What is the defining mark of being part of God’s Church? And we are not talking about membership in the local church here. What is the one thing, that if it is missing, you are not part of God’s Church? Is it membership in the local church? Or baptism by water? Is it good behaviour? Thankfully the Bible tells us:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 NRSV
The presence of God’s Holy Spirit is the defining mark of Church membership, it is the one thing that if it is missing from you, you are missing from the Church. The Holy Spirit is intimately connected with the identity of the Church, and from this fact flow a few implications:
- Because the Church is a Holy Spirit thing, your background is no barrier. “Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” Your past should no more keep you from His Church than it should keep you from taking a glass of water.
- Because the Church is a Holy Spirit thing, membership involves a new identity. Your identity as a person does not change when you join an organization. When I joined the YMCA, I was still very much me, though I hoped to become a lighter me. When you join God’s Church, the Holy Spirit indwells you and your identity changes, to child of the King of kings.
- Because the Church is a Holy Spirit thing, membership is with family, not an organization. Once I figured out that I could get just as much exercise by walking to the YMCA and back than driving there and going in, I opted out. Though you may “opt out” of an organization, or even of family gatherings, you cannot “opt out” of family itself.
- Because the Church is a Holy Spirit thing, we throw open a wide and world-wide invitation. In Acts 10:44-48 we read about the moment the apostles realize God’s invitation was going further than theirs, His Holy Spirit being the proof.
- Because the Church is a Holy Spirit thing, the “organized church” defies organization. The Church is not as organized as some might think or hope, it is very disorganized and therefore greater than you think! Some want to organize it like a fine English garden, having great control over which flower goes where. But in fact God’s Church is more like the wildflowers that bring beauty throughout the earth quite apart from our meddling.
- Because the Church is a Holy Spirit thing, we need not stress needlessly over church membership roles. Commitment to an organisation is great, but it should never overshadow commitment to God Himself. I don’t tend to know who is a member of our church and who is not. And should we ever need precision on such matters due to a contentious vote or powerblock, we ought not to be voting anyway. We had better take to our knees in prayer instead.
- Because the Church is a Holy Spirit thing, it may be broader than we think. There are many denominations that I would never join for I find them too goofy in their theology or practice, or I don’t care for their clergy dental plan. But there are people in every Christian denomination who are Spirit marked.
- Because the Church is a Holy Spirit thing, the Church is more narrowly defined than many people think. According to 1 Corinthians 12:3, no one “can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” God’s Church is a confessing Church, we confess that Jesus is Lord. God’s Holy Spirit enables and inspires that confession which reverberates down through the centuries: “Jesus is Lord.”
- Because the Church is a Holy Spirit thing, water baptism is your profession of what God has already done in you. Baptism by water does not make you right with God. God makes you right with God. Baptism of water follows baptism by God’s Spirit (see again Acts 10:44-48).
- Because the Church is a Holy Spirit thing, you are not just a member of the Church, you are the Church. Where is the Church in the world? You might point to buildings, and at certain times the Church may be found gathered where you are pointing, but the Church always is wherever His people are found.
So if the Church is a Holy Spirit thing, how do I know if I have the Holy Spirit? Should I be able to point to speaking in tongues, or work miracles, or have a feeling of God’s presence, or know my spiritual gift? Again we look to the Bible for the answer:
Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:3 NRSV
The defining mark of the Holy Spirit’s presence in your life is the ability to honestly say “Yes, Jesus is Lord.” We hopefully will go on to other marks of the Spirit’s presence, especially the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22,23), but it starts with a simple confession of trust, it starts with repentance.
So let us conclude, or perhaps begin something with this: Are you a member of God’s Church? Do you know why you should confess Jesus as Lord? Because He is. Do you know why you can confess Jesus as Lord? Because of God’s grace. Do you know why you would ever want to confess Jesus as Lord?
because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9