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Many people like Jesus, but they dislike the church. Jesus has a winsome personality, wise words, and a way with human relationships. All too often, the church doesn’t. Consequently, many follow Jesus; few join a church.
Acts 1:1-5 shows us why Jesus and the church are inseparable and how to realign the church with Jesus.
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Luke, who wrote these words, wrote two books. The Gospel (“my former book”) narrates “all that Jesus began to do and teach.” By implication, Acts narrates all that Jesus continues to do and teach. But in Acts, people are Jesus’ agents in history. He acts through them.
We cannot separate Jesus and the church, then, because Jesus does not. It is “my [Jesus’] church” (Matt. 16:18). It is “the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:27). It is “the bride of Christ” (Rev. 19:7). To separate Jesus from his church is theft, dissection, and divorce.
But how do we realign the church with Jesus when it is misaligned?
First, the church must be God-centered. Jesus’ message was “the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 4:43). This was the message he taught his disciples (Acts 1:3). And this was also the early church’s message (Acts 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:31). God must be at the center of our words and deeds.
Second, the church must be Jesus-focused. It must preach what Jesus preached. But it must also preach what Jesus did for humanity through his death (“suffering”) and resurrection. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Third, the church must be Spirit-empowered. We cannot speak Jesus’ message and proclaim the salvation that comes through him without the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which is an overwhelming experience of divine power (Acts 1:5, 8).
Fourth, the church must be relational. The church is not a building or an institution, it is a fellowship. Jesus demonstrated the nature of this fellowship by “eating with them,” i.e., his disciples. The church is a dinner party for friends.
And fifth, the church must be missional. During the forty days after his resurrection, Jesus gave “instructions” (literally, “a command”) to “be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). Whatever blessings of grace the church receives through Jesus, Jesus commands it to share with others. There must always be room for another friend at the table.
God-centered, Jesus-focused, Spirit-empowered, relational, and missional: This is the paradigm for the church, in Acts and in every age. Who wouldn’t join such a church?