Living in the True Church
Last week, we had a brief visit with Revelation 18:4, “And I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.’” This is a call to the purifying and therefore purified church, but how do we, now saved, be members of the true church. Let’s look at II Peter 1: 5-12, “But also, for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted unto blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed of his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble, for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth.” In these most threatening and difficult days of the history of man, the one true God of the universe, in his infinite knowledge, knows that among those who claim to be His church, there are those who are truly committed to Him and those who are committed only in word, but not in deeds. He makes this distinction “spiritual fidelity”, on the one hand, and “spiritual adultery” on the other hand, and out of this distinction comes the definition of the true church of the living God. Because what he is looking for in his true church is Christian Character, real Christian Character.
We, in our Christian Character, find ourselves, therefore, constantly challenged to discern which church we, individually, belong to, the true church or the false church.
Today, we are going to analyze what God’s Word, the Holy Bible, tells us about this issue of fidelity, about living in the True Church, or not. And it is easy to make the generalization that we need to obey God, and that by doing so, we love Him, but this question calls us to look deeper into the dynamics of our faithfulness and the relationship of our faith to God’s faith, of our faithfulness to God’s faithfulness.
We can grasp the nature of this issue, the conundrum of our understanding and, sometimes, misunderstanding, of this question by looking at a couple of verses of Scripture:
1 John 1: 8-9, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This passage reminds us of our imperfection (underscored in Romans 3: 23, “. . . for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” The Apostle John used the pronoun “we” in this passage in I John 1, and thus included himself, not just pointing his finger at the sin of the rest of humanity, but including himself in that admonition, that “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us”. And, so, we examine ourselves (see 1 Cor. 11: 28; Gal. 6:4), and, indeed, we often find our sin staring right at us.
This same Apostle John, however, writes in I John 3: 8-10, “He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning . . . . . Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him, and he cannot sin because he has been born of God. In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.”
And, so, we see our sins, our natural sin, our fleshly sins, our generational sins, strongholds, etc., however frequently or infrequently appearing, and we know we fall short of this challenge to live without sin – and that is our calling, to live without sin – and we wonder how God can put up with us, and indeed, how we can possibly put up with ourselves., sinners that we know we are, and that we know He knows we are.
And we know we are not alone in loving God and struggling with temptation and sin, and sometimes failing in that struggle. Indeed, Hebrews 8: 4, tells us: “For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son (Jesus) who has been perfected forever.” If we thus see that only the Son is perfect, then we mere mortals must have our imperfections, which are “sin”. Indeed, all through Scripture, no man turned up perfect, with or without Christ.
We are, perhaps, left with what, on the surface is an unanswerable question, this conundrum: We know we can’t quite keep from sinning, but maybe our sin keeps us out of the True Church, and that is frightening to us, because we desperately want to live in the True Church. So how can we have our personal sin and not lose our salvation and forgiveness and eternal life, and re- gain our righteousness after such sin?
But we find a telling phrase in verse 10 that helps us sort this out: “Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God.” This phrase makes it clear, right off the bat, that practicing unrighteousness is not of God. What does it mean to practice unrighteousness, and is this different from sin, and if so, how?
As we study this, we see that an act of sin is unrighteousness and is still different from the practice of unrighteousness – God does not like or approve of either.
Now then, those things we “practice” are those things we make a habit of, those things people often cling to, as being among the customary practices of their lives: covetousness, thievery, adultery, dishonesty, etc. In Proverbs 26: 11, we are taught, “As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” This concept is confirmed and further explained in II Peter 2: 4-22.
In this passage, Saint Peter, sums up patterns of sin, the practice of unrighteousness, that he described by coming back to Proverbs 26: 11, in verse 22, “But it has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘A dog returns to his own vomit, and a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.’”
In verse 20, Saint Peter, describes those spiritual dogs and sows, as those who “. . . after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome. . . .” It is that “entanglement”, that choice not to accept God’s way of escape from temptation, which is “sin”. This is because God always provides a way of escape from temptation, not ever allowing us to be tempted beyond what we can bear – I Corinthians 10: 13, “No temptation has overtaken you except that which is common to man, but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” But if our response, our choice, is to be regularly overcome by the temptation and giving ourself over to it, as part of our way of life, and therefore to practice that sin, even, if you will, to strive to get good at it, to perfect that sin (oxymoron) is the “practice of unrighteousness”.
So, the resolution of this conundrum is that, even saved by the blood of Christ, we are still susceptible to sin by not choosing the way of escape that God always provides, and that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins if we confess them and receive His cleansing anew from all unrighteousness.
However, the “practice of unrighteousness” is different from, if you will, mere sin, and it results from different choices, choices to repeat our folly into a practice or custom in our lives. And Hebrews 6: 4, shows us that there are different consequences from such different choices: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.”
So, in order that we might live, as righteous Christian Characters, in the True Church, we must comprehend and include in our understanding of God’s word the following:
- That God’s faithfulness is more complete and unfailing than ours, and therefore, that what it is not our occasional sin that takes us out of living in the True Church, but that is a result of our weaker and failing faith.
- That, therefore, how we deal with the failings of our faith, manifested in our disobedience, which is sin, is a measure of our true fidelity to God and His call on our lives. (Witness David, Moses, etc.: confession, repentance, receipt of forgiveness, etc.) This is a measure of the status of our Christian Character.
- That to live in the True Church, eternally, requires that we choose to, and do, break out of the habits and customs of unrighteousness, the lifestyles of unrighteousness, and that once we have broken out of those ways and lifestyles of unrighteousness, that we hold fast – steadfast – to our faith and not return to over vomit. The consequences could be severe, eternally severe, if we do not remain steadfast. (II Peter 3: 17- 18, “. . . beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” How we handle this, as we grow from baby Christians towards and to Christian maturity, is also a measure of the status of Christian Character, as it grows and is molded along the way of our lives, verse 18, as we “. . . grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
- What we have to rely on as we work out our salvation, in fear and trembling all the days of our lives (Philippians 2:12) is the encouragement of the hope in Christ (Romans 5: 5), which does not disappoint, that hope (Hebrews 6: 19) which we have as an “anchor for our soul”, a hope which is both “sure and steadfast”, because of Jesus Christ. That hope is this, Hebrews 8: 12, “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”
When we comprehend these spiritual principles of acts of sin, and the practice of unrighteous ness, and lives of confession and repentance in the hope of God’s mercy, our hearts will be well-established by our choices (see James 5:8) and we can live, even with our frailties and failings of faith, in the security of our choices and our humility before the living God, because of His mercy and Jesus’ act, once for all, that, washed in His blood, we might be presented (Ephesians 5: 26-27), sanctified and cleansed with the washing of water by the word, as a glorious church, the True Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without blemish.
On your knees, make your choices, and govern yourselves according to the Word of the Lord.
Amen. Go in peace that passes understanding.