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” Now when God looks into your heart, what does He see? Does He see good or does He see evil? Does He see someone contemplating what is right and good, or does He see someone waiting for the opportunity to do that which would be hurtful or wrong. Remember, we will be judged by what is in our hearts.

Second, on Judgment Day the Lord will judge us by how we speak. Jesus said in Matthew 12:34-37, “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an account for it in the Day of Judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Now a careless word is a worthless or idle comment made by an unthinking person. And unfortunately, many people do not realize how hurtful words affect others. You know, idle words may be gossip or untruth; they may be endless grumbling or complaining; they may take the form of unfair criticisms, name calling, or slander; they may be words of hatefulness or anger; they may be vulgar or filthy talk. Now regardless of the form taken, hurtful, harmful, idle words are condemned in Holy Scriptures. Ephesians 4:9 says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” Proverbs 15:1 says, “Grievous words stir up anger.” And Proverbs 18:21 reads, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Don’t you see that on Judgment Day we will all have to give an account to God for every word spoken?

Third, we will be judged by our actions. Proverbs 15:3 reads, “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, watching the evil and the good.” You know, God sees everything that we do, even if no one else sees it. In a passage that we read earlier the Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” And Jesus said in Revelation 2:23, “I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.” Notice that morality matter to the Lord! And on Judgment Day each will give an account to Him for our behavior.

The Apostle Paul told the brethren in Romans 8:12-13, “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Now this is Paul’s way of saying that if we allow our sinful passions to control us and give in to the flesh, we will die (that is, lose our souls), but if we put away sinful deeds, we will live (that is, save our souls). Also Paul instructed the Galatian brethren to cease from sinful behavior, and encouraged them to live godly lives. Galatians 6:7-8 reads, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”

You know, how we treat others really matters. For example, if we wish to be forgiven, we must forgive others. Jesus said in Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” Also, the Bible teaches that you cannot love God, if you hate your brother. 1 John 4:20 reads, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

And we must be kind to others. In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus told a story that revealed this very truth. In our Lord’s story He separated the sheep from the goats on the basis of their kindness to others. He said, that the sheep were those who out of kindness fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the needy, visited the sick and those in prison, and provided shelter for strangers. But the goats were the ones who ignored the needy. The Lord said in verse 46 that “These (that is the goats) will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” You know, when Jesus passes judgment on our souls, we too will either enter into eternal life, or be taken away into eternal punishment based on our kindness to others.

No event that you and I will ever encounter has greater consequences than the Day of Judgment where we will have eternal reward or eternal punishment, because eternity has no end. And once judgment is passed, there is no second chance, and no change of destination.

Now for a most important question. If Judgment Day came today would you be right with God? Jesus Christ died on the cross for you and me, but has His blood washed away your sins? Someone says, “Well, surely God is too good of a God to punish anyone in a lake of fire.” You know, if God let sinful people go unpunished, He most certainly would not be a Holy and Righteous God, but rather He would be an unholy and unjust God. Habakkuk 1:13 speaking of God says, “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, And You cannot look on wickedness with favor.” And the Apostle Peter said in 2 Peter 2:4-9, “If God condemned angels when they sinned, if He did not spare the ancient world when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly, and He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their ungodliness, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment.” Peter also said in 2 Peter 3:9, “God does not wish any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” You know, it breaks God’s heart to see the wicked lost. Ezekiel 18:23 reads, “Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, rather than that they should turn from their evil ways and live?” Don’t you see that God does not want to condemn anyone, but rather He wants everyone to repent and live.

It is crucial that we prepare for Judgment Day. To prepare one must become a Christian. And to become a Christian, one must believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; one must repent of their sins; one must confess Jesus as God’s only begotten Son; and one must be baptized into Christ. According to Acts 2:38 baptism is an immersion in water in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And when one is baptized, their sins are washed away, and the Lord adds them to His church (Acts 2:47 and Acts 22:16). Then one is to remain faithful. That is, one must love God and serve Him for the rest of their life. Revelation 2:10 says, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”

We hope that today’s study of the Judgment has caused you to think about your soul.                  

A Sound Church

It should be our desire to be a member of a church that is sound. The word “Sound” according to the Franklin Electronic Dictionary and Thesaurus means, (1) Free from fault or error. (2) Firm or solid. (3) Showing good judgment. Now that is man’s generic definition, which may or may not apply to spiritual matters.

Now if we are to find the meaning of “Sound” as it applies to spiritual matters in local churches, we must go to the scriptures for our definition. In other words, we must find the scriptural criteria for soundness as God views it and how it must be applied.

You know, there was one church in the first century that considered themselves to be sound and “having need of nothing” when in fact according to Revelation 3:14-19 they were viewed by the God of Heaven as “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” Therefore, when we consider the soundness of a church, we cannot go by a church’s own declaration that they are sound. We must go to God’s Holy Word and determine whether or not a church meets the criteria or conforms to God’s pattern of “a sound church.”

Now when we consider this subject, we must be sure not to equate soundness with absolute, unequivocal perfection. Any entity made up of people will always be less than perfect in the absolute, unequivocal sense of the word. But congregations of God’s people must have the aspiration, and the desire and the continual pursuit of following and conforming to God’s Word in everything believed, taught and practiced.  Now that is to say that local congregations must do all they can to follow God’s Word and be what God would have them to be.

Now we see this truth about “absolute, unequivocal perfection” not being obtained when the churches in Asia to whom John wrote by Divine Inspiration still maintained their identity as belonging to Christ, even though there were various problems and flaws among the membership. The truth of the matter is that God said in Chapters 2 and 3 of the Book of Revelation to all but one of the seven churches of Asia, “I have somewhat against you.” And the same words were also used by the Apostle John to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:4 just after he had commended them for some good qualities.

And it should be brought to mind as well, that the church at Corinth was addressed lovingly by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, when he commended them for their good qualities before “lowered the boom” on them for their many problems.

Now this should not be twisted to mean that fellowship should continually be extended to brethren who refuse to correct moral or doctrinal problems existing among them. This basic truth is expressed by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians. In that epistle Paul identified the many problems among them and called upon them, as an apostle of Jesus Christ, to “clean up their act,” or suffer the same consequences as the church at Ephesus. And when the Corinthians dealt with the problems identified by Paul in his first epistle and made the necessary changes, his attitude toward them was more favorable according to 2 Corinthians 2:1-11.

Now I have heard it said that there are congregations who back off from their responsibility in dealing with moral and doctrinal matters among the brethren. And they cite Paul’s commendations to the brethren at Corinth as proof that problems would always exist, and therefore they should not try and resolve them all.

It is at this time that it should be pointed out that while Paul did commend the brethren for that which was commendable, he also demanded by his apostolic authority from Jesus that they make the necessary moral and doctrinal corrections.

According to Revelation, Chapter 2, and verse 5, repentance is the only solution when moral and doctrinal problems exist among God’s people.  In Revelation 2:5 the church at Ephesus was told, “to remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.” Notice that according to Divine Revelation congregations of God’s people must correct moral and doctrinal problems, or in time they will no longer be recognized by God as His people.

Now according to Paul in Titus 1:5 evangelist are charged with the responsibility “to sit in order the things that are lacking.” And when preachers of the Gospel fail to preach and teach on the things that are needed, they are shirking their “God given” responsibilities, and they will be held accountable for such. Now to me and others that preach God’s Word from time-to-time that should be a very sobering truth. That is, we must realize that we will not only be held accountable for what we preach and teach, but we will also be held accountable for what we fail to teach that is needed.

Also it should be noted that the only collective entity authorized to function in “church work and activities” in the New Testament System or the Christian Dispensation of time is the local church with its own elders, deacons and saints (or members).

Notice how Paul addresses the church at Philippi. In Philippians 1:1 Paul wrote, “to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.”

And in Acts 14:21-22, we see Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch where they confirmed the souls of the disciples, and extorted them to continue in the faith. And Verse 23 reads, “When they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord.”

And in Acts 20:26-32, Paul told the Elders of the church at Ephesus, “I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which, the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them; therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears, and now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.”

And the Apostle Peter wrote these words to the Elders and Brethren in 1 Peter 5:1-5, The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.”

And Paul admonished the Brethren in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-21 with the words, “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves. Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men. Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”

And the Peerless Apostle also wrote to Titus in Titus 1:5 and said, “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee.”

You know, in the first century each local church was scripturally organized when it had a plurality of elders, pastors or bishops. Now there should be no distinction made between elders, pastors or bishops as regarding different “offices.” But rather all three apply to each man in this plurality. Also, it should be noted that in the New Testament their office applied only to serving the local congregation over which the Holy Spirit made them overseers.

The Apostle Peter penned these words to the elders in 1 Peter 5:2, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight therof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind.”

And no local church is what it should be until, and unless it is fully and scripturally organized with elders, deacons, and saints functioning as they should.

Remember Acts 14:23 reads, "And when they (that is, Paul and Barnabas) had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed."

Also remember the Apostle Paul wrote to Titus in Titus 1:5 and said, "For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee." Now I believe that we can conclude from these passages that something is lacking or wanting when local churches have been in existence for years and have not yet advanced to this standard.


Now someone asks the question, may a congregation exist and function in the absence of elders and deacons? Obviously, the answer is yes, since Paul left Titus at Crete to "set in order the things that were lacking" and appoint men to serve as overseers. This tells us that there were churches that continued to function as a congregation for a period of time without elders.


Now it could have been because qualified men had, as yet, not been appointed or there were those unwilling to serve, or there may have been men who were, as yet, not qualified. Whatever the case may be, until there is a plurality of qualified men in a congregation who meet the scriptural criteria and are willing to serve, the congregation can continue to function at least for a period of time without elders.

Now one truth that we must realize is; a congregation may be scripturally unorganized (that is, it may not have elders or deacons) and continue to be sound at least for a period of time, but it cannot be unscripturally organized; that is, have unqualified elders and deacons and be sound for any length of time.

Now the question, "Can local churches opt not to be seeking to come to full and scriptural organization, and still claim to be "sound?" Some preachers I am told do not want the local church where they work to come to full and scriptural organization because they have more say in congregational matters in the absence of elders. And then, I have attended, and know about, congregations where there were men who were not qualified to be elders, and did not want anyone else to be appointed because they wanted to rule the congregation, and they believed they could accomplish this best in the absence of elders.

Now this has the danger, if not the reality, of working with a one man "Pastor System." And it is just as unscriptural and wrong for a local church of Christ to have a so-called one man "Pastor System" as it is for the denominations that we readily condemn. And when local churches of Christ allow themselves to so function, they are just as "un-scripturally organized" as if they appointed men to serve as elders and deacons who do not meet the qualifications of I Timothy 3 and Titus 1.

Now under the oversight of qualified elders and with the assistance of deacons to serve, there are certain functions that Christians and local churches of Christ are charged with. Local autonomous churches of Christ are authorized to provide the facilities, the elements of worship and the opportunities and means for each Christian to work collectively to meet local congregational responsibilities.

Now it should be noted that there are some activities that are purely individual and cannot be supported out of the collective church treasury, and then there are other activities that are the function of the entire membership and can be supported out of the collective treasury of the local congregation. You know, failing to make this Biblical distinction has caused untold problems among the brethren for many years.

Now this problem can be resolved when brethren hold on to the most basic New Testament truth: There is no organization larger, smaller, or other than the local church that is authorized to function in collective church activities.

In 1 Timothy 5, verses 8 and 16, we find a distinction between the things that the individual Christian must do, and what the collective church may not do in benevolence. 1 Timothy 5:8 tells us that each Christian must provide for his own, or he has “denied the faith and is worse than an infidel.” And Verse 16 of 1 Timothy 5 clearly makes the distinction between collective church activity and that of an individual Christian. Listen to Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 5:16, “If any man or woman that believeth hath widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it (now that is, the church) may relieve them that are widows indeed.”  Notice in this verse the clear distinction between individual Christian activity (relief for family) and collective church activity (relief for widows who have no family).

Also, scriptures tell us that there are times when individuals must act by themselves, and there are times when individuals must act with other individuals collectively, and then there are times when individuals must act with the congregation collectively. Matthew 18:15-17 reads, “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.” Notice that verse 15 clearly shows a pure individual activity, and verse 16 shows individuals acting collectively, and verse 17 shows collective church activity.

You know, when we read about spiritual activities and responsibilities in the New Testament, we must delineate to whom, the directions, instructions or commands are given, and all the while realizing that there are things an individual Christian can, or must do, that the collective church cannot do. Now hear me out! Are you listening? In the New Testament the local church has never been commanded, instructed, or exemplified engaging in benevolence for anyone who was not a needy Christian. Now you just find it! But I’ll tell you straight out that it is not there! Consequently, we must respect “the silence of the scripture” and not help anyone out of the church treasury who is not a “needy” Christian.

Now we do find commands, instruction and examples of individual Christians engaged in benevolent activities for Christians, and also for those who are not Christian. The individual is not limited by scripture in benevolence. Paul gives instruction to individuals in Galatians 6:10 with the words, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.”

Well, how do we know to whom Paul’s instructions were directed in Galatians 6:10? Look at the context! Verse 1 of Galatians 6 gives the individual Christian (ye or you) “the responsibility of restoring a man overtaken in a fault.” And Verse 2 charges the individual Christian (ye or you) “to bear the burdens of another Christian.” And Verse 3 admonishes the individual Christian (a man) “to not think too highly of himself.” And Verse 4 tells the individual Christian (a man) “not to boast.” And Verse 5 directs the individual Christian (every man) “to bear his own burdens.” And Verse 6 instructs the individual Christian (him) “to share all good things with the one who taught him.” And Verses 7, 8, and 9 tells the individual Christian (a man) that “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he reap.” And Verse 10 continues right on and gives the instructions to individual Christians (that is, those of us who are Christian) “to do good to all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” And anyone who tries to use this scripture to authorize church benevolence to non-Christians is either dishonest or just oblivious to contextual correctness.

You know, secular, social, recreational and political activities have never been assigned to the collectivity of Christians (that is to the church) as a part of their function. These activities are either allowed or assigned to the individual Christian. Now that is to say that as an individual Christian, I can engage in any wholesome recreational, political or social activity, and other Christians may join me in those activities, but it cannot be a collective church activity or function. Why? Because they are simply not authorized in the New Testament as a function of the church and the silence of the scriptures must prevail.

Now these distinctions were blurred and the line crossed in the church at Corinth when the brethren were drinking and eating a common meal when they came together for worship. In 1 Corinthians 11:22 Paul condemned the brethren, and said that “they had houses to eat and drink in.” And he told them that by engaging in these practices “they despised the church of God.”

Unfortunately, today there are local churches engaged in these things. That is, instead of being as Paul said in 1 Timothy 3:15, “the pillar and support of the truth,” many have become playhouses with their social activities, refreshments and recreational centers. The social gospel is sweeping the land to the detriment of the real mission of the Lord’s church; which is preaching the Gospel of Christ, edifying the membership and relieving destitute Saints for whom they are responsible.

The truth of the matter is that sound churches of Christ will act only by the authority of Jesus Christ as demanded by Paul in Colossians 3:17, when he said, “Whatsoever ye do in word or dead, do all in the name (or by the authority) of the Lord, Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.”

Also sound churches will uphold preachers in declaring, as Paul said he did in Acts 20:26-27, “the whole council of God.”  Now we have preachers today who will not declare the “whole council,” and we have congregations that will not allow such. And that is a shame and disgrace.

But in contrast, thanks be to God, we have “sound” churches that are abiding in the teachings of Jesus Christ, and will not receive or bid “God’s speed” to those who pervert this doctrine. 2 John 9-11 reads, “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”

Now “sound” churches will not harbor immoral members, but will discipline them. And if they will not repent, they will expel them from the fellowship of the local church. The Apostle Paul gave the following instructions to the brethren in 1 Corinthians 5:11-13, “But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? Do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.”

On a more positive note, Paul by inspiration commended churches that supported the preaching of the gospel of Christ locally and elsewhere. 1 Thessalonians 1:1-8 reads, “Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost. So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing.” Notice specifically that the reason that the church at Thessalonica was an example to all was that “they sounded out the word of the Lord for all to see.”

And Paul said to the church at Philippi in Philippians 4:14-19, “Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction. Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity. Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account. But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God. But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Notice that Paul commended the brethren at Philippi because they participated in supporting his preaching of “The Gospel” and he assured them that they would be blessed by God because of their efforts.

And Paul acknowledged the sacrifice that other local churches made on his behalf so that he could serve the brethren in Corinth when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 11:8, “I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service.”

Likewise Paul commended the churches when they engaged in self-edification among themselves. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 reads, “Comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.” And in Ephesians 4:13-16 Paul penned these words, “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”

Also Paul commended churches when they met the needs of brethren among them, and in other localities. 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 reads, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem.”

And in Acts, Chapter 11 we see Paul and Barnabas facilitating the process of benevolence where the brethren at one place were providing for the needs of brethren in other localities. Acts 11:27-30 reads, “And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.”

In Summary, if we are to be commended as a “sound” church, we must do only those things authorized by the Word of God.

  1. A “sound church” is one that is fully and scripturally organized, or is working toward that end.
  2. A “sound church” provides facilities and materials for scriptural worship and work.
  3. A “sound church” supports the preacher in declaring the whole council of God, as error is exposed and opposed.
  4. A “sound church” engages only in those activities that are authorized by command, approved apostolic example and necessary inference.
  5. A “sound church” recognize that authority may be either specific or generic, and that generic authority gives latitude to expedite a command while specific authority limits the command only to that which is specified.
  6. A “sound church” recognizes that the sum total of what churches of Christ engaged in is the same as when men inspired by the Holy Spirit were present among them.
  7. A “sound church” insures that the pattern of worship for “sound churches of Christ” conforms to, and is limited to only those things authorized by the inspired writers of the New Testament.
  8. A “sound church” practices discipline when necessary to the extent of expelling from the local fellowship, ungodly, immoral, or factious members who bring reproach upon the church, and refuse to repent.
  9. A “sound church” is one whose membership does everything they should be doing individually and collectively as best they know how.
  10. A “sound church” is one that will make whatever corrections are needed when failures to “soundness” are brought to their attention.

All of us should desire to be a member of a “sound church”! Well, what do scriptures say that one must do? You must have faith (John 8:24), repent of your sins (Acts 17:30), confess your faith in Jesus (Matthew 16:16), and be baptized for the remission of your sins (Acts 2:38). And then you must live a faithful life (Revelation 2:10).       

               The Establishment and Membership of Christ's Church

Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, "Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."  Now in this statement Jesus is saying that all the hadean powers could not keep Him from building His church, and once built, all the forces of hell would not triumph over it?

There is nothing to which one can belong that is more important than belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ. We are told in Acts 2:37 that “the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” Notice that according to Holy Scripture the saved are the ones, and the only ones, that are in the Church. And they are put there by the Lord, Himself, upon obedience to His command to be baptized (Mark 16:15-16, Acts 2:38, Acts 2:41, Acts 10:48).

In this study we will be focusing on Jesus' own words recorded in Matthew 16:18 when He said, "Upon this rock I will build My church." Our emphasis will be upon the truth that the church He built belongs only to Him, and to be a member of it is of the utmost importance.

Now you may have heard statements like, "It doesn't matter which church you belong to -- the church doesn't save anyone."  In light of that statement and others similar to it, for our time this time, we will study the scriptures looking for the answers as to when Jesus actually built His church, its importance, and why we should be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. 
One should not dismiss the time when the church that Jesus promised was actually built. Now that is to say, that when the church was established is of utmost importance because it can affect our perception of it and ultimately affect our eternal destiny. Imagine if you will, someone running a property survey beginning at a wrong starting place, or starting to put you pants on over your head rather than one leg at a time.  Inevitably you would end up with the wrong result. Now with a survey and your pants, it is not as much of a problem to correct. Those issues can be cleared up quickly with a little effort, but with the church, it has proven to have created more serious issues that have long lasting implications.

For example, someone has come up with the idea that the church began back with Abraham, in the Old Testament. From this false belief has come the idea that infants may be "christened" and become members of the church. Remember during the time of Abraham, when infant males were circumcised as a seal of their covenant relationship to God. Well, today religious groups refer back to that practice and symbolize in infant baptism a false type of "christening" that is not authorized in the Christian dispensation.

Then, there are those that affirm that the church was set up by John the Baptist, before Jesus gave Himself on the Cross for it as stated in Ephesians 5:25.  This erroneously conclusion has caused many to advocate that the church for which Jesus gave His life should wear the Baptist name.

And there are many other false doctrinal issues that are closely tied to when the church that Jesus promised to build was established.

There is really only one reliable source for religious information, and it is to that source that we turn for our study; and that is the Bible. Biblical Prophecy serves a very valuable function in our study of this topic. For hundreds of years, prophets had been foretelling the establishment of God's government over all mankind.

According to the Bible, until Jesus Christ came, there was really only one nation God regarded as special to Him, and that was the nation of Israel. And yet, the prophets began telling these special people that in the distant future, God would be the ruler of all nations. Listen to this prophetic utterance from Isaiah. Isaiah 2:1-3 reads, "Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains. And shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.' For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." In this passage, the Prophet sees the church at some distant period; exalted and prominent and the nations around turning to it for instruction in true religion.  Also this was all to take place in what was called “the latter days” or "the last days."  

Now one must measure the "last days" from the time of the prophecy -- not from our own day. That is, Isaiah could look forward from around 700 years before Christ to what he saw as "the last days." And one should understand this to be the last days of the Mosaic age. Literally, this expression can be rendered, "the end of the days," or very simply, "hereafter."
Also that which the prophet saw as being set up was called "the mountain of the Lord’s house."  And we should remember that Paul wrote to young Timothy, and said in 1 Timothy 3:15, "But if I am delayed, I wrote you so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the Living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."   In this passage the apostle Paul said that the house of God is His church.  And that which the prophet foretold as being established in the last days before Judaism ceased to exist, is the church that Jesus promised to build in Matthew 16:18.

Also notice that this "house of God" is called by the prophet in Isaiah 2:3 “a mountain.” And it was the mountain of the Lord's house that was to be established. This prophecy specifically mentions Mt. Zion. The prophet said that "out of Zion would go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem."  Now Mt. Zion, including the mountains of Moriah, was the place where the sacred temple of the Jews was situated. Now that is important because it places the establishment of the church in the ancient city of Jerusalem.

The prophet said, “all nations would flow to it.”  That is, no longer would the church of the living God be just the Jews. It was to be a great house large enough for all nations. And no ethnic qualification was necessary. Gentiles, for the first time, since the giving of the Mosaic Law, would be included as the special people of God. Listen to the words of the apostle Paul recorded in Galatians 3:26-27, "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" 
Next, I want to invite your attention to the time element. Isaiah refers to the “latter days” or the “last days" or the “last time.” As previously noted, Isaiah looked at the last days from his perspective, some 700 or so years before the fulfillment of his prophecy. Isaiah had no idea when the prophecy would be fulfilled -- only that it would happen in the end of days. To those living under the Mosaic Law, there could be only one meaning to that – and that was the end of the Jewish age. So as the Jewish dispensation wound down to its climax, Isaiah said this would be the time that the church would be set up.

Now we can be more specific about the time element. On the first Pentecost, following Christ's glorious triumph over death, and his magnificent ascension to the right hand of God, Peter proclaimed in Acts 2:16-17, "But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel: 'And it shall come to pass in the last days.”  Notice that “the last days” is the exact expression that Isaiah used. Then Peter wrote in verse 17 of Acts 2 that God said, “I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh."  

Now when an inspired apostle says that something is that which a prophet prophesied, there is no room for doubt as to whether the prophet's utterance is being fulfilled or not. And since both Isaiah and Joel referred to precisely the same time and used precisely the same expression, the time of the last days is established as around A.D. 33. And it was on that first Pentecost day following Jesus Christ's resurrection from the dead, and His ascension to be at the right hand of God.
But there is more. Jesus stated clearly in Mark 9:1, "There are some here of them that stand by, who shall in no wise taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God come with power."  Now don’t miss this statement. Jesus said that there were some in His presence at that time that would be alive to see the kingdom set up. That also fixes the time of the last days and the establishment of the church to around A.D. 33.

Also notice that Jesus used the expression "kingdom of God" and "My church" interchangeably. Listen to it again. Jesus said in Matthew 16 and verse 18, "Upon this rock I will build My church.” And in verse 19 Jesus said, “and I give unto you (that is, to you Peter) the keys of the kingdom of heaven." Now those keys to the kingdom fit the door of the church. And according to Acts 2:41, as Peter preached the gospel of the resurrected Christ, thousands of honest people obeyed the gospel and were added to the church. And it was in that sense, and only in that sense, that Peter used those keys.

In Luke 24:47-49 we notice that as Jesus was giving His disciples their final instructions He said to them, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. Behold I send the promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high."  

Now up until this time repentance and remission of sins had never been preached, as Jesus intended for it to be preached. And up until this time only one nation had found favor with God. But Jesus is saying that now things will be different. The old will pass away; the new will be set up. And this repentance and remission of sins was announced for the very first time and recorded in Acts, chapter 2 when Peter preached that first gospel sermon in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost following Jesus’ resurrection.  

The apostle Peter told those in Acts 2:38 who asked, “What shall we do to be saved?” To "Repent and let every one of you be baptized for the remission of sins..."  And according to Acts 2:41 and Acts 2:47 upon compliance to Peter’s words, those penitent baptized believers were “added to the church.”

So, we see that the church that Jesus built was established in Jerusalem, on the first Pentecost after He rose from the dead, and it includes all nations. If you are a member of some religious organization that cannot and does not claim to be established in this precise way, I urge that you investigate it further.

And if you want to be a member of the church that Jesus Christ built, you must truly repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins. And as a penitent believer, your baptism will admit you into His fellowship, His fold, His Kingdom, His church.

The truth of the matter is that Jesus did build His church as promised. Remember according to our text of Matthew 16:18 Jesus said, "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it."

Now we have seen thus far that the church was established in Jerusalem on the first Pentecost following Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. And the first mention of it as an existing reality is Acts 2:47. The record very clearly says that “the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”  And it grew to a very large number within just a few years, because those of the first century who were being saved made up the church, were members of it,  and were know as “the called out” according to 1 Peter 2:9. But just what did they do in order to be members of His church? Did they "join the church" of their choice? Did it make a difference if they were members of the church of Christ, or could they have pleased the Lord by being members of some other church?
It may surprise you, but there is nothing in the Bible that gives instructions for joining the church that Jesus established. That is, people did not join it, in the sense of becoming members of it. You know, Acts, chapter 2, is the chapter that tells us of the events that took place as the church came into being. It has Peter's sermon, the audience response, and the divine results.

 You see, Peter preached that Jesus was no longer dead, but instead He was risen and sitting at the right hand of God. And when those present realized that they had indeed crucified the Son of God, there was according to verse 37 of Acts 2, a general outcry, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?"  

The apostle Peter told them in verse 38 to "repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." And verse 41 reads, "They then that received his word were baptized and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls."

Notice in verse 47 that scripture tells us to what they were added. It says, "Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved."  Now this group; the saved, was the church that Jesus built. And it was the only church in existence at the time.

The people did not "join" that church.  They were added to the church by the Lord. They were never offered the self-righteous platitude to "join the church of your choice." The Lord settled their church membership by selectively adding the saved to the church of Christ.  And those, who refused to obey what Peter preached, were not added to the church. That is the way it was in the very beginning of Christianity, and it is still that way today.

Now to this, nearly everyone, who has studied the Bible with any profit at all, will readily agree. But along the way things were changed by men. Today there are churches that you may join. It is like becoming a member of some club, or some organization. There are certain man-made requirements that you must meet, and then be accepted by the membership. But that is not the way it was in the beginning, or the way it is now, to be a member the church that Jesus Christ built.

Now to be a member of the church of Christ, one must do those things essential to be saved, and when one does those things, he is added by the Lord to the church of Jesus Christ just as those in the 1st century. 
With all genuine respect, let me read to you what is required of some today who would be members of a prominent Denomination. Reading from their Manuel, "It is most likely that in the Apostolic age when there was but 'one Lord, one faith, and one baptism,' and no differing denominations existed, the baptism of a convert by that very act constituted him a member of the church, and at once endowed him with all the rights and privileges of full membership. In that sense, 'baptism was the door into the church.' Now, it is different; and while the churches are desirous of receiving members, they are wary and cautious that they do not receive unworthy persons. The churches therefore have candidates come before them, make their statement, give their 'experience,' and then their reception is decided by a vote of the members. And while they cannot become members without baptism, yet it is the vote of the body which admits them to its fellowship on receiving baptism."

Please understand this is an official statement from the most prominent denomination in Oklahoma as to how to become a member of their denomination. And, their candid admission "now it is different" is very revealing. Notice their statement includes that there is a difference in now and the apostolic age. Their Manuel says that during the Apostolic Age people simply obeyed Christ's gospel and were added to the church. But today, according to their own admission their denomination calls upon people to give their statement, their "experience" and then they are voted into fellowship.

The dangerous difference in this is that voting is never mentioned in the Bible as a means of receiving people into the fellowship of the church. This is clearly an unscriptural, anti-biblical procedure that has been derived in the minds of men, and does not come from the mind of God.

Here is another example of modern procedures for church membership that is not found anywhere in scripture. From another prominent denomination’s Discipline Book, it reads, "All persons seeking to be saved from their sins and sincerely desiring to be Christian in faith and practice are proper candidates for membership in the church. When such persons offer themselves for membership, it shall be the duty of the pastor, or of proper persons appointed by him, to instruct them in the meaning of the Christian faith and the history, organization and teaching of the Church; to explain to them the baptismal and membership vows and to lead them to commit themselves to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. When they shall have given proof of the genuineness of their faith in Christ and of their desire to assume the obligations and become faithful members of the Church, and after the rite of baptism has been administered to those who have not been previously baptized, he shall bring them before the congregation, administer the vows and receive them into the fellowship of the Church, and duly enroll them as members."

Again, the difference between those on the day of Pentecost, and the procedural requirements for membership in this denomination is very evident. In the first century, no one ever dreamed of learning of the doctrines, history, organization, and policies of any church.  Faith in Christ as the Lord, that led sincere believers to repent and be baptized made them automatically members of Christ's church.

Please notice very carefully, that both of these denominations we mentioned, and all others with which I am acquainted, require baptism in order to be in their fellowship. But each and every one of them denies that baptism has anything to do with salvation from sin. They affirm that one can be a Christian, die and go to heaven, and never be a member of their particular fellowship or church. The inevitable conclusion is that they require more of one to be members of their denomination than the Lord does for them to go to heaven.

Now I want to say this kindly, but emphatically, voting people in or out of the church based on their “statement” or "experience" is not taught in the Bible, and is false and will condemn one to a Devil’s Hell. This is the very message of the apostle Peter in 2 Peter 2:1, “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.”  

And indoctrination of candidates into the doctrinal views, the history, and organization of the Church before one can be a member is not taught in the Bible. In fact, there is nothing in the Bible that tells one how to join the church. The reason for that is simple. As stated very well in the opening sentence that we read from the denominational Manuel, "...in the apostolic age ... the baptism of a convert by that very act constituted him a member of the church."

Now we have established previously that the church is the kingdom of God on earth. Entering the church is entering the kingdom. And one is made a member of Christ's kingdom by being born of "water and the spirit."  Listen to the words of Jesus in John 3:5, "Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."  Notice that it is by baptism in water, in obedience to what the Holy Spirit has revealed through the inspired apostles, that one is born again.  No one joins the kingdom of Christ. It would be as sensible to speak of a child "joining" its family as it would be to speak of joining God's family. You become a member of Christ's kingdom, the family of God, the church by birth -- a new birth of water and spirit.

It is the process of conversion that puts one in the church of Christ. Jesus said in Matthew 18:3, "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." Conversion is the change that occurs in one who leaves sin and enters salvation. But notice that this is the same procedure by which one simultaneously becomes a member of the church that Jesus said was His own.
This has very serious implications. It implies that anyone who is not a member of the church that Jesus called His own is not saved.  Being saved is the means by which Jesus Christ adds one to His church. So, to be a member of His church is to be saved from past sins. But how is one saved? If we are to be saved it will certainly be only on the Lord's terms.

Jesus, just prior to His ascension, said in Mark 16:15-16, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved. He who disbelieves will be damned." Notice that salvation is placed after belief and baptism. The passage is often twisted to read, "He who believes is saved, and then should be baptized to join the church."

But that is not the way Jesus gave it. Jesus put two conditions between the lost person and salvation.  And both belief and baptism are conditions that must be met if a lost person is to be saved. And it should not go unnoticed that Jesus said, "He that disbelieveth shall be damned."  People today grab hold of this and come up with the erroneous conclusion that had baptism been essential, Jesus would have said, "He that disbelieveth and is not baptized shall be damned."

The truth is simple. Jesus put two conditions between damnation and salvation (belief and baptism), but the absence of either one will cause one to be lost. Now that is to say that baptism is of no value to the one that does not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And I know of no one that would ever say, “I do not believe, but I want to be baptized.” It is axiomatic that if one does not believe, he will certainly not be baptized.

Are you a member of His Church? Have you obeyed His Gospel? Have you been immersed for the remission of sins, like those on the Day of Pentecost were required to do? If so the Lord has added you to His church. If not, please carefully consider what you need to do in order to be added to the Lord's church. I pray that you will accept the truth of God's word, obey from your heart, be saved from your past sins, and be added to His church today.

What Is Your Destiny?

Do you realize that you have a soul that will last beyond this life? What is your soul’s destiny? The Bible says in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe the words of this law.” Notice that God does not answer every question, but He does give us everything that we need to know. 2 Peter 1:3 reads, “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue.” Now if we wish to live with God eternally, there is nothing more valuable that we can do than to go to God’s Word, believe it, study it and obey it.

Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” You know, from our earliest days most of us have heard about “the day of judgment.” And we have heard about “heaven and hell.” Now that is to say that we understand that somethings exists beyond this life, but we do not know everything that we would like to know about life after death.

Movies and television have stimulated our thoughts, but they only provide someone’s guess or imagination about what lies beyond. Now if you and I want to know the truth, we must find out what God says will happen when we die. And if we want to know what God says about it, we must go to God’s Inspired Word.

For our lesson today, we are going to see what the Word of God says about a very sensitive subject. And that is “Your Destiny.” You know, life is short and death is certain. And even if you are young and healthy, you cannot escape the looming reality of death. Your death and mine will either open the door to the most wonderful experience that anyone could ever enjoy, or the worst experience that anyone could ever have.

As a background for our study let’s turn to the letter of James, chapter 4, and verses 13 to 17. James 4:13-17 reads, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” Now that is a reading from God’s Word, and it speaks about the shortness and uncertainties of life.

Now the word “death” occurs 150 times in the Old Testament and 120 times in the New Testament. And death signifies a separation. Physical death separates the body from the spirit. And Spiritual death separates people from God and His blessings.

Now the good news is that while death is a separation of body and spirit, it is not the end of our existence. The Bible describes death in James 2:26, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” Notice that James, speaking by inspiration, says that the body is dead without the spirit. The idea expressed by James is that we are more than a fleshly body. We are body and spirit. And when the body dies, the spirit still exists. Ecclesiastes 12:7 reads, “The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” Don’t you see that when we die, our spirit return to God our creator? And Hebrews 12:9 says, “We have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? Notice that the Hebrew writer said that God is the “Father of Spirits,” and we have the opportunity to live with him throughout eternity if we respect Him, and are in subjection to Him as demonstrated through obedience.

Our spirit is not physical or material, and it is not destroyed by physical death. According to Luke 23:43, Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Notice that the Lord clearly states to the thief on the cross that we will survive, and be conscious beyond this life. The undeniable truth in His statement, “Today you will be with Him in Paradise,” is that there is an inner spirit that survives death, is conscious, and could be destined for a better place. Life here on earth is not all there is! There is more after this earthly life!

Remember in a passage that we read earlier, Hebrews 9:27, says, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” Now death holds a lot of mysteries for us. And the unknown, including “The Judgment,” can be most frightening. It seems to be human nature to worry about things that we have never experienced. And most of us are concerned about whether, or not, our “after life” will be one of peace and tranquility, or one of pain and torment. Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Now that statement by Jesus surprises many who think almost everyone will be saved, and only a few of the worst, of the worst, will be lost. But that is not what Jesus said. That is exactly the opposite of what He said. Jesus said, “There are few that find it.”

Now each of us must face the truth of an “after-life,” because how we live on earth will determine where we spend our eternity. As a beginning point we must answer some questions: What are we saved by? The answer is the shed blood of Jesus Christ, as provided by the grace of God. What are we saved from? The answer is the penalty of sin which is separation from God, and ultimately complete destruction. Jesus gave this warning in Matthew 5:29-30, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”

You know, Jesus gives us a glimpse of what happens after death. In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus said, “Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and he said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm (or gulf) fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” You know, there are many that think this story is some kind of fanciful story, and for that reason it should not be taken seriously. But Jesus never speaks about trivial matters. When Jesus speaks a parable or relates an earthly story, He does so to emphasize an important truth that He want us to know, and to understand. Jesus Christ does not teach insignificant things.

In our Lord’s story we see that people face one of two very different destinies after they die. One destiny is filled with comfort, and the other with agony. After death, Lazarus and the rich man both knew where they were. Both could reason and have intelligent conversations. And both could remember the kind of life that they lived on earth.

You know, sometimes the Bible speaks of death as “sleep.” This is because the physical body after death appears to be sleeping. This, however, does not mean that our spirits are unconscious or suspended in a stupor. Remember Moses and Elijah, although they had been dead for many centuries, had a conversation with Jesus on the “Mount of Transfiguration” that is recorded in Matthew, chapter 17, verses 1-5. Now this event reveals to us that death happens to the body, but it also reveals to us that death does not make our spirits unconscious.

The lives that we live now. and whether or not, we are right with the Lord, will determine our eternal destiny. The story of Lazarus and the rich man should open our eyes to what happens when our spirits leave this world. In Jesus’ story we are told that after we die, the angels will come for us to take us to the place God has assigned. Now this will either be a place of comfort or a place of torment.

Scripture uses the word “Hades” to describe the unseen. “Hades” literally means “unseen.” And Hades should not be confused with Hell. Hades is a temporary place where the spirits reside until Judgment Day; but hell is eternal. No one will enter the “promised heaven” or the “eternal hell” until after the resurrection. Hades is the place where the spirits of dead people reside. At the resurrection, our spirits will return to earth and will be joined to a new, imperishable body.

And as we said earlier, death is the separation of the body and spirit. And resurrection takes place when our spirits are reunited with a changed, new imperishable body. Now it is true that Hades usually refers to a place of torment, but the word can also be applied to the entire realm of the dead, which is divided into both a place of torment and a place of comfort.

In Acts 2:27 the Apostle Peter quotes David’s prophecy in Psalm 16:10 about the resurrection of Jesus Christ with the words, “You will not leave my soul in Hades (or Sheol), nor will you allow your Holy One to see corruption.” Notice that both David and Peter said that Jesus’ soul would not be abandoned in Hades (in the realm of the dead), nor would his flesh suffer decay.

Now we know that when Jesus died, his soul went to “Paradise” because of His statement to the thief on the cross. Jesus’ words recorded in Luke 23:43 were, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” The word “Paradise” is used three times in Scripture and each time it refers to that realm of the dead where the righteous go. We are told in Revelation 2:7 that “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” And we are told by the Apostle Paul that “Paradise” is equated to the third heaven; the place where God dwells. In 1 Corinthians 12:2-4 Paul, speaking about himself, said, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” And in Luke 23:43, Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” Now if Jesus’ soul was not abandoned in Hades (Psalms 16:10), but rather He was in a place called “Paradise” (Luke 23:42), then it is axiomatic that there are two places in the realm of the dead. One is where righteous souls are comforted (a place for the dead called Paradise), and the other is where unrighteous souls are tormented (a place for the dead just referred to as Hades).

The Apostle Paul helps us to understand that we will have an existence in spirit form after we die, until the resurrection. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:6-9, “Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body that we are absent from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight— we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore, we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.”

Now we have learned from Scripture that when the righteous die, they will be with the Lord. Paul said in Philippians 1:21-23, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I don’t know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart (that is, to die) and to be with Christ, for that is very much better.” Notice that Paul said that he would go and be “with Christ” when he died. This is the Christian hope. That is, it should be each and every Christian’s desire to live with our Lord forever and ever.

Through the years, I have loved and appreciated the reassurance of Romans 14:7-9 that reads, “For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” Notice that according to Holy Scripture, we may die physically, but not even death can separate us from the love of our Lord and Savior; Jesus Christ. When Christians die, they go to be with Him. But when evil people die, they are separated from Him. This is why we must be prepared spiritually. No one else can do that for you. 2 Corinthians 5:10 reads, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”

The saved in Christ go to judgment washed clean by the blood of Jesus; and their names are recorded in the book of life. They can face the after-life with confidence that they have an eternal home with the Lord. On the other hand, the unbeliever and the impenitent person have no such hope. They must face God on their own without their sins being washed away. And they will be lost eternally. We are told in 1 Corinthians 6:9 that, “The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?

Now God does not want anyone to be lost—He wants everyone to be saved. He would not have sent Jesus to die painfully on the cross if He were looking to condemn everybody. But God will not make people repent, and He will not make people turn their lives around, and He will not make people believe in Him or love Him. That is our decision. We are free moral agents, and we must decide whether, or not, we will serve Him.

 God has prepared the way for our salvation in the gift of His Beloved Son; Jesus Christ. And it is by His grace that we are saved. But grace as a gift must be received by faith and obedience. We do not earn our salvation, but God has determined that those who receive His gracious salvation are people who meet his conditions. Hebrews 5:8-9 says, “Although He (that is, Jesus) was a Son (the son of God), He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.”

The gift of salvation is ready for those who believe, repent, and are baptized. Are you prepared for death? Death is something that all of us will face one day, and it may come sooner than we think. You know, we buy life insurance, save, invest wisely and make financial arrangements to protect our loved ones after we are gone. Today, many people buy a plot, choose the casket, and make all the arrangements for their funeral service long before the time. But how foolish is it to be physically prepared for death here on earth, but fail to prepare spiritually for the hereafter.

I know that I do not want to be like the five foolish virgins that our Lord spoke about in Matthew 25:1-14, who failed to buy the oil needed for their lamps. Remember when they ran to the dealers to buy oil, the bridegroom came; the door was shut and they were not allowed into the wedding chamber. We too like the five wise virgins must prepare before our time is up.

My plea today is that you do not waste the opportunity to get right with God. Once life is over, there is not a second chance. Why not start in a new and different direction for your soul’s sake and for those you love? Jesus said in Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. And if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”

Friend, you can lose your car, your house, your health, your life and still go to heaven. But if you lose your soul, you will have lost everything. Will you not make the most important commitment that you will ever make? And that is the giving of yourself to the Lord by obeying the gospel.

Well what must one do? You must believe in the Lord Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God (John 8:24). You must repent of every sin (Luke 13:3). You must confess the name of Jesus (Romans 10:9-10), and you must be baptized in water in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins (Acts 2:38). And when you are baptized, the Bible says in Acts 22:16 that God will wash your sins away. The Lord will add you to His church, and you will be a child of God with the promise of eternal life.