This is an excerpt of a sermon preached in November 2012.
‘The church is the people called by God for the sake of his Son to be gathered into him (the Son) by the Spirit’.
So now, let’s unpack how the Bible defines church, and there are three points.
The first point is that the church is the gathered people. In the NT, the word ‘Church’ or ‘Ekklesia’ basically means assembly or gathering and is often used to describe local gatherings of Christians, so e.g. in Acts 13:1, it talks about ‘the church at Antioch’ which is basically referring to the Christian gathering at Antioch.
But the church referred to in the Bible means more than individual assemblies. The NT church is the continuation of OT people of God. As the OT story unfolds, we see God actively gathering a people to himself. The nation of Israel is referred to as God’s people. In Exodus 6:7,
“the LORD said to the Israelites, I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. “
But this nation was eventually scattered and God again promised to gather them. The LORD says in Ezekiel 11:17ff,
“I will gather you from the nations … (v20) [You] will be my people, and I will be [your] God. “
The people of God also included non-Israelites. Isa 2:2-3 tells us that many peoples from other nations will come and gather in Zion. In the NT, this gathering happens around Jesus. Jesus says in John 10: 14ff,
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me… 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
The church is the gathering of Jesus’ flock. The people of God are the gathered, the ones who have listened and trusted the voice of Jesus and followed him. The church includes those in ages past, to us in the present and those still to be gathered in the future. This is how the writer of Hebrews describe church in 12:22ff,
22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, […], 24 to Jesus…
The church is the assembly gathered around God and Jesus, and notice who the church belongs to? The church belongs to Christ, and this brings us to the second point.
The second point is that the Church is the gathering of those called by God for the sake of his Son. The church is Christocentric. In other words, it is centred around Christ. The NT describes it as the church of the firstborn, the body of Christ, the temple which is also Jesus’ body, Jesus’ flock, the bride of Christ, etc.
The church belongs to Christ because the church is given to the Son by the Father and it is gathered for the sake of the Son. Jesus says in John 10[:27-29] that the sheep are given to him by the Father; and Paul refers to the Roman Christians as those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ (in 1:6). God’s purpose for creating and redeeming his people is primarily to bring glory to the Son. The 3 persons in the Godhead has always been other-centred – the Father glorifies the Son, the Son glorifies the Father and the Spirit glorifies the Father and the Son; and yet all glory is appropriately directed to himself as God since he is the only one deserving of glory and worship– the 3 persons in perfect relationship before time and creation. And so the triune God can exist without us. God doesn’t really need to create us or redeem us or gather us; yet the Father chose to create and redeem his people in order to bring glory to the Son.
This is how Paul describes God’s grand plan in Col 1:15ff,
15 He [the Son] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
The church is what God gave to his Son for the Son’s sake. God’s plan for the church is for her to be the beautiful bride for his Son, and for his Son to be the head of this unblemished and united body. This happens because of the Spirit, which is the next point.
So the third point is that the church is gathered into Christ through the indwelling of the Spirit. As we’ve been learning over this series on the Trinity, the three persons in the Trinity mutually indwell each other, so much so that the Triune Godhead is one God. Jesus tells us in John that the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father and that the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father and that the Spirit is God’s Spirit but he is also the Spirit of the Son; this mutual indwelling of the Father, Son and Spirit is just mind-boggling.
But what is even more mind-boggling is that as God’s people we’re also caught up into this mutual indwelling. Let’s read from John 17: 20bff,
I pray also for those who will believe in me … 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us … 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Jesus is praying that his people will be one with the same mutual indwelling as in the Trinity; but even more than that, he prays that we will be in the Father and the Son! So, somehow the unity that God shares or their mutual indwelling is in some way extended to us! And this is made possible by the Spirit. Paul says in Eph 2:21-22:
21 In him [Christ] the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Crudely speaking, the Spirit is almost like the bond or the glue that unites us into Christ, or the net that gathers us into him so that we are united as one body into Christ our head.
So, ‘The church is the people called by God for the sake of his Son to be gathered into him by the Spirit’.
End Note :
- The body of Christ Ro 12:4-5 See also 1Co 12:12,27; Eph 3:6; 5:23; Col 1:18,24; 2:19; 3:15
- God’s building or temple 1Co 3:16-17 See also 1Co 3:10; 2Co 6:16; Eph 2:21-22; Heb 3:6; 10:21; 1Pe 2:5
- A plant or vine Jn 15:1-8 See also Ro 11:17-24; 1Co 3:6-8
- Jesus Christ’s flock Jn 10:14-16 See also Mt 25:33; Lk 12:32; Ac 20:28-29; 1Pe 5:2-4
- The bride of Christ Rev 21:2 See also Eph 5:25-27,31-32; Rev 19:7; 22:17
- God’s household or family Eph 2:19 See also Jn 8:35-36; Gal 6:10; Eph 3:15; 1Ti 3:15; Heb 2:11; 1Pe 2:17; 4:17
Loves Jesus and loves telling people about Him.