The Letter and the Spirit of New Testament Christianity (II)
(This is the second article of a five part series)
In Article One (January 26) we noted: “Those individuals wishing to please God will surely notice in their study of the Bible a distinction made between outward service and inner devotion to God. We must be very careful to avoid emphasizing one to the exclusion of the other. God desires that we do His will in His prescribed way, but that we obey out of a pure heart wholly attuned to His will. Our theme for 2020 at Hughes Road emphasizes this, and sermons and articles will expand on this key idea.”
In Micah’s message to Judah the prophet wrote: “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:6-8 A similar message was written to Israel by Hosea: “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” Hosea 6:6 Both passages emphasize the point of these articles: that mere outward observance of God’s will (the “letter”), but also the commitment of our heart/soul to God are necessary to please God (the “spirit”).
Those seeking to practice first century Christianity in the twenty-first century are blessed by the inspired revelation of God’s will for the first Christians. The identity of God’s people is seen in several designations. For example: “My church” – Matthew 16:18 was used by Christ, “the church” was used by Luke in Acts 8:1 – meaning a group of called-out people, from the Greek word “ekklesia.” God’s people are referred to as the “church of God” in 1 Corinthians 1:2 – showing God’s ownership of the church. “Churches of Christ” – Romans16:16 is speaking of various local congregations belonging to Christ. “The Body of Christ” – Ephesians 4:12 indicates the same thing, as does “The church of the Living God” – 1 Timothy 3:15. The designation “church of the firstborn” refers to those who first received the gospel of Christ, “firstborn”, or “first-fruits.”
Individual members of the Lord’s church were called by various names: “disciples” – Acts 20:7, “saints” – 1 Corinthians 1:2, “beloved of God” – Romans 1:7, “brethren” – 1 Corinthians 15:6, “sons of God” – Romans 8:14, “children of God” – 1 John 1:1, “heirs of God” – Romans 8:17, “royal priesthood” or “priests” – 1 Peter 2:9, and “Christians” – Acts 11:26, 26:28, 1 Peter 4:16.
The New Testament church is a monarchy with Christ as our supreme head. “And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.” Colossians 1:18. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to His apostles. The Spirit would teach them “all things” and cause them to remember what He had taught – John 14:26. Their apostolic authority would be such that “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:19
The attitude of the “Restorationist” or “Primitivist” is that we should look at apostolic teaching and practice for our way to serve God in the twenty-first century. God guided the apostles in their work and through them the converts they made as the gospel was preached. The apostles and early evangelists ordained elders in every church to guide Christians – Acts 14:23. This was God’s approved plan for apostolic times and is His plan for our times. Let us earnestly pray for our elders as they execute God’s plan for us and as they carefully shepherd us toward heaven!
What should be our attitude as we consider God’s plan? If in faith we receive God’s will in every way, I believe we can summarize our needed attitude in two expressions: 1) a sense of belonging, and 2) an acceptance of simplicity. Consider this passage: “Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly—and indeed you do bear with me. For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!” 2 Corinthians 11:1-4
We belong to Christ! He has purchased us with His own blood. We, therefore, owe Him everything because He has “redeemed us to God...out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and...made us kings and priests to our God” – Revelation 5:9, 10. Our sense of belonging to the Lord needs to be accompanied with an attitude of simplicity. It is very important that we accept God’s direction and simply “speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent.” A simple way to do that is to bring together all the passages God has revealed on any subject and acknowledge that “This is God’s will”, “This is the truth”, and “This is what I believe.” May God help us to believe and do God’s will in His way.