In my travels, I often run across literature with titles like “The marks of a true church” or “How to recognize a New Testament church.” I won’t claim to have read all of them, but the ones I’ve seen fail to do what they claim to do. That is, they don’t focus on the things the Bible says about what makes a church a true church.
Yesterday we talked about online behavior and spiritual realities, how our behavior on the Internet affects us spiritually. That doesn’t just go for what we do on the computer; I think we need to see that how we treat others affects who we are, as well as making a statement about who we are.
The big “mark” to look for, of course, is love. That can sound trite, yet the Bible repeatedly identifies that as the most important thing. If what we’re doing doesn’t lead us to love, doesn’t produce love, doesn’t reflect love, then what we’re doing isn’t godly. It’s that simple. Again, I know that Jesus got angry and Paul wrote some harsh things, but none of that gives us license to proceed in a way that doesn’t reflect God’s nature. God is love.
We also need to be looking for the rest of the fruit of the Spirit. A Spirit-led life will produce the things listed in Galatians 5:22-23. And we will pursue those things, as a church, or we will be a carnal, worldly church.
None of that impedes our obeying God and seeking to do His will. But if in that pursuit of God pleasing we quit following the Spirit, we will never achieve our goal. You can’t “do the right things” without the fruit of the Spirit.
That’s why we need the big picture. That’s why we need theology. Focusing merely on behaviors won’t get us there. We need to look at the spiritual realities behind the behaviors.