Summary: Spiritual life in the true church is much simpler than we try to make it
“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
Church function has taken many forms in time and many rituals and practices have been implemented. They have then evolved for the good or the bad, they’ve been discontinued and in some cases reinstituted later; they have differed many times having to do with denomination and affiliation and even according to culture, region or nation.
I think you would know intuitively what I am talking about. There are churches that conduct foot-washing ceremonies on a regular basis. There are churches where the congregation frequently moves out of the pews and marches around the inside perimeter of the sanctuary while singing “Onward Christians Soldiers” or “We’re Marching to Zion”, when in reality they’re only marching round and round and back to their seats.
There are entire denominations of churches laden with so much liturgical ritual that most congregants have forgotten or never understood what most of the calisthenics they do symbolize.
But the initial life-response of the brand new church, the one born on the day of Pentecost following the resurrection of Jesus Christ, was Holy Spirit-born and led, and it was simple, and it was what God used powerfully to begin the process of sending the good news out to the world through His spoken Word and the testimony of His people.
I am often perturbed at the tepid, weak, uncommitted brand of Christianity we see in our churches today, and I have to shake my head and wonder to what degree the Holy Spirit is working or even present in many of them, when I read these New Testament accounts and witness the amazing and immediate changes in people when they are suddenly given spiritual birth and filled with the Spirit of Christ.
Keep in mind that these people, these three thousand that were saved and baptized on the day of Pentecost, had only about 52 days earlier been the ones shouting, “Crucify! Crucify Him!” and had seen Jesus of Nazareth scourged and taken away to the cross. We know this because Peter says so in verse 36 of this same chapter we’re studying.
But the Spirit granted them repentance, verse 37, and they immediately wanted to make amends if it would be possible – they asked, ‘what shall we do?’, and Peter told them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins and he said that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Then in verse 39 we read:
““For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”
So they obeyed in faith, and those whom had begun the day dead and ignorant and guilty of putting to death the Prince of Life, immediately became those who “…were continually devoting themselves…”
See? Isn’t it amazing, the instantaneous change God makes in the human heart when once He draws it to Himself?
They were murderers, they were ignorant, they were God-haters, they were spiritually dead, then suddenly they were alive, they were sorry, they were filled with the Holy Spirit, they were devoted.
Yes, continual devotion to spiritual duty is one of the initial and lasting changes wrought in the human heart when it truly belongs to Christ.
That is the truth taught in the New Testament of the Bible, and no matter what excuses men make today, citing culture, society, influence of sin, the removal by time and space from those first Christians; no matter what we can come up with, God hasn’t changed, His Holy Spirit hasn’t changed, Christ hasn’t changed, and the human heart is the same, deceived, diseased thing it was then, and the truth remains to this day that when God truly comes with new life, the heart changes, behavior changes, and steadfast devotion is one initial evidence of the change.
Therefore the ‘many’ in today’s church to whom we alluded earlier need to be invited to consider whether they have really received life from above or if they are deceived pretenders. Let God be true and every man a liar.
THE TEACHING OF THE WORD
They continually devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.
If we are to take this short list of Luke’s in this one verse today as being written according to priority then we’d have to say that the Holy Spirit puts a very high premium on preaching, wouldn’t we?
I don’t think that would be appropriate however. How can we compare preaching with praying, for example, when neither one can ultimately be done very well without the other?
I think it might be more helpful to say that this list of Luke’s – teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayer – is more like saying ‘right arm, left arm, right leg, left leg’. For it is together that they make up and demonstrate the life of the true church.