Church: The Serendipity of Loving Others

Because we as Christians are emotionally wired for community, we naturally seek out others who have likewise been spiritually born anew. “Church” is simply the plan of a Creator who designed us to function together socially as a collective of born again disciples of Christ. Though we are spiritually born anew individually into the universal body of Christ, it is not natural for us to function autonomously from the body in our spiritual relationship with all those who have likewise come individually into an obedient relationship with the Son of God.

Our innate desire to be with others who have been born again sends us as individuals on a quest.   We seek to function in fellowship with the “church of the firstborn ones” (Hb 12:23). It is for this reason that the body (church) is always defined in Scripture to be a relational function of all those individuals who have been individually born again, and thus lovingly function under the high priesthood of Jesus Christ. When our Founder stated that we would be identified by our love of one another, He was saying that we would be known by our relational function of love (Jn 13:34,35).

Jesus taught that His disciples would be defined by loving relationships, not as a legally defined corporate institution. Christians are identified by their mutual gratitude for the grace of God, not by the restriction of perfect law-keeping. Grace excludes justification through perfect keeping of law, but especially the restrictions of man-made laws (Rm 6:14). We are saved by grace through faith in God’s grace to save us (Ep 2:8).

Law challenges the relational nature of the body of Christ, for law sets aside mercy. But mercy rejoices over judgment according to law (Js 2:13). If we would seek to be under the legalities of the laws of man-made religious institutions, then there would continually be strife or competition among individual members of the universal collective (church). There would be continual dissention as to which lawgiver the members should follow in a legally structured organization. In our dissension as to which legally defined religious institution we would adhere, we would naturally denominate into our favorite groups. Lawgivers would choose their favorite names for their groups, and thus, offer options for us concerning which group to which we would “place membership.”

In legally defined institutions there is always competition “to climb a ladder of power” for influence and recognition. Where love should be exalted, seniority marginalizes the weak, or those who are unfamiliar with the accepted laws of the legally defined institution.   Lordship always encourages competition.   However, love always considers others before one’s self. Lordship always prevails in institutionally defined groups. But where fellowship is based on love, relational servanthood prevails. We must never forget that lordship among leaders in the body always marginalizes the Head of the body.

Legally defined institutions are defined by organizational structures that encourage lords, judges and lawgivers to reign. On the other hand, the New Testament definition of “Church” is the relational behavior of the members with one another that is based on love (Jn 13:34,35). The more legally we define the church of Christ, therefore, the less relational the members become in their patience with one another through love. The relationship between lawgivers and judges is always strained.

The more the members focus on maintaining the institutional ordinances that define a man-made religious organization, the less they function relationally. The more the body of Christ is defined by institutional structures, the more stringent we seek to maintain legal codes that define our existence. We become legally stringent because we are afraid that we will lose what we believe defines who we are.   Leadership in such institutional organizations turns from teaching the word of God to lords who see their duty to regiment the members of the body into conforming to legal structures that define the institution. Lords always function as regimenting leaders.

In lordship scenarios, relationships are always sacrificed in order to sustain the legalities that define the institution. It is for this reason that the religious institutions of men work contrary to the relational identity of those who have individually been born into the body of Christ. And it is also for this reason that the more we identify the body of Christ as a legal institution, the less relational the membership becomes, and subsequently, the more divided the members become in their debates over defining the legalities of the organized church. The problem with a legally defined church is that judges and lawgivers always seek to insert and bind their opinions. We thus end up squabbling over whose opinions must be legally bound in order to define who we are.

At the end of our journey in life, and when it is time for all of us to stand individually before the Creator in judgment, each one of us will not be held accountable for keeping or forsaking any legally bound opinions that were established by men to define a legal religious institution. Each one of us will be held accountable for his or her relational behavior with all other individuals of the body. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” are relational identities that are not enjoined on the members of the body through law (See Gl 5:22,23). They are inspired by love. Nevertheless, these are relational standards by which each member will be held accountable.   And because the degree of each of these qualities in our lives always falls short of perfection, there must always be grace to make us perfect in Christ. Being judged by relational abstracts, therefore, must always be by God’s grace and through our faith in Him to bring us into His glory (Rm 4:16).   Grace and mercy, therefore, must always reign in the hearts of body members in order that we be at peace with one another.

That which destroys peace in the body are relational dysfunctions as “fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, etc.” (Gl 5:19-21). These behavioral dysfunctions are not based on the love by which the disciples of Jesus are to be identified (Jn 13:34,35).   They identify those who are void of love for other members of the community of born again disciples.   These “works of the flesh” are relational dysfunctions for which we will be held accountable, since being identified by such character qualities and behavioral practices disqualifies one from cohabiting with others in eternity. Social dysfunctions of the body on earth make it impossible for one to transition into an eternal society that will dwell in peace in the presence of God.

Individuals are born into a fellowship wherein they are held together as one body because of the fruit of the Spirit that is emulated by each member. The members of the body are identified as the collective body of Christ because of their relational function with one another through love. Their function through relational identities, therefore, results from their love for one another (Jn 13:34,35).   When the New Testament historian stated, “Now all who believed were together and had all things in common,” he was defining the relational function of the body according to the implementation of the fruit of the Spirit, not the submission of those who were born again to a legally defined institution (See Act 2:44). Those first believers knew little or nothing about “church,” but they knew everything about Christ. And because they were obedient to Christ in their baptism for remission of their sins, they were church (At 2:38,41). They were born again through baptism into a relational function of love whereby each member was communally loved into eternal glory through the fruit of the Spirit. When members so function, any efforts to define the body through legal statues pales away under the power of love.

It is for this reason that we must first identify the church through love, and not by the adherence of the members to legal identities. Do not be mistaken. We seek to be obedient to the commandments of God, but being so obedient without the love that generates the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, is futile in reference to salvation. Perfect attendance without love will not take anyone to heav

BAPTISM: A Relational Response Of Faith

John did not initially write to believers. The New Testament book of John was written to those whom John urged to believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God (Jn 20:30,31). If the unbelievers to whom he wrote believed, then they would have an eternal relationship with the Son of God. They could have this relationship if they followed through with what God required to be born again (Jn 3:3-5) John affirmed that belief in Jesus was the foundation upon which they could establish this eternal relationship with God. In this way, belief was relational in reference to their salvation.

We find throughout the New Testament the rest of the story about the “relational belief” about which John wrote. In reference to the eternal relationship into which his readers must come with the Son of God, John wrote briefly about the door of entry, that is, being born again (Jn 3:3-5). To be born into this relationship with the Son of God in whom one believed, a response to belief (obedience) was necessary on the part of the believer. Belief, therefore, could not be an end within itself.   It could not be a simple acceptance of facts. It had to be a relational response to what God required in order to connect with His Son. The eternal relationship with God that John desired that his readers have had to be a behavioral response to the intellectual information that he wrote in words.

How one establishes a relationship with God can only be defined by God, and thus, only in His word are we to determine how and what a relationship is with our Lord Jesus Christ. We have found that most people are more inclined to use the common religious definitions of the confused religious world to define how one establishes a behavioral relationship with Jesus. Common accepted theology of the majority is often easier to believe than opening one’s Bible to determine how God defines these matters and establishes His terms for being born again.

In order to explain what John meant when he introduced the subject of being “born again,” Jesus continued to explain at the end of His ministry what He meant by the term.   The declarative statement of Jesus in Mark 16:15 is a record of concluding thoughts of Jesus that revealed the seriousness of what is most important in one’s restoration to a relationship with God. Jesus’ statement was simple, but loaded with meaning when considered in the context of His entire message of the gospel.

Jesus said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” Every theological wiggle possible has been made in the religious world to discount what Jesus meant in this statement. But the statement is blatantly clear. The meaning can be clearly understood in the context of the truth of the gospel of Jesus. If we do not consider the whole text of His message, and what the Holy Spirit explained in the whole of the New Testament, then belief becomes a simple legal recognition of facts with no resounding confession or repentance in one’s life. Baptism is subsequently relegated to a legalistic plunge into water in obedience to a command to “get baptized.” Such a conclusion is both impersonal and a denial to the truth of the gospel and the relationship that the Father seeks to have with those who believe on His Son.

The “belief” about which Jesus spoke was relational in that it must move one to respond to Jesus as the Christ and Son of God. The gospel (good news) must be received in mind (intellect) and in heart (emotional). It is God’s ultimatum for sinners to bring themselves into a relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Belief, therefore, is an emotional response and foundation in reference to the death of Jesus for our sins and His resurrection for our hope.

In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 Paul explains, “I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand” (1 Co 15:1).   The word “stand” is metaphorical in reference to emotional security.   Belief in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (the gospel), therefore, is an emotional response to an intellectual knowledge of the event of the gospel that Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 15:3,4: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, He was buried, and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Co 15:3,4). One must intellectually know and believe that Jesus, as the Son of God, died for our sins. However, one’s intellectual belief in the death of the Son of God for our sins is not good enough. Intellectual belief is not relational in reference to connecting with the saving power of the gospel. There must be an emotional attachment to the event of the gospel in order to emotionally “stand” upon an assurance that we are saved by the event of the gospel.   Knowledge of facts must be combined with behavior.

This brings us to Jesus’ connection between belief, baptism and salvation. Jesus explained in Mark 16:15 that in order to be saved, baptism must occur in response to one’s intellectual and emotional response to the event of Jesus’ death for our sins and resurrection for our hope. Baptism is not a legality. It is a relational response to the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. And when one relationally responds to his belief in the salvational work of Jesus at the cross, and in the resurrection, then the blessing of salvation comes into the life of the one who obeys the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. One is thus born again (Jn 3:3-5).

Paul explains the relational response of baptism to the gospel in Romans 6:3-6.   Notice carefully how he makes baptism a personal encounter with the death and resurrection of Jesus. He begins with a question: “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death” (Rm 6:3). Jesus’ death was personal, and so is our baptism into His death. Paul explained: “We were buried with Him through baptism into death …” (Rm 6:4).   The preposition “with” makes the response of baptism relational in reference to our contact with the death of Jesus.   Baptism is not a ceremony. It is not a legal obedience to commands. It is establishing a personal connection with Jesus right at the cross of Jesus and in partnership with His resurrection.   If one cannot establish this relationship with Jesus at the cross, and in the resurrection, then he has no real, true and personal relationship with Jesus.

Jesus died for our sins at the cross. If one would establish a relationship with Jesus, then that is were the relationship truly begins. Only through baptism into His death can we be at the cross with Jesus. This is why Peter reminded those on Pentecost in Acts 2 that they must be baptized for remission of their sins (At 2:38). If the separation from God through sin remains in one’s life, then there can be no relationship with God against whom we sin (Is 59:2).

But Paul was not finished with his commentary on what Jesus meant in Mark 16:15.   Belief leads us to be “united together in the likeness of His [Christ’s] death,” and thus, “we will also be in the likeness of His resurrection” (Rm 6:5). As “our old man was crucified with Him” at the cross in repentance, our new man walks in newness of life when we come forth from a grave of water (Rm 6:5,6). Paul, through the inspiration of the Spirit, could not have explained the relational obedience of baptism in a better way. There can be no relational walk with Jesus in the new life, if there is no death and burial of the old man.

At the end of His mission on earth, Jesus concluded with a relational statement to His disciples in reference to baptism. He commanded His disciples to “disciple all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19). In this statement, Jesus used the Greek word eis. Eis is relational. In baptism, one comes into a relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is belief in Jesus as the Son of God that moves one to go to the cross with Christ. It is belief that takes one into a grave of water with Jesus in order to wash away sins that keep one separated from God (At 22:16).   It is belief that brings one forth from the grave into a resurrected life with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Unless one’s belief results in crucifixion and burial with Jesus, one has no true or personal relationship with the One who will return from heaven to collect His people who have been washed in His blood (1 Jn 1:7). Those who have not believed, gone to the cross, grave and experienced a resurrection with Jesus, do not have a redeeming relationship with the Christ who went to the cross and grave for them.