The New Testament writers speak about the church as “The Body of Christ”. If you have been around the church for very long, you’ve probably become familiar with this expression. This was true for me. Yet, the significance of that image was lost on me because of how often I’d heard it – I hadn’t come to grips with how meaningful this language really is.
In the first chapter of Acts, Jesus is with His disciples one last time on the Mount of Olives. They ask Him a remarkable question: “Lord, at this time are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” This is revealing because it exposes their belief that Jesus was now ready to assert His full authority and begin the process of extending His reign on earth via His physical kingdom. James and John had already tried to position themselves for maximum influence when this day arrived, and when He resurrected from the dead it seemed obvious to the disciples that His physical reign was now beginning. But something shocking happens next. Jesus tells them that they will receive power from the Holy Spirit to be His witnesses to even the ends of the earth and then He ascends out of sight into the sky. The disciples, who several minutes ago were ready to march alongside their King as He overthrew ‘the powers that be’ are left standing there looking into the sky, probably dumbfounded, until 2 strange men appear and ask them why they are still looking into the sky. “He will return”, they promise.
The reason this story headlines the ‘Acts of the Apostles’ is because this is what everything else rests on. It was in this moment they realized Jesus was commissioning them to continue His work of proclaiming and extending His kingdom on the earth. And it was only by the power of His Spirit that they would be able to undertake such a significant task as acting as The Body of Christ, until He returned to consummate it once and for all.
So, here are 3 indicators that we are living as the Body of Christ. I should note that I don’t believe any of these can be manufactured; rather they are present when the Holy Spirit is present among us:
The body of Christ is made up of many members that each fulfill a specific function. As Paul describes this in 1 Corinthians 12, he asserts that no one part is more significant than the other. It would be really strange to see a body with parts not working in unison as if they didn’t need each other. Jesus’ understood the danger of division among His followers; His final prayer for his disciples was about unity. Sadly, the church could not be more divided than it is today. In an age where you can drive down the street and see several churches that all believe different things and compete with one another for market share in the community, the body has lost its ability to influence the world on the scale Jesus intended.
In Ephesians 4, Paul says the whole body should be growing toward attaining the full measure of the stature of Christ. Like our physical bodies, the body of Christ should be continually growing, becoming increasingly like Christ. Often times we associate becoming Christ-like with trying to rid ourselves of sin but it is so much more than that. To become like Christ is to incarnate God attributes in whatever we do by the power of the Spirit. The more mature we become as a body, the more we reflect Jesus’ passion to restore, His submission to the Father, His sensitivity to the Spirit, and His devotion to His mission.
The body is healthy when each part is participating in the triumph of Jesus’ work. While Jesus was here in human form, He went from city to city preaching the good news that the Kingdom of God was near, doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil. The primary role of the church is continuing that work until He returns. Everything else we concern ourselves with is secondary. If the church fails to do the work of extending the kingdom by the reproduction and releasing of disciples, we are not operating as the body of Christ.
I heard one prominent church leader offer some good insights on Jesus’ words in Matthew 16. Here Jesus says that the gates of hades will not prevail against his church. This leader noted that if ‘the church’ isn’t winning either Jesus is a liar, misinformed, or our churches aren’t under His headship. I would add that unity, maturity, and participation are all necessary attributes for us to accomplish the work he wants to through us!
I am praying about these areas in my own life, asking that the Holy Spirit leads me to embody these 3 attributes. Do I see the Body of Christ as a global unit or do I see it as one local building? Am I increasingly incarnating God attributes for my family, neighbors, co-workers? Or do I believe I am Christ-like enough already? And am I participating and contributing to the extension of the kingdom by reproducing and/or releasing?
Are you embodying these 3 attributes?
Are you embodying these 3 attributes?