Christ's Vision for His Church

February 12, 2023 Preacher: Luis A. Cardenas Series: The Nature of the Church

Topic: English Passage: Ephesians 4:15-16

Eternally, there are only two categories of people. There are those headed toward eternal joy, and those headed toward eternal judgment. There is no middle ground. You are either eternally united to Jesus Christ, or you will be eternally condemned by Jesus Christ.

We know those are the only two possibilities, but that doesn’t mean that we can immediately know which group someone is in. If we think of each group as a spectrum, the people on the far ends of the scope are easier to identify.

At one end of the spectrum, there would be strong Christians who stand out for their faith. There is evident fruit in their life. They love God. They are repenting from sin. There is a genuine humility in their life because they are devoted to the glory of God. You can see that they are a new creation.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are those whom we can clearly identify as unbelievers. They openly reject Christ and His word.

Where things aren’t as clear from a human perspective are the people closest to the middle. God knows whether they are saved or not, but it’s not so easy for the church to recognize it.

There are Christians who are young or weak in their faith. They don’t have a healthy understanding of sound doctrine. They may struggle to articulate what they believe. They may struggle with overcoming sin in their lives, and they may be particularly prone to doubt. God knows if their faith is genuine, but externally, it’s tricker to be confident.

We can affirm baby faith by someone’s profession and by the word of God. But, if we only looked at their life, that would be more difficult. That’s because we know there are people who claim to follow Christ, but eventually fall away. Jesus compared those people’s hearts to rocky ground with shallow soil or ground overrun by thorns. The seed of God’s word only takes a shallow root, and their faith is scorched by tribulation or choked by the pleasures of this world. They endure for a short time, but then they fall away.

In Matthew 7, Jesus warned us about those who openly profess faith and loyalty to Him, but in the end, they will hear the Lord say, “I never knew you. Depart from me you worker of lawlessness.” The typical example of that is Judas Iscariot. He openly followed Jesus, but inwardly, he rebelled against the Lord.

This is what makes it so critical that a local church not simply be concerned about converts. The Great Commission doesn’t allow us to simply stop focusing on someone once they make a profession of faith. The commandment of Christ is to grow them in the faith, to teach them to obey all that Jesus commanded.

God doesn’t want us to stay as baby Christians. The Apostle Paul was greatly concerned that the people in his care were growing in both doctrine and holiness. He wanted them to know the truth and to live the truth. For those who were young in the faith, he wanted the church to be a place where they were protected and taught.

The pastors or elders had a primary responsibility to feed the people the word of God. And in doing that, the church would become a community in which everyone was working for the health of others.

Last week, we looked at Ephesians 4:14, which mentions the danger that Christians and churches face. If we remain as spiritual children, we will be tossed around by the waves and the wind of false doctrine and deceptive teaching. We would be in danger of drifting away. If someone is a genuine believer, false teaching will hinder his growth. If someone is a false convert, false teaching would only deepen him in his deception or cause him to abandon the faith he once professed.

In 1 Timothy 4, Paul refers to false teaching as deceitful spirits and teachings of demons. That’s a reminder that our battle is not an earthly one. There is a war, like Peter says, against the sin in our hearts, and there is also a war against Satan who is the father of lies and the father of false religion.

Coming back to Ephesians 4 today, we see Paul return to the positive side of a healthy church. Verse 15 begins with the word “rather.” He’s making a contrast between the dangers outside the church and the nature of the true church.

What should the church of Jesus Christ look like? To say it more personally, what vision does Jesus have for First Bilingual Baptist Church? Let’s answer that question by looking at verses 15 and 16. What kind of church does Jesus want for you and for me?

Number 1, Jesus wants a church marked by a Christ-exalting sincerity. A Christ-exalting sincerity. Verse 14 mentioned the danger and the deceit of false teachers. That would include false doctrine, and it would also include immorality that pulls people away from the holiness of Christ.

Paul wrote this letter in Greek, and at the beginning of verse 15, he used a word that’s not easily translated into English. It’s the word for truth, but it’s been turned into a verb. If we translated it literally, we could say “truthing.” The word includes speaking the truth or telling the truth, but it’s more than that.

This is not talking about truth as opposed to lying. That comes later in verse 25. This is talking about living the truth or practicing the truth. It’s a personal embodiment of Jesus who said, “I am the truth.”.

Coupled with Christ’s truth, we have His love. Jesus wants a church where the people are living out the truth in love. Love is one of the foundational marks of a true Christian. You put those elements together and the idea is that we should have a sincere devotion to true doctrine, to true righteousness, and to true love for others. Truth and love are not intended to work against each other. They’re supposed to go hand in hand.

First Corinthians 13 tells us that real love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but it rejoices with the truth. If I really love someone, I can’t endorse them on the path of wickedness. Our culture calls says that tolerance is the true expression of love, but that’s wrong. That’s a false love. It’s not love to allow someone to continue rebelling against God, especially to the danger of his/her soul.

Jesus loved people enough to call them out of their sin so they would be rescued from judgment and reconciled to the heavenly Father. For those who knew their Bibles but misrepresented God, He was direct. He needed to expose their lies and free others from them. For those who seemed trapped by their sin, He was gentle and gracious, the way a father might pull the splinter out his little girl’s hand. It hurts to expose sin, but it will hurt much more if it’s never addressed.

That’s the kind of heart Jesus wants for us as His church. Unlike the deception and the immorality of false teachers, the church of Jesus Christ should be a place of sincerity and holiness. We have true motives, and we walk in truth.

The Apostle John used that phrase in 3 John, verse 4. He said, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”

In the Greek version of the Old Testament, which is known as the Septuagint, this truth verb is used in Proverbs 21:3, which says: To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.

Walking in truth and love means walking like Jesus Christ. Some of us here care more about truth than love. You think you can recognize everybody else’s spiritual problem, but you don’t have any patience with them. Maybe someone comes to you telling you about how they might lose their job, and you start lecturing them about how they should have been saving up more to be ready. There might be some truth there, but there’s no love.

Others us here have more love than truth. We just want to give everybody a hug, but we don’t tell them what they need to hear. If your friend is about to get fired because they show up late all the time and don’t get along with coworkers, they need more than just a sympathetic hug.

There needs to be a sincerity behind all that we do. We need to be marked by both truth and love, not just one of those. We don’t want to be Pharisees, neglecting people’s pain and difficulty, but we also don’t want to be enablers unwilling to give people the truth they need. We want to manifest the sincerity of Jesus Christ who lived and spoke the truth in love.

Let’s move on to a second aspect of Jesus’ vision for His church. Number 2, Jesus wants a church marked by a Christ-exalting growth. A Christ-exalting sincerity, and a Christ-exalting growth.

Speaking the truth in love is what allows the church to grow. It’s how we grow. Growth is the main idea of this paragraph. Jesus Christ wants a growing church. But again, the focus here isn’t numbers; it is personal, spiritual growth in all of us, and that translates into corporate growth for the church.

Look at verse 15 one more time. It says, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” Notice again the middle of the verses. We are to grow up. If you’re a young Christian, God does not intend for you to stay that way. He wants you to grow both in doctrine and in holiness. He wants you to understand His word and to live it.

Every other aspect of life has an element of growth. You learn to walk. You learn to play video games. You learn to play an instrument. You learn to play a sport. We all know what it’s like to grow in something. But some of those things can be mastered. You eventually stop growing physically, or you learn how to cook a meal.

Christ-honoring growth, however, never stops. We’re not just supposed to grow in a general sense; we are called to grow up in every way. Our growth needs to be comprehensive.

One element of growth is doctrinal. There’s an intellectual component to that. And whether you like learning doctrine or not, that’s part of how we grow. Learning doctrine is also the foundation for the rest of Christian growth.

I remember once hearing a pastor say to another pastor, “I think you’ve got such a strong understanding of the sovereignty of God because every time I see you, you’re so cheerful.” The pastor who made that observation, was connecting doctrine with real life. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

When you inundate yourself with the attributes of God, it changes you. That’s part of growing up in every way. It has to be practical too. It means we’re growing in the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Comprehensive Christian growth is also not confined to a specific group of people. If you’re a better person on Sunday, but the same person Monday through Saturday, that’s not growing up in every way. If you are learning to be loving at work, but aren’t doing it at home, that’s not enough. We need to be growing.

And again, what is the measurement of our Christian growth? What are we moving toward? We are moving in the direction of Jesus Christ. That’s what mature faith looks like. Like verse 13 says, it’s the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

Listen don’t assume that growing up spiritually means you’ll look more like me or more like your parents. In some ways, that might happen, but ultimately, spiritual growth means you will look more like Christ in you. And then collectively, our church will look more like Christ.

That’s an important reminder for us pastors too. We aren’t necessarily trying to raise up new elders or new missionaries or new ministry leaders. We are called to help promote people growing to be like Christ, and then we’ll better see how God will use them in the life of the church. People are supposed to be growing toward Christ.

Verse 15 says it like this: We are to grow up into Him who is the head, into Christ. To say that Christ is the head means that He is our authority. And that’s a reminder that Christian growth isn’t just about personal development. It’s about a deepening relationship with Christ as Lord. We live with a growing awareness that we are subject to Christ and His word. He is our standard for growth, and He is our leader.

So, Jesus’ vision for His church includes a Christ-exalting sincerity, a Christ-exalting growth, and finally, a Christ-exalting dependence. A Christ-exalting dependence.

This is the heart behind verse 16. None of this can happen by our own power. The pastor-teachers can’t make this happen, and you can’t make this happen.

When Paul was writing to the Corinthians about their own spiritual growth, he said: I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

The elders have a part to play in the health and maturity of the church. The members have a part to play as well. But behind all that, we need to remember that all the growth comes from God. We need to depend on Him in everything.

Jesus gave us spiritual life by His Spirit and by His word. Jesus gave us our spiritual gifts. Jesus connected us to one another. And He is the one empowering us to be useful for the glory of the Father.

Look at verse 16. Speaking of Jesus Christ, it says “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.”

Psalm 139 says to God: You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

That’s true in a personal sense speaking of our own bodies. It’s a wonderful work of God to form a child’s body inside the womb of his/her mother. It’s just as wonderful to think about how He has uniquely and amazingly formed us as the body of Christ.

Your body has a skeleton that gives it structure. Then there are joints that provide movement. And the ligaments and tendons hold it all together connecting bone to bone or bone to muscle.

And anytime one of those pieces isn’t working, you immediately know. It hurts. You can’t move the same way. But when all the parts are working properly, you get to work too, right? God didn’t give us bodies so we could waste hours and hours on the couch every day. He gave us a body so we could work.

Well, why did God create the body of Christ? Why are we here? So we can work! And what is that Christian work? It is to depend on the strength which God supplies and do the work of ministry. We are supposed to be building up the body of Christ. We are supposed to be speaking the truth in love to one another to the end that we all look more and more like Jesus Christ.

And as we grow, we get better at doing it. The body grows, verse 16 says, so that it builds itself up in love. Again, Paul points us back to love. We’re not taskmasters over one another. We’re not policing each other. We are coming alongside as brothers and sisters in the Lord so that we all look more and more like Jesus Christ.

If someone draws your attention to an area of your life that can better reflect the holiness of Jesus Christ, don’t get upset thinking about how they could have done it better. Start by thanking them because that’s not easy to do, but they loved you enough to say something.

When you come gather with the church on a Sunday morning and on Sunday nights, don’t just think, “What’s in this for me? What am I going to get today?” Instead, remind yourself, “I am a member of the body of Christ. I have a responsibility today to exhort my brothers and sisters—to encourage them in the Lord. I want to help build others up in love.

Who knows? God may have you in that person’s life at just the right moment so that they can endure a temptation or a trial. He might have you there to refresh them and strengthen them.

Again, in all of this we don’t rely on ourselves; we rely on Jesus Christ. Christ wants His church marked by sincerity, growth, and dependence on Him. If we pursue that, we will be living up to God’s design for the church.

Let me close with a passage reminding us why this is so important. We cannot take our own spiritual growth or the spiritual growth of others for granted. We can’t just assume it’s going to happen.

Turn with me to John 15. John chapter 15. This is part of Jesus’ message to His disciples on the night He was betrayed. There were so many parallel themes here that I wanted to you hear these familiar words one more time. John 15, verse 1.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

Spiritual growth matters to our heavenly Father; it matters to Jesus, and it should matter to you.

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