As those who are called by God, members of the church have a specific identity which none of them had before God called them and made them his own, and which puts them in stark distinction from those who are not the church.

It is necessary here to distinguish between the visible church – all the people who happen to associate with one of the many organizations referred to as a ‘church’ – and the invisible church – those people who may or may not be seen to associate with a physical organization termed ‘the church’ but who, irrespective of that association, belong to Jesus Christ by virtue of their genuine faith in him. It is on this second definition of the church that this series of meditations is focused.

Those who comprise the true church are called ‘saints’

Perhaps the most common New Testament term used to refer to the members of the true church is ‘saints’, along with the related words ‘holy’ and ‘sanctified’. The English words ‘saint’ and ‘holy’ are translated from the Greek adjective ‘hagios’ which means separate from common use. And here we must rid our minds of the preconception that ‘holy’ refers specifically to moral perfection. It doesn’t. It refers to being set apart by God for God. In the Old Testament anything dedicated to the service of God, or anything belonging to God, or anyplace where God met with his people, was designated ‘holy’.

When the New Testament repeatedly refers to those who believe in Christ as ‘saints’ or ‘holy’ it is because God has set them apart for himself – all of those who comprise the true church are no longer for ‘common use’, they are set apart and dedicated by God and to God.

Those who comprise the true church are called the children [or sons] of God

Consider these verses:

In John 1:12 we read: '... to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God."

In Galatians 3:26 Paul teaches 'You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus’.

This is further affirmed in Romans 8:14-17 and Galatians 4:6, where we learn that 'Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father."'

In 1John 3:1-2 believers are assured that they are, even now, children of God: 'How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!' 

This new identity as the children of God refers to both Jews who believe in Christ and non-Jews who believe in Christ - 'even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles .. where it was said to them "You are not my people," they will be called "sons of the living God"' [Romans 9:24 ,26].

We might pause to ask here ‘Are not all people children of God because God created them all?’ At one level, yes, all people are created by God, and on that level, may be called his ‘children’. But at another level, the Bible teaches all people everywhere are, until their personal repentance and faith, in a state of alienation from God and rebellion against God. This disconnection from God is indicated by those scriptures that refer to unbelievers as ‘children of disobedience’ [Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 3:6], children of the devil [John 8:42 -45; 1John 3:10 ], and ‘children of wrath’ [Ephesians 2:3 in the Greek text].

Those who comprise the true church are called God’s people

While the physical nation of Israel is called ‘the people of God’ because God specifically chose this nation to be the vehicle of his self-revelation and to provide the human ancestry of the Messiah, there is another reality, another group of people, which the Bible calls ‘the people of God’. These are people from both within the physical nation of Israel , and from outside the physical nation of Israel , who acknowledge God with true biblical faith. This is the spiritual people of God; they are quite distinct from the physical people of God. Membership of the physical does not equate with membership of the spiritual.

Paul and Peter both refer to this spiritual people of God and its clear distinction from Israel , the physical people of God:

'I will call them "my people" who are not my people; and I will call her "my loved one" who is not my loved one' [Romans 9:25, quoting Hosea 1:10].

'But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God ... Once you were not a poeple, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy' [1Peter 2:9-10].

Through faith in Christ those who were previously not God’s people, now are God’s people. Those who comprise the true church are called ‘God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved’ [Colossians 3:12].

As we will see in a future meditation this new identity involves those who belong to the true church in a new responsibility: to live our lives dedicated to God and expressing the nature and characteristics of God our Father.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2009, 2021