In ancient times the word, “ekklesia,” was used to describe “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place” or “an assembly of the people convened at the public place of the council for the purpose of deliberating” (Ekklesia, 2013). But, as used in the Bible, the word refers to the saved people of God; those who have been called out, or called away, from the world and are, therefore, in many ways, different from most people around them.
It is of vital importance to our quest for an authentic life in Christ, beloved, that we understand the implications of what it means to be “called out.” An example of what that means can be seen in Jesus’ statement as He prayed to the Heavenly Father concerning His disciples, saying:
I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.
(John 17:13-19, NASB)
The ekklesia, then, are people who are so different from the rest of the people of the world that they have an entirely different value system. They order their priorities according to the will of God, not the popular values of the world. As Jesus said, they are sanctified in truth. To be sanctified means to be “set apart for sacred use” (Sanctified, 2014). Jesus says here that it is the truth of God’s word—the Bible—that sanctifies His people, or that sets them apart, and causes them to become so unusually different from all the rest of the world around them.
Another example of being called out can be seen in the Apostle Paul’s admonition to God’s people living in Corinth when he said to them:
Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. “And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” says the Lord Almighty.
(2 Corinthians 6:14-18)
While the Bible teaches that, “as beloved children” we are to “walk in love, just as Christ also loved you” (Ephesians 5:2, NASB) and we do, therefore, love people; still, our “first love” (Revelation 2:4) will always be our Lord Jesus. As the Apostle Peter put it, “…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts” (I Peter 3:15, NASB). For this reason, as seen in the passage above, the ekklesia are people with a radically different perspective on relationships. Because we choose to love Jesus first and foremost, our hearts will not allow us to become intimately involved with “unbelievers” to the point where we become dependent on them. We will not permit ourselves to enter into “partnership” with “lawlessness,” or have “fellowship with darkness.” The ekklesia are people who are not afraid to be seen as being different. We choose to walk hand-in-hand with our Lord and separate and apart from the crowd—even if doing so causes us to be unpopular—because we value our relationship with God more than we do the approval or acceptance of others.
Yet another example of being called out can be seen in the Apostle John’s instruction concerning how we as Christians are called to live and prioritize our personal value system while here on earth; he says:
Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
(I John 2:15-17)
The ekklesia, therefore, are people who choose to “not love the world nor the things in the world”; that is, they are not living for this world and do not attach themselves to the things of this world. They are not compelled by, or controlled by, “the lust of the flesh”—physical needs and desires—or “the lust of the eyes”—materialistic wants, possessions—or “the boastful pride of life”—power, position, social prestige—but rather, they seek only “the will of God.”
We might stop and ask ourselves at this point, “Is our quest for the authentic Christian life, then, leading us into the realms of personal sacrifice?” And I think we have to answer, “Yes, to a great extent, that is the very direction this faith-walk seems to be taking us!” Remember that the Apostle Paul called us to just such a lifestyle when he said:
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
(Romans 12:1-2, NASB)
It’s hard to imagine how anyone could become a “living and holy sacrifice” if they are not committed to living sacrificially. The authentic Christian life is, indeed, a life of sacrifice; and it is a life of denial. Remember that Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it” (Luke 9:23-24, NASB).
While these truths may fly right in the face of Western civilization’s materialistic value system, sacrifice and self-denial is at the very heart of Christian discipleship. Living sacrificially is the very essence of what it means to take up our cross and lose our lives for Christ’s sake. And the ekklesia understands this very well.
Hopefully, through your study of God’s word, you have already come to understand that there really is only one universal family of God. According to scripture, when you were “baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38, NASB), you were also “baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:13, NASB). The men and women who constitute the ekklesia are nothing more or less than the saved body of Christ. This is why the Bible tells us that, when men and women were being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, “…the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47, NASB).
Of course, we know that no church can save you—no one can be saved simply by joining some church—but, rather, the ekklesia (church) is the saved. We should also realize that no one can simply go out and join the ekklesia. Rather, God adds to the saved body of Christ those whom He calls out from the world the very moment they are “born again” of “water and the Spirit” (John 3:3-5, NASB). Our baptism, then, not only connects us with the blood of Christ which saves us, but it also represents our new birth into “God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19, NASB)—His forever family, the called out body of Christ, the ekklesia.
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