Keeping Christianity Simple
By Jeff Shumate
Today there are about as many brands of Christianity as there are Christians. Each of these denominational organizations set out their beliefs as to how the Christian life should be. Many times in conversation I have had opportunity to witness, bringing up the fact that I am a Christian, and nine times out of ten the first response is, "Oh really, what type of Christian are you?" When I tell them that I am not really of any denomination, the next response is, "Oh, one of those types," which some people class as a denomination in itself! I try my best to explain that the Bible tells us that placing one's faith in Christ for salvation is what makes somebody a Christian, and nothing else (Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9). In other words, a person isn't a Christian simply because they belong to a church organization, a person is a Christian when he places his faith in Christ for salvation. Regardless of how man sees it, God doesn't view Christians in denominations. God sees all Christians as one body of believers, the universal church, which is the Body of Christ (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 4:4; Colossians 1:18). This is a basic truth of the Christian life, but generally is only understood through the spiritual eyes of a person who has already placed his faith in Christ for salvation.
In the midst of my pursuit for the truth over the years, I have become less and less interested in denominational viewpoint and more and more enticed by the simple truth found in the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures. Now, it is not the author's desire to challenge denominational viewpoint, but rather to bring to light some basic principles for the reader to digest and consider for his own growth in Christ. The purpose of this booklet then is to highlight some of the basics of the Christian way of life, as they are found in the pages of the Bible. Our hope and prayer is that this effort might fill just a little piece of the edification puzzle, for the Church-the Body of Christ.
The Body Of Christ
The Body of Christ is not a denominational organization. Instead, it is a living organism, which is made up of all those who have placed their faith in Christ (the death, burial and resurrection of Christ) for salvation. The moment we place our faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit places us into Christ and into the Body of Christ. In times past, the Nation of Israel was God's evangelistic tool for reaching a lost and fallen human race. Israel has been temporarily set aside though, and God is now evangelizing to the lost world through the Body of Christ (Romans 11:25-28). According to Bible prophecy, Israel will once again be used as God's channel for blessing, but currently God is using the Body of Christ for His channel of blessing, and He will continue to do so until the Rapture of the Church-which is His body.
12For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13For 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. (1 Corinthians 12:12-13 NKJV)
Before the apostle Paul, we would be hard pressed to find any reference to the Body of Christ or the grace life which believers of this present dispensation are commanded to live. To keep it safe and simple we will look to the letters written by the apostle Paul for insight concerning the Body of Christ.
1For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles-2if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, 3how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, 4by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), 5which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: (Ephesians 3:1-5 NKJV)
One distinct feature of the Body of Christ is that all believers are on equal footing, God no longer seeing any distinctions between Jew and Gentile. In fact, all those who are in Christ play an equally important role in God's plan for the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12), regardless of their earthly status or service to which the Lord has called them.
26For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28) NKJV)
Although there is much to be said about God's former and future dispensations and God's dealings with the Nation of Israel and the Gentile nations, that work will be reserved for another booklet. The focus of this booklet is on God's present dealings with the Body of Christ. Believers of the Body of Christ are "in Christ"(Romans 8:1; 2 Timothy 2:10), and certain pages of the Bible tell those "in Christ" how to live the Christian way of life.
Understanding The Bible
The Bible is the inspired Word of God. The Holy Spirit worked through over forty different authors and over a period of roughly 1,500 years to write the Bible. The way the Bible flows so perfectly from beginning to end, one can only conclude that it had to be written under divine inspiration. From the beginning of the Bible to the end, God's Word reveals Jesus Christ, and reveals God the Father's perfect plan for all mankind! In this present dispensation God speaks to us through His written Word.
16All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV)
12For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 NKJV)
The Holy Spirit illuminates the mind of the believer to the deeper truths contained in the Word of God. Without the illuminating work of God on behalf of man, we would not be able to discern the divine truth and eternal value found within the pages of the written Word of God.
8 But there is a spirit in man, And the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding. (Job 32:6 NKJV)
9But as it is written: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him." 10But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.13These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:9-14)
Without God, man would never be able to digest the spiritual truth, which is contained in the Bible. In this present dispensation, those who are in Christ, and in the Body of Christ, have the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). It is ever most important to walk in the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18; Galatians 5). When we surrender ourselves to the inner influence of the Holy Spirit, He will guide us in all of our affairs, including our understanding of the Holy Scriptures.
15Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)
Much could be said about rightly dividing the Word of God, but to keep it simple, this means discerning what part of the Bible is directly concerning the nation of Israel and what part of the Bible is directly concerning the Body of Christ. Remember, all scripture is profitable for the believer, but not all scripture is directional for the believer. For instance, if you wanted to know what God's plan is for the Body of Christ, you would not look to Genesis 2-3. There, you would definitely find a storehouse of valuable insight concerning the plan of God, but you would find nothing concerning the Body of Christ.
What if you went further into Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus, etc.? Would you find anything concerning the Body of Christ there? No! You would, however, find much valuable insight on God's plan for the Jews, and the Nation of Israel. In fact, if you took Paul's epistles out of the Bible, you would not know anything about the Body of Christ, or God's plan directly concerning the Body of Christ. You would, however, see how God's plan for the Jews and the Nation of Israel perfectly unfolds through the pages of the Bible. When you study in the Spirit you will see, it's as if God inserted the Body of Christ smack dab in the middle of the New Testament, interrupting all fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy just as it was about to unfold. This interruption seems to occur with the raising up of the apostle Paul, and what an extraordinary interruption it is. In Paul's epistles you will find God's plan for the Body of Christ, which temporarily divides God's plan for the Jews and the Nation of Israel (Romans 11:25-28). This interruption has lasted for 2000 plus years and will conclude upon the rapture of the Body of Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 2 Thessalonians 2).
So as you study in the Spirit, be careful to make the distinctions. Let the Holy Spirit guide you (1 Thessalonians 5:19). You should ask God, "Whom did you direct this book to when it was written? Is this directional for me, a member of the Body of Christ?" Either way, you should ask, how will this help me grow closer to Christ, and what lesson does God want me to learn from this? Hopefully, some of these principles will help you in your understanding of the Bible. As you begin to understand the differences, it should help you to appreciate the big picture and God's overall plan for the human race.
The Devil's World System
It's a necessity that we learn sound doctrine and even more necessary to rightly divide that doctrine in order to properly apply the Word to our daily life experience. As we trudge through life in the Spirit, Satan's personnel, ideals, and policies on planet earth are constantly bombarding us (1 Peter 5:8; Romans 12:2). It is of the utmost importance to know which portions of the Bible are related to God's dealings with the Nation of Israel and Gentile nations, and which portions of the Bible are dealing with the Body of Christ. The only way we can know is by rightly dividing the Word of God.
In fact, we are most effective in combating the wiles of the devil when we properly understand the Word of God (Ephesians 6:10-17). If we have no understanding of God's plan for mankind, as outlined in the Bible, then we are not to understand the plan of our adversary, the devil (Ezekiel 28:12-18; Genesis 3:1-5; 4:8; 1 John 3:12; Genesis 6:4-5; 11:3-4; Job 1:1-12, 2:1-7; Isaiah 14:12-15; 1 Chronicles 21:1; Psalm 109:5-8; Luke 22:3-5; Zechariah 3:1-2; Matthew 4:2-11; Mark 8:31-33; Luke 13:6; Acts 5:3; 1 Corinthians 7:5; 2 Corinthians 2:11; 11:14; 1 Thessalonians 2:18; 2 Thessalonians 2; Revelation 12:9; 20:2; 20:7). Behind each of these instances, Satan has a specific goal in mind-in thwarting God's plan as it unfolds throughout human history. Understanding God's plan helps us to understand Satan's counterfeit plan.
There are many evils in this world; we live on a very dangerous planet; many times it seems nothing more than a real life horror picture. Even in the safest of environments violence is on the increase. My secular job is in the commercial roofing business. I couldn't count how many times I have been out to fix a leak only to find out the problem is a barrage of bullets lodged in the roof top. By the way, bullet holes aren't covered under warranty!
The bullets we encounter in spiritual warfare are the constant battering of Satan's ideals and policies of this planet, which the believer and unbeliever experience on a daily basis and are enough to beat any man or woman down, sometimes until there is nothing left. Whether political evil or good, social justice or injustice, Satan's plan will never solve man's problem in this world. Satan's policies and ideals of this world only have face value and never look beyond at the eternal picture.
So what is the solution? God is the solution. Jesus Christ saves and brings life and edification. Spiritual men and woman in Christ are the tools used to shine light on any darkened life situation (Ephesians 4:11-16; Colossians 1:11-16). It is of utmost importance that we know which spiritual solutions are for us to be applied in our daily living. Without the spiritual phenomenon of grace assets the believer has at his disposal, and the application of those grace assets, the believer will likely face the inevitable and be thrown into a state of shell shock, or what psychologists have now termed "post-traumatic stress disorder." The unbeliever who has no spiritual tools and the believer who refuses to use his grace assets in problem solving are left at the mercy of whatever current solutions this world has to offer.
It is not the intention of the author to go over every grace asset that belongs to the believer in Christ. That work will be left for another booklet. In order to keep it simple, I would like to focus on the three basic areas, which make up the model Christian. These are the work of faith, the labor of love, and the patience of hope. The believers at Thessalonica, while far from perfect, marvelously displayed all three of these aspects of the Christian life. The apostle Paul says that the Thessalonians became an example to the known world around them at that time.
2We give thanks to God
always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers,
without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience
of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and
beloved brethren, your election by God.
our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power,
and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what
kind of men we were among you for your
you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the
word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit,
7so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who 8For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. 9For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:2-10 NKJV)
It is these three areas of the Christian life that provide witness to those who are lost in the world in which we live. When these aspects are displayed openly for the entire world to see, people begin talking and wondering about Jesus. It is through faith, love, and hope we are to reach others through the gospel of grace. When people see reconciliation with God through Christ in us, they just might seek this same reconciliation for their own lives (Romans 5:12; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21;Colossians 1:21-29).
Work Of Faith
Before we go into this, I want to say that no man has ever been justified by his own works (Galatians 2:9; Ephesians 2:8-9). Every man who has ever been justified and born into the family of God has done so through faith in Jesus Christ as he is revealed.
21But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,22even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26 NKJV)
8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV)
In this present dispensation, we are to place our faith in Jesus by believing in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. The cross-work of Christ is were it's at! In Paul's first letter to the Corinthians he tells us what gospel men are saved by.
1Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you-unless you believed in vain.3For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. (1 Corinthians 15:1-8 NKJV)
We tap into the gift of salvation by exercising two of our most valuable assets as human beings: free will and faith. While not everyone has freedom, everyone has free will, and every man can decide how he wants to use his own free will. Every human being has faith also. The question is: Where do we put our faith? Faith must always have an object. For the Christian that object is Jesus Christ. While the unbeliever doesn't place his faith in Christ, he places his faith in something. A child may put his faith in his parents. The athlete may have total faith in his coach. An alcoholic puts his faith in the bottle. The hard worker may put his faith in money, or his union, I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. Every person has, at some time or another, had his faith somewhere besides Christ. The real question is: has your faith ever been in the crucified and resurrected Christ?
This is exactly where the Thessalonians were when Paul first came to town preaching the gospel of grace (Acts 17). The object of the Thessalonians' faith was idols. Their lives were filled with addiction. But then something miraculous happened; many of the people at Thessalonica used their free will to turn away from idols and used their free will to place their faith in the "living and true God"-Jesus Christ.
Many of the Thessalonians took God up on His offer of salvation in Christ. In fact, the Thessalonians became so focused on Jesus that it became their focal point in life. When you think of work of faith, it means faith has become your occupation in life. Everything they did revolved around faith in Christ. This is what work of faith means. Has faith in Christ become your occupation in life? When faith becomes your occupation in life, everything you do, every decision you make is based on your faith and focus in Christ. Faith in Christ is the center of your life!
7For we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7 NKJV)
The opponents of Christ cannot fathom the Christian who lives his life in light of Jesus Christ's work on the cross. The antagonistic unbeliever can't stand the reality that God came in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, lived a sinless life, and died on a cross for the sins of the world, and instead of seeing decay, He was raised back to life (Acts 3:15; Romans 6:4)! I've been asked before how I can possibly live with such a blind faith, but my faith only appears to be blind. We have all the substance we need to see within the pages of the Bible. Jesus Christ is revealed to us through His written Word (1 Corinthians 2:16), we don't have to see him as hundreds of witnesses did after His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:5-8). It's all laid out in black and white for us; we just need to take it in and believe using faith. In fact, the Christian faith is not blind at all. Actually, through faith, the Christian sees more clearly than some of the best thinkers this world has to offer (1 Corinthians 3:18).
It is my hope that you may learn to live your life in light of your faith in Christ. This life living faith is definitely something to be applied and developed through one's own life and growth in Christ. As you exercise this type of faith in your life, you are sure to begin to grown in Christ likeness. During this process of growth, service will be placed before you, which can be accomplished by living a life of faith.
Labor of Love
Many times people get so focused on the fact that we cannot work for our own salvation they loose sight of the fact that work or Christian service is very much a part of the Christian way of life. The moment we place our faith in Christ for salvation God makes us a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15). God actually created us new in Christ to accomplish good works.
10For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10 NKJV)
Living a life of faith in Christ, and walking in the good works designed for you is how you work out your own salvation. Paul told the Philippians to do this.
12Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:11-13)
In other words, God has given you this wonderful life in Christ, so get in tune with Him and His plan for your life. Let your life be a life of fulfillment. Salvation is eternal, but time is short. Utilize your salvation in time to fulfill God's plan for your own life in Christ.
In eternity past, God designed good works for each person to accomplish for Him in accordance to His master plan. God designed for me some good works to accomplish, one of them is writing this booklet. Lord willing I will finish this, but this is my job; what is yours? You see, you can't write my booklet for me, and I can't write your booklet for you. God so specially designed good works that can only be accomplished by the one each work was designed for. This is why it is ever so important to walk according to the Spirit. We must let the Spirit guide us in all things!
13For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 15But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! 16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. (Galatians 5:13-17 NKJV)
25If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Galatians 5:25 NKJV)
We have been made free in Christ; the only question is how will we choose to use our new found freedom? There are two choices, we can either use our liberty as opportunity for the flesh or we can use our liberty to serve one another through Spirit-produced love (Galatians 5:13). When we think of labor of love we need to understand that this is laboring in the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). The choice is ours to make through the use of our own free will and the exercise of our faith.
If faith in Christ is our occupation (work of faith) we are sure to use our liberty in a responsible way in service to others through love. This is how we serve Christ, by walking in the Spirit, accomplishing the works God set out for us. Labor of love can come in many different forms. Serving Christ could be studying your Bible or evangelizing or to setting up chairs for Bible study. When a Christian is obedient to influence of the Holy Spirit, labor of love is accomplished. Labor of love, then, is God's handy work channeled through the yielded believer in Christ.
Where labor of love is concerned, one must never diminish the importance of his own work to be accomplished in the Spirit. Your efforts may at times seem to be little, fruitless, or unimportant, but I assure that if you are led by the Spirit to do something, you better do it because it is part of the master plan! When laboring in love, we, in obedience, follow the influence of the Holy Spirit, leaving the results to God (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). Labor of love is not about seeing the fruits of your labor; it's about being obedient to the will of God for your own life-growing in Christ likeness, and serving in the Spirit, and working out your own salvation in Christ.
This type of life is not necessarily the easy road-it will involve suffering for Christ's sake (Acts 9:16). But, Christ is the only road that leads to a happy ending. So while we live our life in Christ