Saturday, September 7, 2013

The need for G.R.A.C.E in Christianity unity

Ephesians 4:1-3 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love,being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 

Jesus prays the following in John 17:18-21 "As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.19 For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. 20 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be oneeven as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me."  The unity that Jesus prays for is based upon grace. Jesus desires a compound unity that is comparable to what is seen by analogy in the Trinity, by illustration in marriage and by comparison in the human body.  Ephesians 4:1-16 acts as a Divine commentary for unfolding Jesus' prayer.  As we study through Ephesians 4:1-16 today, we want to know what it takes to have g.r.a.c.e based Christianity unity.  Thus we will use the acronym g.r.a.c.e to walk our way through God's words in Ephesians 4:1-16.

reat Effort.                     Ephesians 4:1-3 

Christian unity first of all takes great effort by those relying upon God's grace.  Ephesians 4:1 states the need to "walk in a manner worthy of the calling."  God both calls and commands the church to strive for unity.  Such a command is for the church as a whole, meaning that the great effort of Christian unity is going to require everyone.  Five words in Ephesians 4:2-3 explain how the church is to "walk out" the calling to Christian unity: 

a. "with all humility".  This speaks of what one writer refers to as an "inside to outside virtue that is produced by comparing ourselves to the Lord rather than other people."

b. "and gentleness". This speaks of strength under control or not trying to get our way.

c. "patience".  That is, longsuffering or willingness to not give up on one another but rather encourage one another to run the race of faith.

d. "showing tolerance".  In other words, bearing up one another or enduring one another.

e. "being dilligent".  This phrase in the original language speaks of the members urging each other to preserve and guard the growing unity of grace binding them together as a family of saints. (compare Hebrews 10:24-25)

As the old saying goes: "to be with the saints above, that will be glory, however to dwell with the saints here below, well that's another story."  We as Christians err in thinking that unity will just simply happen.  Much like sanctification on the individual level, Christian unity is both a "God-thing" and an "us thing".  Most churches and Christian people desire unity, however very few are willing to put forth the effort. The remainder of Paul's instructions on Christian unity derive from God-given graces that we must rely upon to achieve it.

Reliance upon the Triune God. Eph 4:4-6

God's grace is when God does for you what you could never for yourself.  The key word "one" is interlinked with the Triune God of grace and the seven-fold grace of unity:

a. "One body" - The church and its converted members were planned by the Father as a love gift for His Son. (John 17:9)

b. "One Spirit" - Without the Person of the Holy Spirit, no unity can take place

c. "One hope" - Without the hope of the Gospel, no one could hear the Spirit's voice calling them unto salvation.

d. "One Lord" - Without the Person and work of Jesus Christ, there would be no church nor unity to speak of in this passage

e. "One faith" - Without saving faith as the gift of God, no one would believe and be justified before God

f. "One baptism"1 - baptism here speaks of the ministry of the Spirit in joining the believer to Jesus Christ at saving faith, with the subsequent administration of water baptism acting as the sign and the obedient public declaration by the convert in pointing back to that experience. (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)2  

g. "One God and Father" - The First Person of the Trinity who planned the church.  Without the Person of the Father, there would be no church to speak of needing unity.

So g.r.a.c.e based unity needs great effort and reliance upon the Triune God, but notice thirdly...  

Active Pastor Leadership  4:7-12

We see here the five-fold ministry given by the Lord Jesus Christ.  The main focus of interest for this post concerns the pastoral office, being that it is the most fully discussed of the the five offices listed here in Ephesians 4.  Passages such as 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 deal with the qualities of the Pastor while 1 Peter 5:1-3 deals more so with the purpose.  A Pastor functions to preach the Word, love the people and lead.  Only by the grace of the Lord can a pastor be a catalyst for unity. A church without pastoral leadership cannot expect to be equipped to unify together for the cause of Christ.  Jesus Christ has so given the office of Pastor to His flock to function as an "undershepherd" that is delegated authority to equip the saints to unify around the mission and majesty of Jesus Christ.  Insofar as the Pastor loves His Lord, His family, his people and the scriptures will determine how well He is able to be used of God to be a catalyst for unity.  So the unity desired by Jesus requires great effort, reliance upon the Trinity, active pastoral leadership and fourthly....

Commitment to Sound Doctrine. Ephesians 4:13-15

Doctrine is the vocabulary of faith and is the handmaiden of sound preaching, Christian conversation and Christ-honoring worship.  Just as Jesus spoke His words over the sea of Galilee to bring forth calm and still waters, the church needs to hear the voice of Christ preached by the scriptures and taught through sound Biblical doctrine to calm the periodic restless waves in the church.  1 Timothy 4:16 "
Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you." 

What happens when the church abandons the grace of sound doctrine? The church forgets who she is and becomes a turbulent sea.  She forgets who she is and Whose she is and soon starts looking more like the world.  Contrary to what many may teach, when doctrine is abandoned in the name of unity, confusion and disharmony results. 

So g.r.a.c.e based unity in Christ's church requires great effort, reliance upon the Triune God, active pastor leadership, commitment to sound doctrine and one more important element, namely...

Emphasizing Body Life . Ephesians 4:16

Body life is essential, since it emphasizes the Spirit given gifts of believers.  Christian unity does not mean uniformity - where everyone is the same.  Unity rather implies diversity orbiting around and connected to a common point. The New Testament uses the imagery of "the body of Christ" to picture what it looks like when every member is doing their part and serving one another for His glory. (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31; 1 Peter 4:7-11). Christians should be working toward the common goal of God's glory in Jesus Christ.  The pastor by himself cannot do it all, nor the deacons, nor only a handful in the church.  The call of "all hands on deck" is issued by the Captain of our salvation as He steers the mighty ship of the church militant through the sea of history.  The church is a living organism, a body, with Jesus Christ as the head. (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Colossians 1:18)  When the members of the church are functioning together as a body, "body-life" emerges, with the local church functioning as one person.  Soon the sweet aroma of Jesus Christ's love and truth is released and the community around takes notice. (2 Corinthians 2:14-17)   

As we close today's post, we have witnessed the following five ingredients necessary for the g.r.a.c.e based unity prayer for by Jesus:

1. Great effort.  Ephesians 4:1-3
2. Reliance upon the Trinity. Ephesians 4:4-6
3. Active pastoral leadership. Eph 4:7-12
4. Commitment to sound doctrine. Eph 4:13-15
5. Emphasis upon body-life. Eph 4:16

These are the five things necessary for Christian unity.

Much like the American flag is a sign of the previously agreed upon formation of the United States by the founding fathers, water baptism is a sign of the previously founded salvation granted by God the Father through faith to the believer who was united by the Spirit to Christ in spirit baptism. (Ephesians 2:8-9; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13; Romans 6:4-5) In water baptism the Christian is publically professing in obedience the wonderful salvation that was prior to the water baptism and privately received by faith in the heart. 

2. Much confusion abounds over the issue of baptism and can only be cleared up once we understand the scripture's teachings on "spirit baptism" and "water baptism", and how both constitute the "one baptism" spoken of by Paul.  Causally and subsequently connected to the Spirit's act of "spiritually baptizing" the believing sinner into Christ at salvation is the obedient re-enactment of that by means of one's public profession of faith in water baptism.  Water baptism is the symbol that is prescribed by Christ to point back to the Spirit baptism.  In scripture, a symbol or sign serves to signify a prior spiritual reality or experience of grace.  Therefore when the scripture says "One Baptism", there literally is only "one" in the sense that the water baptism is causally connected to the prior experience of saving faith, wherein the Spirit joins the believing sinner to Christ by Spirit baptism.  Water baptism does not impart saving faith nor the gift of the Spirit.  The Spirit Himself comes to the sinner in grace and in the gifting of faith the sinner responds by believing and repenting of their sins.  Water baptism is a subsequent, public declaration of prior saving faith. The Spirit joins me to Christ in His ministry of Spirit baptism, with the water baptism simply declaring that prior spiritual experience.