A discourse on our oneness in Christ
"Through faith you are all sons of God in union with Christ Jesus. Baptised into union with him, you have all put on Christ as a garment. There is no such thing as Jew and Greek, slave and freeman, male and female; for you are all one person in Christ Jesus. But if you thus belong to Christ, you are the issue of Abraham, and so heirs by promise" (Galatians 3. 26-29)
Christian unity is something that is repeatedly stressed throughout the scriptures, and no where more so than in relation to the Body of Christ. The lovely passage from the message sent by Paul to the Galatian church tells us that when we were baptised into Christ we received and acknowledged Him as our Saviour. Baptism is, by our immersion in water, the outward sign of the consecration we've made of our lives to God. It is a public declaration of our faith in the Gospel, which He delivered to us through His Son and a demonstration of our belief in the saving power of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. It is not just a physical cleansing but a spiritual cleansing of our whole mind and life. As Peter tells us; "Baptism is not the washing away of bodily pollution, but the appeal made to God by a good conscience; and it brings salvation through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 3.2l) while Paul asks; "Have you forgotten that when we were baptised into union with Christ Jesus we were baptised into His death? By baptism we were buried with Him, and lay dead, in order that, as Christ was raised from the dead in the splendour of the Father, so also we might set our feet upon the new path of life. For if we have become incorporate with Him in a death like his, we shall also be one with him in a resurrection like his." (Romans 6. 3 ‑ 5)
The whole idea and effectiveness of baptism depends on the death and resurrection of Jesus. It's by our belief in our risen Lord that we are cleansed. It's to Him that we pledge ourselves and our life, and from Him that we get the strength to keep that pledge. In consecrating ourselves to Him we took to ourselves His sentiments, His opinions, and His characteristics: in fact we are trying so hard to be like Him that Paul says, we have clothed ourselves in Him. What's more it doesn't make any difference whether we are Jew or Gentile, slave or freeman, man or woman, everyone is saved in the same way. Everyone in the Church is entitled to the same privileges. There's no favouritism on account of blood or birth or beauty. Whatever our birth or rank, whatever our nationality, colour or complexion, under the Gospel we're all on one level. So as Paul told the Ephesian church; "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For He chose us in him before the creation of the world, to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will, to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the one he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding and he made known to us the mystery of His will according to his good pleasure which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment, to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works everything in conformity with the purpose of His will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of His glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, which is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession - to the praise of his Glory". (Ephesians 1.3-14)
In the Ephesian letter the apostle gives a shout of praise to our Heavenly Father for all the blessings He has given to us, and exalts the oneness, the unity and the grandeur of the Body of Christ, and we can see from the passage that they weren't chance occurrences but were given of intention and by design.. What makes them even more valuable and special is that it's quite clear that it isn't a recent plan or an after-thought but has always been a part of our Heavenly Fathers' eternal design. Paul tells us that God had chosen us before the foundation of the world, before this earth on which we live had even been started to be formed. This was not as individuals of course, although in His fore knowledge our Heavenly Father knows everyone who will be His heirs. We have been chosen as a group, a body of faithful ones who have been "taken out for his name," to be "conformed to the image of His Son". Thus we are to be partakers of the divine nature and fellow heirs with Christ Jesus, priests in the Millennial Kingdom for the establishment of universal righteousness and peace. As Peter tells us; "You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to GOD, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light." (1 Peter 2. 9)
And just so that we don't feel any pride at being a part of that very special group, which God has chosen, we're told that; "Not many of you were rich by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things, and the things that are not, to nullify the things that are, so that no-one may boast before Him." (1Corinthians 1. 26-29). Our Heavenly Father has chosen us for special blessings which only He can give and which are only to be had by those who fully respond to the Heavenly calling, which is made to many, but only accepted by a comparative few. However, just saying that we accept the call isn't enough. We have to do our part so that; "we may be found in Him, not having our own righteousness, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that we may know Him and the power of his resurrection" (Philippians 3. 9-10). We've been chosen to be different from and set apart from all others. This difference isn't one that takes us out of the world, but which makes us different in the world. We're citizens of Heaven who, for the brief span of life that is left to us, are compelled to live in an alien country. It is a country whose laws we must obey even though our heart is in Heaven. We are not to shut ourselves away in isolation: not for us the cloistered quiet and seclusion of the monastery. We're to stay in the world without being of the world. But as we do, are we letting our light shine so that our friends, neighbours and work mates can recognize us for what we are?
Because our minds are on higher things, rather than on the state of the stock market or the latest 'soap', do you sense a lack of interest, by these people, in what we have to say? Have you noticed that the world turns its 'cold shoulder' to us? If you have, then you know that the Spirit of God is bearing witness with your spirit that you are a child of God.
So we haven't just got to be respectable. Our aim must be to live according to the perfect example set for us by our Lord and Saviour rather than according to the accepted morality of the world, "because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead he entrusted himself to him who judges justly" (1 Peter 2. 2l ‑23).
In doing this we will have to endure conditions of severe trial, of faith, of obedience and the sacrifice of earthly privileges, even being prepared to give our lives for our faith if necessary. So the point Peter is making is that; "it is God's will that your good lives should silence those who make foolish accusations against you. But if you suffer for doing right and are patient beneath the blows, God is pleased with you" (1 Peter 2. l5 and 20). It is by individually overcoming these trials that we'll be found worthy to be a part of that predestined group and receive all the blessings and benefits which were fore-ordained by God for this body of faithful ones.
We're told that we must be blameless. The Greek word, which has been translated blameless, is amonos and it's a sacrificial word. Any animal, which was offered in sacrifice to God, had to be a perfect specimen. It was carefully inspected, before being offered, to make sure it was without blemish and it would be rejected if any fault was found. So this word blameless carries the thought of our lives being an offering to God; an offering that must be without blemish. . It means that we have a standard of perfection set before us at which we must aim. Although we can't be perfect in our own strength but only by the grace of our Heavenly Father, we shouldn't think in terms of human worldly standards but only of how our lives should be lived if we're to be pleasing to Him.
The first chapter of Ephesians tells us that; "In love, he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will" (Ephesians 1. 4- 5). Now we're told that predestination is the effective exercise of the will of God, by which things before determined by Him are brought to pass. It enforces upon us the essential truth that salvation is entirely of grace. That no one can either complain if he is passed over, or boast about himself if he is saved; and that it illustrates the riches of God's free grace and His just displeasure with sin.
It was love for us that prompted our Heavenly Father to predestinate the Church, the body of Christ, and it's one of the highest expressions of His love that ordained, "before the beginning of time," (Titus 1.2) that the members of that body should have immortality. We have no claim on predestination, because no-one has any merit of his own, neither do we deserve it. But in His love for mankind God determined, before the world was ever made, that He was going to "take out a people for His Name," and that He would do so by offering the opportunity of being adopted by Him as His children to all who would accept, through their belief in the saving grace of the death and resurrection of His Son.
This figure of adoption gives us a beautiful picture of what God, in His love, has done for us. Under Roman law a father had complete control over the life of a son. This power even gave the father the legal right of life and death over his son, and that power continued as long as the father lived, even if the son rose to one of the highest positions in the realm. Therefore it was quite a serious step for a boy to be adopted and taken out of the authority of one father and given into the power of another. However, when the legal stages of such an adoption were complete, the boy had all the rights of a natural son in his new family and all the rights that he had in his old family were abolished. He was in effect a new person, even to the extent that any debts or obligations connected with his old life and his old family were cancelled.
Now the picture that Paul paints for us is that we were in the complete power of sin, in the power of the prince of this world just as a son was in the power of his earthly father. God in His love for us through the sacrifice of Jesus and by adopting us has taken us out of that evil power, into His own family and into His loving care and authority. Thus, by adopting us, He has cancelled all of our past, - all our sins and made us new creatures in Christ; "Who have been chosen according to the fore-knowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by His blood" (1 Peter 1. 2)
The passage, from Ephesians closes by telling us that we have been marked by our Heavenly Father with the seal of the Holy Spirit. Paul sent a similar message to the Corinthian church telling them that God had; "set his seal on us, and put his spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come" (2 Corinthians 1.22). Paul is telling us about two things here. First, he says we're sealed. A seal was put on an article to show who owned it, and we bear God's seal. Then he talks about what the King James version calls the "earnest of the Spirit". The Greek word is arrabon and it is really a business word meaning the payment of a first instalment as a guarantee that the balance will be paid on completion of the contract. What Paul is saying is that in putting His seal on us God is showing that we belong to Him. By giving us the Holy Spirit to help us live as we ought, He is giving us the first instalment towards a Heavenly life as a guarantee that, in due time, the fullness of that life will be opened to us. In human terms it's Jehovah's token and pledge that, for us, there are greater things to come.