Few today understand the awesome purpose — the vital significance of real Christianity! Do you?
What exactly is the purpose of the Christian life? Why does God leave His people in "this present evil age" (Gal. 1:4) after their definite commitment of repentance and baptism? Why must we endure strains, tests, trials and even setbacks, all the while very much aware that we can stumble and fall and end up castaways (I Cor. 9:27)? Few questions are more important! They touch on vital issues for the true Christian: What is his code of conduct? How much does God expect of him? Why do some — even some who really repent and receive God's Spirit — abandon the Christian life? How may we guard against the same tragedy?
God's law in force
God communicates unmistakably to us how we must live — by His every word. Christ put it clearly in Matthew 4:4. "But doesn't the New Testament totally supersede the Old?" some ask. "Didn't Paul say that grace abrogates the Ten Commandments? Aren't we only supposed to live by love?" People have many different ideas about the Christi an life. Speculation abounds. But people — fallible, fragile, erring mortals like ourselves — have no power in the face of death. People cannot impart eternal life to us (Matt. 10:28). Only God's opinions count on these vital questions. And there are some real shocks — some startling opposites to what people suppose — in the Scriptures: "For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope" (Rom. 15:4). "But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets" (Acts 24:14). "So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God" (Rom. 7:25). These are direct quotes from the apostle Paul, who purportedly taught against God's law. Jesus Christ Himself stated, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets" (Matt. 5:17). Yet millions mistakenly think He did. Furthermore, the New Testament defines the new covenant relationship thus: "'Behold, the days are coming,' says the Lord, 'when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah... For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days,' says the Lord, 'I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people'" (Heb. 8:8, 10). At almost every turn, it seems, the Bible teaches the diametric opposite of what people commonly-assume. A real Christian lives by every word of God.
God's Church exists today
At the time we repent we awake to the mind-jarring fact that this is Satan's world (II Cor. 4:4) and that we have all been willing accomplices of Satan, deceived by our own drives and desires as unwitting agents in his diabolical system of sin, hopelessness and death (Eph. 2:1-3). Real repentance is responding to God's call with conviction and urgency, answering God's divine summons to flee spiritual Babylon (Rev. 18:4). God's representatives help bring us to real repentance. "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17). Indeed, Christ's ministry can discern serious repentance (John 20:23). Here is where some people stumble! A world suspicious of all authority is bothered by the fact that God uses human instruments to help reconcile the world to Himself (II Cor. 5:18). God uses human agents (l Cor. 12:27-30). God insists that He has elected to save humanity through the "foolishness of the message preached" (I Cor. 1:21). Christ conferred authority upon His true ministers (Mark 16:15-16, Matt. 28:18- 20). God's true Church is indeed a spiritual organism, but a definite, literal, physical organization as well (Acts 8:3). Do you know — and know that you know — where God's Church is today? Christ said it would exist at the end time (Matt. 16:18). One must exercise prudence and caution in this era of religious confusion (II Tim. 3:13), but sincere seekers of truth would also do well to emulate Ethiopia's capable first-century finance minister. Notice: "Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, 'Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.' This is desert. So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. "Then the Spirit said to Philip, 'Go near and overtake this chariot.' So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, 'Do you understand what you are reading?' And he said, 'How can I, unless someone guides me?'" (Acts 8:26-31). What is the point for us today? Just this: The well educated, intelligent Ethiopian eunuch needed human teachers. Though he was a studious, diligent man, he was willing to submit to God's human representatives (John 13:20). He didn't know it all. He needed trained and accredited representatives of the living Christ to instruct him. "So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water" — notice that baptism means complete immersion in water (Acts 8:38-39). And we cannot baptize ourselves! We need the Church of God and the balanced, concerned teaching of God's ministers. This should be obvious, but some forget it after baptism (Acts 5:3-4). The priceless Holy Spirit that begets us as God's children comes through the laying on of hands by Christ's ministers — and only through them (Acts 8:14-17).
Steps to salvation
The watery grave of baptism, symbolizing the death of the old self, and the laying-on-of-hands ceremony, which gives us access to the life-giving, energizing, Holy Spirit of power — these are fundamental steps to becoming a real Christian (Heb. 6:1-2). Yet God makes both ceremonies possible only through His Church, specifically through the ministry He has chosen (Eph. 4:11-12). For an in-depth explanation of the laying-on-of-hands ceremony, see the box on pages 12 and 13. We surrender to God at baptism. In effect we say, "God, through your Word and your Church, please teach me the right way to live!" And what does God tell us to orient our lives around? What is our life's new direction after baptism and the laying on of hands? "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free — and have all been made to drink into one Spirit" (I Cor. 12:13). The "one body" spoken of here is the Body of Christ, the Church, "which He purchased with His own blood" (Col. 1:18, Acts 20:28). The Church's goals and purposes become our own. Only that one true Church possesses the keys to the kingdom of heaven — the essential spiritual knowledge we will need to grow, to endure, to qualify for our ultimate destiny — membership in the universe-ruling, royal Family of God (Matt. 16:19, Rev. 21:7). Some forget this. They foolishly imagine they can achieve salvation apart from God's Church. They forget where they learned the basic truths necessary to even comprehend the plan of salvation (II Tim. 3:14). Though we are called as individuals, we are at baptism plunged into a group, a small but highly motivated organization with an urgent task to accomplish in this world. An individual Christian cannot accomplish the global work Christ commissioned to the Church. A group effort is needed under God's government, which is exercised in God's Church. How can "Lone Ranger" Christians please God? "Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house" (Matt. 5:15). Growing Christians are zealous to attend Church services, Bible studies and, in the right measure, unifying and uplifting Church activities (Heb. 10:25). They are profitable servants, going above and beyond responsibility (Luke 17:10). Others carelessly relax after baptism. They forget the urgency and commitment of real repentance. They settle into a comfortable rut. Few oversights are more deadly! Yes, baptism forgives past sins. Yes, the laying on of hands gains us access to God's Holy Spirit. Yes, that is the right beginning. But there is much more to real Christianity, even yet!
Stir up the Spirit
The plain truth is that a real Christian can quench the precious Holy Spirit of God (I Thess. 5:19). Even Timothy was admonished, by Paul, to "stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands" (II Tim. 1:6). Some run out of steam. The urgency, the interest, the enthusiasm that produced real changes before baptism wanes. They are easy victims for discouragement. Depression and despair are fertile ground for Satan (II Cor. 2:11). Discouragement is often triggered by the letdown we feel when we know we're not making the progress we should. Some, feeling condemned, go from this to the next step: slowly slipping away from Church activities, fellowship, Bible studies and even Church services (I John 2:19). Others cover up their lack of progress by adopting a hostile, aggressive attitude. They resent the concerned correction of the ministry (Heb. 13:17). They turn bitter, resentful, critical (Heb. 12:15). Plagued with guilt and self-pity, they gradually feel awkward and uncomfortable around God's people. The all-out commitment of repentance and baptism gradually weakens under this slow, debilitating bombardment (verses 5-6). God never forsakes us! We forsake Him. We can actually "neglect so great a salvation" (Heb. 2:3). It can happen to any of us.
Baptism only the beginning
Real overcomers know that baptism marks only the beginning of the Christian life. They deeply treasure the minute portion of the Holy Spirit imbued by the laying on of hands and proceed to diligently and single-mindedly ask God for more of it in fervent prayer, Bible study and fasting (Luke 11:13, Jas. 5:16). Yes, sad to say, some people make only certain outer changes at baptism (I Cor. 3:3). Some merely switch days from Sunday to Saturday as their time of religious observances. Some smugly take pride in the fact that they generously boost their religious contributions to 10 percent. Not a few feel quite superior that they see through the foolish spectacles of Christmas and Easter. They are those who have trouble understanding why others miss the plain meaning of the Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles. All of this — Sabbath keeping, tithing, Holy Day observance — all of these obvious fruits of the Christian life are absolutely necessary to please God (1 John 3:22). But real Christianity goes beyond that. Remember the Pharisees? They punctiliously performed external shows of obedience to God but hadn't even begun the tremendous task of changing their human nature (Matt. 7:21). Christ offered this witness against them: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone" (Matt. 23:23).
A living sacrifice
Baptism only begins the Christian life — a "race," Paul calls it, something we should work at, get better at (II Tim. 4:7). The precious and exquisite gift of God's Holy Spirit gives us the power to make real progress on overcoming our problems. But the Holy Spirit must be continually stirred up, increased, used. And how is that done? By prayer — much prayer. In deep, meaningful, personal Bible study. By regular fasting, searching our lives for the lacks and deficiencies.
If there were not an elect, a group writing God's laws inside their hearts by the power of God's Spirit... then, Scripture reveals, God would allow human life to be utterly obliterated...
Paul magnificently crystallized the Christian life in two powerful sentences: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Rom. 12:1-2).
Our part in God's Work
Can anything be plainer? Real Christianity is deep, inner change. It is a lifelong calling to renew the mind (Phil. 2:5), recast the thoughts (II Cor. 10:5), rework the personality (Acts 9:21), restructure the emotional responses (Acts 20:35). The prophet Amos asked, "Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?" (Amos 3:3). You cannot agree with God until you find out what is uppermost on His mind. To walk with God, you must actively pursue His goals. So what is No.1 on God's mind right now? What is it that all of Scripture pivots around? Can we know? Yes, we can — definitely. The answer is in Acts 3:19-21: "Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began." There it is! The No.1 thing on God's mind right now is the imminent return of Jesus Christ to set up the Kingdom of God! The key, then, to thinking like God thinks and to walking in harmony with Him is to do our part in helping establish the Kingdom of God on earth. Do we have a part in that? Absolutely. Dozens of scriptures reveal that a real Christian is actually in training during this physical life for divine rulership in the Kingdom of God (Luke 22:29-30, Rev. 2:26, 3:21). Right now, God wants the announcement of Christ's soon coming Kingdom trumpeted to the ends of this earth (Matt. 24:14). God will not pour out the awesome plagues of the book of Revelation unless humanity is warned first (Amos 3:7). This enormous task can only be accomplished by a group, a small (Luke 12:32) but well organized and highly dedicated body of people, a group reaffirming their commitment to their calling every day through the power of God's Spirit (II Cor. 4:16). Just as the early apostles needed the backing and zealous support of a highly motivated Church of God, so does Christ's modern-day apostle (I Cor. 12:28). This is the whole purpose of the Christian life! Yet how few understand the awesome, mind-splitting significance of this way of life! Listen: If there were not an elect, a group writing God's laws inside their hearts by the power of God's Spirit (II Cor. 3:3), a tiny nucleus of believers amidst a dying civilization who prove to God that, with His Spirit, overcoming is possible, interpersonal relationships can work (Mal. 4:5-6), human nature can be changed and people can become pleasing to God — if there were not such an absolutely crucial project being accomplished — then, Scripture reveals, God would allow human life to be utterly obliterated (Matt. 24:22). We are part of that monumental Work! Every growing Christian knows this! It is his motivation, his consuming interest in life, his real vocation (Eph. 4:1).
Living real Christianity
Without this energizing, clear cut purpose, we can lack the zeal and enthusiasm necessary to constantly drive ourselves before God's throne in daily prayer, in regular fasting, in claiming the strength to defeat our frustrating, ensnaring problems. Blinded to these awesome stakes, some begin to retrogress (Heb. 2:1). God doesn't forsake them. They, through neglect, discouragement, defeat, bitterness, have forsaken the great God, the ever living, all powerful One who offers in His Word a hope stronger than the steady drip drop of petty annoyances and personal irritations, a hope even stronger than death (I Pet. 1:3). How much better to continually reinforce in our minds what the baptism covenant was all about: only the first pioneering steps in a new way of life — a disciplined life wherein our allotted span is spent serving God's purposes, not our own — a life dedicated to furthering God's grand and global Work rather than spinning off into our own shortsighted, temporary pursuits. Jesus Christ, our Example, said, "I must be about My Father's business" (Luke 2:49)! That is real Christianity! "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain In the Lord" (I Cor. 15:58).
'Laying on of Hands'
The doctrine of the "laying on of hands" is of critical importance to real Christians. It is through this ceremony that God imparts His Holy Spirit to those truly called, repentant and in the process of dedicating their lives to God's service. In the Bible, this ceremony was used in a wide variety of circumstances. It was generally performed by an individual ordained or commissioned by God. The ceremony centered around God's servant praying aloud as he placed his hands on the recipient of his petitions. It was a formal request to God, usually for a specific blessing, gift or authority, as in an ordination. It was usually a simple, short ceremony, but filled with meaning. Let's notice some of the interesting and varied ways in which men of God have used the laying on of hands.
One of the earliest recorded biblical examples of this doctrine is found in Exodus 29. The occasion was an ordination ceremony. Interestingly enough, hands were laid on animals by the persons being ordained. In Exodus 28:1 God commanded Moses to set apart Aaron and Aaron's four sons to be priests. In Exodus 29:10-11 we read: "You shall also have the bull brought before the tabernacle of meeting, and Aaron and his sons shall put their hands on the head of the bull. Then you shall kill the bull before the Lord, by the door of the tabernacle of meeting." Verses 15-20 state that they were to do likewise with the two rams. Why did they do this? Aaron and his sons were commanded to lay their hands on the animals' heads to symbolize their sins, their guilt being transferred to the animals, which then suffered the penalty of sin Aaron and his sons should have received — death. Of course, this all had symbolic meaning, since only Christ's blood really atoned for sin. The laying on of hands in this example symbolized the cleansing and purifying of the priests through the transferal of their sins to the animals. The laying on of hands often symbolizes a transfer, transmittal or granting of special gifts, blessings or authority — elements that are literally priceless — things that are only God's to give. "And you shall bring the Levites before the tabernacle of meeting, and you shall gather together the whole assembly of the children of Israel. So you shall bring the Levites before the Lord, and the children of Israel shall lay their hands on the Levites; and Aaron shall offer the Levites before the Lord, as though a wave offering from the children of Israel, that they may perform the work of the Lord.... "Thus you shall separate the Levites from among the children of Israel, and the Levites shall be Mine. After that the Levites shall go in to service the tabernacle of meeting" (Num. 8:9-11, 14-15). Of course, the leaders' hands had no magical or mystical qualities. They merely symbolized and formally emphasized that God, not man, gave them authority and set them apart for a particular job. This demonstrates one of the great lessons of the laying on of hands — that God works through man, even in ordaining His own servants. The Worldwide Church of God practices this doctrine today in ordaining qualified men to be deacons and ministers, and qualified women to be deaconesses. Notice the New Testament example of ordaining deacons. The 12 apostles had been presented with seven men who were to be deacons, "whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them" (Acts 6:6). Acts 13:2-3 records the ordinations of Barnabas and Paul: "As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, 'Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.' Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away."
Receiving the Holy Spirit
Christ gave the ministers of His Church the authority to baptize those who have truly repented of their sins. Along with the physical act of baptism is promised the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands. Notice the example in Acts 8. Philip went to the city of Samaria to preach the Gospel. Many believed and were baptized. When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that the Gospel had been preached at Samaria, they sent Peter and John, "who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit" (verses 15-17). Notice: These disciples had been baptized days or even weeks before and had not received the Holy Spirit. God withheld it until Peter and John laid hands on them. God respected the order and authority He vested in His ministers. He granted His Spirit when they laid hands on them. For more information, write for our free reprint, "How You Can Be Imbued With the Power of God."
The ceremony of laying on of hands is also used in cases of healing. Christ set the example: "Now when the sun was setting, all those who had anyone sick with various diseases brought them to Him; and He laid His hands on everyone of them and healed them" (Luke 4:40). Mark 6:4-5 relates another example. When Christ came to His own community, He found such little faith that He remarked: "'A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.' Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them." Concerning His true ministers, Christ stated, "They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover" (Mark 16:18). While many professing Christians know nothing of God's promise to heal, others make a public mockery and display of what they think is the healing power of God. James 5:14 is a command from God to those who are sick: "Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord." No minister's hands are special or holy. No olive oil has any mysterious power. It is God Himself who heals through His Holy Spirit, but He has prescribed a physical act for us to follow to show our faith and trust in Him and to show our acceptance of the authority He has placed with His servants.
The book of Genesis contains a moving example of the laying on of hands — the time when Jacob blessed his two grandsons. Jacob was an old man and knew his time was short. He asked his son Joseph to bring the two boys to him. "Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. Then Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them. And Israel said to Joseph, 'I had not thought to see your face; but in fact, God has also shown me your offspring!' "So Joseph brought them from beside his knees, and he bowed down with his face to the earth. And Joseph took them both, Ephraim with his right hand toward Israel's left hand, and Manasseh with his left hand toward Israel's right hand, and brought them near him. Then Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on Ephraim's head, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh's head, guiding his hands knowingly, for Manasseh was the firstborn. "And he blessed Joseph, and said: 'God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, The God who has fed me all my life long to this day, The Angel who has redeemed me from all evil, Bless the lads; Let my name be named upon them, And the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; And let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth'" (Gen. 48:10-16). Jacob went on to bless the boys individually, handing down the blessings promised to Abraham. The laying on of hands was symbolic of this transferal by God's authority. The laying-on-of-hands ceremony is relevant to this society — to you and me! God is alive and actively dealing with mankind today through a group of human beings, a Church doing His Work. And He has provided in this day, as the Bible records He always has, spiritual guides, ministers, to represent Him, to oversee His Church. And He has given them jurisdiction to carry out their jobs. The laying on of hands is the outward ceremony used in the delegation and use of that authority. God respects it and we should, too!