So, thus far, in this series on ‘church’, we have concluded that the church, the ekklesia of God, is His called out people. In its essence, church is not a building, a particular day of the week, or even a structured institution. At its core, church is about the people of God, for it was Christ who gave Himself for a Bride, not a building or institution (see Ephesians 5:25-27). And when we begin to realize such truth, I believe it brings a freedom and a release for us to get on being whom God has called us to be – the church, the people of God.
Therefore, moving on, I want to consider this question: How does one become part of the church? We must be honest and note that there is no one nicely worded Scripture we can turn to that says, ‘This is how you become part of the church.’ But we can come to a conclusion by considering the whole of the Bible’s teaching.
To consider the question above, let’s look at one particular passage:
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours (1 Corinthians 1:2)
There are four specific phrases I want to point out from this verse:
1) The church of God
The church, the ekklesia, belongs to God. We are not our own, but we were bought with the price of Christ’s sacrifice so that we now belong to God. Here are two familiar passages to us:
19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Pet 1:18-19)
Other such references to the ‘church of God’ can be found in places such as Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 10:32; 11:22; 15:9; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:13; 1 Thessalonians 2:14; 2 Thessalonians 1:4.
2) Those sanctified in Christ Jesus
The word sanctified means ‘set apart’ or ‘made holy’. While it is true that we are being continually transformed into Christ’s image (Romans 8:29; 12:1-2), known as progressive sanctification, there is also a reality of our initial sanctification in Christ. We are, right now, set apart (or sanctified) in Him.
Also, Paul goes on in 1 Corinthians 1:2 to refer to God’s people, the church, as saints. We do not become saints after accomplishing a great list of spiritual feats. We are truly saints because we are set apart in Christ. Thus, the true church is made of those set apart in Christ.
Even more, one of Paul’s favourite ways to describe the church is by referring to believers as those who are ‘in Christ’ or ‘in Him’ (see passages like Ephesians 1:1-14). This phrasing, or similar wording, shows up some 164 times in Paul’s writings. So, not only is Christ in us (Colossians 1:27), but we are in Him!
3) Those who in every place call upon the name of the Lord
Though Paul is specifically writing to the church of Corinth, he recognizes that the wider church is made up of those in every place who call upon the name of the Lord.
9…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13)
The church is made of those who believe in their heart that God raised Christ from the dead and we have also confessed with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, or Master. In vs13, Paul quotes the promise of Joel 2:32 that, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
4) Their Lord and ours
This, then, leads to consider the final words of 1 Corinthians 1:2. The church, the ekklesia of God, is committed to Christ’s Lordship. It is true that Jesus is our Saviour, giving Himself as a sacrifice on the cross for our sin. But He is also our Lord, our Master, our Head. To Him we bow both heart and knee, surrendering our entire lives unto Him. We are to be completely submitted to Him. This is not our favourite thing to hear in the western world, but it is a truth of Scripture that we must embrace. Matter of fact, if one is not committed to Christ’s Lordship, then one is found lacking as a true follower of Christ.
Thus, we can conclude that entrance into the church, the community of God, does not simply come by:
- Attending a church gathering on Sundays
- Signing your name to a membership list
As we can all probably testify, there are many people who have joined Sunday morning gatherings and have even signed their name to a local church membership list. Yet, there seems a lack of having truly called on Christ’s name, recognizing Him as Lord. But it is the true church that is connected to God, set apart in Christ, has called upon the name of Jesus and holds Christ as Lord of their lives.
Here is a sermon on this same topic which I preached a few weeks ago. It can also be downloaded out Cornerstone International’s podcast.
Click here to read my next article on church membership.