Captured by Christ – Grace in the Church (Eph. 4:1-16); A message by D. A. Carson

[These are the notes I took while listening to Carson exposit Ephesians 4:1-16 in a series entitled, “Basic Baptist Beliefs.” I found the title strange at first given my understanding of the passage, but the weight of the truth in the title (the second point of the sermon) was heavy and a huge blessing to me.]

You can listen to the lecture.

1. Paul Exhorts believers to keep the unity of the Spirit (vv. 1-6). The command is given in verse 3. The church will have to spend great energy to keep peace.

How are we to do this? The aim is the unity of the Spirit, but it must be done through the means of peace (v. 3).

By what standard? A manner worthy of the calling to which we’ve been called (v. 1). The calling is the calling to be Christian. We are to live out Christianity and conduct ourselves accordingly. Verse 2 tells us what it means explicitly – humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance.

Paul Exhorts to Theological Unity (vv. 4-6) as a ground for the unity of the Spirit aimed at in verse 3. There are 7 elements to this:

a. One body – see 1:22-23. It is important to understand that there is not a radical distinction between the local and universal church. If there is one body of Christ, the local church must manifest it as such.

b. One Spirit – The Holy Spirit

c. One hope – this grounds the previous two.

d. One Lord – Jesus Christ. There are commands that must end in division and strife among his servants.

e. One faith – This is not the subjective faith of the individual, it is the body of teaching, the objective faith, handed down to other (cf. Jude 3)

f. One baptism – baptism functioned in the early church as part of the conversion package. If you were baptized, it meant that you were converted, believed the gospel, and willingly identified yourself with the people of God. This doesn’t mean that baptism is the means of conversion or imparted some grace. “Almost certainly what he means is, ‘There is no entry into this community apart from conversion.’ You’ve been converted. In the church of Jesus Christ you have a closed community. It is a believing community. It is a believers’ church. It is a regenerate entity. There is only one baptism.”

g. One God – over against polytheism of the day.

A warning: There are some Christians who take one or two doctrinal tests and make them decisive for what and who is and is not Christian. Not one of the doctrinal tests are sufficient for defining all boundaries for all situations and questions.

2. Paul reminds us that there is great diversity in the church (vv. 7-11)

Christ by his ascension, captures men and women, and in capturing us, in making us his, he assigns each of us grace and then pours us back onto the church. In other words, the apportioning of gifts and grace constitutes part of the triumph of Christ. This apportioning of grace is the ultimate basis of all distinctive roles among God’s people.

The antitype of the Levites and priests in the New Testament is either Christ himself or all Christians who were captured by Christ and given to the church as his gift to each other. “We would solve many of our ecclesiastical problems if leadership and lay alike had that kind of view of our calling and service.” Too often we have seen it in terms of mere professionalism, power struggles, or influence and not first of all as Christ’s captives by his work and now his gift to his church.

Understand yourself to be God’s gift to the church who’s calling is to serve.

3. The purpose of God’s gifts (two-fold) (vv. 12-16).

a. To prepare God’s people for the works of ministry (v. 12a) – We serve to help the body to serve. We serve to promote service.

b. To build up the entire body of Christ aiming at maturity that unity brings.

c. The results? Doctrinal stability (vv. 14-15) and mutual interdependence (v. 16) – “We need also (along with doctrinal teaching and good preaching) the kind of churches where each one sees himself or herself as God’s captive, now God’s gift to the church, serving the whole body with a the whole body then issuing in ministry. And that will issue in doctrinal stability. That is what the text says. Isn’t that a strange way of building doctrinal stability? Very, very, often doctrinal aberrations, not always, but very, very often doctrinal aberrations are in fact the reflection of something wrong in a church. Some deadness. Or some corruption. Some suppressed sin. Something not functioning right in the church.”

“If you want a doctrinally mature and stable church, you must have a church where the vast majority of members see themselves as captured by the risen and exalted Lord and themselves now as his gifts to the church. Away then with this silly, Western, individualism. Instead let us see ourselves as Christ’s captives for the sake of the church. And within that context we will see more doctrinal stability.”

Diversity, within the biblical boundaries, we ought to exult in the diversity of the church.

Why not just talk about structure of the church right away? (1) We must deal with the nature of the church and its responsibilities of the members in this larger structure and broader New Testament context and concept. (2) These verses deal directly with the theme anyway – Christians are to look at themselves and each other and see their network of relationships, responsibilities, and gifts as those captured by the Messiah and poured out to the church as his gifts so that we would display what the church ought to be in between the first and second advents of Christ.

My thoughts on Carson’s exposition:

  1. The thought of Christ capturing us in his death, resurrection, ascension, and exaltation and then making us his, with the purpose of giving us to the church as gifts is a powerful concept. I’ve preached this passage before and studied it and read other expositions of it and commentaries on it (two of the best are O’Brien’s and Hoehner’s) but the concept that Carson explained never stuck with me or impressed itself upon me the way it did today. I felt gratitude for all members of the church I am a part of and at the same time a heavy responsibility to be a blessing to the church and be used as Christ has intended to use me as one of his many gifts to his church.
  2. I’ve been listening again to Carl Trueman’s lectures and directions for a theological church, and none of points he made (or those that have come to my mind) come close to this way Carson preaches doctrinal stability in the church. A church that is united and where each one sees himself as captured by Christ and given by Christ to the church to serve the church so that the church would grow in its service. That is indeed a strange way to work towards doctrinal stability. In my experience, Carson’s opinion that the majority of false teachings that have plagued our church are due more to “something wrong in our church, some deadness, corruption, suppressed sin, or something not functioning right in the church.” The deficiency in our church that has contributed to the recent doctrinal aberrations are (1) lack of ministry to the poor (even an awareness of the issues); (2) lack of robust teaching on epistemology coupled with an inability to listen, understand, and then with balance and fairness refute doctrinal aberrations; (3) a lack of church accountability, pastoral persistence, and church discipline; and (4) a lack of family worship and accountability with parents who may be failing to parent consistently with the gospel. I say this as an indictment on me and my lack of pastoring well and encouraging our pastors in our deficient areas as a pastoral team and even more urgently as a church (though the two are inseparable).
  3. I’m encouraged that the church is what it is, united, diverse, captivated by Christ, given by Christ to serve and bring about service for the church’s doctrinal stability and mutual interdependence and health. This surely makes a church healthy. As I read Mark Dever’s What is a Healthy Church?, I will be using the insights and teaching of Eph. 4:1-16 to affirm or supply where the book may be lacking.
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About pjtibayan

I love Jesus Christ and live to share life and share Jesus together with First Southern Baptist Church of Bellflower primarily to Southeast Los Angeles County.
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