The Nature and Marks of a True Church, Part Three

The Nature of a True Church

The Church at Ephesus was one noted for their impeccable doctrine and they manifested every good work, yet, they were charged for their motivation; they were rebuked for having left their first love, Jesus Christ (Rev 2:4). The chief and primary nature of a true Church is to love Christ Jesus chiefly and primarily (Matt 10:37-38; Lk 14:26-27). This love does not originate in us, but in God: “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19).

When questioned about the great commandment of the law, the Lord Jesus summarized the whole of the Bible in this way: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt 22:37-41). Given this, we might define the love that is the chief and primary nature of a true Church, yes, and also of true Christianity, as the holy submission of the heart, soul, mind and strength given to the utter devotion of God in, through, and by Christ Jesus.

The second commandment cited in the Lord’s answer provides evidence that this love is taking place. Loving one’s neighbor cannot certainly stand alone as the only evidence, for just as there are false professors of true Christian religion (Matt 7:21-23; 1 Jn 2:19), there are humanitarians and philanthropists given over to the benefit of mankind with nothing of Christ in their way or in their work. On the night He was betrayed, the Lord gave a new commandment to His disciples that was really a more defining mark of the New Testament reality: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (Jn 13:34). Further, Christ said that this love would be evident to the world: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (Jn 13:35).

Every good work manifested in a local congregation’s mission, even done in the name of Christ, and carried out dutifully as found in Ephesians chapters four through six, if it is not immersed in the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (Eph 3:19), then none of the great doctrinal truths from of Ephesians chapters one through three will matter a whit or whistle. Paul expresses this more clearly to the Church at Corinth: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (1 Cor 13:1-3).

The nature of the Church, filled, enabled, empowered, and sent forth in the love of Christ, must be the reason, strength and justification for every mark exhibited by a true and living Church.

Wrestling with Realities

We must recognize that Lord Jesus Christ is building His Church, to put it in the reference to our time confinement. The perfection of Christ’s Church is in HIM until He return in the restitution of all things. Until then, we persevere by God’s grace, and extend grace and mercy as grace and mercy have been lavished upon us from above. When we love, we love with patience for “charity suffereth long and is kind” (1 Cor 13:4). That scripture implies the reality of a sanctifying work in progress because of love’s manifest patience and kindness.

The most distinguishing mark of a true Church is the blessed presence of the Lord Jesus Christ walking in the midst of His candlesticks; and that is most predominantly manifested in the harmony of all three areas: marks, means, and motivation.

“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God” (1 Jn 4:7).

This is part three of a three-part article. The complete article originally appeared in The Sovereign Grace Messenger from the Summer 2011 issue. The Sovereign Grace Messenger is the periodical published approximately three times per year by the Sovereign Grace Baptist Fellowship.

Part One appeared on July 7th. Part Two appeared yesterday. Part Four, which was not a part of the original article, will be posted following that.

About Jon J. Cardwell

"The Spirited Speaker" - Pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Anniston, Alabama. Nationally recognized speaker and publisher. Author of several books, including the bestseller, Christ and Him Crucified.


  1. Dear Pastor Cardwell,

    Wonderful series!

    Blessings, charisse

  2. I would like to hear your thoughts on a person who belongs to a church that simply does not believe in missions or church planting, but more so, of simply maintaining what we have. Especially, if this person feels a call to preach the gospel, serves as an elder in the capacity Brian highlights, has received the external recognition, but is being told that it’s just not what ought to be done (going out into the field).

    I should note that in over 35 years in one location, not a single person has been sent out. Anyone who has expressed desire has been challenged as ambitious, etc. Thank you.

    • hi paul,

      thank you so much for your comments and question. i will keep this answer brief, while i would hope to answer that question more fully with an article or youtube video some time in the future. for one such as myself, who has spent nearly my entire active ministry on the mission field, i would have to say that the leadership and the congregation of such a church as you mention, have been blinded to the truth that they should be thankful to god for missionaries, for somewhere along the line missionaries left all to follow christ to preach the gospel so that church could be planted…. even if it were an overflow from another local church in that area; for that parent church would have had a start through some missionary work. at the heart of a church sentiment that scoffs at gospel missions is so unlike christ, and so disobedient to his command, ‘as the father hath sent me, so send i you,’ that i can’t help to admonish such thinking as laodicean… as those who think they have need of nothing.

      the lord jesus was the utmost, foremost, preeminent and purest missionary for all of creation to behold. as god, he laid aside his robes of glory, as it were, and took unto himself the garments of flesh in order to bring the good news of himself, as promised by god since genesis 3.15, to a lost and dying world, bereft of all hope apart from him.

  3. Dear Pastor Cardwell,

    Wonderful series!

    Blessings to all, charisse

  4. Pastor Cardwell,

    This teaching is so refreshing to read and so true. Would that all our churches show that love spoken of in Scripture by Jesus Himself! And not just show it but may it be from the heart with our hearts knitted to the Lords. You made this easy to remember as well.

    Thank you and blessings on your ministry.


  5. Pingback: Putting Away the Old 071211 « Mennonite Preacher

  6. ….No Greater Love..John 15 9-14…. 9 It is a common thing to hear in church that God is love and that Jesus loves you but seldom do we ever stop to think about what that exactly means. Where do we even get our ideas about what love is in the first place?…. 9 We likely get many of our ideas about love from watching television–from watching characters on TV who claim to have fallen in love. It is also likely that contemporary music has impacted and shaped our views about love.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *