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“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10 1 Peter 2:9-10 9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light; 10 Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
American King James Version×
).

Jesus Christ founded the New Testament Church in the city of Jerusalem on the biblical festival of Pentecost 50 days after His resurrection from the dead.

Between the time of His resurrection and the founding of His Church, Christ appeared to His apostles over the course of the first 40 days, further enlightening them concerning the nature of the coming Kingdom of God (Acts 1:3 Acts 1:3To whom also he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God:
American King James Version×
). During that time “He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4 Acts 1:4And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, said he, you have heard of me.
American King James Version×
). He explained to them, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8 Acts 1:8But you shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come on you: and you shall be witnesses to me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth.
American King James Version×
).

Later He inspired the apostle Paul to explain the crucial importance of the receiving of the Holy Spirit in the process of becoming a truly converted member of His Church: “Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead [symbolically] because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Romans 8:9-10 Romans 8:9-10 9 But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. 10 And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
American King James Version×
).

Through the dwelling of the Holy Spirit within Christians, Jesus Christ and God the Father actively participate in their lives to strengthen and inspire them in their obedience and service to God (Philippians 2:12-13 Philippians 2:12-13 12 Why, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God which works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
American King James Version×
).

Therefore the Church, the spiritually transformed body of believers, began when Christ’s apostles received the Holy Spirit, just as He had promised (Acts 2:1-4 Acts 2:1-4 1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat on each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
American King James Version×
). The Spirit of God instantly changed them. A great many who heard them realized they had received special inspiration and power from God.

The apostles at once began preaching to those gathered in the temple area in Jerusalem on that Day of Pentecost that Jesus of Nazareth was the long-awaited Messiah—or, in Greek, the Christ (Acts 2:36 Acts 2:36Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God has made the same Jesus, whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ.
American King James Version×
). They urged their listeners to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38 Acts 2:38Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
American King James Version×
).By the end of that day about 3,000 people were added to the Church (Acts 2:41 Acts 2:41Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added to them about three thousand souls.
American King James Version×
).

The Church that Jesus had promised to build had begun! Its members were repentant people who “gladly received” the truth of God (verse 41) and were baptized (immersed into water)—symbolizing their acceptance of the sacrificial death of Christ for forgiveness of their sins and the burial and washing away of their old, sinful ways.

The biblical view of the Church

As we examine the Church Jesus built, we see how the word church is used in the Bible. Throughout the Scriptures church and congregation refer to people, never to a building. The Church (the Body of Christ) or the church (a congregation of members of the Church) is made up of people called to follow Jesus Christ.

The concept of people assembling to learn the teachings of God is embedded in the writings of the Old and New Testaments. It is closely associated with one of the Ten Commandments, the law concerning the Sabbath.

During times of general obedience to God, the ancient Israelites assembled every Sabbath as a congregation. The seventh-day Sabbath (defined in the Bible as lasting from sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday) is a “holy convocation”—a sacred assembly. God ordained that “six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation” (Leviticus 23:3 Leviticus 23:3Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; you shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings.
American King James Version×
). The New International Version translates the same verse, “The seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly.”

The equivalent concept—a congregation of disciples assembling to learn God’s Word—was practiced by the earliest Christians. Notice Acts 11:26 Acts 11:26And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
American King James Version×
regarding the apostles Barnabas and Saul (better known as Paul): “So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples [Greek mathetes, meaning learners or pupils] were first called Christians in Antioch.”

The Church, then, is made up of disciples or students of Jesus Christ who convene to receive God’s instruction.

The Bible is the textbook for these students of Christ. Paul explains that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable … for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 2 Timothy 3:16-17 16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished to all good works.
American King James Version×
).

The teachers are the duly appointed elders of Jesus Christ who preach God’s Word (Romans 10:14-15 Romans 10:14-15 14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!
American King James Version×
; 2 Timothy 4:2 2 Timothy 4:2Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.
American King James Version×
). God holds them accountable for “accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 2 Timothy 2:15Study to show yourself approved to God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
American King James Version×
, New American Standard Bible) and for “being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3 1 Peter 5:3Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.
American King James Version×
; 1 Timothy 3:2-7 1 Timothy 3:2-7 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; 4 One that rules well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) 6 Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
American King James Version×
).

The Church, however, is far more than just a spiritual assembly of students who gather to be instructed for their own benefit.

The special people of God

The Church of God can best be described as the special people of God, called and chosen by Him to receive salvation (eternal life) as the children of God. Their hope and future are inseparably tied to the return of Jesus Christ.

God calls—invites—people from all walks of life to become His servants. The apostle Paul, however, observed that the proud and powerful rarely repent and become members of the Church (1 Corinthians 1:26-29 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 26 For you see your calling, brothers, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, has God chosen, yes, and things which are not, to bring to nothing things that are: 29 That no flesh should glory in his presence.
American King James Version×
). They tend to be more reluctant to forsake the sinful ways of the world.

Those who willingly respond to God’s call are sealed as His holy people by receiving His Spirit (Ephesians 1:13 Ephesians 1:13In whom you also trusted, after that you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that you believed, you were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,
American King James Version×
). The Bible frequently refers to them as the saints (holy people) or the righteous.

The apostle Paul explained that “Jesus Christ…gave Himself for us, that He might…purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14 Titus 2:11-14 11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, 12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; 13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; 14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
American King James Version×
).

The apostle Peter likewise calls members of the Church “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, [God’s] own special people…who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10 1 Peter 2:9-10 9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light; 10 Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
American King James Version×
). This harkens back to the role given to God’s nation of Israel in the Old Testament (see Exodus 19:5-6 Exodus 19:5-6 5 Now therefore, if you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then you shall be a peculiar treasure to me above all people: for all the earth is mine: 6 And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.
American King James Version×
).

Christians are special to God in the sense that they are cherished for their faith and obedience (Ephesians 5:24-29 Ephesians 5:24-29 24 Therefore as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. 25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. 28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord the church:
American King James Version×
)—not because God regards them as inherently more worthy than others (Romans 2:11 Romans 2:11For there is no respect of persons with God.
American King James Version×
; Romans 3:23 Romans 3:23For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
American King James Version×
).

As is clear from the tie to ancient Israel, the idea of a special people, chosen to be the servants of God, is not unique in Scripture to the Christian era. God inspired the introduction of the concept in the earliest pages of the Bible—well before the existence of Israel.

Since His creation of Adam and Eve, God has worked with particular people. Between the time of our first parents and the first appearance of Jesus Christ, God called and worked with many men and women, including the prophets.

God counts the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament among His special people. Jesus spoke of a time when “Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets [will be] in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:28 Luke 13:28There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.
American King James Version×
). The Church itself is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20 Ephesians 2:20And are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
American King James Version×
).

Hebrews 11 explains why certain outstanding people in the Old Testament were special to God. The traits they held in common were their obedience and their unshakable faith in their Creator.

The earliest roots of the Church

Ancient Israel, a nation descended from the patriarch Abraham, was, as already mentioned, also God’s holy people. Moses further told the Israelites, “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 14:2 Deuteronomy 14:2For you are an holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a peculiar people to himself, above all the nations that are on the earth.
American King James Version×
). They were God’s “congregation” (Acts 7:38 Acts 7:38This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spoke to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give to us:
American King James Version×
) or “church” (King James Version).

God promised Abraham in the first book of the Bible that he would be the father of a special, chosen people.

The Bible describes the extraordinary relationship between Abraham, Christ and the Church. The New Testament begins by reminding us that Jesus is the descendant of Israel’s King David and of Abraham (Matthew 1:1 Matthew 1:1The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
American King James Version×
)

Why was Abraham such a significant figure in the Bible?

Abraham, who lived almost 2,000 years before Jesus Christ, was the patriarch of the people of Israel through his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob, whose name God changed to Israel. We read of Abraham as “the father of all those who believe” (Isaiah 51:1-2 Isaiah 51:1-2 1 Listen to me, you that follow after righteousness, you that seek the LORD: look to the rock from where you are hewn, and to the hole of the pit from where you are dig. 2 Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah that bore you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him.
American King James Version×
; Romans 4:1-12 Romans 4:1-12 1 What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he has whereof to glory; but not before God. 3 For what said the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness. 4 Now to him that works is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. 5 But to him that works not, but believes on him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. 6 Even as David also describes the blessedness of the man, to whom God imputes righteousness without works, 7 Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. 8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. 9 Comes this blessedness then on the circumcision only, or on the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. 10 How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. 11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed to them also: 12 And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.
American King James Version×
). He shines as an example of faith in and obedience to God. Because of his obedience, God gave him a promise—a sacred covenant—that he would be the father of a great nation (Genesis 13:16 Genesis 13:16And I will make your seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall your seed also be numbered.
American King James Version×
; Genesis 15:5 Genesis 15:5And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if you be able to number them: and he said to him, So shall your seed be.
American King James Version×
; Genesis 17:2-6 Genesis 17:2-6 2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly. 3 And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, 4 As for me, behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. 5 Neither shall your name any more be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made you. 6 And I will make you exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come out of you.
American King James Version×
).

God’s promise to Abraham involved much more than the promise of many descendants. The apostle Peter reminded his Jewish countrymen of the importance of God’s promise to Abraham: “You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed’ ” (Acts 3:25 Acts 3:25You are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, And in your seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.
American King James Version×
; Genesis 22:18 Genesis 22:18And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because you have obeyed my voice.
American King James Version×
).

The apostle Paul explained that the promised “Seed” in the ultimate, spiritual sense is Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind: “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your Seed,’ who is Christ” (Galatians 3:16 Galatians 3:16Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He said not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to your seed, which is Christ.
American King James Version×
).

The spiritual heirs of Abraham

Only through Christ can anyone claim the eternal inheritance promised to Abraham’s seed: “And if you are Christ’s, then you are [also] Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29 Galatians 3:29And if you be Christ’s, then are you Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
American King James Version×
).

Christians, those who make up the New Testament Church, are Abraham’s spiritual descendants, being united in one body with the promised singular Seed, Jesus Christ.They are the heirs of the eternal inheritance promised to Abraham. This concept must be clear in our minds if we are to fully appreciate the biblically defined and sanctioned role of the Church Jesus Christ built.

One might ask: Are all of Abraham’s physical descendants—all descendants of the tribes of Israel—included in the seed that is Christ and His Church?

Notice how Jesus handles this question when confronted by some who, although descended from Abraham, rejected Jesus as the Messiah: “They answered and said to Him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham’ ” (John 8:39 John 8:39They answered and said to him, Abraham is our father. Jesus said to them, If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham.
American King James Version×
).

Not all of Abraham’s physical descendants followed his example of faithfulness and obedience. Paul explained: “I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption [or sonship as God’s children], the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises” (Romans 9:1-4 Romans 9:1-4 1 I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, 2 That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. 3 For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh: 4 Who are Israelites; to whom pertains the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;
American King James Version×
).

Paul explains that more is required to be counted among “the children of promise” than being physically descended from Abraham: “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham … Those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed [of Abraham]” (Romans 9:6-8 Romans 9:6-8 6 Not as though the word of God has taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: 7 Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall your seed be called. 8 That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.
American King James Version×
).

Israel and circumcision redefined

Two things stand out in these words of Jesus and Paul. First, only those who are the “children of promise,” those who “do the works of Abraham,” are considered to be Abraham’s spiritual seed as members of the Church Jesus built. Second, those in the Church have received the status of being the children of God. Therefore the Church is the “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16 Galatians 6:16And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and on the Israel of God.
American King James Version×
), the heirs of salvation.

Paul explains why the spiritual heirs of God’s Kingdom take precedence over the physical descendants of Abraham as the recipients of salvation: “For circumcision [the ancient sign of the covenant with Abraham’s physical descendants] is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision” (Romans 2:25 Romans 2:25For circumcision truly profits, if you keep the law: but if you be a breaker of the law, your circumcision is made uncircumcision.
American King James Version×
). Disobedience nullifies the value of physical circumcision.

“Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law?” (Romans 2:26-27 Romans 2:26-27 26 Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? 27 And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfill the law, judge you, who by the letter and circumcision do transgress the law?
American King James Version×
). People who are acceptable to God keep His laws.

“For he is not a Jew [in the context of the eternal inheritance promised to Abraham] who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God” (Romans 2:28-29 Romans 2:28-29 28 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: 29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
American King James Version×
).

The conclusion of the matter is that faith and obedience from the heart, not one’s physical parentage, are essential to please God. Only those who share Abraham’s heart—whose hearts are spiritually circumcised (Deuteronomy 30:6 Deuteronomy 30:6And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart, and the heart of your seed, to love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, that you may live.
American King James Version×
)—are the heirs of the spiritual promises made to Abraham. For this reason, salvation is available to people of all nations who are willing to be circumcised in the heart. It is spiritual circumcision of the heart, not physical circumcision of the flesh, that identifies the spiritual children of God.

God’s obedient people

Reaffirming the promise He made to Abraham, God told his son Isaac, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 26:4 Genesis 26:4And I will make your seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give to your seed all these countries; and in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;
American King James Version×
). Notice that God chose him for this honor “because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws” (Genesis 26:5 Genesis 26:5Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.
American King James Version×
).

Abraham’s attitude of obedience, coupled with his complete faith in God, distinguished him as God’s friend forever (2 Chronicles 20:7 2 Chronicles 20:7Are not you our God, who did drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and gave it to the seed of Abraham your friend for ever?
American King James Version×
). As the apostle James states: “Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’ and he was called God’s friend” (James 2:21-23 James 2:21-23 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 See you how faith worked with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? 23 And the scripture was fulfilled which said, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

Things haven’t changed. Those who are God’s “special people” still both believe and obey God, just as Abraham did. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth about tests of faith: “For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things” (2 Corinthians 2:9 2 Corinthians 2:9For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether you be obedient in all things.
American King James Version×
).

Paul explains that one’s obedience, like Abraham’s, must spring from within—from the mind and the heart: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled” (2 Corinthians 10:4-6 2 Corinthians 10:4-6 4 (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) 5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; 6 And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.
American King James Version×
).

God’s people are special to Him because they, like Abraham, trust Him and wholeheartedly obey Him.

Grafted into the Israel of God

We have already seen that Paul regarded the gentiles (non-Israelites) in the Church as spiritual Jews, even though they were not of Israelite descent physically and were literally uncircumcised. As Christians, they became an integral part of “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16 Galatians 6:16And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and on the Israel of God.
American King James Version×
).

What makes this remarkable relationship possible between gentiles and spiritual Israel? Paul wrote to gentile converts: “Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh, … were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near [to the commonwealth of Israel and the covenants of promise] by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:11-13 Ephesians 2:11-13 11 Why remember, that you being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; 12 That at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who sometimes were far off are made near by the blood of Christ.
American King James Version×
).

In Romans 11:13-21 Romans 11:13-21 13 For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify my office: 14 If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them. 15 For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? 16 For if the first fruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. 17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them partake of the root and fatness of the olive tree; 18 Boast not against the branches. But if you boast, you bore not the root, but the root you. 19 You will say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. 20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Be not high minded, but fear: 21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not you.
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Paul uses the analogy of an olive tree to represent God’s people (compare Psalms 52:8 Psalms 52:8But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.
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; Psalms 128:3 Psalms 128:3Your wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of your house: your children like olive plants round about your table.
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) to explain how converted gentiles can be members of the “Israel of God.” He shows that gentiles, “being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them [circumcised Israelites], and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree” (Romans 11:17 Romans 11:17And if some of the branches be broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them partake of the root and fatness of the olive tree;
American King James Version×
).

Paul plainly shows that God’s inclusion of gentiles in His special people does not mean He favors gentiles over Israelites. “For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?” (Romans 11:24 Romans 11:24For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?
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).

God plays no favorites. In this analogy, even those who are Israelites by physical descent have to be grafted into the tree—having been cut off due to disobedience. Thankfully, there is a way to be grafted back in—and that way is the same way available to gentiles.

Jew and gentile alike enjoy access to God’s promises through Christ: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 Galatians 3:28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
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).

The special and holy people of God, like Abraham, are obedient people—selected from all nations—who have chosen not to live by bread alone, “but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4 Matthew 4:4But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.
American King James Version×
). Their trust in God comes from the heart and is demonstrated by their obedient actions. God’s Spirit works in them to produce faith and obedience, making them special to God.

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