Is Your Church OnMISSION?
God’s Plan: Living as the Body of Christ
(This is the first part of a four part series discussing what it means to be OnMISSION.)
What does it mean to be OnMISSION? It means living as the body of Christ so that people might see God’s glory and be transformed and mobilized on His mission. This statement has three key elements that express God’s intention for the church. First, it expresses His plan, “living as the body of Christ.” Second, it expresses His purpose, “so that people might see God’s glory.” And third, it expresses His goal, “people…be transformed and mobilized on His mission.” These three elements will be explained in this four part series. This month the focus is the first element, His Plan.
I. God’s Plan: Living as the Body of Christ
The first element of being OnMISSION is to understand God’s plan for His church. There are several different analogies God uses to describe the church. One of the most powerful is the image of the church as the body of Christ. This image portrays the church as the physical presence of Jesus Christ on the earth through the indwelling presence of the Spirit. It is through this body that God intends to reveal Himself to the world and continue the mission He gave to Jesus. Therefore, living as the body of Christ is God’s plan for His church.
First of all, living as the body of Christ means that Jesus is the head. Being the head means more than being the boss or the leader. While it does encompass the meaning of Jesus as the leader of His church, it also carries the meaning that He is the source of its life. The life of the church is the life of Jesus imparted to it through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. For the church to declare Jesus as its head is not only to say He is our leader, but also to more radically declare that only through Him does the church have life. In other words, He is the sole source of its existence. It means to declare with Paul that we are crucified (dead) and the life we now live is really His life.
The implications for the life of the church are deeply profound. This means that the church seeks Jesus for more than just advice on what to do next. The church is bound to Jesus because He is its life and without Him we cannot be the church or do anything. Jesus explained this relationship in John 15 by describing Himself as the vine and the members of His church as the branches. If the branch does not abide in the vine it dies and without Him the church can do nothing. Living as the body of Christ begins with the church understanding its absolute dependence on Jesus as its head and constantly living in that dependence.
Secondly, to live as the body of Christ means that the church is His dwelling place. John says, “The word became flesh and dwelt (lit. tabernacled) among us.” In Him all the fullness of the godhead dwelt in His earthly body, as Paul declares in Colossians. Therefore, Jesus was the new temple because He was the dwelling place of God. Jesus was the earthly physical manifestation of the invisible God.
As Jesus was going away He promised to send the Holy Spirit to be “in” His disciples. Paul now declares us to be the temple of the living God. In Ephesians 2:22 Paul’s vision of the church is that we are “being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Christ lives in us through the presence of the Holy Spirit. The life of the church is the life of Jesus brought forth in us by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The church is His dwelling place because it is the body of Christ.
The church as the dwelling place of God is the earthly physical manifestation of the invisible God. The world is to understand that God exists and is here because they see His presence revealed through the church.
Thirdly, to live as the body of Christ means that we are His image-bearers. 2 Corinthians 4:4 and Colossians 1:15 tell us that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. Jesus was not only the visible manifestation of God’s existence and presence, but He is also the visible manifestation of the character of God. If you have seen Him, you have seen the Father. Through Jesus we understand what God is like. The holy and righteous nature of God is supremely revealed in Jesus.
If the church is His body then the church will bear His image. As His Spirit dwells in us, the church shares the character of Jesus. In fact, the fruit of the Spirit is the character of Jesus Christ. The church is urged in Ephesians 4:24 to put on the new self which is created in God’s image of true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, the new self bears the image of Jesus. We are to be like Him. By being like Jesus and bearing His image the world begins to understand what God is like.
Finally, to live as the body of Christ means that we are His missionaries. If we are His body then we will share His mission. The atoning work of Jesus Christ was completed through His life on the earth, but His mission is ongoing. He continues that mission on the earth through the Spirit-filled and empowered church. In John 20:21, Jesus told the disciples that He was sending them in the same way the Father sent Him.
Through the missionary church the world understands that God is a sending God. They understand that God loves them and sent His Son into the world so that they might be saved. His missionaries declare the redemptive plan of God.
The ministry and work of the church does not start with what we do. It starts with who we are. The church is the body of Christ. We are to live as His body. He is our head. We are His dwelling place, image-bearers, and missionaries. By living as the body of Christ the world is to understand that God exists and is here. They are to understand what He is like and His redemptive plan. Being OnMISSION starts with living as His body.