We Are One in Christ

January 22, 2023 Preacher: Luis A. Cardenas Series: The Nature of the Church

Topic: English Passage: Ephesians 4:1-6

Just a few weeks ago, the Survey Center on American Life released a report called “Faith After the Pandemic: How COVID-19 Changed American Religion.” One of the key points in that study was that COVID-19 led to an overall decline in religious attendance, but religious identity remained mostly stable.

What that means is that most people didn’t change their religious label. They didn’t change what they called themselves, but a lot of people simply stopped going to church. According to the report, before COVID-19, about one-in-four people claimed they never attended a religious service. In spring 2022, that number jumped to one-in-three. So, it went from 25% to 33% of the population who never go to church.

It shouldn’t shock you that the people most likely to stop attending church were those who before the pandemic said they seldom attended church.

Besides church attendance, the study also looked at various factors like education, marital status, and age. The group that had the lowest change in those who never attend church were those ages 65 and older. They went from 20% never attending church to 23%. That’s impressive considering that the elderly were the most at risk of serious health complications.

The age group that appeared to have the most people stop going to church were young adults ages 18-29. Before 2020, about 30% said they never went to church, and now, the number has jumped to 44%.

That doesn’t surprise me. The younger generations in our culture are being raised to expend less energy. They prioritize convenience and expediency, while at the same expecting more from others. That’s the way they’re being brought up to think about school, and about fast food delivery, and about the government. So, why would they expect the church to be any different? Should they even expect something different?

Well, if we’re talking about the true church of Jesus Christ, the church He purchased with his blood, then yes, people of all ages should expect something different than what the world has to offer.

I believe that one of the most lacking components in the life of professing Christians is a healthy understanding of ecclesiology. Ecclesiology is the formal term for the study of the church. It answers questions like: What is a local church? How is it supposed to function? What should people expect from the church? And what should people be investing in the church?

The people who decided they weren’t going to go to church anymore, by and large, did so because they did not understand the nature of the church. Hearing about the new trends in church attendance doesn’t mean that COVID-19 changed our religion. Our religion doesn’t change. What happened was that COVID-19 helped expose what people’s true religion really was.

The Apostle John talked about this in 1 John 2:19. Speaking of people who abandoned their church, he said: They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

The Apostle Paul said something similar in First Corinthians 11. The church there was having people break off from the group, and he said: When you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. Paul understood that there would continually be, for one reason or the other, a purging of the local church.

The questions I gave you about the church are not questions that we get to answer on our own, or according to our preference. Those are questions that the Bible has already answered for us. The New Testament gives us very clear principles regarding how a church should operate. And if we want to, as our mission statement says, experience the fullness of Christ’s love and express that love to our community, we need to understand what God has told us about the church.

I know we’ve said this many times, but it’s probably been longer than we think, the church is not the building. The church is not this service. The church is not our denomination. The church is the people. More specifically, the church is the people who have been regenerated or converted. They have surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ.

As a local church, First Bilingual Baptist is made up its members. Our members are those people whom we, from a human perspective, are affirming that their faith is genuine. The members are our church.

I know that people move on from here, and they say, “First Bilingual will always be my church.” I appreciate the sentiment in their hearts, but their church is whatever local congregation they are gathering with. Our church is our members.

So, as a local manifestation of the body of Christ, what are we supposed to be doing? How are we supposed to be operating? Ephesians chapter 4 is a great place to turn for answers.

The first half of the letter focuses on Christian blessings. The second half focuses on Christian behavior. Chapter 1-3 are blessings. Chapters 4-6 talk about the behavior which flows out of those blessings. So, there’s blessings and behavior, or our position and our practice, or our calling and our conduct.

Look at verse 1 of chapter 4 with me. This is the setup for the rest of the letter: I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.

The Christian calling is what Paul describes in the first three chapters. We were called out of spiritual death into spiritual life. We were called out of darkness into light. We were called out of slavery to Satan to be servants of God. The Christian calling is redemption in Christ for the glory of God. In Christ, we are new creations.

Now, if you became a whole new person in Jesus Christ, what’s that supposed to look like? Are you supposed to expect money to start coming your way, like some preachers say? Are you supposed to take a vow of poverty? Are you supposed to move to the other side of the world? Are you supposed to become a prisoner, like Paul was? What difference is Christ supposed to make? How do you walk in a manner worthy of your calling?

Verse 1 gave us the general principle. And now, verses 2 and 3 begins to unpack it. Here’s the radical new life you and I are called to live in Christ. Verse 2—with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

The first effect of sin was relational. Do you remember that? Adam hid from God; he felt ashamed. Before sin, Adam walked with God. After sin, that relationship was broken, and we became children of wrath, deserving eternal judgment. Added to that, as soon as God talked with Adam, he cast the blame on Eve. So, sin broke our relationship with God and with one another. The primary effect of sin was relational.

Therefore, you need to understand that the primary effect of the gospel of Jesus Christ is relational. It’s not just about going to heaven one day or feeling better about yourself. The gospel removes sin, which is the barrier in every relationship. It reconciles us to God, first, and it also reconciles us to one another.

So, if we are the people of God, if we are on earth as God’s representatives, we demonstrate that by living in unity. And if you want to live in unity and harmony with others, you have to learn to respond appropriately to our differences and to our sin. And the appropriate response, the Christ-empowered response, includes five attributes.

Number 1, Paul says it takes humility. A good picture of humility is Philippians 2:3-4.

Go ahead and turn there if you want. Philippians 2:3-4. I’m sure this is familiar. It’s an important verse to know. It says this—Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Humility means putting the interests and the desires of others higher than your own. It’s a lofty idea, but when it comes to real life, it doesn’t seem as attractive. We like it when other people are humble, and we get our own way, right?

We want to pick where to eat, or what time to eat, or who to visit, or whatever else. Just think about the last disagreement you had with your spouse or a coworker, or anybody else. What did you fight over?

If it was an issue of principle, that’s one thing. But more than likely, it was two people butting heads, unwilling to let the other person have their way. And we were thinking, “If they would just come around and see things my way, this would all be over.” Maybe it would, but it would also be over if you came around and starting thinking like them, right? That’s humility. Place their interests above your own. Lay down your rights or your desires, and serve the other person. That’s the radical life of following Christ.

Second on Paul’s list is gentleness. Gentleness is related to humility. It’s also related to self-control.

Gentleness is deliberately choosing not to assert your own authority or strength. Gentleness is the opposite of being a bully. And listen, you can be an aggressive bully, but you can also be a victimized bully. You can use your emotions to manipulate others. Neither of those responses honor Christ.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the gentle.” James said that wisdom is made known through gentleness. Again, it’s a beautiful idea, but we need the Spirit of Christ to make it a reality.

The third attribute is patience. So, there’s humility, gentleness, and patience.

In the Greek, the word for patience means “far from anger.” It used to be called longsuffering. When kids want to eat, they start whining. They don’t like the discomfort of not getting their way.

As you mature, though, you’re supposed to learn how to deal with things you don’t like or don’t prefer. If the room is too hot or too cold, you simply have to deal with it. You don’t throw a tantrum. That’s patience.

Coming to Christ doesn’t mean that people are going to stop doing things you don’t like, or things that make your life inconvenient. But following the footsteps of Christ means you are learning to model the patience of God, who puts up with our abundant sin and yet patiently averts his anger. If you want to walk in a manner worthy of your calling, you need patience.

Number 4 on Paul’s list is forbearance. He says we need to be bearing with one another.

The rough way to say it is that we need to put up with one another. We need to tolerate those differences that might seem strange to us because we are brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Where there is sin, we need to forgive. But we also need to recognize that not every difference is caused by sin. It’s caused by our different personalities and experiences and viewpoints.

The sin in my heart says that when you and I disagree, you’re wrong and I’m right. But that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. I can learn to realize that it’s just a different way of doing things.

If I’m going to visit your house, you might have a different way of serving dinner. Some people like dessert right after dinner. Other people like to let their dinner settle before dessert. Is one of those better? No. They’re not. They’re just different.

The problem we have is that we don’t like to be inconvenienced, so we look for people who are the most like us in order to minimize the need to tolerate the differences. But that’s not what God intended for His church. He intended us to be different but united in love.

That’s the fifth and final attribute Paul mentions. Love is the summation of it all. Humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance are all expressions of love.

We’re not just trying to grit our teeth, thinking “How much longer do I have to put up with this?” We are supposed to be characterized by love. God is love. God sent Jesus in love. And so, God’s people should be marked by love. Jesus said that it is by His love that people will know we belong to Him.

You can’t say you love someone but not be humble or gentle or patient with them. It doesn’t work that way. Love is not primarily an emotion, or a one-time declaration. Love is a commitment.

The most common Greek word for the love of God’s people is agape. Do you know which book of the New Testament uses agape more than the rest? The number one book uses some form of agape 63 times, and that is the little letter we know as First John. It only has 5 chapters, but agape is in here 63 times.

Second place is the gospel of John, which has 21 chapters, and uses the word 55 times. That’s why John is known as the Apostle of love.

One of the most famous passages about love is First John 4:7-8. It says—Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

What’s the point? God and biblical love go hand-in-hand. If you don’t love, you don’t really know God. If you truly know God, you will characterized by love. To walk in a manner worthy of your calling means loving others, especially your brothers and sisters in the Lord.

The culmination of this principle comes in verse 3, which describes what our attitude should be—eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Paul knows that kind of unity isn’t going to be automatic. It takes effort. But we do these things because we care about unity.

The Holy Spirit, which dwells in me, also dwells in the rest of the church, and we are united in the bond of peace. That’s referring to a peace that binds us. That’s the picture that God has for His church. We are united.

After the list of attributes in verses 2 and 3, Paul moves on to the foundation for that command. And this is where we’re going to end our study for today. Why does Paul call us to humility and gentleness and patience and tolerance and love? Why does that matter? Because that’s how we demonstrate our unity in Christ.

As the people of God, we are a community. The love of God produces unity. It wouldn’t make any sense to say we love one another with the love of God, but we don’t have any unity. That would be a contradiction.

Spiritually, we are united in Christ. That’s a unity of status or position. That’s an eternal reality. But there’s also an aspect of unity that is practical. I needs to be celebrated and expressed.

For example, if a couple has been married for 20 years, and then they start saying, “We’re not working together anymore. We can’t agree on anything?” Does that mean they are no longer united?

Well, in one sense, it doesn’t. If they’re still married, they are united positionally by their vows before God. But in another sense, they are lacking in the practical expression of unity. They are not living out practically the spiritual reality of their marriage. I hope that makes sense.

Look at Ephesians 4, verses 4-6 with me. And before I read it, I want to prepare you for a question. This is a Bible study question. What is the key word in these three verses? Don’t answer right now, but think about that as I read it. What is the key word here.

Ephesians 4:4-6—4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

What’s the key word there? It shouldn’t be that hard. It’s “one.” I am not going to dig deeper into the individual phrase today, but the main point should be obvious. We are one. We are all part of the same family. If we are part of one body, indwelt by one Spirit, living with one hope, serving one Lord, believing one faith, going through one baptism, all for the glory of one God and Father, then we need to be one. We need to be united.

Listen, our unity as a church isn’t based on our ethnicity. It isn’t based on what language we speak. It isn’t based on how old you are, or what school you went to, or what you do for a living, or how many kids you have, or what team you like. Those kinds of things might produce a certain affinity with others, but the same thing happens in the rest of the world. That’s not supernatural.

What is supernatural is a people with all kinds of differences coming together because of Jesus Christ. He is what unites us. we are united in our love of His word. We are united in our desire to see others come to know Him. And we are united in loving for the glory of God recognizing His supreme authority. He is over all and through all and in all.

God indwells every single person who belongs to Him through Jesus Christ. When you sin against a brother, you sin against Christ. When you show love to a brother, you show love to Jesus Christ.

Do you remember what Jesus said to Saul on the road to Damascus? “Why are you persecuting Me?” And speaking of ministering to someone who is hungry or thirsty or sick or alone, what did Jesus say? Matthew 25:40—Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.

Jesus identifies with His church because He dwells within each member by His Spirit.

This is God’s design for His church. It’s not just a club where you might attend once in a while. It’s a community eternally purchased for and united by His sacrifice. And that unity is intended to be seen every day.

That’s what it means to walk in a manner worthy of your calling.

More in The Nature of the Church

February 19, 2023

New Life in Christ

February 12, 2023

Christ's Vision for His Church

February 5, 2023

Christ and His Church