In Part 1, I talked about the institution, the orginization itself. The group of people, the denomination as a whole. Of course, it is the people, the individual members of the body of Christ that make up the church. I would like to focus on the individual, you and me. I would like to use myself as an example, and see if you can recognize yourself or someone you may know.
I have attended different churches over the past forty years, and as I stated in Part 1, I have observed many different rules and regulations that I have been encouraged to follow. Very early in my Christian walk with God, I was very ignorant about the Bible, and I tended to take the word of my church leadership. They, having been Christians for years, having attained a vast knowledge of the Bible and God, would surely not lead me astray. They would not stand in their place of leadership and teach or preach to me something that wasn't biblically fact. I believed that anyone in the pulpit would only teach the truth and only the truth. I tried and tried to be obedient to the teachings, but I found that I could never measure up to all the rules and regulations that were laid out for me to follow. Whenver I broke one of the rules, I felt very guilty. I felt that I could not measure up to the standards that the church had set for me. I felt that I was always sinning and that I could never do enough or keep enough of the rules to please God and the church. I began to believe that it was no use to even try to please God, because no matter hard I tried, I failed.
I noticed over the years, as I attended different denominations, each had their own set of rules and regulations that I was to follow if I wanted to be a part of their organization. I also noticed that many times these rules were different depending on the denomination. What was not allowed in one church, didn't matter in another church. I saw many descrepancies in the interpretation of scripture from one church to another. I could not understand, that if the Bible only taught one truth, how there could be so many different beliefs and denominations that believed so differently. Some churches believed it was ok to speak in tongues, other churches believed that was wrong. Some churches encouraged you to worship freely, i.e. praising God vocally, raising your hands or movement of your body as an expression of worship. Others discouraged you to move at all. Some churches would only allow the KJV Bible to be read, and discouraged any other translation.Some churches didn't care, as long as it was the Word of God. Some churches taught once saved, always saved, others taught that you could become lost and resaved again. It was all very confusing to me.
As I grew and matured in my personal relationship with God and allowed the Holy Spirit to speak to me as I read the Word of God, I slowly learned some truths that set me free from this church bondage. One of the first things I learned was to allow the Holy Spirit to teach me truth.
1 John 2:26-27
26 I have written these things to you because you need to be aware of those who want to lead you astray. 27 But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you all things, and what he teaches is true-it is not a lie. So continue in what he has taught you, and continue to live in Christ.
I have also learned not to believe everything that comes out of the pulpit. I listen with an open mind, but I search the scriptures for myself just as the Bereans did in Acts.
11 And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to check up on Paul and Silas, to see if they were really teaching the truth.
Something else I have learned over the years is that the Lord does not judge me by my appearance as the church and world do. He looks at my motives and intentions.
1 Samuel 16:7
7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t make decisions the way you do! People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at a person’s thoughts and intentions.”
1 Corinthians 4:5
5 So be careful not to jump to conclusions before the Lord returns as to whether or not someone is faithful. When the Lord comes, he will bring our deepest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. And then God will give to everyone whatever praise is due.
Also see: Pr. 16:2; Pr. 21:2, 27; Jer. 17:9-10; Jer. 20:12; James 2:3-4; James 4:3; Rev. 2:23
I do not look to the church to be assured that I have a personal relationship with God. The church does not know. Only God and I know about our personal relationship. Contrary to popular opinion no one knows what my relationship with God is like. Not my wife and family, not my co-workers and not the church. My actions can be observed by others(my outward appearance), but only God sees my motivations and intentions. Those are within, and I know of no man or woman that can read my thoughts or intent. Therefore, I worry not what others think about me or my actions. I do worry about what God thinks about me. I am accountable to God (not man or church) for my actions.
My personal relationship(my salvation) is based upon what God's Son, Jesus, did for me at the Cross. I believe that He died for me personally, for my sins. Because He died for me, I want to live for him and serve him. I do not worry about losing my salvation, or believing I can do what I please because once saved, always saved. That issue is irrelevant and without merit. I know I am saved and I try each and every day to please and be obedient to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I don't worry about whether I should or shouldn't speak in tongues. I don't worry about whether I carry the KJV Bible. I don't worry if the world or the church says it is wrong for me to have long hair. That matters not to God. I have come to learn that he examines my innermost thoughts and intentions, searches my heart and most secret motives, and He knows whether or not I am trying to please Him or myself and the world.
I have learned as Paul did to not be a people pleaser, but to please God.
10 Obviously, I’m not trying to be a people pleaser! No, I am trying to please God. If I were still trying to please people, I would not be Christ’s servant.
I know now what it means to be a true disciple:
21 “Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but they still won’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The decisive issue is whether they obey my Father in heaven. 22 On judgment day many will tell me, ‘Lord, Lord, we prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Go away; the things you did were unauthorized.’
34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
37 Jesus replied, “ ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
It means being obedient to God by following his example and loving my neighbor. My neighbor is anyone around me that I come in contact with each day. I make an effort each and every day to live a life that is pleasing to God in order to give Him all honor praise and glory. When I do fail and fall, I pray to God for his forgiveness and mercy. Forgiveness and mercy that I give to those around me, just as God gives to me. I am willing to forgive and accept others whether or not they fit in with my lifestyle or beliefs. Oh, but if only the church would not be so condemning and judgemental and do the same.
How does a true child of God act?
43 “You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and on the unjust, too. 46 If you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
27 “But if you are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. 28 Pray for the happiness of those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other cheek. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. 30 Give what you have to anyone who asks you for it; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. 31 Do for others as you would like them to do for you.
32 “Do you think you deserve credit merely for loving those who love you? Even the sinners do that! 33 And if you do good only to those who do good to you, is that so wonderful? Even sinners do that much! 34 And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, what good is that? Even sinners will lend to their own kind for a full return.
35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them! Lend to them! And don’t be concerned that they might not repay. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to the unthankful and to those who are wicked. 36 You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.
1 John 4:9-13
9 God showed how much he loved us by sending his only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love. It is not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.
11 Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love has been brought to full expression through us.
13 And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us.
1 John 4:15
15 All who proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God.
1 John 4:20
20 If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we have not seen?
If I call myself a child of God, I must love others as God does, for God is love.(I John 4:8) This is a supernatural love that we can only obey because of the Holy Spirit that lives within us. We can on accomplish this when we surrender our will to God and allow His will through the Holy Spirit to work in and through us.
Having a personal relationship with God is the most important and lifechanging decision I have ever made. It is also very very important to God.
6 I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices. I want you to know God; that’s more important than burnt offerings.
And most of all show love, compassion and mercy to others. As I focus on knowing and pleasing God, I have no time to worry about what the world or the church thinks.