In apostolic times the early church was a force to be reckoned with. The new converts were full of grace and the Holy Spirit. The word of God was preached with the fullness of the Spirit and people were added to the church daily. The message that Jesus was the Messiah was “preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). The men and women that Christ drew to Himself were not well educated, were corrupted by sin, and their minds were fixed on temporal things. They were just the kind of people that Jesus had come to save.
“For the carrying on of His work, Christ did not choose the learning or eloquence of the Jewish Sanhedrin or the power of Rome. Passing by the self-righteous Jewish teachers, the Master Worker chose humble, unlearned men to proclaim the truths that were to move the world. These men He purposed to train and educate as the leaders of His church. They in turn were to educate others and send them out with the gospel message. That they might have success in their work they were to be given the power of the Holy Spirit. Not by human might or human wisdom was the gospel to be proclaimed, but by the power of God.” The Acts of the Apostles, 17.
Through their association with Jesus, they came to see the beauty of His character and desired to follow Him. Like most people, it took time for them to fully grasp His mission and the great need of a change to be made in their lives. Jesus is a patient teacher, willing to go the extra mile to shape the minds of His people so they can understand more fully the difference between His character and the character of Satan. In the beginning, the disciples did not fully understand the depths of sin. They were blinded by their own ideas of the world and how they should be saved. It took forty days of instruction after the resurrection of Jesus for them to understand the scriptures of the prophets. Preconceived ideas and worldly politics were set aside. Their only focus was on the kingdom of heaven.
“The disciples were to go forth as Christ’s witnesses, to declare to the world what they had seen and heard of Him. Their office was the most important to which human beings had ever been called, second only to that of Christ Himself. They were to be workers together with God for the saving of men. As in the Old Testament the twelve patriarchs stood as representatives of Israel, so the twelve apostles stand as representatives of the gospel church.” Ibid., 19.
At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples and they went forth preaching repentance to all men. Peter proclaimed, “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses.” “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ ” (Acts 2:32, 38). In a few years, the message of the crucified and resurrected Messiah was given to the world. People perceived the truth and embraced it. Love for one another in Christ was their theme and the fruit of their labor. “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (verses 46, 47).
This is the Christian experience that Jesus came to bring to all people who would forsake the world and follow Him. He had laid out before the disciples the keys to the kingdom of God—righteousness, goodness, and longsuffering. He gave as an example a life of toil and struggle and a deep love for others. He said to His disciples, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” and “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 14:15; 15:12). As it was for the early disciples, so it is for us today. We must also have this experience in love and faith in Jesus.
“The apostle prayed that love might abound more and more. There must be a living faith, before there can be a living experience. There are many who have a certain formal knowledge of Christ, and an indefinite faith that does not have an active influence upon the life and character. This faith is not a saving faith. Our love for Jesus must commence here, if we expect to love Him through the ages of eternity. All who love Christ will talk of Him. How shall the world know of the blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of your Lord and Saviour, unless you make it the theme of your thought and conversation? If our hearts are rejoicing in the hope of beholding our coming Saviour, shall we not speak of it to others? ‘Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh’ (Matthew 12:34). We shall have the Spirit of Christ, if we are in union with Him; and with the same untiring love and patience, we shall seek that which is lost. One soul is worth the world. It is the purchase of the blood of Christ, and those who really love Christ will feel the value of the souls for whom He shed His precious blood.” The Signs of the Times, July 27, 1888.
These early disciples did not have a life of leisure, but of hardship. They were hated for Christ’s sake and persecuted, but they continued to deliver the message that He gave them to proclaim. “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19), Peter said to a dying sinful world that needed to be justified through the blood of Jesus so they might stand before the Lord of Hosts. Many died to self and took on the yoke of Christ. They loved not their lives unto death but freely gave themselves for His cause. With joy in their hearts and words of forgiveness on their lips, they held nothing against any man. Instead, they reached out in love to those who were marred by sin, to uplift them from the mire of the world.
“When Christ sent forth the disciples with the gospel message, faith in God and His word had well-nigh departed from the world. Among the Jewish people, who professed to have a knowledge of Jehovah, His word had been set aside for tradition and human speculation. Selfish ambition, love of ostentation, greed of gain, absorbed men’s thoughts. As reverence for God departed, so also departed compassion toward men. Selfishness was the ruling principle, and Satan worked his will in the misery and degradation of mankind.” The Ministry of Healing, 142.
“Under the fiercest persecution these witnesses for Jesus kept their faith unsullied. Though deprived of every comfort, shut away from the light of the sun, making their home in the dark but friendly bosom of the earth, they uttered no complaint. With words of faith, patience, and hope they encouraged one another to endure privation and distress. The loss of every earthly blessing could not force them to renounce their belief in Christ. Trials and persecution were but steps bringing them nearer their rest and their reward.” The Great Controversy, 41.
What a sharp contrast to the Christian experience of today. Many believe that if they attend church once a week and profess to love God, they have a place in heaven. They believe there is nothing else required of them to be saved. Yet, Jesus gives us a much different view of what it means to be saved. When Mary Magdalene anointed the Savior’s feet with her tears, she found forgiveness in His voice, “Then He said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ Then He said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you. Go in peace’ ” (Luke 7:48–50). And when the poor woman who had been bleeding for 12 years reached out to touch the hem of His garment, He said, “Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well. Go in peace” (Luke 8:48). What did each of these women have in common that Jesus found worthy of salvation? Faith!
“True faith lays hold of and claims the promised blessing before it is realized and felt.” Early Writings, 72. “Faith is trusting in God—believing that He loves us, and knows what is for our best good. Thus, instead of our own way, it leads us to choose His way. In place of our ignorance, it accepts His wisdom; in place of our weakness, His strength; in place of our sinfulness, His righteousness. Our lives, ourselves, are already His; faith acknowledges His ownership, and accepts its blessings. Truth, uprightness, purity, are pointed out as secrets of life’s success. It is faith that puts us in possession of these. Every good impulse or aspiration is the gift of God; faith receives from God the life that alone can produce true growth and efficiency.” Gospel Workers, 259.
To have the experience of the early church, we must claim the promises of God. It is imperative that we relinquish our will to His will to create the change from sinful selfishness to perfect righteousness. Self must be sacrificed on the altar of God so that the purity of the Holy Spirit will have a fit temple to dwell in. Faith in every word that proceeds from the mouth of God is essential to receive His blessings and prepare for the great work ahead. Jesus said that the last days would be as in the times of Noah and Lot, with great evil at every corner. Temptations and trials will be against God’s people, but the most deceptive test will come from within the church itself.
“Satan therefore laid his plans to war more successfully against the government of God by planting his banner in the Christian church. If the followers of Christ could be deceived and led to displease God, then their strength, fortitude, and firmness would fail, and they would fall an easy prey.” The Great Controversy, 42.
Satan knew that persecution was not having the desired results, so he changed his tactics and started weaving in false doctrines. He insinuated that God’s people could not overcome sin, therefore, they must just keep their sins confessed. Once he established this false doctrine, it was then easy for him to sow strife, jealousy, and evil speaking amongst the good church members. Fault finding became commonplace, unforgiveness grew out of fault finding, and the result was a prideful fallen church.
“The great adversary now endeavored to gain by artifice what he had failed to secure by force. Persecution ceased, and in its stead were substituted the dangerous allurements of temporal prosperity and worldly honor. Idolaters were led to receive a part of the Christian faith, while they rejected other essential truths. They professed to accept Jesus as the Son of God and to believe in His death and resurrection, but they had no conviction of sin and felt no need of repentance or of a change of heart. With some concessions on their part they proposed that Christians should make concessions, that all might unite on the platform of belief in Christ.” Ibid.
Professed Christians will proclaim that they are keeping all God’s laws and that they believe in the resurrection of the dead in Christ, yet there will be something missing. Outwardly, they will be formally keeping His Sabbath, attending church regularly, but the inward change has not been wrought. Selfishness, self-will, pride, and the love of this world will still be hidden in the heart. The unsanctified among God’s people will take leadership roles just as they did in the early church and drive the Holy Spirit away. Complacency will begin to appear, the work will stop, and the love of Christ will wane. We are seeing the result of these very conditions in the church today.
Jesus foresaw this happening in the early church and warns us that it will happen in the last church. “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.” “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see” (Revelation 2:5; 3:18).
Christ is gathering His angels for the last battle, but He is wondering if there will be any faith left on earth when He comes. He is looking for a people to stand up like the early apostolic church and proclaim His love for the world, to warn them of the impending doom that is about to fall upon it. “And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth” (Luke 18:7, 8)?
“What is the condition in the world today? Is not faith in the Bible as effectually destroyed by the higher criticism and speculation of today as it was by tradition and rabbinism in the days of Christ? Have not greed and ambition and love of pleasure as strong a hold on men’s hearts now as they had then? In the professedly Christian world, even in the professed churches of Christ, how few are governed by Christian principles. In business, social, domestic, even religious circles, how few make the teachings of Christ the rule of daily living. Is it not true that ‘justice standeth afar off: … equity cannot enter. … And he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey’ (Isaiah 59:14, 15)”? The Ministry of Healing, 142.
As we look at the experience of God’s early church, we must ask ourselves: What is our experience today? Are we tirelessly working for the souls of others? Do we have the fervent love for our brothers and sisters in the church? Are we fulfilling the great commission that Jesus gave us to “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” (Matthew 28:19, 20)? Time is shorter now than in 1844 when Jesus started His ministry to cleanse the sanctuary of the sins of God’s people. He is waiting for a people who will stand up and be counted, with a pure doctrine of righteousness and a mouth that speaks saving truth to this fallen world. Jesus is at the door now, knocking on each heart to see if we will open the door so that He can make His home with us. Soon our time will be finished, and we will give an answer for what we have accomplished in His name. Let each one of us pray that we will be found ready at the great Day of Jesus.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Mike Wells lives in Wichita, Kansas, and is director of Anointing Oil Ministries.