Figures of the New Testament Church

Q. I believe that I am a Christian but I do not believe in the church. I feel that a person can be close to God but not a member of any church. I’ve also heard it said that the church was an afterthought with God. I feel what is important is a close communion with God. What do you think?

In his revelation to us, God described the church of the Lord Jesus Christ in various ways. He obviously did this that we might be able to understand the nature of the church and to perceive its importance. We refer to these various descriptions as “pictures” or “figures.” God simply used things with which people were familiar in order to convey great spiritual truths.

I. The word church (ekklesia).
A. Can be used to mean assembly – I Cor. 14:23
B. Can refer to the invisible, universal church-Mt16:18
C. Can refer to a local congregation ( I Cor. 1:2).
D. Can refer to several congregations in a region (Acts 9:31).
31* So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.

(1) As a family.

God is our Heavenly Father.
James 1:18
18 In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.

The apostle Paul, recognizing the greatness and goodness of God in providing salvation for us in Christ, wrote,
Ephesians 3:14-15
14 ¶ For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,
15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name,

People are begotten of God when they believe the gospel, and they are born into his family when they obey the terms of pardon revealed in the gospel. God had promised these, contingent upon their willingness to sanctify themselves,
2 Cor. 6:18
18 “And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty.

As his children, Christians should most assuredly bear the image of the Father. Members of the church have been called into fellowship with Christ

1 Corinthians 1:9
9 God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

We are in fellowship with the Father, and with one another (See 1 John 1:3-4). Therefore, being brothers and sisters in God’s family is a close and wonderful relationship of kindred spirits.

(2) As the body of Christ.

In a beautiful context of scripture, Paul made a comparison between a physical body, and the spiritual body of Christ. A physical body is composed of many parts, but it is just one body. So also is the church. Composed of many members, yet all of them functioning harmoniously together for the ongoing of the body. Thus, the church must be united for God’s design and purpose for it to be realized. (1 Cor. 12:24-25, 27).

Rom. 12:4,5
3 For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.
4 For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function,

God gave Christ “to be head over all things to the church, which is his body” (Eph. 1:22-23).

And Paul made it clear that there is only “one body” (Eph. 4:4).

A. Ephesians 1:22-23.
Eph. 1:22,23
22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church,
23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
B. Colossians 1:18
18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.

C. To be in the body of Christ is to be in Christ; to be in the body of Christ is to be in the church.

D. To claim salvation outside of the church is to claim salvation outside of Christ.

E. There are no spiritual blessings outside of the church.

Ephesians 1:3
3 ¶ Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,

2. To be in Christ is to be in His body, which is His church; therefore, all spiritual blessings are in the church, and there are no spiritual blessings outside of the church (body of Christ).

3. Salvation is a spiritual blessing; salvation can be realized only in the church.

(3) As a bride.

The church is married (spiritually speaking, of course) to Christ. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth and said,
2 Cor. 11:2
2 For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.

Eph 5:25-27
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,
26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,
27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.

Rev. 19:7, 21:9.
7 “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.”
Rev. 21:9
9 ¶ Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”

Note also Romans 7:4.
4 Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.

(4) As a kingdom.

The church is in subjection to Jesus Christ, who is the king of his kingdom. Christ’s kingdom is a spiritul kingdom. He said, “my kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36), simply meaning that it was never intended by God to be an earthly, temporal domain, as the one over which Saul, David, and Solomon reigned.

Christ’s kingdom is a heavenly kingdom, and thus, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). And yet, his spiritual kingdom is very definetely is existence upon the earth, as it has been since its establishment in 33 A.D. on the Jewish feast day called Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2.

Paul informed the Christians in Colossae that God “delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love” (Col. 1:13).

The evangelist Philip went down to Samaria and preached unto those people “concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12).

In about 96 A.D., the apostle John, writing to the seven churches of Asia, expressed that Christ “loved us, and loosed us from our sins by his blood; and he made us to be a kingdom” (Revelation 1:5-6). The kingdom is not something yet to come. . . it has already come!

The church and the kingdom are one and the same thing. To a member of the Lord’s church is to be a citizen of his kingdom.

(5) As a flock.

Luke 12:32
32* “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.

Jesus Christ is the shepherd of the sheep, and Christians are depicted as sheep. Thus, the church is dependent upon the love and care of the Shepherd.

The church heeds his voice, “and the sheep follow him” (John 10:4).

John 10:16
16* “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.

The apostle Peter admonished those who were serving as elders in the church to “tend the flock of God which is among you” (1 Peter 5:2), “and when the chief Shepherd shall be manifested, ye shall receive the crown of glory that fadeth not away” (verse 4).

As sheep having gone astray, Christians are a people “now returned unto the Shepherd” (1 Peter 2:25).

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