The Church: Grace Incarnate

We are, after all, the Body of Christ.

A Framework of Grace (6)

Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. 
1 Corinthians 12.27

When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. Acts 11.23

Covenant, Kingdom, Church
The Church is the temporal arena in which the grace of God is most pointedly realized and displayed throughout the world. In the Church – local churches individually and together within a community – believers lay hold on the covenant promises of God, and are infused with His Kingdom power, to the end that grace may work in and through them unto the knowledge of God and His glory over all the earth.

In the Church, believers are renewed in grace, so that the grace they know for each day is enhanced, focused, and experienced with greater consistency and effects. When believers gather to worship, when they submit themselves for training and equipping, as they take up the daily disciplines of grace, encourage and comfort one another, pray and sing, share and prepare for their mission in the world, and give of themselves and their means, they realize more of the grace of God as promised in His covenant and powerfully advanced by His Spirit at work among them. Whether the church of which they are members is large or small, rural or urban, traditional or contemporary, it is invested with divine potential to realize and diffuse more of the grace of God than believers alone can ever know.

This is because the Church is the Body of Christ, and each of us is a member of that Body. While, as members, each of us has a distinct role within the church – by which we contribute to the worship, disciple-making, and mission of the congregation as a whole (1 Cor. 12.7-11; 1 Pet. 4.10, 11) – together, as the Body of our Lord, we are the closest thing to His incarnation as the people in our communities will ever see.

So it makes sense that God would concentrate His grace in the Body of Christ, to distribute and employ it among His members, according to His promises and by the working of His mighty power. The local church, and local churches together, demonstrate a unity of the Spirit and a bond of peace that bear powerful evidence of the grace of God incarnate, first in Jesus, and now in His Body (Jn. 17.21).

The Body of Christ
In our day, the idea of the local church as the Body of Christ is like the idea of God’s covenant or Kingdom – just that, an idea. In very few instances do local churches demonstrate the kind of every-member participation in worship, life, and mission that Paul outlines in 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and elsewhere. In the early Christian communities, believers lived, worked, worshiped, shared, and bore witness together; and their unity powerfully evidenced the grace of God in the world. When the Gospel broke out of Jerusalem and spread to Antioch of the Gentiles, Barnabas could see the grace of God at work there, and he knew thereby that this was a true manifestation of the Body of Christ.

But today, most churches do not look like the grace-pervaded incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. In most churches, only a few are actively involved in the works of ministry which the church sponsors – most of which are aimed at church members. The rest of the members see themselves as those who are being served. Churches, as we observe them today, seem to exist mainly for their members, with some members serving and the rest being served. It is as if the body of a local church were mainly hands and a mouth.

Further, local churches not only do not seek to realize the oneness Jesus said was essential to the church’s mission in the world by joining together for worship, discipleship, and outreach; they maintain either active resistance to such efforts or, by a studied indifference, indicate their belief that such efforts are neither necessary nor useful for incarnating the grace of Jesus. Granted, it is hard work to get local churches to make praying, worshiping, sharing, equipping, and witnessing together a more consistent part of their community life. But the first Christians managed to do so, and Paul said we must work hard at such unity (Eph. 4.3), because our spiritual adversaries have it high on their agendas to squelch and obscure the incarnation of grace in the Body of Christ throughout the communities of the world.

Agents of grace
Barnabas saw the grace of God when he arrived in Antioch. It was at work among the new believers there just as he had seen it in Jerusalem. The promised grace of God’s covenant and the working power of God’s Kingdom were clearly evident among the believers in the church in Antioch. The Church – and local churches individually and together – is the center stage of God’s grace at work in the world. In the vision of Isaiah and Micah (Is. 2.1-4; Mic. 4.1-8), grace should be so powerfully at work in the “mountain of the Lord’s house” that it propels the people of God into all the nooks and crannies of society, living and proclaiming the grace of God so convincingly, that even lost people can see that grace and the difference it makes. Drawn by the grace of God which they see, multitudes of lost people would stream up to the mountain of the Lord’s house, to partake of that grace and be saved.

Where is anything like that happening in our world today? Where are people seeing believers working and worshiping together, filled with the hope of glory and transformed by grace, living and proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ with such power that people are streaming into our churches for more?

It’s not happening because it’s not what we aspire to in our churches. We suffer from an ecclesiastical myopia that does not allow us to see beyond the interests of our own congregation. We’re too busy trying to keep our members satisfied and happy to worry about what the church down the street might be up to.

The grace which God communicates to His churches is not intended as a hot tub for our soothing and enjoyment. The disposition of favor with which God looks upon the Body of His Son, and the communications He channels to His people by creation and Word, are intended to issue in divine power for witness – grace flowing within and among the members of Christ’s Body, reviving and renewing us to serve as agents of grace in the grace-blind world.

We will never know grace as God intends, nor ever see its power at work in and through the Body of Christ, until we take seriously the role of local churches as the primary arenas where covenant promises and Kingdom power come to expression in space and time.

For reflection
1. Why do you think local churches do so little together? What did Jesus mean by what He said in John 17.21?

2. Paul wrote that we must work hard to maintain the unity of God’s Spirit, which allows His grace to flow in and through us (Eph. 4.3). What does that entail?

3. How should we expect people to see the grace of God working in and through His Body?

Next Steps – Transformation: As a member of the Body of Christ, how are you contributing to the sharing of God’s grace with others? How might you improve in this? Make this a matter of prayer, and follow as the Lord leads.

Men, the Fall Term at 
The Ailbe Seminary is now open for registration. Visit our website and watch this brief video, then choose one of three available courses to study from September to December. All courses are free of charge, and we’ll provide a Reader to work with you through your studies.

Grace flows from our relationship with Jesus Christ. The better we know Him, the more His grace will do its work in us. Our book, 
To Know Him, can help you in drawing closer to Jesus and increasing in Him. Order your copy by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore