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One Living Sacrifice
We have said that there is an aspect of the death of Christ presented to us in Ephesians 5 which is to some extent different from that which we have been studying in Romans. Yet in fact this aspect is the very end to which our study of Romans has been moving, and it is into this that the letter is leading us as we shall now see, for redemption leads us back into God’s original line of purpose.
In chapter 8 Paul speaks to us of Christ as the firstborn Son among many Spirit-led “sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). “For whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren: and whom he foreordained, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Rom. 8:29, 30). Here justification is seen to lead on to glory, a glory that is expressed not in one or more individuals but in a plurality: in many who manifest the image of One. And this object of our redemption is further set forth, as we have seen, in “the love of Christ” for His own, which is the subject of the last verses of the chapter (8:35-39). But what is implicit here in chapter 8 becomes explicit as we move over into chapter 12, the subject of which is the Body of Christ.
After the first eight chapters of Romans, which we have been studying, there follows a parenthesis in which God’s sovereign dealings with Israel are taken up and dealt with, before the theme of the first chapters is resumed. Thus, for our present purpose, the argument of chapter 12 follows that of chapter 8 and not of chapter 11. We might very simply summarize these chapters thus: Our sins are forgiven (ch. 5), we are dead with Christ (ch. 6), we are by nature utterly helpless (ch. 7), therefore we rely upon the indwelling Spirit (ch. 8). After this, and as a consequence of it: “We... are one body in Christ” (ch. 12). It is as though this were the logical outcome of all that has gone before, and the thing to which it has all been leading.
Romans 12 and the following chapter contain some very practical instructions for our life and walk. These are introduced with an emphasis once again on consecration. In chapter 6:13 Paul has said: “Present yourselves unto God, as alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God”. But now in chapter 12:1 the emphasis is a little different: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service”. This new appeal for consecration is made to us as “brethren”, linking us in thought to the “many brethren” of chapter 8:29. It is a call to us for a united step of faith, the presenting of our bodies as one “living sacrifice” unto God.
This is something that goes beyond the merely individual, for it implies contribution to a whole. The ‘presenting’ is personal but the sacrifice is corporate; it is one sacrifice. Intelligent service to God is one service. We need never feel our contribution is not needed, for if it contributes to the service, God is satisfied. And it is through this kind of service that we prove “what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (ch. 12:2), or, in other words, realize God’s eternal purpose in Christ Jesus. So Paul’s appeal “to every man that is among you” (12:3) is in the light of this new Divine fact, that “we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another” (12:5), and it is on this basis that the practical instructions follow.
The vessel through which the Lord Jesus can reveal Himself in this generation is not the individual but the Body. “God hath dealt to each man a measure of faith” (12:3), but alone in isolation man can never fulfill God’s purpose. It requires a complete Body to attain to the stature of Christ and to display His glory. Oh that we might really see this!
So Romans 12:3-6 draws from the figure of the human body the lesson of our inter-dependence. Individual Christians are not the Body but are members of the Body, and in a human body “all the members have not the same office”. The ear must not imagine itself to be an eye. No amount of prayer will give sight to the ear—but the whole body can see through the eye. So (speaking figuratively) I may have only the gift of hearing, but I can see through others who have the gift of sight; or, perhaps I can walk but cannot work, so I receive help from the hands. An all-too-common attitude to the things of the Lord is that, ‘What I know, I know; and what I don’t know, I don’t know, and can do quite well without.’ But in Christ, the things we do not know others do, and we may know them and enter into the enjoyment of them through others.
Let me stress that this is not just a comfortable thought. It is a vital factor in the life of God’s people. We cannot get along without one another. That is why fellowship in prayer is so important. Prayer together brings in the help of the Body, as must be clear from Matthew 18:19, 20. Trusting the Lord by myself may not be enough. I must trust Him with others. I must learn to pray ”Our Father...” on the basis of oneness with the Body, for without the help of the Body I cannot get through. In the sphere of service this is even more apparent. Alone I cannot serve the Lord effectively, and He will spare no pains to teach me this. He will bring things to an end, allowing doors to close and leaving me ineffectively knocking my head against a blank wall until I realize that I need the help of the Body as well as of the Lord. For the life of Christ is the life of the Body, and His gifts are given to us for work that builds up the Body.
The Body is not an illustration but a fact. The Bible does not just say that the Church is like a body, but that it is the Body of Christ. “We, who are many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another.” All the members together are one Body, for all share His life—as though He were Himself distributed among His members. I was once with a group of Chinese believers who found it very hard to understand how the Body could be one when they were all separate individual men and women who made it up. One Sunday I was about to break the bread at the Lord’s table and I asked them to look very carefully at the loaf before I broke it. Then, after it had been distributed and eaten, I pointed out that though it was inside all of them it was still one loaf—not many. The loaf was divided, but Christ is not divided even in the sense in which that loaf was. He is still one Spirit in us, and we are all one in Him.
This is the very opposite of man’s condition by nature. In Adam I have the life of Adam, but that is essentially individual. There is no union, no fellowship in sin, but only self-interest and distrust of others. As I go on with the Lord I soon discover, not only that the problem of sin and of my natural strength has to be dealt with, but that there is also a further problem created by my ‘individual’ life, the life that is sufficient in itself and does not recognize its need for and union in the Body. I may have got over the problems of sin and the flesh, and yet still be a confirmed individualist. I want holiness and victory and fruitfulness for myself personally and apart, albeit from the purest motives. but such an attitude ignores the Body, and so cannot provide God with satisfaction. he must deal with me therefore in this matter also, or I shall remain in conflict with His ends. God does not blame me for being an individual, but for my individualism. His greatest problem is not the outward divisions and denominations that divide His Church but our own individualistic hearts.
Yes, the Cross must do its work here, reminding me that in Christ I have died to that old life of independence which I inherited from Adam, and that in resurrection I have become not just an individual believer in Christ but a member of His Body. There is a vast difference between the two. When I see this, I shall at once have done with independence and shall seek fellowship. The life of Christ in me will gravitate to the life of Christ in others. I can no longer take an individual line. Jealousy will go. Competition will go. Private work will go. My interests, my ambitions, my preferences, all will go. It will no longer matter which of us does the work. All that will matter will be that the Body grows.
I said: ‘When I see this...’ That is the great need: to see the Body of Christ as another great Divine fact; to have it break in upon our spirits by heavenly revelation that “we, who are many, are one body in Christ”. Only the Holy Spirit can bring this home to us in all its meaning, but when He does it will revolutionize our life and work.
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