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The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5)

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The well-known second chapter of the book of Acts relates the story of the birth of the New Testament church. The church was born in a dynamic display of power that was a dramatic witness to its divine origin. The community of believers multiplied as the power of God was evidenced by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The disciples of Jesus Christ were filled with zeal. The sermons of the apostles proclaimed Christ and his resurrection from the grave. The living Jesus Christ and the power of his resurrection ignited the church.

On that first New Testament Pentecost, the apostle Peter bridged the gap between the old and the new by proclaiming this outpouring of the Holy Spirit to be the fulfillment of the words of the prophet Joel: "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams" (Acts 2:17).

Nearly 2,000 years later, Christians still band together as a community of believers. The Holy Spirit still bonds and unites Christians as it did in the first century. And, in common with our New Testament family, we are conscious of our link with the past.

Just as Peter declared that the New Testament church had its roots in Old Testament Israel, so too, Christians today must be established and founded in the faith of our first-century forefathers.

Paul wrote: "Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit" (Ephesians 2:19-22).

Paul gives us a clear historical foundation for the church. He traces the Christian heritage, the roots to which every believer is connected, to the New Testament community of believers.

The identifying sign

The primary sign that identifies Christians is found in John 13:35. After washing his disciples' feet, Jesus said, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." Love, concern for others, doing good to our brothers and sisters, sharing and caring for those who need us, is central to Christianity.

We are enabled to love one another through Jesus Christ (1 John 4:7-9). Christians are different because Christ lives in them. Their lives bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The real difference is inward, not outward.

As Christians, we need to ask ourselves about particular beliefs and distinctive practices that make us unique. For many people, their nationality, race and professions are key signs of identification. But Christians, children of God, do not establish their primary identity through nationality, race or profession. For Christians, the primary key must always be love.

A parable of identification

Parables are a literary and teaching device usually designed to emphasize one or two major themes. Generally, parables are not predictive prophecy, nor does every element have a specific or literal meaning.

The parable of the sheep and goats teaches us how Christians can be known by their selfless acts of giving and service. This parable identifies love as an attitude that reveals itself in the actions we take to serve and care for others. Jesus' parable of the sheep and the goats can be understood as a parable of identification.

The principal difference between the sheep, who inherit the fullness of the kingdom, and of the goats, who do not, is expressed in the loving actions of service by the sheep. The goats failed to feed, clothe and visit the "least of these" (Matthew 25:31-46).

In addition to being identified by their love, believers accept the supremacy and sovereignty of Jesus as Lord. Believers no longer live for themselves, but, they live to do the will of God.

Paul said: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). By believing in, accepting and receiving Jesus Christ, the Christian submits to his Lordship. Christ is our ruler. We submit to him and follow him.

Everything that identifies believers comes back to our acceptance of and identification with Jesus Christ. The fact that we are called Christians draws attention to our desire to find our fundamental identity in him. As a result of our identification with Jesus Christ (or rather, Jesus Christ identifying himself with us), we are:

Reconciled to God. We are told in 2 Corinthians 5:18, "All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation."

Forgiven and cleansed. "We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life" (Romans 6:4). "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and. the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin" (1 John 1:7).

Born again, from above. Speaking to Nicodemus, Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again" (John 3:3).

Sharing our faith

Being an active part of the church is vital to the spiritual health and growth of the Christian. Paul tells us: "It was he [Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-13).

The church provides a necessary framework and structure for each member of the Body of Christ. The church has been given the responsibility of making disciples and of teaching them (Matthew 28:18-20). Together, as the Body of Christ, we can accomplish this mission.

Three thousand people were baptized as a result of Peter's sermon in Acts 2. The church began when the believers came together to be instructed, to fellowship and to share their lives. They were able to mature as disciples of Jesus Christ as a result of being joined to the community of believers.

Jesus had instructed his disciples, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Jesus expects his disciples to share their belief.

As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, Christians must not hide their light (Matthew 5:14-16). Luke records Jesus as saying: "No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead he puts it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light" (Luke 11:33).

The challenge

Christians must share the love that dwells within them. Jesus Christ's commission to the church in Matthew 28:19-20 clearly identifies the Christian responsibility to proclaim the gospel: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."

The challenge to adhere to New Testament teaching and the responsibility to make disciples apply to all whom God calls. And Jesus promises to be with us and live in us, strengthening and empowering us: "Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (verse 20).

On that first New Testament Pentecost, when Jesus Christ founded the church, the apostle Peter preached a sermon that personally confronted each of his listeners. He challenged observant Jews, gathered at Jerusalem from all over the Roman world, to believe in and accept Jesus Christ. He told them that Jesus is the Messiah. "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36).

The apostle Peter also told the assembly that the risen Jesus Christ could change their lives. After the people had heard Peter's appeal, they wanted to know how they should respond. "Peter replied, `Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call'" (verses 38-39).

Jesus Christ gave another promise to Christians of every generation since, when he said, "I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it" (Matthew 16:18). The church has survived, and will continue to survive, any and all attempts to overcome it. Christ, the head of the church, promises us that.

With that promise in mind, the Grace Communion International has committed itself to faithfully understanding and practicing the Christianity of the New Testament. We want to extend our help to you as you sincerely seek to worship and follow Christ. As the Holy Spirit leads you, we are committed to ministering to your spiritual needs.

May God bless and guide you as you seek him and his Son. Christ did found the church, and as we follow him, we should seek to find how we can more perfectly understand his will, and how we can "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18).

Silouette of a family

Christians are different because Christ lives in them. Their lives bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control
(Gal. 5:22-23).