God's true Church knows the right way of living — the balanced, abundant life. The right way of life with solid, balanced truth about diet, exercise, foods, finances, marriage. This way of life is another vital proof of the true Church of God. SURE, I'm a Christian, but I'm not working at it very hard," said the businessman in casual cocktail conversation.
"Pray for us, brother Armstrong. We're Christians, but we're backsliders, having a hard time of it," was the plaintive plea of a letter recently received.
Millions upon millions of people feel they are "Christians." That is, they are believers in the "Christian religion," as opposed to the beliefs of Islam, Buddha or Orthodox Judaism.
But once beyond the vague label of "Christian," all similarity stops. "Christians," it seems, come In every conceivable size, reshape and ideal. One can claim the name of Christ while believing and practicing the very antithesis of another who claims the same name. "
Christianity," having undergone an evolution in meaning from the first century to the maze of confusing, conflicting beliefs and practices claiming the same title today, is an increasingly difficult word to define. Hundreds upon hundreds of organizations claim the title "Christian" — yet they may be so diametrically opposed to one another, not only in theology and theory, but in active internecine warfare, as to constitute the bitterest of enemies.
In Search of Christians Today, as "belief in the Bible" seems to be gaining ground, dozens of the more bizarre among all so-called "Christian" groups have emerged. Some are ultramilitant, actively attempting to defy existing institutions or even other "Christian" organizations, while others are pacifistic, isolationist and prefer to live a secluded communal life.
But suppose you were to conduct an experiment. By using the Bible definition of "Christian" — meaning the plain, simple, impossible-to-be-misunderstood scriptures clearly defining just what is meant by the name — suppose you embarked on a search to find such people; to find, literally, the Church of which Jesus Christ is living Head.
How would you do it?
Where would you look?
Should such a search begin in the large, multimillion-member organizations whose steepled edifices dot the land? Among tiny, struggling missionary groups? Among the various newly organized youth groups claiming to be God's own children? Where?
How would you select the country of your research? — Among which races, nationalities, political or religious persuasions would you search?
Would you begin looking in health food stores, at sports events, at communal settlements tucked away in secluded hills, among primitive tribes, or in busy offices on Wall Street?
To the Pharisees of Jesus' day, such a search for a true " Christian" (though the pharisaical religion never acknowledged Christ and was most certainly not "Christian") would be simple.
Any yardstick, ruler or other measuring device would do. Simply compare the breadth of the phylacteries. Take a look at all the religious deeds noted thereon. Check to find out whether the man indeed fasted "twice in the week," carefully tithed of mint, anise, and cummin (Luke 18:12; Matt. 23:23), and most especially, looked with utter contempt and disdain upon people of lowly status in life whose righteousness was of an inferior brand.
During the Middle Ages, the search for a true Christian would have been equally simple. Look for the sign of the cross, the flashing blade of a blood-soaked sword catching the glint of the dying sun as it was dismembering the body of yet another "infidel." Look into the dungeons of medieval "Christianity," where hapless victims were put to death on the rack or burned at the stake. The true "Christians" of that day could be found ringing a town square of a tiny village hamlet, their eyes protruding in sadistic delight at the death cries of an alleged "witch," as the hooded executioner tossed his blazing torch into the pile of branches at her feet.
Yardstick Religion All down through history it has been the same.
True believers? True "Christians"? Where to find them — how to search — where to begin?
Simple. You do it with calipers, measuring tape, a yardstick, a stopwatch, or with binoculars — or so it would appear, if you were to listen to some militant voices.
Find a "true Christian"? Simple. Check his diet. Notice the clothing. Pay special attention to the sideburns, hair length and facial hair.
Peep curiously into the creases around the eyelids to see if there is the faintest touch of makeup there. Search pantries, closets and kitchen shelves.
See if you can find any "pagan abominations," like soda crackers, potato chips (which may have been fried in hydrogenated oil — ugh!) or a bottle of Alka-Seltzer.
Searching for a "true Christian"?
Take time out for several dozen plane flights back and forth across the country. Notice carefully the passengers. Wait until you find one who, after takeoff and the "No Smoking" sign has gone out, whips out a well-marked Bible, adjusts his reading glasses and begins to read studiously, all the while making obvious red-and-blue marks with a flourish. Obviously, this fellow never has time to study his Bible at home, or in church services, or in private Bible study in his motel room when he travels; and even more obviously, he would not be found dead with such pagan literature as up-to-the-moment news magazines, or even a novel, in his possession — and so, in order to be a proper "light" to the world, he tries desperately to create the impression that he is a religious fanatic.
Some "true believers" are identified by shaved heads and long robes, while others are identified by huge beards, flat-brimmed hats, square-toed shoes and a rejection of all twentieth-century life.
A Balanced Christian Life Unfortunately, it seems one of die most truly difficult tasks confronting members of God's true Church during this modern age is living a balanced Christian life.
But, difficult or not, that balanced way of life is, according to your Bible, one of the most powerful single proofs of God's true Church!
Jesus plainly warned, "Ye shall know them by their fruits"! In condemning the pharisaical self-righteousness of a group of bigoted hypocrites who plotted his own murder, Jesus continually pointed to the fruit of the pharisaical way of life, as well as the false doctrine of the Pharisees.
They were the epitome of "outward righteousness" during Jesus' day. While Jesus Himself was accused by the self-righteous Pharisees of being a "gluttonous man and a winebibber," simply because he attended banquets and did enjoy a glass of wine now and then, Christ plainly showed the supercilious snobbery of the egomaniacal Pharisee was nothing but a hollow gong, a clanging cymbal, the braying of a jackass in the wind for all his hollow ceremony, pretentious dignity and ostentatious alms-doing. Jesus continually showed the Pharisees to be a pack of snivelling curs, a snarling mongrel group of hate-filled, murder-plotting hypocrites who loved to appear righteous in their daily postures, but who refused to live a righteous way of life!
But Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who promised to lead His people into all truth, also fully intended that a true Christian should be a wise, sound, fully balanced and mature person emotionally, mentally, psychologically and spiritually!
The Apostle Paul told Timothy: "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (II Tim. 1:7).
A Fine Line Balance is a knife's edge. In a chaotic world of conflicting ideals, rapidly changing moral values, and chaotic disarray of standards, it becomes all the more difficult for a sincere person who is striving to live a truly Christian life to maintain that precarious equilibrium!
But God's true Church will be learning the lesson that you cannot "measure yourself' by careful comparison with the personal lives of others — that you do not enter into God's Kingdom by judiciously drinking apple juice, taking a shot of rose-hip tea now and then, avoiding white crackers at all costs, chewing twenty times before swallowing, and feeling driven, haunted and guilty if you do not "meditate" at least an hour a day!
God's true Church will know, and will practice, the soundly based biblical truths about correct diet, balance and soundness in right amounts of exercise and recreation, a wholesome and loving attitude toward people in the world who are "sinners," maintaining the balance that is loving a sinner without condoning his sin!
God's true Church will understand the right approach to marriage and the whole panorama of how to live a happy, full, abundant, yet spiritually dedicated life! Jesus said that He came that we might have life and have it more abundantly!
Many scriptures fully explain Jesus did not mean this to be interpreted in the amount of material goods or physical abundance — but the full, rounded, exciting and happy life (yes, a Christian is commanded even to rejoice in tribulation!) that the New Testament clearly teaches.
Christianity a Way of Life Believe it or not, Christianity is a full-time job! It's a profession, not just a "belief." It's what you DO — all the time, not what you do now and then, or when the mood strikes you, or when the social pressures build to the point of unbearable degree, thus sending you off "to church" once or twice a year, or to "confession" for a fresh shot of righteousness to replace the faded, dulled coating you're presently wearing.
Strange, that millions of professing "Christians" do not seem to know that Christianity is a way of life! It's a way of thinking, breathing, acting, talking, walking, dressing, working, playing, loving — a way of doing!
The true Church of God, the Church of which Jesus Christ is Head, living Head, will be living that way of life which Jesus brought!
The Shocking Sermon on the Mount Christ's teachings concerning love of enemies, "turning the other cheek," and the precepts of the "Golden Rule" are so well known they seem a commonplace, almost casually repeated part of modern-day "Christianity."
Millions of professing Christians hear sermons preached from the famous "Beatitudes" of Matthew the fifth chapter. They are inspired, encouraged, perhaps a little chagrined now and then, as they listen to beautifully delivered, carefully phrased, sanctimoniously pronounced dissertations about the "poor in spirit," or "blessed are the merciful" or the "pure in heart."
But Jesus Christ knew His teachings would be watered down, spiritualized away and trampled underfoot in a maze of confusion. He knew, and forewarned, that men would profess His name — would claim to be "Christian," but would adamantly refuse to OBEY what He said!
"Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" asked Jesus (Luke 6:46). He said: "Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias [Isaiah] prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth ['amen, and amen,' 'hallelujah' a few times, and 'praise the Lord, man'], and honoureth me with their lips; but their HEART is far from me" (Matt. 15:7, 8).
Jesus knew people would "believe on Him," that they would adore His person, and pervert or ignore His message! "Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many" (Matt. 24:4, 5).
Continually, God's Word shows there is a huge, unbridgeable gap between those who profess the name "Christian" and those who are willing to live a Christian life!
Christ Spoke With Authority When Jesus Christ first spoke the words recorded in Matthew's 5th,
Believe it or not, Christianity is a full-time job! It's a profession, not just a "belief." It's what you do — all the time, not what you do now and then, or when the mood strikes you. 6th and 7th chapters, people were shocked by what He said! It seemed the very antithesis of all previous religious teaching — yes, even the teachings of Moses, and most specifically the added plethora of rules and regulations which constituted the "Judaism" of Christ's day.
His message of mercy, love, forgiveness — of turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, and knowing, in your heart, that even hating another person constitutes murder in God's sight was shockingly different to the Pharisees and other sectarian leaders.
Christ's teachings were not intended as platitudes or mealy-mouthed pabulum for prettily spoken poetry and empty "sermons" of the inner-good qualities of human nature!
Rather: "And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Matt. 7:28, 29).
A true Christian is a member of God's true Church! He must be a "member of the body" to be a true Christian! "For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones" (Eph. 5:30).
There is only one name given under heaven whereby men must be saved (Acts 4:12). Your Bible plainly says: "Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his" (Rom. 8:9).
"But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit [and as such, you will truly be 'His' — a member of His own body], IF so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you" (Rom. 8:9).
Paul said: "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular" (I Cor. 12:27).
Is Today's "Christianity" Really Christian? The disciples were first called "Christians" at Antioch (Acts 11:26).
The word "Christian," as applied to these men, meant something shockingly different than it means to the millions today! If you could know how utterly, totally, completely and absolutely different they really were, it would boggle your mind!
They kept customs almost universally abhorred by so-called "Christians" today! Their entire "lifestyle" was different! They kept God's true Sabbath — the seventh day of the week — proved both by many scriptures in the book of Acts, and throughout Paul's writings, and attested to by profane history! They observed God's true HOLY days, the ANNUAL Sabbaths. They dedicated their lives to doing the WORK of preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God as a witness to the dying civilization of their time.
History proves there was a total change in what "Christian" meant at Antioch, and what it came to be called by the third century! It took bloodbaths to change some of it — to force people, as the years went by, to abandon the customs Christ had taught, and that the early apostles had kept and taught others to keep!
Study into the "Quartodeciman" controversy sometime. See how it finally required pressure from the state to force people to quit keeping the Passover on the 14th of Nisan, just as Jesus Christ had set for an example, and exactly as the Apostle Paul had urged Gentile Christians!
Even before the close of the New Testament writings, Jude had to write: "... It was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ" (Jude 3, 4).
Turning Grace Into license From the very days of Christ until now, the continual movement to turn grace (forgiveness, unmerited pardon, mercy upon repentance) into lasciviousness (license — permission to do evil) has continued.
Today, millions of professing "Christians" seem to hate God's laws! Thousands of their ministers continually cry out against obedience to Christ's commands!
They say there is nothing you must DO, therefore calling Christ a liar when He said: "... IF thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments" (Matt. 19:17).
God's Word makes it clear that to be a Christian you must repent of having broken God's law! All have sinned (Rom. 3:23), and the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).
Christ paid that penalty by shedding His life's blood in our place. But acceptance of His shed blood for forgiveness of sins does not mean license, permission, to live in iniquity! "Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away everyone of you from his iniquities" (Acts 3:26).
Iniquity means lawlessness. Sin is the breaking of God's law (I John 3:4), and is the breaking of that law (in all of its points, as Christ magnified it and made it much more binding in the "sermon on the mount") for which we must repent! Peter said: "Repent, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).
By receiving the Holy Spirit you become a true Christian. "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit" (I Cor. 12:13).
Becoming a member of that body makes you a member of God's true Church! (I Cor. 12:18, 27.)
A Christian Must Be an Overcomer Once having repented of breaking God's law, the true Christian will be striving daily, with the help of God's Holy Spirit, to become perfect in character. "Be [become, Greek] ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). "Him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne" (Rev. 3:21). To LIVE the life of a true Christian, Jesus Christ said you must be OVERCOMING!
And while WORKS — works of whatever kind, physical, material, mental, spiritual (even keeping all the Ten Commandments perfectly) — cannot ever earn salvation, you must, nevertheless, overcome your own human nature — and that means bearing fruit in your private life; it means DOING, not just professing with the mouth!
James explains it: "So speak ye, and so DO, as they that shall be JUDGED by the LAW OF LIBERTY. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment" (James 2:12, 13).
"Showing mercy" is no hollow emotion — it is an act of life: whether giving of material goods to those that have need; helping accident victims, the aged, feeble, or sick; or granting instant forgiveness when wronged.
James goes on to say: "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not WORKS? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not WORKS, is dead, being alone" (verses 14-17).
James seemed to know endless arguments would arise between those who would seemingly be "willingly ignorant" of these simple truths — that they would argue for either faith alone or works alone!
He said: "Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works" (verse 18).
"Faith without works is DEAD" (verse 20), says your Bible.
Will a true Christian be producing works in his own private life?
Either he will be doing so — zealously growing, overcoming, giving, sharing, studying, praying, helping others — or he is simply not a true Christian!
A Christian's Trademark This living of a balanced, wholesome, zestful, happy, busy Christian life was intended to be a virtual trademark of God's true Church on this earth! John said: "And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him [which Jesus prophesied they would say: 'Oh, what a joy to know the lord', ad infinitum], and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.... He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk [live — a way of life], even as he [Christ] walked" (I John 2:3-6).
Peter, too, urges good works!
"Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your conversation [conduct] honest among the Gentiles [nations]: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation" (I Pet. 2:11-12).
One of the great proofs of God's true Church is the fact that its members are living their religion — FULL TIME!
Walk Worthy of Your Calling God calls it a profession! Like a chosen occupation of highly technical, skilled, intelligent expertise, Christ wants His true servants to be actively living by what He said!
Paul wrote: "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation [profession, job!] wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body [and ONLY one!], and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, ONE God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Eph. 4:1-6).
That way of life which Jesus came to live as an example, and to teach to His disciples, is required for a true Christian! Does it make any sense to believe a person may argue against his own Saviour, rebel and resist the Word of God, fight to have his "own way" as opposed to God's way, and still claim the name "Christian"?
Does it make sense to claim worship for Christ, and resist His plain and simple commands? Does it sound intelligent, or even rational, to appropriate the name "Christian," yet trample underfoot the whole way of life which Christ Himself lived and taught, and urged His true disciples to keep?
A Different Life-Style Continually, the persecutors, both from the ultra right (Pharisees) and from the ultra left (Sadducees and, later, followers of Simon Magus) of the religious spectrum of Christ's time, tried to convince their followers that the way of life the disciples taught was wrong!
It was the different "life-style" that caused such objections (Acts 19:9) and brought about such persecution! Are you careful to eat a balanced diet, without going into food faddism and vitamin fanaticism? Chances are you will be persecuted for it!
Want to live a balanced life in recreation, exercise, sleep and peace of mind — and, more importantly, do you have a Bible reason for it? Chances are you will be evil spoken of as a result!
If someone is taking advantage of you financially, cheating you, shortchanging you, or falsely suing you in the courts, and you choose to not only allow such mistreatment, but even offer him more, what do you suppose the comments will be?
If someone speaks horrible, incredible, distorted lies about you, and you choose to follow Christ's example and "answer them not a word" — choosing not to even dignify such slop with an answer - don't you realize the whole world will interpret your nonresponse as tacit admission of guilt?
If you search for Bible principles by which to conduct your business, work on the job, handle your personal finances, rear your children, conduct your marriage — people will persecute you for it!
But so what?
Didn't Jesus Christ say, "Woe be unto you, when all men speak well of you?" And doesn't the Bible command us to "rejoice in tribulation," and say, "Many are the afflictions of the righteous"? (Ps. 34:19.)
Spiritual Growth and Development God's true Church will be on a continual search for growth, development, maturity, improvement! God's Word says the ministry is for that very purpose in each local congregation. "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect [mature, margin] man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ... speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ" (Eph. 4:11-15).
"But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ," said the Apostle Peter (II Pet. 3:18).
Even as each individual member is commanded to grow, to develop, overcome, change, mature, so must the entire Church be growing, developing, overcoming, changing where proved wrong, and maturing!
This WAY of living, striving daily to OVERCOME — not only in the individual life of each member, but in the whole Church collectively, is a great proof of the true Church of God, of which Jesus Christ is the LIVING Head!
Jesus Christ promised He would build His Church (Matt. 16:18), remain at the helm of it (Eph. 1:22; 2:20; Matt. 28:20), and gave it a great reason for being, a great job to do.
Next month, we'll see, in proof number six, the entire picture of how Christ governs and rules His Church, and why He established such a way of government!
(To be Continued)