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Where Do I Belong in the Church? (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
January 20, 2023 3:00 am

Where Do I Belong in the Church? (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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January 20, 2023 3:00 am

Being a member of the church is more significant than you might think. From the beginning, God’s been calling out a people for Himself. For what purpose? On Truth For Life, Alistair Begg explains that God’s master plan has an important role for each of us.



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Being a member of a local church is more significant than you might have realized. From the very beginning, God has been calling out a people for himself.

But for what purpose? Today on Truth for Life, we'll find out how each of us has an important role in God's master plan. Alistair Begg is teaching a message titled, Where Do I Belong in the Church? Father, as we study the Bible, it is a serious and wonderful business.

None of us is interested in just hearing the ruminations of a man's mind. We do want to learn the Bible. We want to be students of the book. We want to be better informed as a result of our studies. But we don't simply want information. We want an encounter with you, the living God. We want to be different because we've studied. And so we pray that you will fulfill the purposes that you have as we turn to the Scriptures now, in Jesus' name.

Amen. We have said that the church is a people—it is, if you like, a community of people—who owe their existence and their solidarity and their distinctiveness from all other communities to one thing only, and that is to the call of God. If we miss that, then we've missed the very foundational element of how it is that God has determined from all of eternity to have a people that are his very own. And it is so vitally important that we recognize this—that the church is not a human invention but that it is a divine institution, and that when we look for the origin of it, we have to look back into eternity, realizing that God is then seeking to call out people for himself.

And indeed, when you think about this great purpose of God, you look just at the very first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis, because it's there in the book of Genesis that God comes first of all and calls out Abraham. He calls him out of his homeland, which is Ur of the Chaldees. He calls his family again from Haran, and he calls them to go to another country and to leave his people in order to be made into a great people.

And he says this very enigmatic thing to him. He says, And Abraham, as you obey my call and as you go where I'm asking you to go, through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed. Now, anybody in reading the Bible and reading the book of Genesis with a modicum of intelligence is going to have to immediately say, What in the world does this mean? And secondly, how is it that God would fulfill the promise to Abraham that through the descendants of Abraham this would have an impact on all the nations of the world? Now, this promise, this covenant that God established with Abraham, he then confirmed to his son Isaac, and then in turn to Isaac's son Jacob.

And when we talk about God as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Jacob, and as we speak of him as a God of differing personalities and as a God of succeeding generations, we're simply recognizing the way in which the Bible establishes this foundational element whereby God is calling out to himself a people for his very own. Jacob, you will recall, died in captivity in Egypt, as did his son Joseph. And I hope that at least some of you who were present for our series in the life of Joseph will remember the way in which Genesis ends, with the death of Joseph and with the instructions that he gives to those who will look after his demise. He says, And I want you to carry my bones up from this place. And Joseph died at the age of 110, and after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.

But his great concern was that he would not be buried in Egypt but that he would take his bones along with them, because he was moving towards a destination. Moses then stands on the stage of human history and is given the responsibility, as the descendant of Jacob's son Levi, to go to Pharaoh and say, Let my people go. He does that, and we have the exodus from Egypt, and then we have the Word of God.

And I'll just quote it to you so that there's no doubt about it. In Exodus chapter 19, and verse 4 and following, on Mount Sinai, and God says, This is what you are to tell the house of Jacob, what you are to tell the people of Israel. You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now, if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasure possession. And although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. I want you to notice that phrase kingdom of priests and holy nation will be returning to it. You then discover that the covenant that God has made is ratified, that the law is then given to his people. You will notice that the law is given after the exodus from Egypt.

It is not given in order that they might be redeemed, but it is given to a redeemed community in order that they might then know how God intends for them to live. And with the covenant ratified and the law given, then the tabernacle worship is established. Later on, you discover that the land which they have possessed is overrun, it is conquered. Later on, you discover that they demand a king and a monarchy is established. And you don't have to go for very long before the whole mechanism ends in disaster—the reason being that God's people have broken his covenant, they have rejected his law, and they have despised his prophets.

If that has a fairly contemporary ring to it, we ought not to be surprised. The real challenge that faces his church in these days is right along the same lines—rejecting God's law, despising his prophets, and breaking his covenant by our disobedience. As a result of this, the judgment of God falls, and after the disestablishment of the monarchy, you have the second Babylonian captivity. The people of God are carried away in chains.

They're taken into a foreign land. They say, How can we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land? By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept as we remembered Zion. God does not abandon his people. In due course, he's true to his promise to bless them.

He calls them out of Babylon in the same way that he had called them out of Egypt, and he restores them to their own land. And you can read that in Jeremiah 16. Now, remember—and this is the key thing, and this is why I'm reminding you of this—remember that through all of this, God has promised to bless all the nations of the earth. And the question is always, as you go down through the line of the Old Testament, How is this going to happen? How is God going to bring this to fulfillment? And all of it, you see, comes to pass in the Lord Jesus Christ. Because the call of God to Abraham's family from Ur Canaan, the call of God to the descendants of Jacob from Egypt and out, the call of the remnant out of Judah from Babylon—all of these calls are a foreshadowing of what is about to take place in Jesus. And, you see, it is imperative, dear ones, that you read all of your Bibles, that you read the Bible all the way through, that you don't become just a New Testament-reading Christian.

Because if you read only the New Testament, it's like attending the second act of a two-act play. And having missed the first act, you bother everybody around you by saying, every time a character comes on the stage, Who is he? Who is she? Why is she saying that?

What's she doing here? And the answer is, if you had got here for the first half, you wouldn't be asking all these silly questions. And so the kind of individual who only reads the New Testament will find themselves saying, But I don't understand. But I don't understand. There's a missing link here. There's something here that I have missed.

And of course you have. Because all of this is pointing forward to a better call, to a greater redemption, and to a richer inheritance. And that's why God has given us all of this in the Old Testament in order that he might create, if you like, a sense of expectation. So that is, that you come to the end of Malachi, and you stand, as it were, on one side of the testamental divide, and you look out into the intertestamental period, you find yourself saying with all of the prophets, Where is he who is to come, who will redeem my people Israel? Where is this one that will come out of Bethlehem? Where is this great prophet? Where is this priest?

Where is this king? Where is this ultimate exodus? Where is this fulfillment of God's promise? And through the death and the resurrection of Christ, God's purpose to call out of the world a people for himself, to redeem them from sin, and to cause them to inherit the promises of salvation, is brought to fulfillment.

And so the church is God's people. His ekklesia, e-c-c-l-e-s-i-a, kaleo, the Greek verb to call, ekk, the preposition out of. His church is the called out of ones.

Called out of where? Called out of the world in order that they might be the possession of him. Called out of darkness into light, called out of the burden of his wrath into the beauty of his mercy, called out of lostness and waywardness into purpose and into joy and so on. And when you read the Bible, you find that the reference is almost constantly to this.

Now, I don't want to belabor the point, but I do want to make it. For example, Romans chapter 1 and verse 6. Paul is right into the church at Rome. How does he address them? Verse 6 of Romans 1, And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

What is it that makes you so distinctive, he says? It is this, that you have been called to belong to Jesus Christ. So that this idea of involvement in the church, of belonging to the church, is, as we've endeavored to see, directly tied to being included in Christ.

And that in the same way, when Jesus called his disciples in Mark chapter 3, verse 14, it says, And he called the twelve to be with him, that they might go for him. And the call into the church is first of all a call to Christ. And it is a call to union with Christ. It is a call to faith in Christ. It is a call to a relationship with Christ.

Have you heard that call? Oh, I can call people to church membership, to an external affiliation with an entity, to suggest that you might sign your name here or do this or that or the next thing, and it's not wrong to do that. Indeed, we do that, and we identify ourselves with those who have done so, and purposefully. But the only significance that is to be found in that is grounded in the fact that God, from all of eternity, has been calling to himself a people who are his very own. When he writes to the church at Corinth, he says the very same thing in 1 Corinthians chapter 1, and in verse 9, He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. So we've been called to Christ, and as a result of being called to Christ, we're called to one another. And that's why so much of the emphasis of the Bible is on the corporate nature of what it means to know God.

Now let me just give you one other reference, because this could be tedious. 1 Peter chapter 2 and verse 9—when you get there, you'll say, Well, I know this verse very well, which is good. 1 Peter chapter 2 and verse 9. And Peter says to those scattered believers to whom he writes in Pontus and Cappadocia and Bithynia and Galatia, You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. Does that ring any bells for you, in relationship to what I just asked you to remember from Exodus chapter 19? You remember, he says, I have borne you up on ego's wings, and I have made you a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Isn't this quite staggering, that Peter should then take the very same phraseology and apply it not to ethnic Israel but to apply it to those who have been included in Christ?

Why would he do this? Because the lights had gone on for him, and he understood, as is clear in the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, that this is the fulfillment of what the prophets said, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh and that I will write my Spirit into the hearts of those who are my own. So he says, You're the chosen people. You're a royal priesthood, a holy nation of people belonging to God, in order that you might declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God.

Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Now, if we can summarize that, what he's saying is God has called you to be a worshiping and a witnessing community. So the people of God are to worship, and the people of God are to witness.

And all of this worshiping and witnessing takes place, as we saw it last time, under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is both the head of the church—he is the foundation upon which the church is built—and all of the metaphors that we discover in the New Testament, all of the pictures of the church, reinforce this. Reinforce not only the authority of Christ, but reinforce this continuum that runs all the way through the Old Testament. For example, if you read the Old Testament and look for references to the bride and the bridegroom—and let me help you in Ezekiel 16 and Jeremiah 2, Jeremiah 31, Isaiah 62, and so on—you will discover that God there uses the picture of Israel as his bride. If you go to the references in the Old Testament of the vineyard, you will discover again that God speaks of his people in that way, in the 80th Psalm, in Isaiah 5. If you go to the issue of flock and shepherd in the Old Testament, you will realize that God speaks again of his people—in Isaiah 40, for example, in Psalm 80—in these terms. And in each case, it emphasizes the fact of God's saving choice. He chose his bride, he planted his vineyard, he shepherded his flock. Now, when you come into the New Testament, what do you discover? You discover that the Lord Jesus stands, as it were, on the Judean hillside, walks amongst the Jewish people of his day, picks up these exact metaphors, and applies them where? To himself. Do you understand why the Jewish people were so concerned? Who can say this?

Save God alone! Who does this man think he is? Why would he make such outlandish claims? He claims to be the bridegroom, and those who follow him are his bride? Yes. He claims to be the vine, and we are the branches? Yes. He claims to be the good shepherd, and we are the sheep? Yes.

See this amazing continuity? God from all of eternity is putting together a people that are his very own. And that's why it is no small thing to say, you know, I'm a member of the church. It is a mysterious thing. It is a wonderful thing. It goes way back, and it goes way forward, and it goes away around the world.

Why? Because of God's saving plan. Now, when you add to that the other metaphors—and I'm not going to deal with them all—but there are four that are the primary metaphors in the New Testament—when you add them, you discover that it reinforces not only the relationship which God has established with his people, but it drives us to the implications of that relationship for our relationships with one another. One of the things that militates against the discovery of church in America is individualism. Is that we think of everything in very individualistic terms. It has a plus, but it has a minus. It has the plus of freedom. It has the plus of endeavor.

It has the plus of all of those things. It has the minus of isolationism. It has the minus of saying, I really don't need anybody at all. It has the minus of saying, you know, I'm my own man, and this is my own destiny, and I'll be blowed if I'll be involved with anybody else. This is my project.

This is my life. I did it my way. Well, when you read the New Testament, you discover that one of the great pictures is that of a kingdom. A kingdom. That's a real problem again for folks who've rejected the monarchy. We don't have kings. I've got news for you. Yes, you do.

Yes, you do. No earthly king or potentate. Nobody riding around here on a big white horse ordering people around, living in a palace. But we have a king.

Jesus. That's why we sing, All Hail King Jesus. And the really significant issue for us is that we are members of his kingdom.

We are kids of the kingdom. Colossians chapter 1 and verse 13. He has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light, for he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, even the forgiveness of our sins.

You see how all of these things are interwoven? It is as we've discovered who Jesus is and why he died upon the cross—that we recognize the dreadful nature of our sin, that it is abhorrent that we should try and go our own way, that we should try and live our own lives, that we should try and establish our own righteousness before God. And we look at the cross, and we see a man dying on the cross, a man of perfection dying on the cross. And we say, Well, then why would a perfect man ever die upon the cross? Why would it be a sinless man who dies upon the cross? Surely it should be a sinful man who dies upon the cross. Now you're thinking, Yes. So would a sinless man die for sinful men and women? Yes.

Why? In order that he might do for us what we could never do for ourselves—namely, establish a righteousness before God that would be acceptable and in which we might be included. Now, when the lights go on in the life of a man or a woman, they say, Well, then I long to know this forgiveness. That's where it starts. Not, Oh, I think I'll go and join, you know, in saying this or Mr. So-and-so's establishment. No! Do you have a passport? What does it say on it? You're proud of your passport, aren't you? You're thankful for your passport, and so you should be. It is well respected around the globe. There is hardly a country in the world you're unable to travel.

And they will say, And the U.S. passport holders go here, and the holders of European Commission passports go there. It will only celebrate our distinctions. What is it that brings us together? The fact that there is only one King, and he's Christ, and that we have been made kids of his kingdom, and that that is a more significant truth than any earthly passport that we can hold.

That is a more significant truth than any other element that divides men and women from one another, whether it is social status, which is anathema in the church, or should be. To be placed in Christ is to be placed under his headship. And the challenge of our journey is to see these physical expressions and local expressions of the invisible body conforming to that standard which God has manifest for us in the kingdom of his Son. The local church is a community of people called by God and united in Christ. Have you heard and responded to God's call? You're listening to Alistair beg on Truth for Life.

If you're not sure how to answer Alistair's question, let me suggest you take a moment and listen to a short six-minute video that explains God's plan of salvation. It's called The Story, and you'll find it at truthforlife.org slash the story. Our current series is called What is the Church? And if you missed a message or if you'd like to re-listen to or share any of what you've heard, you can access all of these messages at truthforlife.org.

Today we want to recommend to you a book that is a perfect supplement for this current series. The book is called Corporate Worship, How the Church Gathers as God's People. This is a foundational book that describes how important it is for God's people to gather together to worship him.

The New Testament gives us a picture of what it should look like. In this small handbook, you'll learn when, where, and how Christians should come together as God's family to unite themselves into one worshiping body. Request the book Corporate Worship today when you give a donation online at truthforlife.org slash donate. The book Corporate Worship is great to pass along to someone who might be a new church member or someone who hasn't been attending church regularly. So if you'd like to purchase additional copies, they're available at our cost.

You'll find them at truthforlife.org slash store. And just a quick reminder to pastors and church leaders, you can now register online to attend the Basics 2023 Conference. This is the annual conference hosted by Alistair at Parkside Church. Find out more or sign up at basicsconference.org.

And if you register before February 1st, you'll save $10. I'm Bob Lapine. We hope you enjoy your weekend and are able to worship with your local church this weekend. Monday, we'll explore your role in the church. Do you feel like you belong? Join us Monday to find out more. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-20 05:20:25 / 2023-01-20 05:29:36 / 9

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