How To Recognize a True Church, Part 4a by John MacArthur

Now as we continue to talk about the church, I want to kind of go back to some basics, and I started that last week. I read you a little list of about a dozen things that characterized the life of the church, and we’re trying to help you understand the church. Many, many new people; we’ve had a show of hands in recent weeks about how many of you have been here in the last year or so or two years, and it’s really amazing how many folks the Lord has brought into our church recently. And it’s important for us to know you and it’s important for you to know us. It’s important for us together to understand the church and what distinguishes the church.

And I want to say, as I’ve said many times through the years, I love the church. It is the only institution that our Lord said He would build and bless. It is the one work of God in the world–the one redeeming work of God in the world through Christ is the establishing and building of the church. We started in Matthew where Jesus said, “I will build My church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” We love the church and we want the church to be the church in terms of its biblical definition. The church, as we have learned, is chosen by God. It is a gathering of people who confess Jesus as Lord, who come together to worship God, to worship Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

The church is the most precious thing that God possesses on earth. It is heaven come down. The church is precious because it was purchased by the blood of Christ. It is the earthly expression of heaven. It is the dwelling place of the Trinity. We are the temple of God. The church is the caretaker of the truth, as we saw last week, the pillar and support of the truth. The church is the purveyor of the gospel, the only message that saves sinners from eternal judgment. The church is salt and light, having a preserving effect on the society around it. The church is the sole instrument of evangelism in this age. The church is the communion of saints which gives testimony to the power of the gospel by its joy and blessing and transformation as the watching world views it. The church is this distinct group of redeemed people in the world and the world is hostile to the church, but the world desperately needs the church, it is its only hope because it is the church that proclaims the message of salvation.

Now as we look a little more closely at the church, we sorted out some distinguishing marks of the church. Each of these could be a study and perhaps should be in itself, but we started last week with the first one, that the church is distinguished by its commitment to the absolute authority of Scripture…the absolute authority of Scripture. I would suggest that if you weren’t here last Sunday night, you might want to download that message, or order it on CD from Grace to You. It’s available because it’s a very definitive message establishing the foundation of the life of the church in the authoritative, revealed Scripture. So that’s what we covered last week.

Going to move a little more rapidly. Let me tell you a few more things and this second one we’ll build on this morning. The second thing that characterizes the church is its commitment to worship, its commitment to worship.

What do we mean by worship? We simply mean to give glory to God, to give honor to God, to give praise to God, to render obedience to God. And that starts with knowing God. We worship in spirit but we also worship in truth. In spirit means with our hearts, with all our being. We love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, or at least we desire to do that. And so we’re talking when we talk about spirit, we mean in the inner man. It’s not that we’re here to do some outward duty. We’re not going through some symbolic emotions, or motions. We’re not doing some ceremonies or rituals, or some perfunctory mechanical things. We come with a full heart of love directed at God. And that love shows up in our praise, in our singing; it shows up in our prayers; it shows up in our hearing the Word of God with joy and receiving it with obedience. All of that constitutes our worship. We are a worshiping people.

To borrow the language of John 4 this morning, we worship in spirit and in truth because the Father seeks true worshipers. If we could define Christians in one word, it would be worshipers. And I mentioned this morning Philippians 3:3, we worship in the power of the spirit. We worship Christ and we have no confidence in the flesh. Other language maybe from the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 10, Paul says, “And whatever you do, even when you eat and drink, do all to the glory of God.” Everything a true worshiper does is to the glory of God. We give Him honor in everything. We defer to His will in everything. We obey His Word in everything. That’s a worshiper.

I was having a conversation a couple of nights ago with a gentleman who has been a Bible teacher and a faithful Bible teacher at a church in Texas, and he was telling me that after teaching the Word of God there with great blessing for many, many years, with great impact on the lives of many people, and I know many of these people because I’ve known him for a long time. The leaders of the church came to him and said to him that he’s not going to be able to teach in the church any longer because he is committed to the lordship of Christ. He is committed to the lordship of Christ. That bothersome doctrine that seems to be such an intrusion into people’s freedom, to confess that Jesus is Lord, is in this church, at least, an unacceptable doctrine.

How in the world can you explain then what a Christian is if you use the biblical language that a Christian is a worshiper of God? That in its very expression says that the Christian by nature, new nature, recreation, bows to God–Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

A familiar word in the New Testament for worship is proskuneo, which means literally to “bend your knee”; it means to bow down. Worship is just that: it is submission, it is submitting. But those who fight against the idea of the lordship of Christ as if it’s some intrusion, as if it’s some human work to bow your knee to Christ at the point of salvation have therefore eliminated the whole concept of salvation being an act of worship. We talked about the woman at the well, this morning, didn’t we? And she began to bow; she began to bend and bow to God when confronted by her sin and the promise of eternal life. And recognizing her guilt and her desperate need for living water, she began to bow. And that’s what every sinner does. This is the very nature of worship. We ascribe to God worth. The old English word is “worthship” from which we get worship, sort of a contracted word–worthship, meaning we ascribe to Him the ultimate worth, the ultimate value, the ultimate honor, respect, adoration, and reverence.

And, of course, we could define this as love, loving God with our heart, soul, mind and strength, and Jesus says if you love Me, you do…What?…you “keep My commandments.” How anyone could assume that someone is a Christian who doesn’t bow to God, who doesn’t affirm His sovereign lordship is beyond my understanding. Worship rises to God from the heart of every true Christian because the Father seeks true worshipers and the Father makes true worshipers. We have been saved to be worshipers.

And so, the church of necessity, by very definition, is God-centered, is God-centered. We have been saved to be worshipers. The church cannot fulfill its mission and be man-centered. It must be God- centered.

A couple of verses will put us in touch with this and there are many, but let me just remind you of a couple that are somewhat familiar to you. Turn to Romans 12 for just a moment, that familiar opening of this twelfth chapter in Romans as Paul transitions out of the doctrinal section in 1 to 11 into the practical section; he defines essentially what Christians are called to do. Therefore, based upon all the great mercies of God, all the great aspects, features, elements of salvation which have occupied the first eleven chapters, every feature of salvation is explored in those previous chapters. And chapter 11 ends with this marvelous doxology about the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God and the unsearchable judgments, and unfathomable ways of His, and all of it redounding to His glory at the end in verse 36, “for from Him, through Him, to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” That is the only possible expression of a true believer–worship.

And naturally all of that section on salvation ends in a doxology. We always say theology leads to doxology. And so based on all of that that has been granted to those who are in Christ called, by Paul, in chapter 12, verse 1 “the mercies of God”–“I urge you, brethren, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice.” That is worship, to present yourself, your body and all that is in it, to God as a holy sacrifice, a living sacrifice. Not a dead sacrifice but “a living one, acceptable to God. This is your spiritual service of worship.”

We are worshipers and our worship essentially means that we bow to God fully, that we offer up ourselves like a sacrifice on an altar, not a dead sacrifice, but a living one. And we do it in an acceptable way to God. That is our spiritual service of worship. And again, this is not to be mistaken, this is so plain and so obvious. The contrast is given in verse 2, “Do not be conformed to this world.” You’re stepping away from that. You don’t bow to this world. You don’t bend to this world. You don’t submit to this world, but rather to God as your spiritual service of worship and “be being transformed,” it literally says, “by the renewing of your mind so that you may prove in your behavior what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

What does it mean to worship? It means to offer yourself up totally to God as a spiritual act of worship, and that fleshes out by you not being conformed to the world but rather conformed to the will of God. That is what is good and acceptable and perfect to Him. This is how we live our lives, in full submission to God as an act of worship.

One other passage, just to touch lightly on, 1 Peter 2:5, Peter is describing what it is to be a believer here. He talks about us like babies who desire the pure milk of the Word. He doesn’t mean we’re spiritual babies, he means we desire the Word the way a baby desires milk. It’s talking about the single desire of a believer is for the soul-feeding Word of God. And then He goes on further to talk about what it means to be a believer when he says in verse 5, “You also as living stones are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Your life is a sacrifice and everything in your life is offered up as a sacrifice to God. You give Him everything–everything you are, everything you do, everything you possess, every experience, every trial, every positive event in your life, every discouraging event; it is all offered up to God. In a sense you’re saying, “I submit it all to you, to your sovereign purpose and will, and I obey in everything.” That’s what it means to be a Christian.

How can you question confessing Jesus as Lord if you just leave that language aside and look at the language of worship? We are worshipers. And by the way, that’s what we’re going to do forever in heaven, right? Revelation 4, Revelation 5, you can read them on your own, all about worship. And it’s a picture of heaven and all the angels and all the glorified saints are sitting around the throne of God and worshiping, worshiping, worshiping, worshiping. Worshiping in what they say and, of course, forever worshiping in what they do to serve God perfectly.

The church then is a worshiping community of people. It is not man-centered. We don’t come together to give attention to ourselves. We don’t come together to talk about ourselves. We don’t come together to tweak our lives a little bit on a temporal level or a material level or a psychological level, or a sociological level. We don’t come together to figure out solutions to the problems of the planet. We’re not a political group. We’re not a lobby group. We are worshipers of the true and living God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We worship with joy; we worship with love; that’s what we do.

So anytime an unbeliever comes–look at 1 Corinthians chapter 14 for a moment–anytime a non-believer comes, there should be an experience that is defined by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 down in verse 23, “The whole church assembles together.” And he’s talking about this phenomenon of speaking in languages, which existed in the apostolic times as a sign from God, and he’s talking about it. But he says this, “If the whole church assembles together and everybody speaks in these languages, and ungifted men [or unbelievers, one and the same] enter, will they not say that you are mad? But if all prophesy”–doesn’t mean predict the future; it means to speak, to speak the Word of God. An unbeliever or an ungifted man enters; he’s convicted by all; he’s called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed and so “he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.”

Pulpit Magazine – Jul 2013

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