"Knowing Ourselves as Sinners who Live by God's Grace"
The church, let it be remembered, is the fellowship of those for whom Christ has become all in all.
This makes it radically different from and much more than a company of people who happen to profess and defend the same orthodox ideas and insights. All that is very well possible even when we can no longer speak in any sense about a true church. The Jewish "church" in the days of Christ's sojourn on earth affords classic and horrifying proof of such a situation. It was at that time God's people who in God's name and on the basis of God's Word killed God's Son as a blasphemer.
In sharp contrast the true church is that fellowship of people who truly see themselves as ungodly sinners; who therefore are humbled and broken before God's face; who now live only and continually according to God's Word by grace as it has been and is being revealed in Jesus Christ.
In a variety of ways Scripture describes for us what such knowledge of ourselves as sinners and such living by God's grace is and means for the church.
Christ speaks of this when characterizing His disciples as those "who deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him."1
Here the Savior describes the essentials of true discipleship, that is, of being truly a member of His church.
Denying yourself — that means saying "No" to your self-centered, self-righteous, opinionated "I" and always and in all things seeking only Jesus Christ and His kingdom.
Taking up your cross — that is to accept willingly everything which God sends upon you in the way of difficulty, suffering, disappointment and sorrow, because God seeks through such experiences to stimulate you to put off the "old man" and put on the "new man" and so works that His grace is sufficient for you.
And following Jesus — that is steadfastly believing in and obeying the Gospel no matter along which dark and painful and dangerous ways this may lead.
The apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians binds upon the soul of the believers that in their mutual relationships they must be filled with the same "mind" which is also in Christ Jesus. This is the "mind" (attitude) which led Christ, when existing in the very form of God, not to count His being on an equality with God something to be maintained at all costs, but rather to surrender this by being born in the likeness of men, to assume the very form of a slave, to humble Himself to the lowest possible depths and so to become obedient unto death, yea, the very death of the cross.
This "mind" must induce the members of His body to break radically with the basic sin of mankind, namely that of pleasing and maintaining oneself at all costs, in order humbly to account others worthier than self. By this (mind) each looks not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.2
In addition Paul accentuates continually and emphatically that within the church a totally different life must become manifest than in the world.
Members of Christ's body, so he writes, are to put to death their members which are on earth. Resolutely and completely, they must break with the lifestyle which characterizes those who are without Christ and still live under the dominion of sin. Instead of serving sin they must put on the "new man" which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of God who has created them.3
Paul expresses the same thought when saying that believers must break with "the works of the flesh" and in place thereof reveal "the fruit of the Spirit."4 All fornication, impurity, debauchery, sinful desire, covetousness, licentiousness, idolatry, witchcraft, discord, dissension, rancour, envy, fits of rage, vehemence, malice, self-seeking, divisions, factions, anger, slander, evil speech, drunkenness, orgies, etc. must be banished from the lives of those who are members of Christ's body. In their stead love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, compassion, goodness, humility, gentleness, longsuffering, self-control, etc. must be reflected in their lives. 5
The new life which the Spirit of Christ quickens in His body, which is the church, Paul describes elsewhere as faith which works through love.
Such believing consists not in intellectual manipulations. Neither is it made manifest in the cultivation of ceremonies, religious emotions, experiences or activities. Nor does it appear in a painstaking preservation of custom or tradition. Indeed not! The activity of true faith consists in exercising an unbroken communion with Jesus Christ in whom God's love becomes fully manifest in the world by the power of God's Word and Spirit. Therefore faith reveals and works itself out in sincere love. Such believing is in its deepest reality an unfolding of energy, a demonstration of power in and through love.
In that love faith lives out its life to the full to give proof of its authenticity, its genuineness, its faithfulness and power.
Such love is the life-sphere of the church. It is the bond of perfection, the indispensable unity of the congregations.6