Recently, in our series through the book of Acts in my local church, I preached about the conversion of the chief of sinners – Saul of Tarsus. God literally took a terrorist and turned him into a passionate preacher of the gospel. As we looked at the section in Acts 9 following Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, we were faced with an extremely important reality – one perhaps often overlooked in the reading of Acts 9. The text of Scripture is Acts 9:19-31. The two verses that are often overlooked are the following:
Acts 9:19 – And taking food, he was strengthened. For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus.
Acts 9:26 – And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.
Notice that after Saul was converted, he identified himself immediately with the disciples in Damascus. After a bit of study, we learn that he remained there for a period of three years. After being ran out of town for his bold proclamation of Jesus as the Christ of God – he went to Jerusalem. It was there that he immediately tried to join the disciples (followers of Christ). In both cases, we see the converted Saul trying to identify, associate, and join up with the followers of Christ. We see urgency in Saul’s identity with the disciples in these two cities. That urgency and commitment by Saul is often overlooked as it falls in the shadow of his massive conversion.
What can we learn regarding Saul’s commitment and urgency for identifying with a visible group of disciples?
1. Membership Matters
When Jesus died on the cross, the Bible clearly says that He died for the church (Ephesians 5:25). If God places such high focus and priority upon the church, we should do the same! Mark Dever writes, “Jesus said, ‘I will build My church’ (Matt. 16:18). If Jesus is committed to the church, should we be any less committed to it?“1 It was Martyn Lloyd-Jones who once said, “We must grasp once again, the idea of church membership as being the membership of the body of Christ and as the biggest honour which can come a man’s way in this world.”2
2. Membership is God’s Plan
While nothing but Jesus’ blood is sufficient and necessary to save lost sinners, God has never saved one single person and designed them to be a lone-ranger Christian. Membership is essential to spiritual growth, healthy relationships, and spiritual accountability. We should place urgency in our pursuit of a local church. Charles Spurgeon once said, “I well remember how I joined the church after my conversion. I forced myself into it by telling the pastor, who was lax and slow, after I had called four or five times and could not see him, that I had done my duty, and if he did not see me and interview me for church membership, I would call a church meeting myself and tell them I believed in Christ and ask them if they would have me.”3
Spiritual Growth: God has designed His church to operate as a called out assembly who gathers for corporate worship. This assembly submits to the preaching of God’s appointed servants known in the New Testament as elders or pastors (Hebrews 13:17). These elders preach the Word and deacons (the only other office specified for the local church) are set apart for service (1 Timothy 3; Acts 6). The early church was gathered around the preaching of Scripture as the centerpiece of their worship (Acts 2). Therefore, God’s design is for His people to gather for worship as a body and to grow in the knowledge and truth of God’s amazing grace.
Healthy Relationships: At the end of Acts 2, we see the church gathered around the teaching and preaching of the apostles. Beyond that picture, we also see that they enjoyed the fellowship of one another. As my grandmother always taught me when I was a boy, “Birds of a feather flock together.” That is a true statement regarding the people of Christ. We need healthy relationships in order to grow in grace, sharpen one another, and to encourage one another in difficult times. As creatures who are easily influenced, we must make sure we are placing wholesome influences before our eyes and the eyes of our children.
Furthermore, these relationships are not only necessary for spiritual progress, but for times of need. When death comes and visits your home unexpectedly, when the doctors diagnose you with the “C” word (cancer), or when you find out that you have lost your job and you have a family of six to feed and house, you need the church. An old song was once popular back some years ago titled, “People Need The Lord” – and while that is a true statement indeed – we must come to grips with the reality that people need the church! God never intended us to be islands floating around alone in the Christian life.
Spiritual Accountability: Since God never designed His church to operate as lone-ranger believers roaming the earth, we must have firm accountability. In 2 Timothy 4, we see the apostle Paul (the converted terrorist) informing Timothy regarding his role as the pastor of Ephesus. Part of that role involved rebuking those who were living in sin. In Hebrews 13:17, we see that the elders are to provide oversight, guidance, and leadership – even correction. In Matthew 18, we see that the entire church body should be involved in the discipline of one another. Jesus Himself laid out the proper method of church discipline so that the bride of Christ would remain pure. As in all cases of accountability, we should strive to live according to the Word of God rather than legalistic rules of man. However, we should take membership seriously in order to properly submit ourselves to accountability from the Word preached, the leaders who oversee, and faithful loving fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
Spiritual Giftedness: God has saved people and called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light. The church is the “assembly” of believers. That assembly functions through different gifts of the Spirit of God. Not all are called to preach or serve, but all Christians have a spiritual gift that should be exercised in the life of the church for God’s glory. The apostle Paul properly described this process by using the description of the body in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.
To the professing Christian who refuses to assemble and serve, how good is your spiritual giftedness benefiting the cause of Christ on your sofa or at the lake on Sunday? Mark Dever rightly says, “If the church is a building, then we must be bricks in it; if the church is a body, then we are its members; if the church is a household of faith, then we are part of that household. Sheep are in a flock, and branches on a vine. Biblically, if we are Christians we must be members of a church. This membership is not simply the record of a statement we once made or of affection toward a familiar place. It must be the reflection of a living commitment or it is worthless.”4
3. Membership Creates Visible Identity
The invisible church of God around the world is made visible by the local church. Dr. Don Whitney writes, “When you join a church, you make it visible. You give a living demonstration of the spiritual reality of the body of Christ. You show that even though you are an individual, you are a part of the body; you are joined together with others. You take the body of Christ out of the realm of the theoretical (1 Cor. 12:27) and give it a meaning that people can see.”5 This is important for the witness of Christ as the church seeks to reach the neighborhoods and the nations with the gospel of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). Membership also allows you to identify with a group of people who are all different in many ways but centered on the gospel of Christ. The church is made up of a group of diverse people who are imperfect but serving the King who is absolutely perfect and worthy of all worship and praise.
People who refuse to join a local church have missed the plan of God for their lives as Christians. Either they will repent of their stubborn pride, or they will prove themselves to not be genuine believers (1 John 2:19). It is impossible to live the Christian life apart from the church. Those who believe it’s within the framework of God’s will to be “regular attenders” but not members have also refused to submit to biblical leadership. While we should make sure we know what a church believes and how a church seeks to accomplish the mission of God in their local neighborhoods and outward to the nations – it should not be a decision that a person drags their feet in making.
Make your church membership a priority – all for the glory of King Jesus! I leave you with a quote from the “Prince of Preachers” – Charles Spurgeon:
I know there are some who say, “Well, I’ve given myself to the Lord, but I don’t intend to give myself to any church.” I say, “Now why not?” And they answer, “Because I can be just as good a Christian without it.” I say, “Are you quite clear about that? You can be as good a Christian by disobedience to your Lord’s commands as by being obedient? There’s a brick. What is the brick made for? It’s made to build a house. It is of no use for the brick to tell you that it’s just as good a brick while it’s kicking about on the ground by itself, as it would be as part of a house. Actually, it’s a good-for-nothing brick. So, you rolling stone Christians, I don’t believe that you’re answering the purpose for which Christ saved you. You’re living contrary to the life which Christ would have you live and you are much to blame for the injury you do.”6
Pastor Josh Buice
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1. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Crossway, 2000, p. 145.
2. Knowing the Times, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1989, p. 30.
3. Charles Spurgeon at His Best, Compiled by Tom Carter, Baker, 1988, p. 33-34.
4. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Crossway, 2000, p. 148-149.
5. Why Join a Church? Originally written in: Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church, Moody, 1996, www.BiblicalSpirituality.org. Used by Permission.
6. Charles Spurgeon at His Best, Compiled by Tom Carter, Baker, 1988, p. 34.
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The Importance of Church Membership – Sermon by: Pastor Josh Buice