We, Though Many, Are One Body in Christ

What it means to be “in Christ” is far more profound than the human analogy of family relationships suggests. That would be precious enough, but it’s far more and far better than that.

Being “in Christ” means that when you trust Him as your Savior and Treasure (Philippians 3:9), a union is established between Him and you in such a way that everything He is and everything He has that can be shared will be shared with you. And there is only one thing that can’t be shared—His deity, with its unique, God-defining attributes (like omnipotence, omniscience and eternality). Everything else that Christ is and has is yours in Him.

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At the beginning of Romans 12, Paul has already spent 11 chapters teaching us the Gospel of Christ:

We are great sinners; God is infinitely holy; we are therefore under His wrath and condemnation. But God, in His great mercy, sent His Son Jesus Christ whose perfect obedience and death in our place makes it possible for God to justify—declare righteous—all who trust in Christ. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

On the basis of that great work of salvation for all who believe in Christ, Paul begins in chapter 12 to build his application for life. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God …” In other words, the Christian life is built on the mercy of God. We are not a people trying to earn the favor of God. We are people who are stunned that we have been shown utterly undeserved favor because of Christ. We do not try to earn mercy with a merciful life. Instead, we are able to live a merciful life because we have been shown mercy.

Every aspect of life is revolutionized by this Gospel. Here Paul deals with worship (v. 1), humility and lowliness (v. 3), our relationships with each other in the Church (v. 4–13), our relationship to our enemies (v. 14–21), our relation to the civil authorities (13:1–7) and so on. All of this is what life looks like when you know that you have peace with God by faith alone and Christ has become the foundation and summation of all your hopes.

Focus with me on verses 4–6:

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them. (ESV)

I see three points to make about the Church as the Body of Christ and two applications to our situation today.

The first point is that the unity of the Body of Christ is created in Jesus Christ. Second, individuality is valued in Christ. Third, God’s grace sustains all ministry in Christ.

And the two applications are these: First, intentional commitment to racial harmony and ethnic diversity in the body of Christ is implied here; and second, participation in a small community group helps us fulfill God’s vision for us as a mutually ministering body with varied gifts.

That’s my outline. Now let’s go to the Scripture and see these things.

1. The Unity of the Body of Christ Is Created in Jesus Christ

Let’s read verses 4 and 5 and stop with that tremendously important little phrase “in Christ.”

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ.

When Paul speaks of the Church as a body, He moves back and forth between two meanings that overlap. One way Paul uses the metaphor of Christ’s Body is in reference to the invisible, spiritual, universal church of all believers in Christ who have ever lived. For example, Ephesians 1:22–23 says:

He put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

But Paul also refers to the local Church as the Body of Christ. For example, in 1 Corinthians 12:27 he says to that specific church, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

I don’t think he wants us to draw a hard line here distinguishing these two uses. So when he uses the word we in verses 4–5, even though that includes himself hundreds of miles away, I don’t think he means to say, “We are only talking about the universal Body of all believers, not your local body.” He is referring to how that local church should function as a Body, and he says “we” because, yes, he is in a larger sense a part of them in Christ.

What the phrase “in Christ” means is that the interwoven unity of all the members into one Body is created and brought about through Jesus. Simply put, because each of us is in relationship with Christ, we are also in relationship with each other. If I am Christ’s brother and you are Christ’s sister, then you are my sister. By creating relationships with Himself, Christ creates the relationships in the Body.

But the truth here is deeper than that. What it means to be “in Christ” is far more profound than the human analogy of family relationships suggests. That would be precious enough, but it’s far more and far better than that.

Being “in Christ” means that when you trust Him as your Savior and Treasure (Philippians 3:9), a union is established between Him and you in such a way that everything He is and everything He has that can be shared will be shared with you. And there is only one thing that can’t be shared—His deity, with its unique, God-defining attributes (like omnipotence, omniscience and eternality). Everything else that Christ is and has is yours in Him.

Consider a few examples. This is what it means for you to be “in Christ”:

•    We receive grace in Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:4)

•    Our redemption is in Christ. (Romans 3:24)

•    We are justified in Christ. (Galatians 2:17)

•    We have forgiveness of sins in Christ. (Galatians 2:17)

•    There is no condemnation in Christ. (Romans 8:1)

•    We are a new creation in Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

•    We have eternal life in Christ. (Romans 6:23)

•    God supplies all our needs in Christ. (Philippians 4:19)

•    We have every spiritual blessing of heaven in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3)

•    We will be presented to God perfect in Christ. (Colossians 1:28)

•    We cannot be separated from the love of God in Christ. (Romans 8:32)

Paul’s aim in talking this way is that we stand in awe of Jesus. That we love Him, admire Him, follow Him, and enjoy making much of Christ above all things.

Listen to the way he relates this truth to boasting in 1 Corinthians 3:21–23: “Let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”

You belong to Him. You are in Him. There is a union by faith so that all that He is, He is for you. It is simply breathtaking. Oh, that God would help us believe it with all our hearts.

And we experience all of this together in one body. “So we, though many, are one body in Christ.” Redeemed together. Justified together. Forgiven together. Created anew together. Every need met together. Loved by God together. Perfected together. Living forever together. And all of this glorious unity is created in Christ and for the glory of Christ.

Oh, let us never trivialize the Church! It cost God the life of His Son to create it. And what you share with the people sitting near you in Christ is a life and an inheritance and a union so great and so profound that it surpasses the value of all other human relationships and inheritances. And it can never end.

2. Individuality is Valued in Christ

Look at verse 5 again and focus on the second half of the verse: “So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

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One could argue that Paul’s focus here on the individual is really to stress that each of us is part of the collective unity called the Body and that each of us is connected with every other member of the Body. So one might say: There is no effort here to emphasize the value of individuality, but the contrary, to say that the Body is all that counts.

But in view of verses 6–8, I don’t think that would be right. Verse 6 says, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.” That is a conscious effort to make explicit our individual differences created by God’s grace. Then he spells out different gifts in verses 7–8. So it would not be fair to say that Paul is minimizing our individuality and only emphasizing the corporate reality of the Body.

Would it not be better to say it this way: Paul is saying that our true individuality is found—discovered, experienced—in relationship to the Body of Christ. Here’s what Paul is saying: I am part of you. You are part of me. I am like your eye or your ear or your hand or your foot. And you are like my eye or my ear or my hand or my foot. Each individual, Paul says, is part of the other individuals in the Body.

That’s who I am. I am a part of you. Which means that my individuality—my individual identity, as God has created me to be—cannot be known except in serving you as I rely upon Christ. And yours cannot be known except in serving others in reliance on Christ. That’s what hands and feet and eyes and ears do. They serve. That’s why we have gifts.

Paul values individuality so highly that he does not fail to tell us how our true individual selves can be known—namely, by living in relationship with others and by serving and being served in the Body of Christ. Then from that position and identity (as Paul shows later in the chapter) we express our individual identity with Christ in relation to the world. Love other people with all your heart in reliance on Christ, and you will discover who you are.

So, the first point was that the unity of the Body of Christ is created in Jesus Christ. And the second point was that individuality is valued in Christ—indeed, discovered—in the Body of Christ.

3. God’s Grace Sustains All Ministry in Christ

In verse 6, Paul refers to “having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.” What we are in our differing individuality we are by grace.

You may not think so. You may not approve of what God has made of you for the sake of His Body. You may think He made a mistake. Or that He is cruel. I don’t think that is mainly a self-esteem issue. It’s mainly a God-esteem issue. Will you trust Him—that your individuality is a work of grace? You are a gift to the Church. You will find that when you start loving the Church in practical ways.

Two Applications

Now, two applications are implied in the text we’ve been looking at. The first has to do with racial harmony and ethnic diversity in the Body of Christ. In Ephesians 3:6 Paul draws out the ethnic implications of being in Christ:

The Gentiles are fellow heirs [meaning: with the Jewish believers], members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

What that means is that the unity of the Body of Christ created in Christ includes the nations. Every race and ethnic group. By coming into union with Christ, they come into union with me and you. And since Paul doesn’t make a fixed distinction between the Body of Christ locally and the Body of Christ universally, that has implications for us here.

What it means very simply is that this reality should be visible in a local church when possible. God is sovereign, and God is gracious. He positions His people as He wills. We are not the final builders of the Body of Christ. But we should steadily—with faith and hope—pray and work toward ethnic diversity and harmony in Christ in our churches.

The final application of this message is participation in a small community group. This will help you become who God created you to be in Christ Jesus, and will help your church fulfill God’s vision for it to be a mutually ministering body of believers with varied gifts.

The biblical picture is clear: To be a Christian—to belong to Jesus Christ—is to be part of His Body and “individually members of one another.” This is why many churches have small groups. Find one if possible, and let it free you to serve and be served in relationships of love.

It is an amazing calling and an amazing identity: being the Body of Christ and individually members of one another. There is more to be discovered about yourself in Christ than you ever dreamed. And Christ will be more and more honored by every discovery you make.

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This article originally appeared in Neue Quarterly Vol. 01. You can subscribe to the Quarterly or buy individual copies.

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