Reclaiming Christian Witness and Authority
5. “But a body have you prepared for me”
The One God, who is revealed as Three now manifests himself in the many – the many spread across time, space, history and into eternity!
In incarnation He came down to dwell among men, as Man. But after His resurrection, ascension and exaltation He manifests Himself in the Church, which is His Body. Apostle Paul writes, “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” Eph 1: 22, 23. “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” Col 2: 9, 10.
Thus He now lives among men, in His body the Church. Hence the Messianic prayer, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” This Body is not only the body that Christ had in His incarnation but I believe, it also constitutes people ‘called out of the world’ to be His own. Who also are willing to fulfill the Father’s will as Christ, their Master did even if it meant death on a cross.
They have learned to live in communion with God and with one another patterned according to the Triune God – distinct yet one, one yet many. United in communion yet distinct in being. They have learned to give of themselves to God and to one another just as the Father gave away the Son and the Son offers himself to the Father through the Spirit and gives himself to us.
We have thus come to answer the question, how does the invisible God make himself known? What representation God allows of Himself, if He does at all.
Before the coming of Christ. God is represented in his Word. As Moses explained to the people of Israel, “You came near and stood at the bottom of the mountain. The mountain burned with fire that reached up to the sky. There were thick black clouds and darkness. Then the Lord spoke to you from the fire. You heard the sound of someone speaking, but you did not see any form. There was only a voice.” He is known in His voice and in the recording of that voice in written form. This is why He is also known as the Word. And the same Word became flesh and lived among us.
We can say therefore, that God makes himself known both by speaking and in His incarnation as man, not any man but the Man, Christ Jesus. More importantly He now makes Himself known in His people, the Church, people called out of every tribe, every nation, every tongue and every colour by indwelling them. Although this manifestation of Him through the Church now is in weakness, frailty and imperfection, it continues into eternity and all ages in fullness, glory and perfection.
The question about the purpose of incarnation is a crucial one. How we answer it determines how we think about our life on earth and the place of the Church in the eternal plans of God and how she should conduct herself now in the world.
Apart from revealing the Father, the redemption of the human race, the purpose of His incarnation was also to reveal man or to show how man should live. For no man ever lived the way men should live for they all had sinned and had fallen short of God’s glory. Christ in his humanity was the only one who lived as men should live. Only then could He be our representative in order to make propitiation for our sins. The full significance of this can be understood when we look at the fact that the only being closest to God in appearance in the whole of creation is the human, because he has been made in God’s own image.
Therefore the purpose of incarnation is to not only to redeem man but to dwell among them and that the incarnation of God continues in the Church, His body. Apostle Paul’s point in his letter to the Ephesians, is that God has now included even the ‘gentiles’ along with the Jews in His eternal plan of ‘calling many sons unto glory’ and making them part of Christ’s body, the Church, of which Christ is the Head. This is the mystery hidden from ages in God but he, Paul, has been chosen to bring this to light.
This Apostle Paul writes is”…the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Eph 3: 8-11)
“The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9:7)
Listen to the prophecy of Isaiah which I think basically, refers to the redeemed people of God, But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine…Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Bring out the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears!…“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and I am God. Also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?” (emphasis mine, Isa 43: 1 – 14.)
But all this is a finished act for God. Hence He rests. He rests because, “…his works were finished from the foundation of the world.” Oh, the joy, the beauty and the glory of the unsearchable riches of God in Christ! This calls for falling down before Him in awe, adoration and praise!
Such a divine and corporate dynamic cannot be captured in an institution. What system or ritual or tradition or programme can capture this? Hence it is utterly preposterous and nonsensical to think that we can give representation to God in our systems, structures, patterns and programmes. Nor can a single group or an individual ever think that they can fully capture the divine essence in them. He is known first in His Son. But now, He is known in the body He made for His Son, namely the Church.
But the question is, how does God make Himself known in and through the Church? If God incarnates in His Son, Jesus Christ and if the incarnation continues in His body the Church, then the Church can make God known only when she models her life according to the life of Christ, as revealed in the gospels and expounded by the apostles in their letters to the churches. In this is the WORD among us. A church that is born of the WORD and lives by that WORD and demonstrates the WORD in her life. The WORD embodied in the church!
Therefore Paul writes, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus”. And again, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
To be imitators of God we must ‘mimic’ (in greek the root word is the same for imitate and mimic) Him and love as He loves. We are asked to do this as Christ loved us. This is the kind of representation the Son makes of the Father. And this is the only representation the church can make of the Father. Only thus we shall have a witness that cannot be duplicated by the world. When God’s people begin to live as Christ lived, their witness shines brighter than the noon-day sun. This is the visibility that God allows of Himself. The visibility of lives lived as ‘imitators of God’. The point is, we were already created in the image of God and this image has been restored to us in Christ through redemption.
Only when we live as ‘imitators of God’ then do we not ony fulfill the purpose of our Creation and find meaning and fulfillment in life. But only thus we would be able to give representation to God in our lives and make Him visible in our lives. This is God’s chosen way. As Paul says, it is the “mystery hidden from ages” and “the mystery of godliness” that “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Mark the word ‘now’. This is not something that would happen later. This is something that happens now. The manifold wisdom of God is made known NOW to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places! That is when God’s people become ‘imitators of God’ and ‘walk in love as Christ loved us’.
Any other way of representing God would be deficient, spurious and unworthy of Him. If we think we can make God visible in our religious forms, rituals, customs and traditions or in our programmes and projects or even in our material and worldly affluence then we are not only blind and deluded but become stooges of the enemies of God. Rather than being God’s co-workers to build His Kingdom we become collaborators of God’s enemy and become a hindrance to the work of God.
The only authentic way is the way Christ lived. For He is authentic God and authentic Man in His incarnation! In all this God’s ultimate purpose is THAT CHRIST MAY BE ALL IN ALL!
Listen to the words of the apostle in Colossians 1: 15-23, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” (Emphasis mine)
CHRIST is God’s pattern for man. When God commanded Moses to build the temple He commanded him to make it ‘according to the pattern shown to him on the mountain’. Accordingly the pattern in which we build the church in the New Testament era is CHRIST. Hence Paul’s words to the Ephesians, “…he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” The goal of every apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher is to bring God’s people to ‘the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’.
Any other objective in ministry is unworthy of and falls far short of the purpose and the glory of God! If through our work we are not bringing about the ‘unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God’ among God’s people, then I wonder if we are doing God’s work at all! Rather than building ‘church buildings’ and huge sanctuaries at great costs, how commendable and glorious to spend on building people ‘to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’. The former is comparatively easy. But the later, while it is demanding does not give itself to statistics and reports.
Where are the people who are like Timothy of whom the Apostle writes, “For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” Much of the ministry today seems to be to work for ones own interests in the name of safe-guarding the interests of the organisation – its security and its identity. For in many instances our own security and identity are bound up with that of the ministries we do rather than our God. Therefore in many instances our ministires have become our careers. Rather than losing ourselves in serving others for the sake of Christ our objectives are often discoloured with self-seeking – career-growth, and self-preservation.
The Son shows the Father to us in the life he lived – in the words he spoke, the works he did and the way he lived. His disciples were to just go and make disciples of all nations by teaching them and constituting them into congregations of God’s called out people or to be local expression of Christ as His body, the church.
In his incarnation Jesus reveals God, reveals man and in the process he demonstrates a way of living which is alien to human nature and thinking. Our nature and thinking is of fallenness which betrays our insecurity and identity-crisis. Therefore all our systems and structures betray the same malady – in our governance, our economics and our institutions. Our relationships, our friendships, and even our fellowships often are plagued by it. But Jesus, as God and as Man demonstrates wholeness and a life totally at rest with Himself and with others around him. Everything he said and did was from rest. He could not or would not be pushed around by others’ attitudes, fears or insecurity.
In his incarnation he teaches us a totally different trajectory of living – of self-denial, condescension, service and sacrifice. It is not the upward trajectory (if I may use the word) of life, like the rest of the world but a downward trajectory of life. It is of God coming into the world as man. The infinite now coming as finite. The great one as simple and the mighty one as helpless. I have tried to capture the thought in the following poem:
We have seen his glory
The glory of God as Man
Great One as simple
Invisible as visible
Immortal as mortal
Almighty as helpless
Rich One as poor
Invincible as vulnerable
Infinite as finite
Sovereign as servant!
We have seen his glory
The glory of the Real Man
Real God as Real Man
Authentic God as authentic man
No more distant, no more far
Neither illusive nor obscure
No more invisible but now
Real, visible and vulnerable.
Visible and seeable
Physical and touchable
Vulnerable yet invincible
Humble yet strong
Beatable yet unbeaten
Killable yet never-dying
Abusable yet not abused!
Small yet encompassing the universe!
He is God but now he is also man
They saw His glory. Have you?
His representation of God is of a loving and caring Father and not of an autocratic despot. Nor of a controlling and dominating ruler.
The life that Christ lived while on earth was not the private, individualistic, self-seeking and self-centered life that most of us have learnt from the world. He was led by the will of God and by the Spirit of God. You do not find Him guarding his identity nor working for his security. It was a life of constant pouring of himself into others. He sought His Father’s pleasure in seeking our welfare so, “…who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
The only authentic way is to live as Christ lived. As mentioned earlier only when the church demonstrates the same mind as Christ’s or when we begin to imitate God and walk in love as Christ, we would be His true witnesses. Only such people can claim to have the authority to speak for God to the world!
Finally it must be noted that none of us individually can ever represent God fully as Christ did. Only corporately we can ever think of attaining to His perfection as Paul writes to Ephesians. “…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,…” It is all of us together – the redeemed humanity, in Christ and as Christ.
As we yield to one another in Him and yield to His working in us, we are transformed to be the people He has called us to be. “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”