“It’s not religion; it’s relationship!” Ever heard that before? Perhaps you’ve even said it. You may be surprised what Jesus said about it.
The first page of the New Testament tells us of how Jesus was born of a virgin to be the deliverer and the King of kings. Some people at that time were under the impression that He had come to deliver them from the Romans, and therefore, become their new, replacement king. And I suppose if I didn’t have the rest of the New Testament to explain it to me, I would probably feel the same way. But no, the Scripture says He came to save all people from their own sins (Matthew 1:21).
There were those He came to save who were unrighteous—the prostitutes, the drunkards, the rebels. There were those He came to save who were self-righteous—the generally good people, often religious, who thought they were fine without taking Jesus seriously. Both people needed saving. He wanted to transfer them from the domain of darkness into the kingdom He had come to establish.
Unlike the popular expectation, this kingdom was not going to be regional; it was going to be worldwide. It was not going to replace the current, temporary kingdom of Rome; it was going to infiltrate all kingdoms for all time. Jesus would be the King to fulfill all those promises the people of God had read about in the Old Testament Scriptures.
And so, unsurprisingly, Jesus’ first and primary subject when He went around preaching the gospel was the good news of the kingdom. He told the people, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 4:17). It would be a true kingdom, just not a traditional one. In the same breath that He promised the kingdom, He also promised His church. Yes, according to Matthew 16:13–19, the kingdom He came to establish—the one that could never be destroyed—was His church.
There is no escaping this when you read the New Testament. But you wouldn’t guess it by listening to religious people today, or maybe I should say spiritual people. Often today you hear, “Give me Jesus, but forget the church.” “I’ll take the man, not the plan.” “It’s all about relationship, not religion.” Several years ago, I said things like, “I can be just as close to Jesus without having anything to do with the church. In fact, I can get even closer to Him by staying away from church.” That’s the natural outflow of our individualistic society. We think we can do life on our own.
People forget this beauty: I’m not perfect. Neither are you. I have sinned. So have you. Yet, He still invites us to be a part of His family—citizens of His kingdom, members of His body, His church. Some people find this as a reason to reject His church. “The church is full of people who sin!” they say. And there’s always room for one more. Although our King is perfect, He accepts us into His church even when we are not. That shouldn’t be a reason to reject His plan, but to praise Him for His kingdom and church!
If we had to be perfect to be part of His family, who of us would qualify? And no, I am not speaking of a particular denomination. Neither is Jesus. What we’re talking about is the church that Jesus established in the first century and was described in the pages of the Bible centuries before men and women started creating denominations.
Although it’s not popular to think so today, the church—God’s kingdom—is an integral part of God’s plan, and it has been since before the foundation of the earth. The word church is used over 100 times in the Bible. I hope that impresses you with how much the church matters to God.
Acts 20:28 reminds us that God purchased the church with His own blood. Behold, the most expensive transaction in the history of the world. Would you give your blood for something that doesn’t matter? Of course not. To God, the church—His kingdom—is worth His blood. What should being a part of the family of God be worth to us?
Remember, Jesus came to earth for two primary purposes: to rescue us and to establish His kingdom.
He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.Colossians 1:13–14
In His kingdom, there is redemption. In His church, there is forgiveness.
Don’t misunderstand me. We are not redeemed or forgiven by His church. We are redeemed and forgiven in His church, His body.
In other words, when He adds you to His church, that means He has rescued you. You’re no longer in the domain of darkness. You’re safe in His kingdom.
And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.Ephesians 1:22–23
There is one body… (Ephesians 4:4).
Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. (Ephesians 5:23)
Do you see what the Bible is teaching us? Jesus’ church is His body. He has only one body. And He saves that one body, His church. That’s our relationship to Him. We are His body. He is our head. We are the saved. He is the Savior.
And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.Acts 2:47
You see, you cannot be saved and not be a part of the church, because the church is made up of the saved. I used to say I can be closer to Jesus without having anything to do with the church. How wrong I was! When I rejected Jesus’ church, I rejected His body, where salvation is.
If you’re trying to do this disciple thing alone, the Bible says that’s impossible. We are supposed to be in this together, members of His body, His church, “For we are members of His body” (Ephesians 5:30) and “we are members of one another” (Ephesians 4:25).
Read the letters of the New Testament and see all the commandments to the church as a whole. You can’t obey those by yourself. For instance:
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.Hebrews 10:24–25
You cannot please God while rejecting His plan for His church.
What do you think about Jesus and His kingdom? Are you a product of today’s man-made religion that says, “Give me the Man, but not the plan?” Or Are you like the Samaritans in Acts 8?
When they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.Acts 8:12
When they heard about Jesus’ authority and HIs kingdom (His church), they wanted to be born anew. How about you?