How Should We Define the Church?

Many people define the Church primarily by what she does, not who she is. Unfortunately, this leads to an understanding of the Church that defines her not by God’s work, but by man’s work, leading to a view that man primarily builds the Church instead of Jesus.

With this understanding, anybody who simply implements the forms or activities of “church” can call what they do the church of Jesus Christ. This is “church” based upon works of man and not Church based upon the work of Jesus Christ. Jesus said he would build his Church, not us (in an ultimate sense). This sometimes stems from a man-centered gospel (It is my decision – my work – that saves me) OR can lead to a man-centered church (it is all about what we do that defines us, not what Jesus has done).

We must remember: We Are Who We Are Because of What Jesus Has Done and Is Doing…Our Being comes out of His Doing…and Our Doing Proceeds from Our Being in Christ

However, some people mainly define the Church by what God has done, not also who He saved her to be and what He saved her to do. In this case, the Church is a confessional people primarily, but not an obedient people who do what God commands and displays what God is like.

We need to define the Church in light of: 1) Who God Is and What God has done [confessional]; 2) Who He has made the Church to Be [covenantal]; and 3) What He has saved and created her to do [commissional].

Think about it in Familial terms…Do we define a family based only upon what they do? “We are a family because we sleep in the same house, eat together, do dishes, share a budget, etc…” (Defined by activity). By who they are? “We are a family because we have the same parents, the same last name, belong to one another, etc…” (Defined by being). Or because of how we came into being? “We are a family because our parents gave birth to us or adopted us”(Defined by Origin). A Healthy family would be defined in all three ways: 1) Our parents birthed us or adopted us – so we belong to them. 2) We are all related and share identity – so we belong to each other. And, 3) We do what families do together – life lived together defined by love.

The same is true of the Church: 1) We are the Church because the Father has made us his children through the life and work of Jesus giving us new birth by His Spirit. 2) We have a new identity as children of God. 3) We live out lives of love and good deeds because we are his children who are deeply loved.

We aren’t defined primarily by what we do. We are defined by what God has done in the person and work of Jesus Christ. What we do is based upon and motivated by what God has done and who God has made us to be. This is all the outworking of faith in God. We must distinguish between defining a Church based upon what God has done and who we are because of his work AND describing how a healthy church lives out God’s purposes showing herself to be God’s chosen and redeemed people.

The Church is God’s People (who we are) saved by God’s Power (what He has done and is doing) for God’s Purposes (the good works he created us in Jesus Christ to do) 

The local church is a group of God’s people (who we are) saved by God’s Power (what he has done and is doing) to disciple all ethnic people groups and take responsibility for each other’s discipleship following Christ.


GOSPEL MESSAGE: The Power of God [to Save Sinners]

Romans 1:16-17

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”


The Starting Point: The Gospel Message

A Gospel-Centered Commissional church doesn’t first ask the question, “What works best?” Instead, it asks, “How do we fulfill the commission from Jesus to make disciples who believe the gospel and live in line with it by displaying and declaring who God is and what he has done in and through Jesus Christ, teaching and training others to do so as well?”

Our goal is not to convert people to our church. Our goal is to see people converted to Jesus and trained through the gospel so that they can BE THE CHURCH commissioned to truly declare the gospel and demonstrate its truth in all of life.

Our starting point in thinking through what our churches should be like must be informed by the gospel: The Power and Purpose of the Gospel

Two Gospel Perspectives

You can read the Bible across the grain (Thematically or systematic theology) and you can read it with the grain (Storyline or biblical theology). Each one is necessary and each one leads to a different way of seeing the gospel.[1]

1. Thematically

The MEANS of Salvation – The Gospel Power

GOD       |       SIN       |       JESUS       |       TRUST

In this case, the Good News is that God, in and through the work of Jesus Christ and the power of His Spirit, accepts us, empowers us and is changing us.

We have been saved from the penalty of sin, are being saved from the power of sin and will be saved from the presence of sin because of God’s power and work, not our own. (Ephesians 2:8-9; Colossians 1:27-29; 2:6-7; Philippians 2:12-13; 1 Peter 1:3-5)

Luther said that the first commandment is the gospel – “You shall have no other gods before me” is the same as, “You shall have no other justification for your life, your righteousness, your significance, your security etc… other than me.”

How is your life reflecting that you believe Jesus did enough to save you at the cross?

Where in the leadership or life of your church are you demonstrating that God is the power and authority for ongoing life change?

How or where is this not being demonstrated?



2. As a Story

Here we come to know the REASON for salvation – The Gospel Purpose

Creation ——>  Fall ——->  Redemption ——-> Restoration

In this perspective, the Good News is that God sent his Son to redeem the world and create a new humanity. Eventually the whole world will be renewed. Death, decay, injustice, and suffering will all be removed. God is saving a people and sending them out for his commission so that Christ will be glorified in all things.

The Church has been saved BY God’s work FOR God’s work (Ephesians 1, 2:10,14-22; 2 Corinthians 5:15-21; Revelation 21).

The Gospel is not just about my individual happiness or God’s plan for my life. It is about God’s Glory and His plan for the world. It saves individuals, but it saves them to a community and New Earth to come.

There is a movement afoot. God is doing something and we have been called to His purposes. The people of God are participating within God’s redemptive plan by being a display people offering a foretaste of what the future will be like under God’s rule. (Jeremiah 29; Matthew 5:3-16; Luke 6:20-36; 1 Peter 2:9-12).

We are like a trailer to a movie…giving a foretaste of the kingdom fully consummated by Jesus that makes people long for the future redemption of all things under Jesus as King…the difference is that unlike a movie trailer we are a poor reflection of a far better future.

How is your church or ministry living out the purposes of God in salvation? 

How is the leadership modeling this? 

And how is the part of the Body that you lead regularly sending believers out for the commission of the Gospel?


Who’s Story Is It Anyway?

Everyone is part of the story and is walking out this story in their lives. The real question is who’s story is it?

We either see the story primarily as God’s Story or primarily as Our Story. Our point of view is directly connected to our belief in the gospel.


If we believe it is primarily God’s story…

  • Creation – He is the Creator and Originator of all things – I exist because of Him
  • Fall – We rebelled against Him and His word stands – we really die
  • Redemption – He saves us by His work and we put our faith in Him to save by grace
  • Restoration – He has work for us to do which He prepared and enables us for


If we believe it is Our Story…

  • Creation – I become what I actualize or determine to be – I believe I am god
  • Fall – I am good and others are evil OR I am not good, but it is not my fault: it is because of some outside influence – not my rebellion and sin – in this case I am deceived/dishonest
  • Redemption – It is through my work that I am saved, healed, made acceptable – I must perform – in this case I or someone else I determine is savior
  • Restoration – I can fix me and this place if I will just work harder and more effectively – in this case I am all wise and almighty

We Need Both Gospel Perspectives

We must know the Gospel Means (God/Sin/Christ/Faith)… …and the Gospel Story (Creation/Fall/Redemption/Restoration)… …and see them both as God’s story together – Synchronically and Diachronically

If we only focus on the Gospel Power, but do not know the Gospel Purpose (The Storyline of the Gospel – where it is going and what Jesus is doing through the Church), we will tend toward a Gospel that is only about saving individuals and miss the commission tied to the Gospel. In this case, the Gospel is ALL ABOUT us.

If we only focus on the Gospel Purpose, but miss the Gospel Power (The work of God in Jesus Christ to save), we will tend toward doing good works and acts of service without the power of God. We believe it is up to us to change the world AND we become more acceptable and significant to God by doing more. In this case, the mission of the Gospel is now DEPENDENT UPON us.





  1. Identify two real situations you’re facing in ministry and write a paper for each describing how you would address this situation with the Gospel (1-2 pages each)
  2. In a paper address where your ministry is presently strongest in regards to Gospel Power or Purpose and why you believe this. Then, describe what you believe should happen to grow in the other.
  3. Purchase You Can Change by Tim Chester. Read Intro-Chapter 2 doing the exercises within.

You are free to use, remix, and build upon this work non-commercially if you attribute GCM Collective. For details, see

[1] See Greg Gilbert’s blog post, “What Gospel?” – The gospel power is the narrow gospel and the gospel power (next page) is the broad gospel that must include the narrow gospel. The narrow gospel may be called “gospel” in the NT without mentioning the broad, but not vice versa.


About pjtibayan

I love Jesus Christ and live to share life and share Jesus together with First Southern Baptist Church of Bellflower primarily to Southeast Los Angeles County.
This entry was posted in "Total Church" Model, City Groups, CrossView Church, Jeff Vanderstelt. Bookmark the permalink.

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