Belonging to God's People

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The author Stephen King said, "I'm not a vampire type when somebody shows me the cross but organized religion gives me the creeps." And people tell me, "I'm a Christian but I don't go to church." Their faith is something very individualistic. "Why church", they say," it's between me and God." But that bears no relationship to New Testament Christianity. Sure, going to church by itself doesn't make you a Christian, just as going to McDonald's doesn't make you a burger, but to be a New Testament Christian meant having fellowship with God through faith in Jesus and being part of Christ's body the Church and belonging to an actual local church fellowship Acts 2.42 – to one church in a locality and not two or three as that's two-timing or serial dating the church! However, you are all welcome tonight!

Yes, we do become Christians individually even when we do so as part of a large crowd who respond to the gospel. Look at Act 2.37-38. After hearing Peter's sermon about Jesus Christ – the people:

"…were cut to the heart [or convicted of their sin] and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" And Peter said to them, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'"

So, turning to Jesus as Lord and trusting him as Saviour is an individual matter. But what then? Acts 2.41-42:

"So those who received his word [individually] were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And They [corporately - the 3120 believers in Jerusalem] devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers."

After individually accepting Peter's gospel message and then being baptized, notice that from then on (Acts 2.42-47) Luke writes …they…they…they…. We turn to Jesus individually to live for Jesus corporately - together, as God's family. Being a Christian is not just about 'my personal relationship with Jesus'. The Bible says there's no such thing as a Christian who doesn't belong to a church. 1 Corinthians 12.27 says to all believers here this evening:

"…you are the body of Christ and individually members of it."

And let's not forget that God planned the church. Christ (Ephesians 5.25) gave himself for the church. The Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12.13) is building us together in the church. We're to be ready to give our lives for the building of God's church, whether here or across the world. Jesus said, Matthew 16.18:

"…I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

He's building his church. And we're to play our part, equipped, 1 Corinthians 12.7, with at least one gift given by the Holy Spirit for the building up of the body. You see what's the aim of all missions work and indeed all Christian work? It's not just to harvest the un-harvested field, but also to build the uncompleted building. So, to have nothing to do with the Lord's church is to reject God's plan, mission and building project.

And as we glimpse here in Acts 2 the church isn't a second-class waiting room where we twiddle our thumbs while we wait for first class accommodation in heaven. It's meant to be a dynamic new community, bringing change to the community around it Act 2.47, winsome and attractive, and with an eternal significance in the purpose of God. It's the only thing in this world that'll last forever. It's the body of Christ and the bride of Christ. We're not to take it lightly. And part of its dynamism is that it grows in numbers and in maturity. The very first church was over 3000 in size and growing daily. A Spirit-filled church is alive. And what are the marks of the Spirit's presence in the church and our fellowship? Acts 2 says they're: biblical teaching, loving fellowship, sacrificial giving, living worship and an ongoing and outgoing evangelism. With God's help, we need to work on those areas. So, what does God's new society look like in action? Well

1. The Church Is For Teaching The Bible and you need that teaching.

Act 2.42:

"…they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching."

You see a Spirit-filled church, is where you can devote yourself to, and receive, the apostles' teaching. The first thing they did was to devote themselves to the apostle's teaching. Devote is a strong word. It meant they spent time doing it. They were eager to learn and discover God's truth. They wanted to learn from the apostles. That's a mark of being Spirit-filled. But a few of you might ask why be devoted to the apostles' teaching in 2018? Well, one reason is in Acts 2.43:

"…many wonders and signs were done through the apostles."

God confirmed the teaching of the apostles by miracles. The apostles raised the dead and were involved in remarkable instantaneous healings. 2 Corinthians 12.12:

"The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works."

If they were 'marks' of an apostle, they set the apostles apart. What they did was not what other Christians did. And that was a way God authenticated their teaching. Also, the apostles were commissioned by Jesus himself and had met him, risen from the dead. Today their teaching, in its authentic form, is in the New Testament. And the New Testament endorses the Old Testament. So, you get the apostles' teaching today in the Bible, in the Old and New Testaments. And so, a Spirit-filled church is a biblical church – it's where the Bible is taught. That's why you need to belong to a church that teaches the Bible faithfully.

2. The Church Is For Fellowship and you need Christian fellowship.

Act 2.42-45:

"…they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship… And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need."

They also devoted themselves to the fellowship. What does that mean? It means to be committed to each other as we are to Jesus Christ. How did they show that? Well the church is where practical needs are met. In the early days of the church, meeting members' financial needs was high on the agenda. But this is not primitive communism. What happened was that as needs became known someone who had an asset and wanted to help others financially, sold it and used the proceeds to meet the need. Later in Acts you hear how someone sold a field. It was private stewardship but with a recognition that material goods should be for the common good of the church. That still should be the case. And this generosity of the early church was (and still is) a mark of the Spirit-filled church. As a result, what did the outsiders say of the early believers? They said: 'see how these Christians love one another.' Tradition has it that when the Apostle John was very old and so weak that he could no longer preach, he used to be carried into the church at Ephesus and give a brief message of just three words: "Love one another." And when his hearers grew tired of his message and asked him why he repeated it so often, he'd reply: "Because it's the Lord's command." And that practical self -sacrificial love is so vital to our life and witness as a church. Perhaps even more so in times of Brexit division, uncertainty and growing loneliness.

I once saw this sign by a church: 'We Care About You - Sundays 11am only!' But a true church should care for one another even when it's inconvenient. Genuine Christian fellowship can supply those needs of mutual care and support. Today many people are lonely and in need of what genuine Christian fellowship can offer. There's a human as well as a spiritual value in the activities of the church. One survey on how to stay safe in the world said: 1. Avoid riding in cars as they're responsible for 20% of all fatal accidents. 2. Don't stay at home as 17% of all accidents occur there. 3. Avoid walking as 14% of all accidents occur to pedestrians. 4. Avoid going by air, rail, or water because 16% of all accidents occur there. 5. Of the remaining 33%, 32% of all deaths occur in hospitals. Above all else, avoid hospitals. You'll be pleased to learn that only 0.001% of all deaths occur in church services. Therefore, the safest place for you to be is church! The percentage of deaths during Bible study is even less. For safety sake, attend church and read your Bible…it could save your life.

But fellowship isn't just about how you yourself can benefit. If you're going to be faithful to the apostles' teaching, you need to serve as well as be served. You need an environment where you can exercise gifts of service. That's what the church provides. Galatians 5.13:

"…through love serve one another."

Often that will be behind the scenes, such as in the crèches & youth work and on the sidesmen's, student supper, Carols by Candlelight and Audio Visual teams. But those are so vital. Take the Audio Visual & Clayton team. Now I should be careful. They have the power to switch me off! But without them, many of us wouldn't be able to hear or see.

Are you devoted to the apostles' teaching and fellowship here on a Sunday and in your small groups? If we're to be devoted are we here twice on a Sunday? I'm sure our wonderful students and youth could make the 10.45 morning service! Perhaps serving in some particular way at 10.45 and coming to 6.30 evening service. If you can't get here, watch the live stream or catch up on clayton.tv. And do we make our small group a priority come what may? We can too easily think: 'They won't miss me if I don't go.' But how can we obey the 50 "one anothers" in the New Testament – to love, encourage and care for one another - if we don't go? Church isn't an optional extra. This local church "…when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." (Ephesians 4.16) But as we work we must also be devoted to prayer.

3. The Church Is For Corporate Worship And Prayer and you need to praise God together with others and to pray together with others.

Acts 2.42: They also devoted themselves "…to the breaking of bread and to prayer". It seems this is referring to the Lord's Supper (or Holy Communion) and prayer services or meetings - not just private prayer. And it appears they had both more formal and less formal times for meeting. Acts 2.46-47:

"And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God…"

They met both in the "temple" and "in their homes". They had large gatherings in the temple courts. But they also met informally in their homes. They broke bread in their homes and ate together. And they were "praising God". And they prayed together. Are you devoted to prayer - not just private prayer but corporate prayer with others? If you are a true Christian, you will be praying with others. In terms of church growth in every sense, it's God who gives the growth and so prayer is absolutely vital. Before every revival in church history, Christians have gathered to pray. Join us this Wednesday.

4. The Church Is For Evangelism and you need to be involved in evangelism.

It's been said that the church is the most extraordinary society in the world. The entrance fee is nothing, the annual subscription is everything, and the society has been formed for the benefit of non-members! Yes, it's very important to have fellowship but it's unhealthy to have fellowshipitis. Reaching those outside the church is a priority. Acts 2.47:

"…And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved."

Jesus commands his disciples to evangelise. But, according to this verse, the Church is necessary for that evangelism. You see, evangelism isn't just about people coming to Christ, it is about making disciples and literally discipling nations – as Jesus commands in Matthew 28. (One church in the USA has been helping to disciple an African nation from when it went through an appalling tragedy.) So, when people profess faith they need to be nurtured in the church. They need to be added to the church. So, a healthy church is also a growing church, because it's an evangelising church. How did evangelism work in the early church? Well the witness of the church's life together was powerful Acts 2.47 but essentially the believers preached the gospel as Peter had done in Acts 2.22-41. And that's still the way the Holy Spirit brings people to faith in Christ. So, what did Peter preach? He preached about Jesus, his death, resurrection and ascension. Regarding the resurrection Peter said Acts 2.32:

…"we're all witnesses [to this fact]."

Some of you may have questions about this. But for Peter, an eye witness, the resurrection of Jesus and therefore his death on the cross were absolute certainties. Why would he be prepared to die for Christ if he knew that Jesus' resurrection was a lie? He'd also witnessed Jesus' ascension and now the crowd had also seen and heard the effect of Jesus pouring out the Holy Spirit.

"Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified." (Acts 2.36)

All this wasn't just out of the blue. It'd been prophesied (Acts 2.25). It was all part of God's plan for the world. Acts 2.23:

"this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men."

This preaching of the gospel demanded a response. People knew it then. And people know it today when they hear gospel preaching. Acts 2.37-38 again:

"Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?' And Peter said to them, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'"

Perhaps someone here tonight is cut to the heart and asking what do I need to do? Well inwardly you need to repent - you need to turn from going your own way and ignoring God. And turn to Christ who died for you, in your place, bearing your sin. You do that inwardly by faith. But then you need an outward step - you need the outward profession of baptism (or if you've already been baptised, publicly renew your baptismal vows). And the promise here in Acts 2.38 is that if you repent and trust Christ as Saviour and Lord, if you call on his name Acts 2.21, you'll be forgiven and receive the Holy Spirit, who gives you new life.

So we're to play our part as a church by preaching the gospel relevantly which today needs to include addressing the question why does it matter – why does it matter that Jesus is risen etc. and by getting the gospel message out creatively, such as the recent Real Lives interviews through clayton.tv. But - and this is very important - it was the Lord [who] "added to their number day by day those who were being saved". (Acts 2.47). That's why they needed to pray and why we need to pray today. And they knew that when the Holy Spirit worked in someone's life he brought them to 'belong' to the church. They were "added to their number". And notice this happened "day by day". Do we see evangelism as a daily activity? "lift up your eyes", Jesus says in John 4.35, "and see that the fields are white for harvest."

Just imagine the potential of this church if and as it moves forward, under Christ our head, to build up, reach out and help change this nation as we all devote ourselves to what the church is for. Christ's body, the local church, is the hope of the world.

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