What is the Church? Is it merely a building? Is it simply a human organization? This may be the way in which many people think of the Church. It is not, however, the way in which the New Testament speaks about the Church. It speaks about people - people who belong to Jesus Christ.
The way in which the New Testament speaks of the Church in connection with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit is highlighted in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13. In these verses, we learn that the Church is the body of Christ. We also learn that we have become the Church. Through the working of the Holy Spirit, we have become the body of Christ.
How does the Holy Spirit bring us into the Church, into the body of Christ?
When we consider the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, there are two things we must bear in mind. First, we will never fully understand the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Second, we can be fully assured that the Holy Spirit has worked in our lives, bringing us to faith in Jesus Christ, bringing us into the body of Christ.
These two important elements of true faith belong together. Along with the humble recognition that we do not fully understand all that God has done in our lives, there is the full assurance of faith, which trusts in the Lord and finds Him to be absolutely trustworthy.
These key elements of true faith - humility and confidence - are brought together well in the hymn, "I know not why God's wondrous grace." In the first three verses, this hymn speaks about the work of God in our lives. It speaks with the humility which recognizes that God's ways are higher than our ways and God's thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).
"I know not why God's wondrous grace to me has been made known; nor why - unworthy as I am - He claimed me for His own. I know not why this saving faith to me He did impart; or how believing in His Word wrought peace within my heart. I know not how the Spirit moves, convincing men of sin; revealing Jesus through the Word, creating faith in Him."
Following each of these verses, there is the triumphant chorus: "But I know whom I have believed; and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I've committed unto Him against that day" (Mission Praise, 89).
With this combination of humility and confidence, we turn our attention to the question: How does the Holy Spirit bring us into the Church, into the body of Christ?
The Holy Spirit brings us into the Church by bringing us to faith in Christ. he does this through the Gospel. Through the preaching of the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, we come to confess Christ as both God's Son and our Saviour. The Holy Spirit leads us to confess Jesus as "the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). The Holy Spirit leads us to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Saviour who died for us and was raised again for us. Whenever the Gospel is preached, the Holy Spirit is present, calling men and women to put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy spirit points us to Jesus Christ. He says to us, "This is Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God. Trust Him as your Saviour." When we respond, in faith, to this working of the Holy Spirit within us, we become members of the body of Christ, the true Church, which is made up of all who truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
All who have truly come, in faith, to Jesus Christ now belong to the body of Christ. we dare not think of ourselves in isolation from the fellowship of God's people. we are not to be 'Lone Ranger' Christians. When I began studying sociology (the study of man in society), the first essay I was asked to write was this: "Discuss the statement, "No man is an island."
"No man is an island." This is true of all of us. We are not isolated individuals. We are part of a wider society. This is also true within the fellowship of Christ's Church. we are not isolated Christians. We belong together in the fellowship of the Church. The importance of working together as a team may be illustrated with reference to the importance of playing football as a team game. If a boy says, "I want to be a footballer", we do not say to him, "Go and kick a ball against a wall." we tell him to join a football team. If someone says, "I want to be a Christian", w e do not say to him, "Go away and be a Christian all on your own." We say to him, "Welcome to our Church. Come along to the services. Worship with us. Come along to the Bible studies. Learn from God's Word with us. Come along to the prayer meetings. Pray with us."
We began with the question, "What is the Church?" It has become clear that Scripture lays great emphasis on the close connection between the work of the Spirit and the Church, the body of Christ. Whenever we think of the Church, we must think also of the Holy Spirit. The Church is not merely a building. The Church is not simply a human organization. The Church is the body of people who have responded to the call of the Holy Spirit, the call to faith in Christ. Whenever we think of the Holy Spirit, we must also think of the Church of Christ. The Holy Spirit is not content with producing 'free lance' Christians, one here and one there, each having nothing to do with the other. The Holy Spirit brings us into fellowship with one another. through the power of the Holy Spirit, we come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are brought into the fellowship of God's people. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are enabled to play our active part in the life of Christ's Church.
The connection between the Spirit and the Church - this is very challenging. We cannot proudly say, "We are the Church", if we are not walking in the way of the Spirit. We cannot claim to be walking in the way of the Spirit, if we are not actively involving ourselves in the life of the Church.
If we are tempted to say, "We are the Church" without really walking in the Spirit, God says to us, "Walk in the Spirit" (Galatians 5:16); "All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God" (Romans 8:14).
If, on the other hand, we imagine ourselves to be 'spiritual' while showing little active interest in the life of Christ's Church, God says to us, "Faith without works is dead" (James 2:17); "Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only" (James 1:22).
The Spirit is calling us to be the Church, not in our own weakness but in the mighty power which the Spirit gives to all who walk in His way. What will your response be to the call of the Spirit?