Inclusivity – Church

FBH InternationalName of JesusInclusivity – Church

To begin, I want to return to something I mentioned in our first program, but look at it from the opposite direction. As we began, we established that the Bible teaches that the name of Jesus is the only one by which we can be saved, that is, forgiven and restored to God. Some people would say that this teaching is too exclusive. Today, we’ll see how God reaches out to all people, regardless of any of the things that separate people and draws them all in. Then, we’ll think about the name of Jesus in relation to the church.

That is a lot to cover so we’ll get straight to it. Let me give you a little background first. What is simply called “Christianity” is actually the culmination of the “Judeo-Christian tradition.” The Christian faith was not “invented” around the time that Jesus came into the world. Rather, Christianity is built on the foundation of God’s relationship with the Jewish people. Throughout the Old Testament, even from the earliest chapters, there are references to One who would come and reverse the effects of sin, delivering people of faith from its clutches and renewing the entire creation to restore God’s authority over it, after the defeat of God’s great enemy Satan and those he is able to deceive.

While a casual reading of the Torah might give one the impression that God’s choosing of the Jews as His own special people left everyone else, referred to generally as “Gentiles,” irrevocably hopeless, that’s not the case. Here are a few Old Testament verses, which hint at an inclusive salvation which is for both the Jews and for everyone else:

In Genesis 12:2 and 3, God told Abraham, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

In Isaiah 6:6 and 7 we hear the words of God to His people the Jews: “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

In Malachi 1:11, we read: “My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD Almighty.

Those are just three of many verses which indicate that even though God chose the Jews as a nation with which He would have a special relationship, it was always His intention to save people from all nations. As you might expect, this idea is amplified in the New Testament, which is much clearer and has more examples. Let’s just look at a few of these to confirm the fact.

Matthew 12:21 says, “In His name [the name of Jesus] Gentiles will trust.”

Luke 24:47 records Jesus explaining “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

Ro 15:7 to 11 gives us these words of Paul, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name.” Again, it says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you peoples.”

Revelation 7:9 gives us a glimpse into Heaven at the end of the age: “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.”

All of these verses from both Old and New Testaments show God’s intentions to be inclusive, to draw people from every nationality and ethnicity, into His own vast kingdom. To do that, He sent His own Son, as the man named Jesus, to preach the coming of His Kingdom and to die for the sins of all people Jew and Gentile, so that justice might be satisfied and all could enter.

For this reason, throughout Christian history, believers have travelled the world, as Christ commanded, preaching the gospel and making disciples of people everywhere. Jesus made it clear that His death on the cross was for the benefit of all of humanity. Thus we read words like those recorded in the first chapter of John’s Gospel: “He came to that which was his own [the Jews], but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

So God receives all who believe in the name of Jesus, without regard to their ethnicity, nationality, race or any such thing. Because this is true, believers should receive others the same way. That is why in churches, like the one I’m part of, you’ll find people of many different ethnicities and social backgrounds. On one occasion, a quick count revealed that we had people in our church who were born in 7 countries from 4 continents. While contemporary examples may be helpful, let’s look at what the Bible says, because it is authoritative. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record Jesus teaching that anyone who receives a little child in His name received Him. Let’s look at those verses quickly.

Matthew 18:5 reads: “Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.”

Mark 9:37 says: “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”

Luke 9:48 says the same and expands a little upon it: “Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me. For he who is least among you all will be great.”

These verses underscore that when we receive even the least significant person, “a little child,” in Jesus name, we receive Him. Put another way, receiving or accepting others the same way God does, is indicative that we have a relationship with Him. Conversely, refusing to accept other believers, calls our relationship with God into question. That’s why Paul, in writing to the Romans told them: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:7).

It would not be fair to leave this without commenting that this general principle is conditioned by our day-to-day relationship with God. Paul told the Christians in Corinth to separate themselves from those who claimed to be Christians, but didn’t act like it. Here’s what He wrote:

1 Corinthians 5:9-13 I have written to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”

I mention this because of the fascination some people seem to have with Jesus’ command not to judge others. Indeed, the church has no right to judge those who are not part of it. That’s God’s job. But the church has both the responsibility and authority to judge those who claim to be believers while they act like unbelievers. So we accept other believers, who are not under church discipline, in Jesus’ name and thus demonstrate our own acceptance by the Lord.

Since we have shifted our attention to thinking about the name of Jesus in relation to the church, note with me that when Christians come together for spiritual purposes, they meet in His name. Keeping this in mind will help us maintain our focus on our reason for being together: to glorify the Lord, and lends authority to the gathering: we are gathered under His command and according to the rights He has given us.

I’m thinking of two verses in particular which underscore this.

Matthew 18:20 gives us words of the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

In 1Corinthians 5:4 Paul writes: When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present.”

The immediate context of both of these verses is the church discipline which I mentioned a moment ago. While this is a specific situation, we know that such occasions arise infrequently. Christians routinely gather in the name of Jesus, not just when there is trouble of some kind. Not only do we gather in His name, but we are identified by our association with the name of Jesus. We see this particularly in Paul’s greeting to the Christians in Corinth.

1 Corinthians 1:1-3 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ— their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Did you notice that Paul addresses his letter to “the church of God in Corinth” and then specifies a couple of characteristics about this group. Firstly, they were those who were sanctified by their position in Christ Jesus because they were called to be holy. Secondly, Paul broadened his audience to include a broader circle than just the believers in Corinth. So he added, “together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ— their Lord and ours.” This even includes 21st Century believers!

Notice that the church includes all those, everywhere who call on the name of Jesus. Once again we could return to the idea that the gospel is entirely inclusive — anyone who calls on the name of Jesus is accepted. But notice that the Christians in Corinth, indeed all Christians everywhere, have an association with the name of Jesus. They have called on that name for salvation. They have believed in that name. They submit to that name.

Many churches today have lost sight of that last idea. Notice that Paul specifically referred to the church as “all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ — their Lord and ours.” May I ask you “Who is your Lord?” Who is the one to who you give your loyalty, your allegiance, your devotion, your life? Many people would claim that they have called on the name of Jesus for salvation, yet at the same time, in practical terms, they reject Him as lord. They are their own lords. They make their own rules. They are chiefly concerned with only those things which are of benefit to them.

Calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation is a beginning, not an ending. Once we believe, we commit ourselves to following Him, submitting to Him, identifying with Him, in other words, acknowledging in all ways that we belong to Him, that He is our owner, or master. Outside of the church, such ideas are despised. Submission reflects poorly on the one to whom it is rendered — as a despot and to the one who submits — as weak, spineless, dependent, and other negative things.

Inside the church, submission to the Lord Jesus is worn as a badge of honour. From the 1st Century, Christians have been willing to suffer in all ways because of their link with that name. Allow me to gently warn you that identifying with the name of Jesus is not something to be done lightly. On one hand, salvation is free because Jesus took your sin on Himself. On the other hand, it is costly because we take Jesus’ righteousness on ourselves. I’ll close with a wonderful passage from the Revelation of John as he describes heaven.

Revelation 22:3 and 4 “No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.

The result of our face-to-face encounter with Jesus will be such that we will be identified by his name forever. His name will be on our foreheads.  I hope this is something you look forward to as I do.