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The Place Of The Ecclesia in God's Purpose
Part 5 - In grace you are saved

by John H. Essex


 
 
SO FAR in our studies, we have been trying to see the ecclesia as God sees it. "In His sight" it is to be "holy and flawless," but now, in the second chapter of Ephesians, we come across statements like these, "And you, being dead to your offenses and sins, in which once you walked, in accord with the eon of this world, in accord with the chief of the jurisdiction of the air, the spirit now operating in the sons of stubbornness (among whom we also all behaved ourselves once in the lusts of our flesh, doing the will of the flesh and of the comprehension, and were, in our nature, children of indignation, even as the rest)...." And again, in Colossians 1:21, "And you, being once estranged and enemies in comprehension, by wicked acts, yet now He reconciles by His body of flesh, through His death, to present you holy and flawless and unimpeachable in His sight" (see also Eph.5:27).

So it would appear that the members of the ecclesia were not always holy and flawless; are they, indeed, holy and flawless now?

We said in our last study that "nothing that has occurred as a result of the disruption can in any way impinge upon, or in the slightest degree affect, the standing of those who were chosen in Christ before that event took place. They are holy and flawless in God's sight, and must ever remain so." How can we harmonize this with the evidences of imperfections within ourselves, of which we are daily conscious? How, indeed, can we harmonize it with the injunctions as to the conduct of the saints, even in the prison epistles?

May we, at this point, repeat a statement made as an explanatory note to a previous series of studies (U.R. Vol.64, p.256), under the heading, The Ecclesia, which is His Body?

"This ecclesia, which is the one specifically referred to in Paul's epistles, is presented to us in two distinct, yet related, aspects. They are like the two sides of the same coin. From whichever side we look, we recognize the coin, yet the two aspects are different.

"Individually, the ecclesia is composed of many members, each of which is foreknown, designated beforehand, called, justified and glorified (Rom.8:28-30). Each is brought into Christ through baptism into His death (Rom.6:3). Each is essential to the rest, and has his, or her, individual part to play in the upbuilding of the whole (1 Cor.12:12-31; Eph.4:11- 14).

"Collectively, the ecclesia is a unified body, chosen in Christ from before the disruption of the world, and seen by God as holy and flawless, its realm being inherent in the heavens and its service among the celestials. As such, it is the complement of Christ by which all in all is being completed.

"It is in the individual aspect that members of the ecclesia were once sinners, all being by nature children of indignation even as the rest. This is changed when they come into Christ, for then they are 'a new creation' (2 Cor.5:17). But collectively, the ecclesia is always seen by God as being holy and flawless, for it was conceived in His purpose before the disruption which is the evidence of rebellion in the universe, and becomes a separate entity only after the question of sin has been settled once and for all on the cross.

GOD'S GRACE ON DISPLAY

It is fair to say that, as the ecclesia of God must be holy and flawless in His sight, it was not as members of that ecclesia that we walked in accord with the eon of this world. This is how we once walked, but now we are reckoned to be dead to those offenses and sins and lusts which fashioned our former conduct. Yet it is clear that every one of those who are chosen and called to be of that ecclesia must have passed through the humiliating experiences that are associated with participation of sin's flesh. Why is this?

The answer, in the shortest possible terms, lies in one word, "Grace." It is God's grace which is to be displayed in and through the ecclesia; that is why the expression is repeated, "In grace are you saved." The grace, which was given to the ecclesia before times eonian, has to be displayed in all its effectiveness and grandeur, not merely as an act producing happiness but also as a benefit bestowed upon one who deserves the opposite, and for this to be done, the members of the ecclesia have to be conditioned, first to receive its benefit themselves and then to display this to others.

Before pursuing this further, let us notice another reason why the ecclesia must pass through the medium of flesh. The servant cannot be greater than his Lord; the body cannot be greater than its Head; the complement cannot be greater than the One to Whom it belongs. Christ came in the likeness of sin's flesh; the members of the ecclesia are born into sin's flesh. There is, however, a basic distinction between Christ and the ecclesia.

Christ was the One without sin, yet He was made to be sin that God might be able to display His righteousness, in that He would be seen to be just as well as a justifier of the one who was of the faith of Jesus (2 Cor.5:21; Rom.3:26). We, designated beforehand to be holy and flawless in His sight, were made to be sinners in order that God might be able to display His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus (Eph.2:7).

Christ was made to be sin in order that sin itself might be crucified. From this point, all God-imposed barriers between Himself and His creation are removed; no longer is sin (missing the mark) an obstacle to His favor. The resurrection of Christ, with the consequent acceptance by God of His offering, means that God's purpose proceeds inevitably and inexorably to its grand and glorious ultimate, that He may be All in all (1 Cor.15:20-28).

God is now ready to be reconciled with all His creatures. The sacrifice of His dearly beloved Son has so conciliated God that He cannot, and will not, ever again ask for any further offering. His righteousness demands that He accept as full and final payment the sacrifice made by the Son of His love, and, as Christ is the Firstborn of every creature, it follows that there is no being in the universe that is outside of the scope of God's conciliation. The only barrier to complete reconciliation is the stubbornness of creation. This is where the function of the ecclesia comes into God's purpose.

We were sons of stubbornness; we ought to know what stubbornness means. We were once alienated from God through our being made to be partakers of sin's flesh. Yet, because our God is rich in mercy, we are saved in, and through, His grace, that we might be used by Him to display that same grace to others.

Let us here note an advancement in terms. We are saved in grace; we are granted the forgiveness of offenses in accord with the riches of His grace; we are to be used by Him to display the transcendent riches of His grace. The value of grace is continually appreciating; there are no limits to its ultimate worth, for it is an expression of the love of God. Where sin increases, grace superexceeds—the principle was expressed in Romans. Grace is continually expanding till it embraces all. The transcendently transcendent burden of glory reserved for the ecclesia lies in its being used to display, in the eons to come, these superlative riches of God's grace. And how do we display these? By letting the rest of creation see how God has been so magnificently kind to us in transforming us from what we were into what we are.

Thus we are coming to see, are we not, that while (as a collective whole) the ecclesia was purposed from the beginning to be holy and flawless, and ever remains this in the sight of God— the complement of a sinless and flawless Christ—yet individually its members are drawn from a sinful humanity in order that the full grace of God may be displayed, and the ecclesia be enabled to fulfill the role in God's purpose for which it was designed, and to which it is specifically allotted.

This may at first seem paradoxical—a combination of contrary conditions—and yet it is in line with the dual aspect of the meaning of grace. Our place in Christ is "for the laud of the glory of God's grace." Let it be noted that, long before any prospective member of the ecclesia was made subject to the drawbacks of the flesh, the grace that was to rescue him from such was given to the ecclesia as a whole in Christ. So that rescue from this body of flesh is not something that has had to be put in motion as a result of Adam's transgression—it is not an improvisation to meet an unfortunate emergency—but rather something that was purposefully planned before even the eons began.

These bodies of flesh are also termed 'bodies of our humiliation' (Phil.3:21), and again we note the point that the ecclesia is not greater than its Head. Christ first emptied Himself to come in the likeness of humanity, and then humbled Himself to become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Phil.2:7,8). We were born empty; like Job, we came naked into the world. Our humbling comes in the wearing of these fleshly bodies, prone to sin and decay and the ravages of death. They are constantly subjecting us to indignities, for they are continually warring against the spirit that is within us, and are perpetually humiliating us. They are terrestrial tabernacle houses—temporary dwellings—in which we are groaning while awaiting transference to our permanent abodes—houses not made by hands, eonian in the heavens. For we are awaiting a Saviour, Who will transfigure the bodies of our humiliation to conform them to the body of His glory. Then will the ecclesia, whose realm is inherent in the heavens, be truly, and in every respect, like the One Who is its Head.

THE OPERATION OF GRACE

The workings of grace are scarcely perceived by many, even among believers, and are imperfectly understood by us all. The limitations to our understanding imposed by the weaknesses inherent in these bodies of flesh, will not be completely dispelled until these bodies are discarded. That is why we need to pray continually for increased perception in spiritual matters, and particularly in those things mentioned in Ephesians 1—"the expectation of His calling, the riches of the glory of the enjoyment of His allotment among the saints, and the transcendent greatness of His power for us who are believing, in accord with the operation of the might of His strength." In the third chapter, the apostle prays that we, having been rooted and grounded in love, should be strong to grasp, together with all the saints, what is its breadth and length and depth and height—to know, besides, the knowledge transcending love of Christ—that we may be completed for the entire complement of God.

Again, in the fourth chapter, Paul speaks of our attaining "to the unity of the faith and of the realization of the son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature of the complement of the Christ." What does all this mean?

To answer this, we must define what we mean by "complement." The Greek word, plerooma, is literally translated "filling," and so a complement is "that which fills up."

The earliest example of a complement, as brought to our attention in Scripture, is that of woman as the complement of man, which we discussed in an earlier study, when we noted that Adam, before the woman was taken from him, was complete in himself; afterwards the woman made him complete (U.R. Vol.66; p.66).

In line with this thought, we may note that a positive command was given to Adam (as well as the negative one about not eating of a particular tree). The positive command was as stated in Genesis 1:28, "Be fruitful and increase and fill the earth and subdue it." It will be readily appreciated that Adam could not fulfill this command except through the one who was his complement. But have we really considered the part that woman plays in this, and related it to the ministry of the ecclesia?

The original form of humanity was determined by God when He first created it, but the continuation of that form in all subsequent generations is the function of the woman. This is her part in the ministry of expanding the human race. And the ministry which God has allotted to the ecclesia is that of maintaining and perpetuating the work of grace which God has begun in Christ Jesus. Christ Himself provides the power for this ministry—He is the continuing driving force behind it—but our role is to see that there is no deviation from the form which that ministry shall take. It is a ministry of grace, constant grace, perpetual grace, undiluted grace—for grace is the basis of salvation, and the path to reconciliation.

"In grace are you saved" is true of us now; it will be equally true of all creation eventually. All will be God's achievement, created in Christ Jesus. It is God's will to have an administration of the complement of the eras, in which all will be headed up in the Christ, both that in the heavens and that on the earth, and our lot was cast in Him, being designated beforehand according to the purpose of the One Who is operating all in accord with the counsel of His will, that we should be for the laud of His glory, who are pre-expectant in the Christ (cf Eph.1:10-12).

We are pre-expectant, but we are not the only ones who are expectant. In Romans 8:19, we read, "For the premonition of the creation is awaiting the unveiling of the sons of God. For to vanity was the creation subjected, not voluntarily, but because of Him Who subjects it, in expectation that the creation itself, also, shall be freed from the slavery of corruption into the glorious freedom of the children of God."

In Colossians 1:20, Paul makes it clear that the reconciliation of all to God will include all in earth and all in heaven. It is the blessed privilege of the ecclesia—those who are pre-expectant in the Christ—to herald and display the evangel of the transcendent riches of God's grace until the expectation of all is fulfilled, and all are ultimately reconciled to God.

This is what the apostle has in mind when he writes, "the complement by which all in all is being completed." The phrase "all in all" occurs here and in 1 Corinthians 15:28. There it is made quite clear that the second "all" admits of no exceptions apart from God Himself, Who is specifically excluded (v.27). The consummation of God's purpose is that He will be All in all, and this includes the whole of creation.

Similarly, in Ephesians 1:23, the ecclesia is the medium by which this consummation will be attained. "The complement of the One completing the all in all." O that we might indeed all attain to the unity of the faith and of the realization of the son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature of the complement of the Christ, that we may by no means still be minors! Our aim today should be towards the adjusting of the saints for the work of dispensing this wonderful evangel of grace, and we should be upbuilding the body of Christ to this end. We can best prepare ourselves for our future ministry by practicing its principles now.

THE PRESENT MINISTRY OF THE ECCLESIA

If our future ministry is to proclaim and display the grace of God in all its grandeur and richness, then surely we should be living our lives, while still in the flesh, as much as possible in accordance with this. Among ourselves, we should be dealing graciously, according as God also, in Christ, deals graciously with us. Bitterness and fury and anger and clamor and calumny should be absent from our relations one with another; malice should never be allowed to enter in, but we should become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate; in this way we shall be dealing graciously among ourselves. Let us walk together in love, and not cause sorrow to the holy Spirit of God by which we are sealed for the day of deliverance (cf Eph.4:30-5:2). Thus we become imitators of God and learn for ourselves, through practice, the real meaning of grace.

In the wider field of our activities, we should be working for the good of all (Gal.6:10). That the word "all" in this context has a wider application than those of the family of faith is indicated by the mention of the latter in the succeeding phrase, which is governed by the words "yet specially." The principle is quite plain; as we have occasion we work for the good of all, yet specially for the family of faith.

Our ministry at all times, whether inside or outside of the ecclesia, must be one of conciliation, to accord with the grace of God, which in Christ was conciliating the world to Himself, not reckoning their offenses to them (2 Cor.5:20,21). We are ambassadors for Christ, as of God entreating through us. Our message is, "For Christ's sake, be conciliated to God." Why wait for the future when you can have peace with God now? Yet for those to whom this peace is delayed, our message will still go forth throughout the on-coming eons, as His grace is displayed in us, "Be conciliated to God!" The form of this message will be maintained by the ecclesia throughout all the generations of the eon of the eons, and God will find glory in the ecclesia and in Christ Jesus as He sees the whole of His creation


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