The Lord's Day Morning
March 19, 2006
“One Body, Spirit, Hope, Lord, Faith, Baptism, God and Father” (Pt. 2)
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan II
…For several months now, and starting in Ephesians 4 just a few weeks ago, we emphasized on a number of occasions that whereas in Ephesians 1-3 the Apostle Paul has described what God has done in bringing believing Jew and Gentile into one body in Jesus Christ, and that in chapters 4-6 he's now going to tell us how we ought to live in that one body; so that the first three chapters of Ephesians are about the indicative (what God has done and what we in fact are in Jesus Christ) and the second three chapters, chapters 4-6, are about the imperative (or what we ought to do because we are God's people in Jesus Christ).
So Ephesians 4 moves from a discussion of the new, redeemed humanity, this new society, this new family that God has created in Jesus Christ, to the study of how we are to live or behave as God's new family or new society, or new community. And that's the concentration of Ephesians 4-6.
Now, when we looked at Ephesians 4:1-3, we said that Paul concluded that with this exhortation: that we were to preserve the unity that the Spirit has given us in peace, so that the Apostle is calling on us in the life of the church to preserve and to cultivate a unity, a communion with one another, that the Spirit has already given us. And we noted the last time we were together that Paul didn't say strive to attain a unity that you do not yet have, or he didn't say strive to fulfill the latent potential for unity that exists in you, or strive to be unified like you will be one day in glory; but, rather, express in peace the unity that you already have.
And it's an amazing statement. He says you have a unity that has been given you by the Spirit. If you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, you have been given a spiritual unity with every other believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that spiritual unity is especially expressed in the local body of believers, in the local congregation.
And then in Ephesians 4:4-6, Paul spells out the basis for this unity. Why is it that we can be considered one? Well, he gives three arguments.
We are one because there is one Spirit, there is one Lord, there is one Father. In other words, he argues from our doctrine of the one true God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — to our unity. And he says we are one because God is one, and therefore we should express and experience that kind of oneness and unity in our community together. And so that's what we're going to study today, but just like last week, we're not going to get out of the first point, because I threw out something “by the way” last week that we weren't able to explore. I threw out the importance of the distinction between the invisible and visible church, but I didn't explain that. And so this week as we look again at the fourth verse, “…there is one body and one Spirit”, we're going to see why that verse requires us to understand the distinction between the invisible and the visible church. And that's why, for those of you who have outlines, on the bottom of the outline I have put the appropriate sections of The Westminster Confession on the doctrine of the church, and we’ll look through some of that together today.
Understanding the visible and invisible distinction is important practically for the way we live the Christian life, and so we’ll pause to think about that today and then we’ll continue on in our exposition next week and perhaps we’ll be able to make it through the whole of this short section, rich as it is.
Before we study God's word together, let's look to Him in prayer and ask His help and blessing.
Lord, we thank You for Your word, and we thank You that Your word is able to equip us for the living of the Christian life, and that it is inerrant and it is authoritative, and that it is profitable. And so we pray that by Your word and Spirit we would not simply leave today with more facts in our heads about the church, but that our hearts would be instructed and would joyfully embrace the teaching of Your word, so that we believe it and live it to Jesus’ glory. And in Your name we pray. Amen.
This is God's word. Ephesians 4, beginning in verse 4:
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
Let's walk through the logic of Paul's argument for a moment, picking up in verse 3 and just follow it through to verse 6, so that we can have it clear in our mind what he's arguing here.
In verse 3, the Apostle Paul tells you and me to preserve the unity that the Spirit has already given us. Notice his words: “Being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” By our peace with one another, expressed in our relationships in this local congregation, we are preserving a unity that has been given to us by the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit brought us together, different as we are, into one family, into one body. But the unity that we experience doesn't just happen. It takes work, just like a good marriage takes work. A good marriage doesn't just happen. There are things that have to be done for a good marriage to flourish, and those have to be cultivated for that marriage to be what God intends it to be.
So also God has given us a unity in the body of Christ, but we are to be diligent to preserve that unity which God has given us and to see it expressed in peace. So there's Paul's exhortation that we are to be diligent, that we're to preserve the unity the Spirit has given us to express it through peace in our relationship in the church.
I. We are one body because there is one Spirit that has given us being and life.
Now, the next three verses, verses 4, 5, and 6, give us each of three distinct “because's.” How is it that we have…what kind of unity are you talking about, Paul? Well, first, notice verse 4: “You are one body…” Why? Because there is one Holy Spirit. There is one body and one Spirit, so Paul says ‘What kind of unity do you have? It is a unity so vital, so real, so organic, I can liken you to a body, that's how united you are; but it's the Holy Spirit that's done that. It's the one Holy Spirit that's made you into one body. That's why you’re one, and that's why you need to express that oneness in your life together.’
Argument Number Two: Look at verses 4 and 5 now. Here Paul says you have one hope, one faith, one baptism. Why? Because there's only one Lord. There's only one Lord Jesus Christ, and your hope is dependent on Him. Your faith is in Him. You are baptized into His name. (We’ll explore what that means next week.) But again, his second argument is your oneness is based on the fact that there is only one Lord, and there is only one Spirit.
And then look at verse 6. Why is it that you are one? Because you have one Father. If you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, you have the one and the same heavenly Father, and because of this you are to live out that oneness. That's the flow of logic in Paul's argument here.
But in verse 4, this is where I want you to see expressly today. Paul tells us that our shared union and communion in the local church, our oneness and gospel fellowship in the Christian church, rests on the fact that we are one body, because there is one Spirit that has given us being and life. And last week we noticed two things about that.
First of all, we noticed that Paul says that we are one body, not that we potentially can be one body or that we ought to be one body, or that we ought to stop fighting and be one body, but that we are one body. Not something that we will one day be or something that we have the potential to be, it is something that we already are. We are a body.
And we also noticed that Paul uses this striking metaphor, this striking image, this striking illustration of us, of our unity being like parts of a body being united together. In other words, Paul is saying that our unity is vital and real, and intimate, and personal, and organic. We have a need for one another, so that when we attend to the means of grace not only is it good for us, it's good for the whole body because we all need one another in order to grow in the Christian life.
Just as some of you serve in specific ways in the congregation, you may not be seen or lauded publicly; that doesn't mean that those things are any less necessary. We've commented several times in the past weeks that during Communicants Class that some of those who are now preparing to profess their faith before the congregation will note a Sunday School teacher or a Vacation Bible School teacher, or a Day School teacher, or a parent in the congregation (not their own) who has had some profound spiritual impact on them in their growing in grace. And those things may never have been seen by many eyes in the congregation, but who can calculate their value in terms of the eternal significance of them? And so we serve one another in ways like that in the congregation.
Well, we also said last week that Paul's declaring that there is one body also presses upon us the doctrine of the visible and the invisible church, and I just want to park on that for a few moments and work through that with you. Why do I say that?
Well, if we look around and there are divisions in the local church, and if we look around the city of Jackson and we find…how many different denominations? and we ask the question, “OK, if the church is one body and there is only one body, then how can there be divisions between Christians and how can there be so many different churches, so many different denominations?”
Now there are only two answers to that question. Either the answer is that there is only true visible church and that all other churches are false — and there are many churches that claim to be that “only” true visible church. There are churches that claim to be the only true church, and if you’re not in that church, you’re not in the church. We don't believe that. We have biblical reasons why we don't believe that.
But if you reject that view (and I'd have to go through several points of argumentation to do a thorough job of that), if we set that view aside that there is only one true denomination, or gathering, or church of Christians that is the true church, and then all others are false — if we set that aside, then the only other answer to this question is that the church's real unity, the oneness that we have as a body, is never perfectly visible here because of our sinfulness and because of our finiteness, and because it is God's Spirit that creates the church, and thus we cannot create that unity through our organizational or institutional efforts.
And so this verse actually presses on us the distinction between the visible and the invisible church. If there is only one body and we look around and we see disunity amongst Christians, then either there's only one church among those churches that is the true church, or the one true church is invisible to a certain extent and expressed through various Christian groups today.
Now, let me give you some definitions. When we say the invisible church, what are we talking about? When we say the invisible church, we are talking about the community of all true believers in all ages. If you have an outline, if you would, look down to the bottom of the page and look at the first section of The Westminster Confession, Chapter XXV. Now, if you don't, and you want to read this with your own eyes, you can turn to page 863 of your hymnals and look at Chapter XXV in The Confession. Now listen to what it says:
“The catholic or universal church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of him that fills all in all.”
And so when we say the invisible church we are speaking about the church as the community of all true believers in all ages in all places: before, now, and in the future.
When we speak of the visible church, we are speaking of the community that professes belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. And there's a difference. It's possible to profess belief in Jesus Christ without having belief in Jesus Christ. It's possible to be a member of a visible church without being a member of the invisible church. And again, look at Westminster Confession, Chapter XXV, at the bottom. It says it this way (Section II):
“The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel …consists of all those through the world that profess the true religion; and of their children; and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.”
And then in Sections IV and V, The Confession goes on to say that, look, no church has ever been perfect! The church is always more or less visible; it's always more or less mixed, more or less pure. And even the purest churches under heaven have a mixture of truth and error. We are, because of our sin, imperfect; and so the church's visibility, because of our sin, is impaired to some extent.
But there is a distinction between these two. The invisible church is substantially expressed through the visible church, but it's not identical. Think of it. The thief on the cross did not have time to join a local church. Will you see the thief on the cross in heaven? Oh, yes, you will! Jesus said, “Today you will be with Me in paradise.”
On the other hand, we can think of people like in Acts 6…you remember the man who was a great magician in one of the cities that Peter was preaching in, a man named Simon. And Simon, who was nicknamed “the great power of God”, saw the power of Peter and the apostles and he was overawed by it. He eventually professed faith in Christ. He was baptized. And then one day he came up to Peter and he said ‘Look, how much would I have to pay you so that I could lay hands on people and they would get the Holy Spirit?’ and Peter said ‘You have got to be out of your mind! The Holy Spirit is not bought by a price. The power of the apostles is not something that can be sold!’ And he just laid down upon Simon a great word of condemnation. Simon had made a profession of faith. He was a member of the visible church, but he wasn't a member of the invisible church.
Go back to the Old Testament, and the visible church was made up of Abraham and his seed, Abraham and his children. Who was the very first child in Abraham's family to receive the sign of membership in the visible church? Not Isaac; Ishmael, who ended up living over against his brethren, Moses tells us in the Book of Genesis.
So there is a distinction between the visible and the invisible church. Let me tell you how J.I. Packer explains this.
“There is a distinction to be drawn between the church as we humans see it and as God alone sees it. This is the historic distinction between the visible church and the invisible church. Invisible doesn't mean that we can see no sign of the church's presence, but that we cannot know as only God the heart-reader knows which of those baptized professing members of the church as an organized institution are inwardly regenerate, and thus belong to the church as the spiritual fellowship of sinners loving their Savior. Jesus taught that in the organized church there would always be people who, though they thought they were Christians and passed as Christians (some, indeed, becoming ministers), but who were not renewed in their heart, and would therefore be exposed and rejected on the Judgment Day. The visible/invisible distinction is drawn to take into account of this. It is not that there are two churches, but that the visible community regularly contains imitation Christians whom God knows not to be real.”
And so this passage that there is one body, and the fact that we look out and we see multiple expressions of that body, some not even in communion with one another, either presses on us the fact that the true church is either just one of those visible expressions or that the true church is expressed invisibly and is often substantially expressed in many of those different denominations.
This weekend at the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, Presbyterians and Baptists, and Episcopalians and Reformed folk, all of whom share a common tenacious love for the gospel and for the glorious doctrines of grace, but who have a variety of different denominational doctrinal distinctives that are very significant to them, are going to come together and they’re going to put on the PCRT. They’re expressing unity even though they have distinctions.
Now, denominations often get a bad name today, as if denominations were the cause of disunity. But you understand that originally denominations were invented so that people would not be forced against their consciences to join a state church that they felt was wrong in its doctrinal beliefs about certain teachings of the Bible. So denominations were originally invented in order to give Christians liberty of conscience so that they could express their faithfulness, their fidelity to Scripture, and express their unity in other ways without being forced into a state church.
Well, in this passage Paul is teaching us…as he tells us that we are one body, he is teaching us the visible/invisible distinctions. Because when we look out at the world and we see Christian disunity, the response is not ‘Oh, no! We need to work to bring about a unity that does not exist.’ It's ‘No, we need to express the real unity that does exist but which is so often, too often, hidden from the eyes of the world.’
But let's remember again, too, that that disunity is not just the result of sin. Some of that disunity, or that lack of visibility of the church, is the result of our being finite.
For instance, you and I know that in heaven above right now there is a multitude of saints worshiping the one true God. We can't see them. They’re the church triumphant, and just as real as we are. They’re more real than we are! They’re more human than we are. And yet we can't see them. We sing about this all the time, by the way. Whenever you sing For All the Saints, you sing,
“O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine.”
You know what you’re singing about? You’re singing about us feebly struggling…and who are we? The visible church militant. And “they in glory shine.” Who are we singing about? The invisible church triumphant.
Or we sing about it when we sing The Church's One Foundation:
“Yet she on earth hath union with God, the three in One;
And mystic, sweet communion with those whose rest is won.”
Who are we singing about when we sing about those whose rest is won? The church triumphant. We can't see them right now, but they are just as real as we are. We can't see them because we're finite. We can't see everything at once.
And then, of course, there's the eschatological church, the church that will be praising God at the end of ages. We sing about that in For All the Saints, as well. Remember how it says that
“Lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day!
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way…
From earth's wide bounds,
From oceans’ farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl stream in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost….”
That will be the church gathered triumphant, visible forever, in the future after the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. But we can't see that now.
And of course, the present world-wide church we can't see now. You know, one of the poignant things that ministers that get to visit other countries to do ministry alongside of missionaries experience is when you leave, having done that mission work, you’re not sure whether you will ever see those Christians again until glory. And it's always a poignant thing when you leave and you say, “Brother, I hope I’ll see you again here, but if I don't, I’ll see you in glory.” Because we can't be all over the world at once. We can't see that expression of the saints all around the world. But they’re there.
And then there's the persecuted church. Sometimes the church is so persecuted you can't see them at all, even if you’re in the country. You remember fifty years ago Maoist Communists were certain that they were going to stamp out Christianity in China, and then the veil was lifted in the early 1990's, and what did we find? More than 50 million — some say 100 million — Christians! Where did they come from? Where were they all this time? We hadn't seen them, but God's Spirit was working. Where the Spirit is, there is the church. So the church is not always visible to us, but its unity is real, just as the work of the Spirit is real.
And so when God tells us that there is one body because there is one Spirit, we remember that, yes, we want to visibly express that unity; but that even when because of our finiteness we don't see all that unity, and even when because of our fallen-ness we don't express that unity, yet God has created a reality of unity that cannot be destroyed, cannot be dissolved, and which will persevere at the end of time. And it's our desire in the local congregation to express that unity that the Spirit has given to us, especially through humility and patience and tolerance and forbearance, and love.
And then outside the bounds of the visible church, by cooperating with other gospel Christians, Christians with whom we may have significant doctrinal differences but with whom we share a common embrace of the glorious gospel, a common embrace of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and with whom we can in good conscience engage and work together in various ways, so we seek to express that invisible unity which cannot be dissolved via the visible church.
Now, that's a long footnote in the sermon. But it's an important footnote; it's not something we talk about very often. We’ll come back to the exposition next week, especially picking up in verse 5 and see if we can get through verses 5 and 6 the next week.
Let's look to God in prayer.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your word. We pray that You would make us mindful of the blessing that it is to be united to Jesus Christ and with Him be united to all who are united to Jesus Christ. We love it, Lord God, that we have brothers and sisters that we have never met, from far away places in lands distant and different from ours — people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation — friends in Christ who are different from us in various ways.
But Lord, we don't just love You in the abstract and love the church in the abstract like this. We love it in the concrete, the concrete reality of this local church where You have brought people that are very, very different together. Lord God, make us to express our visible unity more in love, in humility, in patience, in forbearance, in tolerance for one another, that we might be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
[Congregational hymn: Blest Be the Tie That Binds]
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.