Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change
Three excerpts at a time from the new book by Brian G. Hedges

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Excerpt 22 of 22

Transformation is a Community Project

Having sketched a biblical portrait of the church, let’s now ask: How does God use relationships within the body of Christ to help us become more like Jesus? If we are convinced that “grace is conveyed through the body of Christ along horizontal channels as well as through the vertical relationship of each believer to God,”[i] and if we can see how this happens, we will be better equipped to cooperate with God in receiving this grace and extending it to others.

In Ephesians 4, Paul spells out the implications of one of the dominant metaphors for the church, that of a body. He tells us that just as a victorious king dispenses the spoils of war to his people, so has the ascended Christ granted gifts to his people (Eph. 4:7-10). The purpose of these gifts is to build up the body of Christ (v. 11-12a). And the goal of “body-building” is to help us attain to “mature manhood” and “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (v. 13). Without the body-building ministry, we will remain immature children, as susceptible to false teaching as boats are to storms at sea (v. 14).

Then Paul gives us the key for how we can together grow into Christ’s image.

Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph. 4:15-16)

Speaking the truth in love! That’s it. To understand what Paul is saying here is to grasp the key to mutual spiritual growth within local churches. As it turns out, however, “‘Speaking the truth in love’ is not the best rendering of his expression, for the Greek verb makes no reference to our speech. Literally, it means ‘truthing . . . in love’, and includes the notions of ‘maintaining,’ ‘living’ and ‘doing’ the truth.”[ii]

We might say, therefore, that spiritual maturity is the result of a mutual, loving, truth-oriented ministry. This is “perhaps the most important ethical guideline in the New Testament, one that summarizes what Christian living is about: truth, love, and continual growth into Christ in everything.”[iii]

This balance of truth-plus-love is crucial. As Tim Chester writes, “Love without truth is like doing heart surgery with a wet fish. But truth without love is like doing heart surgery with a hammer.”[iv] We must embody truth, not just express it. So truth, fused with love, is incarnated in our lives as we live it out with one another. Tripp and Lane concur: “God transforms people’s lives as people bring his Word to others . . . . The combination of powerful truth wrapped in self-sacrificing love is what God uses to transform people.”[v]

This is all well and good, and absolutely true. But let’s step back from the theory for a moment to make a practical point: We cannot grow up through “truthing in love” if we are not together. The body builds itself up in love as its various parts are “joined and held together.” A dismembered body does not grow.

[i] Lovelace, 168.
[ii] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians: God’s New Society (Downers Grove, IL.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1979) 172.
[iii] Klyne Snodgrass, The NIV Application Commentary: Ephesians (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) 206.
[iv] Tim Chester, You Can Change (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008) 158.
[v] Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, 21.