Whether atheist, Muslim, Jew, Catholic, Protestant, or some other stripe within Christendom, the people of God principle pierces to the very core. Claims and denials clash, sometimes amicably, sometimes not.
In the wake of affirmations regarding who does or does not belong to God, human history lies tattered and scarred. New York City witnessed towers of steel replaced with columns of smoke. Activists ardently scrape any legitimizing remnant of belonging to God from our culture. Fires have flared and blood pressures peaked.
Our worldviews are significantly shaped by our perspectives on whether people belong to God and if so, who they are. Here are some common voices past and present proposing how God’s people can be identified.
Jesus encountered some Jews justifying their claim of divine relationship with, “we are sons of Abraham” (John 8:39, et al.). However, both Jesus and Paul denied that ethnicity proved a reliable principle for identifying God’s people.
Many who are not engaged in organized religion affirm their relationship with God because they are “basically a good person.” The New Testament denies that our efforts to show our righteousness can create a relationship with God or gain us entrance into heaven (Philippians 3:9).
Some have put their confidence in whether a religious organization can trace a continual line through history as identifying can be considered the people of God.
However, Jesus’ message delivered to various churches of Asia Minor during the first century warned them that their spiritual lamp could be snuffed out for unfaithfulness (Revelation 2:5). Similarly, Paul warned churches they could fall from grace due to corrupted doctrine (Galatians 1:6-8; 5:4). Historical continuity proves nothing regarding one’s relationship with God.
Others, approving themselves for their loving broad-mindedness, consider everyone who recognizes Jesus as Lord as being God’s people. Jesus denounced this principle by foretelling that many would not enter the kingdom even though they had called him Lord and taught in his name. His words, “I never knew you,” will hauntingly ring in their ears (Matthew 7:21-23).
There is no shortage of perspectives regarding who constitute God’s people. But our confident claims are inconsequential.
What matters is who God identifies as his people and whether we can know the principle by which God recognizes them.
The right questions include, “does scripture reveal how God identifies his people” and if so, “what is it?” Only then can our confidence be justified.
The next article in this series can be found here. It identifies the principle by which God throughout scripture has identified those who are his.