Salvation Brings Fellowship
The churches of Christ Greet You (Romans 16:16)
Before fellowship can exist between individuals, it must first be established with God. We cannot jointly work together in unity and harmony as brethren unless we are in the family of God. We must believe and do what God tells us in order to establish fellowship with Him. And, only correct belief can produce correct action or conduct. That being the case, whatever the Bible requires for one person to establish fellowship with God, it also requires for everyone. This is evident from Mark 16:15-16, "Go preach the gospel to EVERY creature, he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved;" Acts 2:38, "Repent and be baptized EVERY one of you…" Acts 17:30, God "...now commands ALL men everywhere to repent."
There are several things the Bible requires of us in order to establish fellowship with God:
The prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31ff is quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12 to show it is now fulfilled. After saying that Israel did not follow the covenant God had made with them, he says, "For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and on their heart also will I write them: And I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his fellow-citizen, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: For all shall know me, from the least to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and their sins will I remember no more."
Though the Law of Moses was written on stones, the law of God now resides first in the minds and hearts of people; it all starts with belief. Under the Law of Moses, one became a member of God's family by being born an Israelite. One was a Jew by genetics. Thus, one became a member of God's people by birth and then later came to know God when they were old enough to understand what they were taught. Under the Gospel, no one is in the family of God until they come to "know" God; "all shall know me, from the least to the greatest." What this shows is that we cannot enter into fellowship with God until we come to "know" Him, whatever that involves.
Hebrews 11:6 says that "without faith it is impossible to please him, for he that cometh to God must believe that he is and is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him." Only the God revealed in the Bible is acceptable, the God who is the creator of heaven and earth. This is how He is characterized and identified in many places in Scripture. We cannot think of Him as the pagans did. Paul said that there are Gods many and lords many but to us "there is one God the father" (1 Corinthians 8:5-6). Idolatry has been around for most of man's existence and has been constantly condemned (Romans 2:1ff, Acts 17:16-31).
There are religious groups that claim they believe in the God of the Bible and even use Bible terms. However, when they get through describing the God they are talking about, they don't believe in the Bible God and thus cannot please God and cannot come to Him.
Mormonism uses Bible terms and insist that they believe in God and the Lord Jesus. As far as their "steps" to salvation, they insist on the preaching of the "Gospel," faith in God and Christ, repentance and immersion in water for the remission of sins. The terms are correct and the order as well, but everything breaks down at the beginning. The Mormon gospel and the Bible Gospel are not the same, and what a Mormon is required to believe is not biblical. The god of Mormonism was once a human just as we are, living on a world in this universe in subjection to the god of that world. As a reward for his faithfulness, he was elevated to god-hood and given this earth to populate and rule as god to us. The aim of every Mormon male is to become a god and have a world of his own to rule. That is not the Bible God and hence nullifies everything a person might do afterward.
Oneness Pentecostals insist there is only one person who is God. He existed as one God in the Old Testament, came to earth as Jesus and went back to heaven. Various other religious groups have their own peculiar slant in their description of God, but when they are through with what they mean by "God," he is not the Bible God.
Jesus said in John 17:20-21, "Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word; that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee that the world may believe that thou didst send me." We can well understand the word preached by the apostles and have proper belief in Christ. As a result, fellowship is established with both the Father and Christ and with one another. But, the standard is truth, the word of God.
In John 8:24, Jesus says, "except ye believe that I am he, ye shall die in your sins." The pronoun "he" has been added by the translators. The verb phrase is a double nominative so that Jesus is actually saying, "except ye believe that I, I am." The same verb forms are found in verse 58 of that chapter as well when Jesus says, "before Abraham was born, I am." This is the declaration of God's statement to Moses on the mount, "I am that I am, tell them that I am hath sent you" (Exodus 3:14). God said to Moses that "this is my name." God was to be known by that name to Israel. He is also presented as I Am in several other Old Testament passages, such as Isaiah chapters 42 and 44. When Jesus identifies Himself with the same name, I Am, we must recognize His claim of God-hood.
Further, Jesus places Himself on an equal plane with the Father as to His nature: "But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh even until now, and I work. For this cause therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only brake the Sabbath, but also called God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:17-18). Jesus had the same rights as God the Father and could also work on the Sabbath if He wanted to do so.
In John 10:24-36, Jesus answered the Jews questions about His being the Christ or not. He then declared in verse 30 that "I and the Father are one." The Jews immediately understood what He meant by that and took up stones to stone Him. Jesus asked them, seeing He had performed many good works, for which one of the works were they going to stone Him. Their reply was, "For a good work we stone thee not, but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, maketh thyself God." The Jews, like some of our modern day religionist, thought that Jesus was just a man. Yet, they understood that He was claiming to be God, and they were right about that much!
Various errors about the person of Christ have been offered through the centuries. Gnosticism, in the first century, was an early position that viewed Jesus as just an angel or a spirit creature, depending on the particular Gnostic group one looked at. First and Second John were written specifically to combat the Gnostic heresies and John refers to them as the antichrist; in fact, John said there were many antichrists. If one denied the Son, then he also was denying the Father; by confessing the Son, one had the Father also. No one can believe error on the person of Christ and expect to please God.
John and Jesus both preached "repent and believe the gospel." Jesus said to His apostles, "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, he that believeth not shall be condemned" (Mark 16:15-16). Romans 1:16-17 says, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is revealed a righteousness of God from faith unto faith: as it is written, the righteous shall live by faith."
One cannot be saved unless he believes the Gospel of Christ. And, there was and is one and only one Gospel of Christ. In Galatians 1:6-9, Paul says that some had departed to "another gospel." He adds that though "we or an angel from heaven preach any gospel unto you than that which you received, let him be accursed." People make up doctrinal positions from human wisdom that they claim is the Gospel of Christ, but only that one revealed in the New Testament is acceptable with God.
The Gospel of Christ contains facts that must be believed that can be simply stated as the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus for our sins. This is listed for us in First Corinthians 15:1-4. Paul first says that he is going to make known to them the Gospel that he had preached to them. It is the Gospel they had received, "wherein also ye stand, by which also ye are saved, if ye hold fast the word which I preached unto you, except ye believed in vain." The gospel word had been preached to them and they had believed it. As a result they were saved by it and were at that time "standing in" it.
Paul then says, "For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures..." These facts are revealed in many scriptures, by prophecy in the Old Testament, the description by the apostles, and revelation by the Holy Spirit. There is no salvation without His death, burial and resurrection and we cannot be saved by His sacrifice without first believing these facts.
Having believed in God, Christ, and the Gospel facts, one must recognize he is a sinner in need of the salvation offered. John says, "If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and do not the truth...If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" (1 John 1:6, 10). Repentance toward God follows a recognition and conviction that we have sinned. The people on Pentecost were told to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). The list of sins in Galatians 5:19ff shows the specific things a person cannot do and have eternal life. Romans 6:1 says we cannot continue in sin that grace may abound.
Baptism is essential to salvation and one must understand and undergo baptism. One cannot believe just anything about baptism; sprinkling and pouring will not do nor will baptism without proper belief preceding it. The things we have already seen must be believed before a person is baptized. In Acts 19:1-7, Paul found certain men who had already been baptized but with "John's baptism," which was for the remission of sins. However, after Pentecost one had to be baptized in the name of Christ. Though these men had believed correctly and taken each step in order, they had been taught wrongly in regard to baptism and thus could not be baptized right. Paul baptized them again. Baptism is for salvation from past sins, for the remission of sins, to get into Christ, to be united with Christ, to put on Christ, to be a child of God (Mark 16:15-6, Acts 2:38, Romans 6:1-6, Colossians 2:12, Galatians 3:26-27). Thus, proper practice follows proper belief.
Obeying the Gospel not only takes us out of something but puts us into something. Out of darkness into light, out of the power of Satan into service to God, out of sin into salvation, out of the world into fellowship with God, etc. (Acts 26:16-18). First Peter 4:17 says, "For the time is come for judgment to begin at the house of God: and if it begin first at us, what shall be the end of them that obey not the gospel of God?" Paul gives the Holy Spirit inspired answer to Peter question in Second Thessalonians 1:7-9.
The house of God is composed of those who have obeyed the Gospel. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus says that baptism is "into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." That means into fellowship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. First Corinthians 12:13 says that "in one spirit were we all baptized into one body." That body is the church. We must know what we are getting into as much so as what we are getting out of. People must be taught what their new relationship is going to be before they ever get into it.
When these things are in order, fellowship with God is established. One arises to walk in a newness of life in Christ (Romans 6:1-6, 17-19), but we must continue in that life. Remember the statement of John, "If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another and the blood of Jesus his son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). Our fellowship with God depends on our continuing to walk in the light with Him.