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Core Christianity: Tough Questions Answered

God’s Spirit Is Working in the Church {Lord’s Day 21}

by William Boekestein posted May 26, 2022

This article is part of our weekly series, “Our Life’s Comfort: One Year of Being Shaped by the Scriptures.” Read more from the series here.

(54) Q. What do you believe concerning “the holy catholic church”?
A. I believe that the Son of God through his Spirit and Word,out of the entire human race, from the beginning of the world to its end,gathers, protects, and preserves for himself a community chosen for eternal lifeand united in true faith.And of this community I am and always will bea living member.

(55) Q. What do you understand by “the communion of saints”?
A. First, that believers one and all, as members of Christ the Lord, have communion with him and share in all his treasures and gifts.Second, that each member should consider it a duty to use these gifts readily and joyfully for the service and enrichment of the other members.

(56) Q. What do you believe concerning “the forgiveness of sins”?
A. I believe that God, because of Christ’s satisfaction, will no longer remember any of my sins or my sinful nature which I need to struggle against all my life. Rather, by his grace God grants me the righteousness of Christ that I may never come into judgment.

“I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Just six words. It seems like the Apostles’ Creed has much less to say about the Holy Spirit than it does about the Father and the Son. But what if we understood everything that follows to be a consequence of the Spirit’s ministry? Remember, the Creed is divided into three parts, one for each divine person. The Spirit, our Sanctifier, transforms us by applying to us every benefit designed for us by the Father and earned for us by the Son.

Only by the Spirit’s work do God’s children enter a holy fraternity (54), enjoy supernatural fellowship (55), and experience the forgiveness of sins (56).

The Spirit Makes Believers Members of God’s Church

Each of the Creed’s three words—“holy catholic church”—are important.

  1. God’s people are the church, the gathering of believers whom the Father has given to the Son through the Spirit from the world (John 6:37). The church is God’s new creation, Christ’s bride whom he pursues, defends, and protects.
  2. The church is catholic, or universal. Because God “shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34), Christ gathers a people from the entire human race from the beginning to the end of the world (Rev. 5:9). But even the truly catholic church has boundaries—the word also means “orthodox.” We must accept as brothers all those—but only those—whom Christ has “united in true faith.”
  3. The church is holy. “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4; cf. 1 Peter 2:9). Every child of God is a saint (Eph. 1:1), literally “a holy one” who practices true holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).

A right view of the church helps us avoid two contrasting errors. We must not neglect the church. The baptisms in Acts tell us that those who came to trust in Jesus were also initiated into life with a new family, Jesus’ church (1 Cor. 12:13). “No one ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself, regardless of his status or condition.”[1] But neither may we put confidence in our church membership. Without true faith in Jesus, church membership becomes an empty shell. The church is a community chosen for eternal life that we receive by trusting Jesus.

But how does it function like a body?

The Spirit Gives Believers Beautiful Communion

To understand Christian community we must affirm two truths. First, fellowship is a gift from God (Eph. 2:13). “Christian brotherhood is not an ideal but a divine reality.”[2] It is not first about what we do; it is a reflection of who we are: a body of individuals unified by a common history, character, policy, interest, and activity. Second century theologian Justin Martyr wrote that believers in the church form “a single soul.”[3]

Second, fellowship is also a duty of every believer. J.I. Packer writes, “Most churches today have passengers rather than practitioners.”[4] But an uninvolved church member is a contradiction in terms. We must use our gifts “readily and cheerfully” for others. You won’t serve exactly like anyone else in your church. And that is just what God wants! “We have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function” (Rom. 12:4). God graciously gifts some to teach, others to serve, encourage, give with greater liberality, show mercy, or practice unusual cheerfulness (6–8). And the discovery and use of spiritual gifts doesn’t need to be complicated. We simply need to “look to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4), using our gifts “for the service and enrichment of the other members.” The ways we can do that are as varied and numerous as the cells and organs in a healthy body (1 Cor. 12:14–26). The mantra of surveillance states regarding problems is, “See something? Say something.” In the church it should be, “See something? Do something.”

Sadly the body isn’t yet fully healthy. But its members are forgiven.

The Spirit Frees Believers from the Guilt and Penalty of Sin

Christianity only makes sense if you understand sin. “Sin” literally means to miss the target of God’s law. We sin by coming short of God’s standards, doing what God forbids, or failing to do what God requires. Genuine Christians know the shame of having “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Sin always has repercussions. It threatens our joy, stunts our growth, separates us from loved ones, and injures our victims. Sin also has eternal consequences. If not dealt with, sin will separate us from God. The “wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).

But “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). Sin can be forgiven! Christ came to call sinners to repentance and to embody the gospel promise of restored life with God. By pure grace God charges the sins of believers to the account of his dear Son. He will no longer remember our sins (Micah 7:19). Instead, he gives to us Christ’s righteousness. God “made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

When God forgives, he takes away all the guilt and shame that sin creates. He begins to counteract the alienation and other consequences caused by sin. In this life you’ll never be perfect; neither will your fellow church members. So believers must imitate God’s forgiveness of us, being “kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another” (Eph. 4:32). And we must truly struggle our whole lives against our sins and our sinful nature, choosing life by putting to death the deeds of the body, with the Spirit’s help (Rom. 8:13).

What does my new life as a believer look like? Church tells us who we are. Fellowship links us with fellow pilgrims. Forgiveness comforts us in our fallenness. To say it differently, “the ‘holy catholic church’ is ‘the communion of the saints’ only because there is “the forgiveness of sins.’”[5] By his Spirit Christ is building a church by turning sinners into saints who are able to enjoy true communion as a foretaste of our future heavenly life together.

[1] Belgic Confession, 28.

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: HarperCollins, 1954),26.

[3] Fred Klooster, Our Only Comfort, 2:689.

[4] J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 1990), 221.

[5] Klooster, Our Only Comfort, 2:711.

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