Holiness is not something we develop in isolation as we read the Bible alone in our cubicle and pray alone in the prayer closet. We need to do that regularly with discipline. Our private devotion is indispensable to our sanctification. But the primary means of our sanctification is the means of grace dispensed in our public worship: the preaching of God's Word, the Sacraments, and prayer. The point I want to emphasize is the public nature of these means. Why public? At the basic level, it is because the public worship is when the ordinary officers, whom Christ gave to the church for the equipping of the saints, carry out their ministry officially. But there is another level: it is because the equipping of the saints is for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. Insofar as the work of ministry is for building up the body of Christ, it is to be done in the context of the covenant community. Holiness is more than what we feel inside as individuals. Holiness is what we practice as members of the body of Christ--in the messiness of our relationship with one another as flawed, broken people--as we serve one another with the gifts God has given to us for His glory.
The good news is that God has already begun to answer that prayer. It began even before the foundation of the world with God's eternal decree: "he chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him" (1:4). In due time, after the Fall and after all the preparation in the Old Testament, He sent His only begotten Son into this world in the form of man. In order to save His people, who deserve the eternal damnation in hell, He descended even to the lower parts of the earth (Eph. 4:9, NASB). Having thus paid the full penalty of our sin, He rose again from the dead and ascended back to the right hand of God, far above all the heavens. In celebration of His victory over sin and death, He bestowed on the church the gift of "the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers" (v. 11). These He gave in order "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…" (vv. 12-13).
One of the biggest problems in our Christian life is our refusal to accept the magnificence of God's design for our life. We prefer to live in the familiar misery of Egypt rather than to venture out into the wilderness to get to the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. God says to us, "Son, all that is Mine is yours" (Luke 15:31), but we work like a slave and cannot wish anything more than a young goat! Should we live in the ocean-depths of God's love and die of thirst? How tragic! Dale Carnegie said, "True humility any man who thoroughly knows himself must feel; but it is not a humility that assumes a wormlike meekness; it is rather a strong, vibrant prayer for greater power for service…" (The Art of Public Speaking). When God says, "I want you to grow to the full stature of My Son, Jesus Christ!" it's not humility to say, "How can I? That's impossible!" True humility is to say, "How can that be? Yet, I will say, 'Amen!' since You say so. All I pray is, as St. Augustine did, 'Command what You will and give what You command!'"
In our passage we have an astounding expression of this truth. God wills that we should grow to mature manhood and not remain in spiritual childhood. What is meant by this mature manhood? It's nothing less than growing to the full stature of Christ Himself! What does that mean? It boggles our mind that that is what God wants for us! Of course, this is an eschatological vision--that is, it's something that can come to full fruition only in heaven, not in this world. But it doesn't mean that, when that day arrives, we will be divine. God by definition is not created. Therefore, that which is created can never be God. We will be glorified and perfected as men, not into God.
So then, the full stature of Christ must refer to His perfection as the Second Adam, not as the Second Person of the Trinity. Then consider this: this eschatological vision is corporate in scope, not individual. Not as individuals but all of us together as the body of Christ will grow to the full stature of Christ. It will take all the believers of all time and each of them perfected and glorified to match the full stature of Jesus Christ--and that, only as His body, which is inferior in its glory to the Head. How matchless is the glory of Christ even as the Second Adam! Not at all! For this also shows how amazing we will be when God is done with our glorious redemption. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. So the body of Christ can be only as glorious as its weakest member. This is all because our salvation in essence is our union with Jesus Christ--Christ as the Head and we as His body. It is only fitting that the "size" and "glory" of the body matches the "size" and "glory" of the head. It would be grotesque to have a huge head connected to a puny body.
In our attempt to define what sanctification is, we spoke of definitive sanctification and progressive sanctification. By definitive sanctification we are already made holy in two ways: 1) in our status as those who are now set apart from the world unto a holy God; 2) in our being insofar as we are born again as God's holy children, having the seed of holiness planted in our soul. But we are not yet holy in our whole being, in our character and conduct. This is precisely what progressive sanctification is for. So, we have been talking about progressive sanctification as God restoring the image of God in us, both in its broad/natural sense and narrow/moral sense. Today, I'd like to explore the idea of sanctification as growing competent in service. In doing so, we will see how sanctification is a corporate, cooperative affair and how we need one another.
I hope this idea of sanctification makes sense. Can we say we are truly holy when we are not competent in practicing holiness in our life? Think about little children, for example. They may be full of life and energy but they often get frustrated. Why? Because they are not quite coordinated yet. They cannot control their bodies as much as they want to. When we get really good at something, the instrument we use feels like a natural extension of our body rather than a heavy weight we have to carry. If it's wonderful to be holy in our status, it's even better to be holy in our practice. God calls us to grow holy, to grow competent in holiness, so we can actually enjoy being what God called us to be and doing what He called us to do!