Reconciliation In The Church (No. 3)

 

Few topics have greater eternal significance than reconciliation.  Unsaved people have a great need—whether or not they know it—to be reconciled to God. They must exchange their enmity with God for friendship which is the meaning of the word “reconciliation.” One of the crucial questions relating to reconciliation is, “Where does it take place?” What has God arranged for our redemption and reconciliation? He gave his Son to die for our sins. When we obey his gospel, our sins are forgiven and we are added to the church of the living God. Does that mean one must be in the church to be reconciled? There is simply no question about it, but before we discuss that topic further, let us examine another facet of reconciliation.

 

There was without any doubt enmity between men and God.  But there was also great enmity between men and men.  Paul teaches in Ephesians 2 that Christ is our peace “who has made both one.” Obviously, the word “both” means Jews and Gentiles. The enmity between Jews and Gentiles had existed for many centuries.  There was unquestionably a great need for reconciliation between these two warring parties. That reconciliation was made available through Christ.

 

Do I have to tell you of the tension and division which exists in our world? The Jewish-Gentile conflict still rages in our country and in other parts of the world.  Racial tensions between black and white should be of grave concern to all who call themselves children of God. When church buildings are being torched because of racial hatred, it is time that all of us speak out against this great evil. Racial, national, social, economic, sexual and educational differences are allowed to divide families, churches, and communities.  We still have not learned the lesson that there are no differences in Christ (Rom. 3:22). We seem not to recognize or not to care that God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34-35).

 

As a member of the dominant racial group in the United States, I had never experienced any kind of racial discrimination until the summer of 1981.  A group of teachers and students from Freed Hardeman University made a trip to Southeast Asia to do mission work. I had the privilege of preaching in meetings in Singapore, in Penang and in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Late one night several of us decided to go to down town Kuala Lumpur to find something to eat. As we passed a group of young men from India, one of them said, “We hate white people.” I wanted to stop and tell them that we did not hate them, but I thought it probably would not have been wise at that time.

 

I have some idea now what black people and other racial minorities in the United States must feel when they are the objects of discrimination. Are black people inferior just because their faces are black? Are poor people inferior just because they are poor? How in the world can professed Christians justify discrimination against anyone: The apostle Peter discovered at the house of Cornelius that “God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation he who fears him and works righteousness, is accepted of him” (Acts 10:34-35)

 

The apostle Peter should have learned from the incident at the house of Cornelius that discrimination is wrong, sinful, and inexcusably wicked. But did he learn the lesson? Paul records an incident which occurred at Antioch in Syria. Peter had gone to visit the church at Antioch and was eating with some Gentiles who were fellow-Christians. Some Jewish church members were sent from James to see how the church was getting along at Antioch. Peter saw the Jewish brothers and withdrew and separated himself, “fearing them which were of the circumcision” (Gal.2:11-12). Paul accused Peter and other Jews with him of “dissembling,” which means, acting the hypocrite. Even Barnabas was carried away with their dissimulation (Gal. 2:13). What did Paul do under these circumstances? “But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If you, being a Jew, live after he manner of the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why are you compelling the Gentiles to live as do the Jews” (Gal. 2:14)?

 

But not all discrimination is racial or national. Sometimes it is social or economic. James warned early Christians about having the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ “with respect of persons” (Jas. 2:1). He describes the reaction of some Christians to an apparently wealthy man who comes into the assembly of the saints.  The man wears gold rings, fancy clothes, and in modern times, we would probably say, “He drives a fine automobile.” How did these Christians react to this rich man? They found him a place of honor where he could sit and be noticed.

 

Then a poor man in vile clothes comes into the assembly. How do the members treat him? They say to the poor man, “Stand there, or sit here under my footstool” (Jas. 2:1-3). Would devoutly religious people really behave in such an unchristian manner? Yes, some would. I know churches which have forbidden black people to attend their services. Some churches apparently do not want poor people either. A preacher friend of mine asked the elders of a city church why the poor in the community were not attending that church.  He replied that they would not feel at home in that church. Do you know what that says? Our Lord would not be welcome there either. He was among the poorest of the poor.

 

Paul puts all of this in its proper light. “For you are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ Jesus have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for we are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you be Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:26-29).

 

Please let these words find lodging in your heart. “For he is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of partition between us” (Eph. 2:14). Jesus removed whatever separated Jews and Gentiles so that they would all be one in Christ. That which separated them was “the middle wall of partition” which simply means the Mosaic law. Please notice carefully verse 15: “Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances: for to make in himself of the two one new man, so making peace.” Did you notice the little prepositional phrase, “to make in himself one new man?”

 

Dr. F. F. Bruce, an outstanding English scholar, argues that the “elaborate system of legal observances publicly marked the Jew off from the Gentile.” I agree with Dr. Bruce. In the Colossian letter, Paul writes of God’s having cancelled the bond “which was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:14). So long as the law of Moses remained in effect, the peace which God desired between Jews and Gentles was not possible. Paul mentions that the purpose of the Lord’s annulling the law of commandments contained in ordinances was “to make in himself of the two (that is, the Jew and the Gentile) one new man.” The one new man is the church, the body of Christ, as we shall see from Ephesians 2:15. This one new man was what our Lord had in mind when he said, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also must I bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:16)

 

Will you please listen carefully to what Ephesians 2:16 says about reconciliation? “And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.” Please remember that the word “reconciliation” means to change or to exchange one condition for another, so as to remove all enmity and leave no impediment to unity and peace (Vine, volume 3, p.261).

 

Why was there a need for reconciliation? All men had sinned and fallen short of the glory of God ((Rom. 3:23). Our sins and our iniquities had separated between us and our God (Isa. 59:1-2). We deserved to die eternally, but God intervened on our behalf and offered reconciliation through Jesus Christ. God wanted us to be his friends and to be friends with all other men who were his friends; so he devised a plan which would accomplish this purpose.  That plan for effecting reconciliation is the gospel of Jesus Christ which Paul called “the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16).

 

But there was also the enmity between Jew and Gentile, between Jew and Samaritan, between poor and rich. God also wanted that enmity removed. He does not want his children to be divided along racial, social, sexual or economic lines. Reconciliation can be said to operate, figuratively speaking, in two directions.  Reconciliation has a vertical dimension, that is between God and man. It also has a horizontal dimension, that is, between men and men.  The gospel provides for peace with God and peace with our fellowmen.

 

Now please look a little closer at where reconciliation occurs. “And that he might reconcile both—Jew and Gentile—unto God in one body.” Did Paul actually affirm that we are reconciled in the body? How does Paul use the word “body” in his writings? Happily there cannot be the slightest doubt about its meaning. Paul taught that God “has put all things under his feet (Christ’s feet) and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23). “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18).

 

Again I ask:  Where does reconciliation take place?   In the one body. According to the Bible, what is the one body? It is the church of Jesus Christ. Is it possible, dear friends, to make any truth plainer?  Those who are alienated from God, children of wrath, can change that condition by believing in Jesus Christ, obeying the gospel of Christ and being added to the church of the living God. Do you think these verses from Ephesians 2 teach that men cannot be saved without being members of the church? If men can be saved without being reconciled to God, they can be saved outside the church. However, that would violate every passage which bears on this great truth and it simply is not possible for one to be saved outside God’s family, the church of Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 3:15).

 

Do these verses from Ephesians 2 provide the clues we need to understand the essentiality of being members of the New Testament church? In view of reconciliation in the church, how could anyone say that the church is non-essential or that men and women can be saved so long as they are honest and sincere?

 

There is one other question I need to raise about reconciliation. When one is reconciled to God in the church, what benefits accrue to that individual? Is he guaranteed health and wealth, as some modern television evangelists are promising?  Incidentally, Jim Bakker is now arguing that the health and wealth gospel is a lie.  Does God promise his children a long life on this earth? Is he assured of having an abundance of friends? These are not the benefits Paul discusses in Ephesians 2. Will you please listen to what Paul writes?

 

We become God’s friends, which really is the true meaning of reconciliation. “And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby” (Eph.2:16). God gives us peace when we obey his gospel and are added to his church. Paul commanded the Philippian Christians to take all their cares, anxieties and worries to the Lord.
”And the peace which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). Do you long for the peace of which Paul writes? It is available only in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. “And he came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them which were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (Eph. 2:17-18). Did you take note of the fact that these blessings are “through him.”, that is, through Jesus Christ.

 

When we are reconciled to God through the church of the living God we are no more foreigners, strangers, aliens, enemies. “Now therefore you are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom (in Christ) all the building fitly framed together grows unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom you also are builded together for the habitation of God through the Spirit: (Eph. 2:19-22).

 

When I contemplate all the great spiritual blessings which Christ has provided for us in his church, I feel like exclaiming with Paul: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past finding out” (Rom. 11:33).

 

In view of all we have examined today from Ephesians 2, how could anyone doubt the necessity of being in the church—in the family of God?  But there is one question remaining before our lesson closes today: How does one get into Christ where all spiritual blessings—including reconciliation—are located? One’s physical birth does not make him a member of the body of Christ. He must be born from above, Jesus said, to enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

In the chapter where Jesus spoke of being born again or born from above, he said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:16-17). Do these verses teach that one becomes a member of the body of Christ simply by believing? If they do, how do you explain our Lord’s statement to the Jews of his day: “Except you repent you shall all likewise perish” (Lk. 123:3)? If faith alone saves, where does repentance enter the equation? Did not Paul say to the Athenian philosophers: “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commands all men everywhere to repent: because he has appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he has ordained; whereof he has given assurance unto all men, in that he has raised him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31)?

 

The scriptures also require a confession of faith for all who would become New Testament Christians. “If you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart man believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:9-10). A confession before men and God amounts to a public commitment to Jesus Christ and to his family. But do faith, repentance and confession put one into the Church? The apostle Paul furnishes the answer to that question: “For by one Spirit are you all baptized into one body, where we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have all been made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13)

 

My friend, if you believe the gospel, have the courage to repent of your sins and confess the name of Jesus before men, you are ready to be baptized into Christ for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38) and to be added to the Lord’s church. Will you obey the gospel today?

 

Winford Claiborne

The International Gospel Hour

P.O. Box 118

Fayetteville, TN 37334