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Jesus Christ loves His Bride—the Church! He “nourishes and cherishes it”! Jesus has a close relationship with the members of His Church, describing them as “members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones” (Ephesians 5:25-30 Ephesians 5:25-30 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: 30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
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). “Also Christ is head of the church,” providing loving care and leadership (verse 23).

The members of His Church, because they are still human, are far from perfect or sinless. But for those who are submitting and committing themselves to the Master's rule over their lives, Jesus is very busy “washing” them to spiritually transform them into “a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing . . . that [it] should be holy and without blemish” (verses 26-27). Nothing is more miraculous or awe-inspiring!

What and why a Church?

The Bible describes the Church as a loving and zealous community of believers—those who commune and communicate with each other and strive for unity! God wants cooperative coworkers to work together in the gargantuan task He has given His Church.

Consider the circumstances of the early New Testament Church: “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common” (Acts 2:44 Acts 2:44And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
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, emphasis added throughout). In the King James Version of the Bible, the English word together appears 484 times. God likes  togetherness!

What did Jesus say would be a primary identifying sign of His followers? “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 John 13:35By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.
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).

In the Bible, love includes unselfish actions of service, not only emotions. How can Christ's disciples serve one another if they don't know each other and aren't together? Hebrews 10:25 Hebrews 10:25Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching.
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emphasizes the need of “assembling of ourselves together . . . and so much the more as you see the Day [of Christ's return] approaching.”

The preceding verse, Hebrews 10:24 Hebrews 10:24And let us consider one another to provoke to love and to good works:
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, stresses the need to “stir up love and good works” among one another. Through Christian fellowship with other believers, we do just that—encourage, strengthen, comfort and help one another. God knows that it's difficult to survive spiritually on our own—that we need the support and encouragement we get from being with others of like mind.

The focus of church services should be about worshipping God and learning more about His Word and how He wants us to live. Paul describes the Church as “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 1 Timothy 3:15But if I tarry long, that you may know how you ought to behave yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
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, New International Version). The Church is the primary source through which God's truth is taught and learned.

But another focus of the Church is on giving of ourselves to one another. Notice this essential evidence of spiritual conversion: “We know that we have passed from [spiritual] death to life, because we love the brethren . . . By this we know love, because He [Jesus] laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:14 1 John 3:14We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brothers. He that loves not his brother stays in death.
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, 16).

The most common fulfillment of “laying down our lives” is that we give of our time for our brethren.

Members of God's Church should be striving to become like Jesus Christ, but are far from that perfection. Each member is a “work in progress,” endeavoring to be “transformed” by God and gradually “conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 12:2 Romans 12:2And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
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; 8:29).

Every member is at a different point in his or her spiritual progress. Sometimes problems arise just like we read about in the New Testament. But we know that God expects those He has called to His Church to work on themselves and to love, forgive and encourage others.

How does one become a member?

Surprisingly, an individual cannot “join” the Church on his or her own. First, God must call or draw you to Christ (John 6:44-45 John 6:44-45 44 No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that has heard, and has learned of the Father, comes to me.
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). Then you become a member of God's Church when “the Spirit of God dwells in you,” as Paul put it. He explains that “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” (Romans 8:9 Romans 8:9But 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.
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). “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (verse 14).

Paul also wrote, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized [immersed, inserted] into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13 1 Corinthians 12:13For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
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). That “one body” is “the body of Christ” (verse 27). Christ's “body . . . is the church” (Colossians 1:24 Colossians 1:24 Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church:
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).

How does one receive the Holy Spirit? As was explained in the last article in this series, once a person believes the Bible, has repented of his sins and has been baptized “for the remission [forgiveness] of sins,” he will “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (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.
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) through the laying on of hands of God's ministry. The Holy Spirit sets apart or sanctifies the convert as a new child of God. That is why the Bible frequently refers to members of God's Church as saints (1 Corinthians 1:2 1 Corinthians 1:2To the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both their’s and our’s:
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).

Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians, “For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2 2 Corinthians 11:2For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.
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). God's forgiveness cleanses us of sin and the indwelling of God's Spirit imparts God's righteousness. This is how we become saints or spiritual virgins betrothed to Christ.

At the return of Christ, the saints will be raised in a resurrection to eternal life and glory (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brothers, concerning them which are asleep, that you sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18 Why comfort one another with these words.
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; 1 Corinthians 15:50-54 1 Corinthians 15:50-54 50 Now this I say, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither does corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
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; Revelation 20:6 Revelation 20:6Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection: on such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
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). The “marriage of the Lamb” to His betrothed Bride will then take place (Revelation 19:7 Revelation 19:7Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife has made herself ready.
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). The Church of God will then become part of the Kingdom of God !

Defining the Church and its mission

Jesus said that part of His earthly mission was to “build My church,” and He began by training 12 disciples and other followers (Matthew 16:18 Matthew 16:18And I say also to you, That you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
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). The Greek word here translated “church” is ekklesia. This explains why the English word ecclesiastical means “relating to the church.”

This Greek word means essentially “those called out to an assembly”—which indicates that someone has authority over them to summon them to the assembly. Church services are called “holy convocations” in the Bible (Leviticus 23:2 Leviticus 23:2Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, Concerning the feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts.
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). The word “convocations” means commanded assemblies, and they are “holy” because it is God who has commanded or convoked them. This means that God expects His people, whenever possible, to be in attendance when He convokes an assembly.

Jesus gave orders to His disciples (and all future disciples) regarding their mission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20 Matthew 28:19-20 19 Go you therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatever I have commanded you: and, see, I am with you always, even to the end of the world. Amen.
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).

Jesus summarized this aspect of the mission another way when He told Peter to “feed My sheep” (John 21:15-17 John 21:15-17 15 So when they had dined, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, love you me more than these? He said to him, Yes, Lord; you know that I love you. He said to him, Feed my lambs. 16 He said to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, love you me? He said to him, Yes, Lord; you know that I love you. He said to him, Feed my sheep. 17 He said to him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, love you me? Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, Love you me? And he said to him, Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you. Jesus said to him, Feed my sheep.
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). Later, Paul reminded the elders to “shepherd the church of God ” (Acts 20:28 Acts 20:28Take heed therefore to yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood.
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). This primarily means to teach and preach the Word of God, stressing the practical application in our daily lives (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.
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; 3:14-17; 4:2).

It's clear from other scriptures and the apostles' examples that the Church is also commissioned to fulfill Christ's prophecy that “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14 Matthew 24:14And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come.
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; see also Matthew 10:7 Matthew 10:7And as you go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.
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; Mark 1:15 Mark 1:15And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent you, and believe the gospel.
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; 16:15; Luke 9:2 Luke 9:2And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick.
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, 60; Acts 28:30-31 Acts 28:30-31 30 And Paul dwelled two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in to him, 31 Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.
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).

The United Church of God, an International Association , publisher of The Good News, is deeply dedicated to fulfilling this twofold commission—to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God in all the world and to shepherd and nurture the members of God's Church. Our recognition of and commitment to this instruction is reflected in our logo: “Preaching the Gospel, Preparing a People.”

Preaching and practicing what the Bible teaches

We in United Church of God fully believe that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16 2 Timothy 3:16All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
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). And Christ's followers must be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22 James 1:22But be you doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
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; Revelation 14:12 Revelation 14:12Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.
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).

The Bible is full of many warnings to beware of deceitful teachers, such as those who preach about the Messenger but don't teach His message, much less the rest of the Bible (2 Corinthians 11:3-4 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 3 But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. 4 For if he that comes preaches another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if you receive another spirit, which you have not received, or another gospel, which you have not accepted, you might well bear with him.
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, 13-15; Matthew 7:20-23 Matthew 7:20-23 20 Why by their fruits you shall know them. 21 Not every one that said to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? and in your name have cast out devils? and in your name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess to them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.
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; 24:4-5, 11, 24-25). Much of today's “Christianity” is syncretism, meaning a blend of ideas from many ancient religions. Jesus expects His religion to be the same in this 21st century as it was in the first century (Hebrews 13:8 Hebrews 13:8Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.
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).

The Church as described in the Bible obeys all of the Ten Commandments. This includes the Fourth Commandment about remembering the day that God made holy at creation (Exodus 20:8-11 Exodus 20:8-11 8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shall you labor, and do all your work: 10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates: 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: why the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
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; Genesis 2:1-3 Genesis 2:1-3 1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. 3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
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). All places in the Bible that mention the weekly Sabbath mean the same thing—the seventh day of the week, which is Friday sunset to Saturday sunset.

Therefore our weekly worship services are on the biblical Sabbath. This is the day God made holy. No human being can make any day holy or transfer the Sabbath to another day. And there is not a shred of evidence that God ever took the holiness from the seventh day and transferred it to some other day. (Our free booklet Sunset to Sunset: God's Sabbath Rest gives abundant proof that the Sabbath is still God's holy day and that God gives great blessings to those who reverence it, celebrate it and obey Him in this manner.)

We warmly invite all who are interested—and your children—to visit our Sabbath services any time. Or you may desire to talk with one of our ministers first. Contact us for the location of the nearest congregation or pastor.

The next and final article in this series will show how to use all the biblical tools to continue your spiritual progress—so that, as Paul said in Ephesians 4:15 Ephesians 4:15But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
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, we “may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ.” GN

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