Ephesians 2:14-17. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
What is the church in relationship to Christ? This is the question we are answering in our current series. Christ is ___ therefore the church is ___. Let’s fill in the blanks.
Christ is one with the church, therefore the church is one with each other.
Too many Christians, especially American Christians, tend to see their faith as a completely individual thing. All too often we hear something like “I’m spiritual but not religious.” We bemoan “organized religion.” We may not actually say “I love Jesus but not the church,” but our lifestyle sure does suggest it.
But here’s the problem. You simply can’t claim to love Jesus but not the church. And yes this includes the local church.
Because when you were saved and united to Christ you were saved into the church. The body of Christ. The family of God. His household. His temple. There is no way around this. Your salvation was a corporate event. And beyond this, your salvation united you not only to the church but even to all of humanity. Therefore no one can say “I love God but not people.” It just doesn’t work.
What happened when Jesus died?
Most of us know the answer to this for us as an individual. My sins were forgiven. I was set free. I am saved.
But what happened for all of humanity? Can you answer that? Thankfully, Paul does here in Ephesians. It started back in chapter 1 verses 9-10 when he told us that everything in heaven and on earth was being united into Christ. This of course includes all of humanity.
And then comes chapter 2 where we read things like this:
and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross – all of humanity was united in Christ’s body on the cross. He was the one substitute for all people.
we both have access in one Spirit to the Father – all barriers between God and man are removed.
who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility – and all barriers between all peoples are removed: racial, gender, ethnic, cultural, socio-economic.
And the most profound statement of all:
that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two –
Every statement above so far is true of all people. But this statement is true only of those who by faith in Christ have received Christ’s life and are united to him. Now by our union with Christ, we are a whole new humanity, a new creation, a new human race – the “Third Race.” One new man in place of the two.
The church is something like this…right?
The implications of all of this are enormous. Like what? I’m glad you asked.
First and foremost this truth about Christ and his connection to the church must eliminate any and all distinction between Christ and the church for anyone who claims to be in Christ. As we said up front, the Christian IS the church and the church IS supernaturally, mystically even, connected to Christ. Joined to him. Sharing a spirit with him (1 Corinthians 6:17). Therefore every Christian must unite to a local body. To deny this is to deny Christ (yes I said it). I’m not saying every Christian who isn’t going to church is not truly a Christian. But I am saying that we have the right to question the salvation of every “Christian” who is not actively joined to a local expression of Christ (a church).
Second, the church’s one and only focus must be Christ alone. All else will only increase division. Churches must guard against being centered in one race of people, or one tradition, even one theology. Can and should there be lots of different churches with different practices and different polities? Sure. But the gospel must be at the heart of all that is said and done in order for God and Christ to be glorified and the Spirit to be at work. If anything else is placed at the center of the church and it is pushing people away from Christ, then you know there’s a problem.
Third, the church must strive to not rebuild the walls of hostility that Christ himself has torn down by his death and resurrection. We must “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:3). Paul’s logic is that if Christ removed the barrier between Jews and Gentiles, a barrier that stood for hundreds of years and was even rooted in God’s law, then how can we try to erect new barriers within humanity, especially in the church? Racial walls. Gender walls. Political walls. Worship style walls. Whatever the wall may be it must come down.
Finally (for now), let’s be reminded that our unity in Christ actually allows for our diversity. Unity is not uniformity. In fact this is the whole point. If our unity is actually Christ alone, then all other cultural distinctions can now be celebrated and enjoyed. Other cultures, races, and groups can be understood. Listened to. Appreciated. We can fight for justice for groups beyond our own. We understand Christ and his gospel best when we understand it through the eyes of other cultures. To put it bluntly Churches should fight to not be homogeneous.
“To live is Christ” is to be united to Christ and to all of humanity as Christ is. And this unity is fulfilled in the church as we worship our Savior and as we receive each other in the peace of our Savior.