The Role of the Corporate Body in Sanctification (Part II)
I. When our resurrected Lord ascended on high, He bestowed gifts to His church by His Spirit (Eph 4:8).
A. The Holy Spirit was given to the church in all His varied ministries which serve to build up the life of the church (4:11-12; 1 Cor 12:7). Christ’s enthronement over the universe is the guarantee that nothing needful for His church is lacking (Ralph P. Martin, The New Bible Commentary, Leicester: Intervarsity Press, p. 1116).
B. The Holy Spirit has bestowed spiritual gifts so that all of God’s people may be equipped (4:12). The gifts function in a complementary fashion so that the church body may be edified/built up (ibid.).
C. The gifted men (4:11) comprise a ‘channel’ through which the ministry of the Word, the divine influence, flows from Christ the Head to all the members of the body. Where the ministry of the Word fails, the divine influence fails, or miscarries (Charles Hodge, Ephesians, Carlisle: Banner of truth Trust, 1856, p. 176).
II. God’s pattern for the body through Christ has a very specific purpose—to build up the redeemed unto the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God—out of which flows spiritual maturity (4:12-13) (John MacArthur, N.T. Commentary on Ephesians, Chicago: Moody Press, p. 156).
A. The unity of the faith is the content of the gospel in its most complete form— especially as it is lived out ‘incarnationally’ by believers who are properly taught to faithfully carry out the work of service (4:12) (ibid.).
B. The church’s path to maturity involves the unity of the Spirit as the church’s present possession (Ralph P. Martin). The unity of the Spirit is a gift to be guarded. Paul tells us in Philippians 2:2-11 how it is to be guarded (4:3; Phil 2:2ff.).
III. The redeemed are to be built up unto the true knowledge (epiginosko) of the Son of God (4:13). This is the knowledge of Christ Himself as the embodiment of God’s treasure, and as the Source Person/Supplier of all the church needs (Col 2:3; Eph 1:18; 3:8) (Ralph P. Martin).
A. The deep knowledge of the Son of God is only attainable by prayer, study of the Word, fellowship with Him, and obedience (John MacArthur, p. 157).
B. Paul yearned for an ever greater ‘heart knowledge’ of the Son of God. The Apostle’s testimony was of a growing cognizance of union with Christ. In Philippians 3:10-16, Paul gives three ‘access points’ to personal growth in the experimental knowledge of Christ (Harry Walls, Chapel Service, Southern Baptist Seminary, Louisville, KY):
C. The unity of the faith will be ultimately reached by the true knowledge of Christ (4:13).
1.) Why does the church appear so fragmented at times with the unity of the faith seemingly out of reach? In part, it is because the true knowledge of Christ is so imperfect at present.
2.) It is vital to the goal of unity that we understand that the true knowledge of Christ is a corporate as well as a personal experience. Only in this way will the church ‘come of age’ and become full grown as a ‘mature man’ (4:15) (A. Skevington Wood, NIV Commentary, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994, p. 769).
Discussion: What is the ‘corporate experience’ of the knowledge of Christ? Or, how does our mutual edification impart the knowledge of Christ? What is the role of the Word of grace in the corporate experience of the knowledge of Christ?
3.) Individualism and private piety without close ties to other believers is a mark of immaturity (ibid.).
IV. Christ is the ‘standard’ of the mature man. We are to ‘grow up’ in all aspects unto Him (4:13, 15).
A. The unity that Christ prayed for in John 17 implies that perfect knowledge of the Son of God and perfect holiness are yet to be perfected. The church will someday attain unto ‘a perfect (mature) man’—complete in glory and complete conformity to Christ (Heb 12:23) (Charles Hodge, p. 167).
Discussion: The question remains, “how much should this ultimate goal of conformity to Christ control us now?” And, “how do we order our lives and fellowship in order to cooperate with this controlling purpose of conformity to Christ?”
B. Growing up ‘in all aspects unto Him’ calls for comprehensive Christ-likeness. Christ is both sovereign Ruler and organic Head of His body, the church. He is the source of the body’s power and functions. In order to grow into His likeness, the members of His body must be subject to His controlling power in obedience to His will, and submissive to His pattern for His church (MacArthur, p. 160).
C. The growth of the body is from Christ; He is its cause. Growth, life, and power depend upon intimate union of the parts of the body with the Head, Christ (Hodge, p. 173).
V. The fact that Christ causes the growth of the body in no way negates the efforts of the believers in building the body (MacArthur, p. 161).
A. Yes, the church grows by the action of Christ on its behalf, but we must understand that Christ is working to accomplish this end through the activity of each member.
B. Christ exerts a unifying action by means of His working through ‘every joint which He supplies’ (4:16). As each ‘joint’ (member of the body) exercises Christ’s gift for ministry there is a “chain reaction” produced by Christ among His servants. The whole body is built up, and love becomes the atmosphere (Martin, p. 1116-1117).
C. In the process of mutual encouragement and the responsibilities of edification exercised, each part is playing the role for which it was appointed. Love becomes the air that is breathed. Christ imparts His risen life within the congregation (ibid.). It is in this manner that the body engages in the corporate experience of Christ.
D. The phrase, ‘every joint supplies’ conveys a much needed truth about the function of the body. Christ holds the body together. He makes it function ‘by that which every joint supplies.’ The Spirit of Christ, working through the gifts, provides a flow of ministry that produces growth (MacArthur, p. 162).
1.) The above description of the function of the local church is glorious and desirable; but it requires that the members of the body embrace Christ’s pattern for the church with whole-hearted enthusiasm. (Obedience.)
2.) In order to realize Christ’s pattern; each individual part of the body must come in close enough contact with other members that their gifts result in growth. Christ facilitates the effectiveness of the gifts in mutual ministry; but the gifts cannot work EXCEPT by close relationships of genuine spiritual ministry (ibid.).
3.) This is a revolutionary truth. God cannot work where relationships are not intimate. No genuine progress in the growth of the body takes place unless each member in union with other members responds to the direction of Christ the Head who rules the body by His Word. An obedient response to Christ means that each part of the body is doing exactly what it was designed to do (ibid.).
E. In summary, in order to experience growth unto a mature man; the body must hold fast to its Head and the body must be committed to the pattern of mutual ministry set forth by Christ (Col 2:19).
1.) Every individual member is to stay close to Christ and faithfully use his or her spiritual gift in close contact with every other believer. Through this commitment and ministry, the Lord’s power will flow for the building up of the body in love (4:16) (ibid.).
2.) The process of the church growing and consolidating itself in love is dependent upon the interrelatedness of the parts of the body. When each part works properly; the body receives what it needs (Wood, p. 771). This is the glorious truth of Christ’s sufficiency in His body—a truth that is all too rarely understood and practiced.
3.) In support of this truth, John MacArthur brings out an emphasis in the Greek. The use of ‘growth’ in the middle form (4:16) means that the body under Christ’s direction and empowerment produces its own growth. In other words, growth takes place through “resident dynamics” and not through outside forces. The vital power within causes growth as the church builds itself up in love (ibid.).
Discussion: How may we more fully adopt this mindset above—that the body produces what it needs through the sufficiency of Christ working through its members? How would this mindset overturn the tendency to look outside the church for professionals and programs?
VI. The church before the watching world is now the ‘incarnate body of Christ on earth’ (MacArthur, p. 157).
A. We are to radiate Christ’s perfections, reflect His virtues, and walk as He walked (1 Jn 2:6; Col 4:12) (ibid.).
B. Christ’s power, through the individual members, causes the church to build itself up in love, THEN the world will know that the church truly is the body of Christ on earth. Our gospel witness must stay joined to our demonstration of true community (Jn 13:34-35) (ibid. p. 161).
C. “Pastors, is everything in your public ministry designed to communicate that Christ is the Head of His church and that the members His body are His ministers and priests?”
1.) Human nature and the state of affairs in a fallen world all conspire against the truth that Christ owns His church. This is the situation in which the pastor finds himself—his congregation and his own ego pull him like a magnet toward pastor as a ‘superstar’ as the norm (Tillapaugh, p. 91).
2.) No small amount of energy is required to step aside and keep elevating Christ. So strong is the pull in our culture toward the ‘cult of celebrities,’ all a pastor has to do to fall into the celebrity trap is nothing at all (John Owen, Triumph Over Temptation, James M. Houston, Ed., Colorado Springs: Victor Books, 2005, p. 186).
3.) The pastor is taking a huge risk when he stops speaking regularly of Christ’s relationship to His church. The reason is our fallen natures, and the world’s standards (with its cult of celebrities) will tend to seduce both the minister, and God’s people—making the pastor the centralized point of ministry.
4.) If the pastor does not resist these forces which conspire against Christ’s true place in the church; then the pastor will be tempted to become possessive of the body of Christ. If the pastor yields to that temptation; he will find himself usurping the role in the church that Christ has reserved for Himself alone (Tillapaugh, pp. 114-115).
5.) Pastors who are better at attaching church members to them selves than to Christ will give an account of that activity on the last day. By contrast, the godly pastor burns with a desire to ‘part the heavens’ in his preaching so that the people entrusted to his care might ‘see’ their glorified heavenly King.
If you are not parting the heavens in your preaching so as to display the Lord as Mediatorial King and Head of the body, then you are failing to kindle affections and reverence for Christ. The godly shepherd is not content UNLESS he serves as spiritual ‘midwife’—overseeing the nurturing and strengthening of the bond between the redeemed and their Head.
VII. The believer as “a new creation” is perfectly equipped for true community.
A. Deep in our humanity is the desire to know and be known—to love and be loved to belong, to matter, to contribute. In his excellent book, Come Home Forever, Tom Wells opens up the theme of God as the Father of the only “true home” that will last forever (Tom Wells, Come Home Forever, Durham: Evangelical Press, 1992).
1.) The yearning for community is part of our humanness. The world wants oneness and true community WITHOUT Christ. The world, in its narcissistic optimism, attempts reconciliation, fulfilling relationships, racial harmony, and global oneness apart from Christ. The world will fail at true harmony because Christ alone is the source of genuine community to the glory of God.
2.) God’s provision for true community is not just to satisfy our social longings. As we’ve seen in our study, true community in Christ is designed to be a revelation of Christ and a manifestation of the communal life of the Holy Trinity. True community in Christ exists to reflect the character of God and to perfect the saints.
B. The redeemed are equipped for true community.
1.) They have a new nature with the law of God written on their hearts; they have an alien righteousness; they have the indwelling empowerment of God’s Spirit.
2.) The believer may accurately say, “Christ is my Source Person, my identity. I am complete in Him; not in myself. I am clothed in His righteousness. He is my right to be in heaven; He has cleared away every obstacle to the reception of God’s love. By union with Him, He has taken my liabilities and given me His assets. All I need for life and godliness is in Him (2 Pet 1:2-4). As He is, so also am I in the world (1 Jn 4:18).”
VIII. What are some of the implications of the “new creation” for true community?
A. The cross is the great ‘leveler’ of men. The cross is the equalizer—sweeping away human distinctions. Redeemed men cannot appeal to their worldly rank, wealth, influence, or charisma (as an argument for their position in the body) without violating James 2:18. Therefore the cross sets up a new ordering principle for community—altogether different from the world. An over-under, hierarchal pecking order based upon human distinctions is the very opposite of living out our common life in Christ.
B. The believer is complete in Christ, accepted in Christ, and alive in Christ. Therefore the believer does not carry or ‘manage’ his own identity. This is profoundly liberating for true community. If Christ carries my worth and identity (and not me), then I may rationally prefer my brother, yield to him, consider his interests as more important than mine, defer to him—all WITHOUT being diminished in the slightest (Phil 2:2-4).
C. Christ has exchanged my sin for His righteousness. He has imputed to me His own moral perfection—placing it on my account. Therefore, I am not in charge of my own ‘lovability.’ I am liberated from the legal formula that says, “The more perfect I am; the more love I receive.” I have a perfect status and righteousness in Christ. I can take off my masks, be transparent. I can stop pretending. Being justified and yet a sinner means that I can afford to hear the worst things about my self WITHOUT hitting back with defensiveness. I can welcome correction and admonishment with gratitude. I can experience healing and liberty by confessing my sins to my brethren (James 5:16).
D. Joy is the result of having Christ’s love pass through you to others. The world’s formula for happiness is the reverse. The world says that joy comes from self-seeking. Christ teaches me that joy takes place when I care for others and make their burdens mine. Joy comes at the points in which my self-sacrifice intersects with the lives of the saints who are also making sacrifices for the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom.
E. When the believer is captivated with Christ, he is receives the ability to love others supernaturally. Christ does not give out His virtues as commodities which have an existence apart from Him. The fruit of the Spirit is a byproduct of abiding in Christ. The believer who beholds Christ’s glory and who is ‘staggered’ by Christ’s supremacy is in the best position to love the brethren. The saint amazed at the love of Christ will look for an outlet so that he may express that love to the brethren. (He puts off the old man and puts on the behaviors of the new man—the ‘garments of grace’).
F. Believers captivated with Christ love those whom Christ loves. The world is intimidated by differences. It is worldly wisdom that seeks alliances with those who do not differ from us. When the world’s wisdom entered the church of Corinth; it manifested itself in a party spirit with cliques, sects, and factions. By contrast, those cognizant of their common life in Christ are best equipped to accept the brethren who a different in race, maturity, and lifestyle (Rom 15:1-2).
IX. How does the Word of Christ, applied corporately, advance our sanctification?
A. Genuine mortification of sin must stay joined to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel alone grants the courage necessary to deal with sin privately and corporately. The reception of forgiveness vertically is the preparation for horizontal forgiveness (Col 2:12-13) (Lane/Tripp, p. 217).
1.) The gospel gives the ability to look sin in the eye as our worst enemy. If you remain ignorant of your enemy (sin) you will justify yourself and behave defensively and impatiently toward those who correct and admonish you (Owen, pp. 191, 193, 198). The gospel consistently applied increases our hunger for holiness and deepens our willingness to be admonished by our brethren.
2.) To be immersed in the gospel as a body convinces us that God’s grace includes His commitment to complete the process of Christ-likeness in His children (Lane/Tripp, pp. 48-49). The cross is the source of honesty needed to deal with our sin individually and corporately. A constant diet of the gospel is necessary if the body is to move from respectability to transparency to mutual admonishment.
B. “Precept Christianity” divorced from the gospel of Jesus Christ implies a ‘gospel less’ view of change and sanctification. We must preach Christ and the gospel if we are to successfully expose the impotence of self-reliance (ibid. p. 27).
1.) A new record in Christ and a new power go together. All real advances in holiness start with the gospel of Christ. Legal methods of mortification suggest that our struggle with sin defines us.
2.) By contrast, the gospel says that Christ defines me—my identity is bound up in Him. Therefore, Christ (and not self) is the ‘bridge’ that spans the gap between my struggle with sin and real forward progress and change (ibid. p. 32-36).
C. Lasting change must be rooted in the cross and the promise of a new transformed heart through Christ. Ongoing repentance is not just sin oriented. Nor is it reducible to behavior modification. Repentance is the restoration of Christ to the prominent place He deserves (ibid. p. 231-232).
1.) Sin blinds to the glory of Christ. Progress in the Christian life is tied to beholding Christ as one’s power and wisdom. Only when I am cognizant of Christ’s assets (available to me through union with Him) will I be realistic about my weakness. And only when I keep feeding upon Christ as He is offered in the Word of grace will I live upon His assets and live upon His Person.
When this is experienced individually by those who make up the corporate body—then redemption is played out in our relationships (ibid. pp. 64-68, 76).
2.) John Owen’s counsel is timely. The Puritan divine urges us to raise our expectations of what Christ can do for us. Heighten your expectation of what His power may do through the Spirit in mortifying sin. The Spirit, says Owen, reveals the fullness of Christ and His cross in sin-killing power. As our faith looks to Christ in holy expectation, Christ’s life replaces the old sinful self as a controlling principle (Owen, pp. 234-237).
D. The church has a tendency toward ‘gospel amnesia’ on a corporate level. The flesh resists the gospel and wants the lie that we can change without God’s grace (Land/Tripp. pp. 238-240). ‘Gospel amnesia’ can be as subtle as defining ourselves by our orthodoxy. But, when Christ is supplanted, broken struggling people will feel unwelcome and out of place, and the corporate gospel dynamic for sanctifying change is lost.
1.) The managerial, institutional approach to organizing the church is only displaced when the cross-centered gospel is allowed to define the form and the purpose, and the mission of the body.
2.) Because the gospel is so ‘counter-intuitive,’ it is incumbent upon church leaders to explain with patient repetition that the gospel perfectly matches our condition. Without this repeated explanation, the gospel suffers reductionism—and is shoved through the die of self-sufficiency and man-centeredness. Christians desperately need to see the present power of the gospel (ibid. pp. 14-15).
X. The reasons God has saved us ought to control the shape and the design of our fellowship with the Lord and with one another (the reasons He redeemed us form the “mountain peaks of the epistle to the Ephesians”).
A. He saved us to the praise of the glory of His grace (1:6).
B. He saved us that we might know the Lord through the sovereign mercy He has exercised toward us (1:18-21).
C. He saved us for good works that we might walk in them (2:10).
D. He saved us to be a holy habitation for the Spirit of God (2:19-21).
E. He saved us that He might make known through us the manifold wisdom of God to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places (3:10).
F. He saved us that Christ might feel completely at home in our hearts through our faith in Him (3:17).
G. He saved us so that we might comprehend the dimension-less love of Christ (3:18-19).
H. He saved us so that by our consideration of the loftiness of our calling we might be willing to walk in lowliness and humility in our relationships (4:1ff.).
I. He saved us to grow up into a mature man—into the likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ our Head (4:13).
J. He saved us so that the love, grace, and truth of Christ might pass through us to our brethren unto their edification in love (4:13-16).
K. He saved us that we might put off the old man and put on the new man—that is, the ‘garments of grace’ in our relationships. In this way we imitate God (4:17-5:1).
L. He saved us that He might present us before Him totally conformed to Christ-likeness—without spot, or wrinkle, or blemish (5:27).
Discussion: Explain how each individual reason for Christ redeeming us listed above may be translated into Christian practice.