7.4 Ephesians -- the Body of Christ
The power of God active in the believer is the same power that raised up Jesus. Now Christ is ruling on high with God, above all powers and realms. God has placed all things under His feet. He is the head of all things, and the church is his body,
"the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way" (Eph 1:23). Or: "the fullness of Him who fills all in all" (RSV, Authorized).
The "body" metaphor Paul uses elsewhere: Rom 12:4-5,1 Cor 12:12-27, Eph 4:12, Col 1:18, Col 1:24. As we have noted previously (1 Cor 12), this is Paul's fundamental model of the new community, the Church. The body of Christ succeeds the nation of Israel as the dwelling place of God among men.
This is a critically important concept, in that it takes priority over all natural, national and racial ties -- and it crosses each of those boundaries. Christ's body is the foundation of all Christian racial teaching and practice. And this shows us that cross-racial relationships among Christians MUST be different than such relationships among unbelievers. Why? Because neither of the parties of non-Christians is a part of his body. The fundamental unity between the two groups is missing: they are natural enemies separated by a wall of racial or cultural differences. But with Christians, the "wall" is only superficial and temporary, in fact a mirage and distraction. The reality is that the unity of believers in the Body of Christ is so deep that it obliterates all obvious differences. This unity is not some ideal of brotherhood for people to work towards, it is the Holy Spirit's present indwelling in each member. Unity is also the agenda of His future purpose on the earth. Paul deals with this more practically and explicitly later in chapter 2.
It is not only that Christians are joined to each other in this mystical body, but that God inhabits it, He is the life within it. Jesus is the head of the body, and God's life fills it. The connotation here is that nothing is lacking. The Body of Christ is the third incarnation of the Deity: the first was the nation of Israel, where God attempted to inhabit a nation. He clothed Himself with Israel. The second was Jesus Christ, in whom the fullness of Deity was concentrated. Upon his resurrection, the indwelling of God in Jesus is shared with all those who confess his Lordship. When believers meet together, it is as if Jesus is present with them:
"For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (Mat 18:20).
And so the corporate incarnation that was foreshadowed in the nation of Israel is fulfilled in the Church, by means of the Holy Spirit who is the agent of God’s power and presence among men.
Nevertheless, most analogies have limitations, and the "body" one does as well. There may be no inequalities among the members of the body, yet a separation remains between the head and the rest of the body, although Paul doesn’t mention it. God’s fullness may dwell in that body, but without imparting divinity to its separate cells – just as the nation of Israel, the "holy nation," did not become divine. This corporate incarnation, and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit, never crosses the Creator/creature boundary. There is a sense in which, as Israel was a "type" of what would be fulfilled in Jesus Christ (God's manifest Presence), so the Church is also only a "type" of Christ. This gets confusing because of Paul’s language about "great and exceeding promises" and "immeasurable riches of His grace" and so on. Plus, the actual Spirit who was in Jesus on earth comes to dwell in us, and Jesus himself promised that we would do "greater works" through this Spirit. And are we not "living stones" in the Temple of God?
It is not surprising, then, if some believers get off base, and come to think of themselves as qualitatively changed by God’s indwelling. Rather than resting gratefully on imputed righteousness, they believe their own nature has been transformed. Or as it is sometimes put, not only have they ceased from voluntary sins, but are also set free from "inbred sin," the legacy of Adam. This is a serious mistake, and can only be remedied by humility, which is to say, reality. This reality is that God is always Other, even when He comes to live in us. There is no merging of His Spirit and ours, even if they co-habitate! The voice He speaks within the believer is not our voice and never will be. We may grow in Christlikeness in terms of becoming "like" Him in behavior, but we never become him in essence. Nor is Christian maturity a matter of gaining autonomy and enlargement of self (becoming a "great soul"), but rather of growing in the awareness of how great is our need for God and how continuous our dependence on Him.