The Fullness of Him Who Fills All in All

There is this strange dissonance, a tension in the Christian life that exists when we talk about ourselves, especially in Reformed circles. On the one hand we want to acknowledge the dignity of mankind, made in the image of God to reflect His glory. But on the other, we don’t want to do this *too* much. People might think we, you know, love ourselves or something.

The tendency I’ve seen is that we’d much rather be quick to self-deprecate ourselves and risk speaking too lowly of humanity rather than too highly. We absolutely love the doctrine of original sin and total depravity and always make sure to interject the fact that we’re natural-born, reprobate, sinful, wicked beings into any anthropological discussion. This is fine and good, but only to a degree. We’ve got to be careful to not let our anthropological pendulum swing too far over to the “dark side”. The first chapter of the book of Ephesians can serve as a helpful balance to this over-extension, shedding quite a bit of light on who we truly are and how we ought to think, and yes speak, of ourselves.

So far, Paul has painted quite the spiritual landscape for us in verses 3-21:

  • We’ve been blessed, chosen, adopted, and forgiven in Christ, Who’s mission is to “unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on Earth” (vv.3-11).
  • We’ve obtained an inheritance in Him: He will be ours forever to marvel at for eternity; and He has obtained an inheritance in us: an innumerable sea of image-bearers sealed and empowered by the Spirit to live for the praise of His glory, His fame, His renown (vv. 12-14).
  • We have been given “enlightened hearts”, illuminated and made aware of the “glorious inheritance” that is ours, all made possible by the “greatness of His power” in us, even the same power that raised Christ from the dead, whom He has raised not only above the grave, but above “all rule and authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come” (vv.15-22).

We can read these statements about God, Christ, the local church, and ourselves and we can say we believe them, but do we really believe them? Do these truths seep past our brains, into the marrow of our bones, and take root in the depths of our hearts? The answer to that question can be determined by asking yourself another: what do you do when you read these truths? Literally. What do you do with the knowledge that God has blessed you, chosen you, adopted you, forgiven you, sealed you, enlightened you, empowered you, and united you with Christ? Is your first instinct to glaze over these statements and focus only on the Christ-centered ones? Do you feel a little weird right now thinking about this? Does it make you concerned about where I’m going with all of this?

Well, worry not, because you’re still a totally depraved, sinful, and wicked human being. You’re also a blessed, chosen, adopted, forgiven, sealed, empowered, and Christ-united one. We should never use the adjectives in the first sentence in isolation from the adjectives in the second. Ephesians 1 is a balancing salve, healing us of crippling self-denigration, but also robbing us of incapacitating self-centeredness. And we see the culmination of these two effects most clearly at the end of this glorious chapter in Ephesians 1:22-23:

“And He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

Notice our position here: we, the church, are His body, safely guided and ruled by His Head, but not trampled and domineered by His feet. We have been united to Christ in such a way that we receive all His goodness and avoid all His severity. We are not above Him, but we are not crushed by his heels, we were never destined for that (cf. Genesis 3:15).

All things are now subject to Christ. This is not a mere position of formality. Christ is presently reigning over the universe, ordering all things according to His good pleasure, directing the events of history as He sees fit to maximize His glory. The power that Paul mentions He has in v. 21 is actually being put to use by Christ even as you read this. He truly reigns over every rival power. Peter T. O’Brien remarks that “the powers are not simply inferior to Him, they are also subject to Him”.[i] Make no mistake, Christ is no pushover. He is the Sovereign Head of all. He calls the shots, and He makes the rules.

This means that Christ, our Head, is ruling His Body with supreme control and precision. We so often give in to the carnal appetites of our bodies despite the best intentions we may harbor in our minds. But not Christ. He suppresses the carnal instincts of His Body (Genesis 20:6), and reigns in His members and keeps them close, keeps them safe. Like we are intended to do, Christ takes care of His Body and sees that it receives all the sustenance it needs to grow and flourish.

And you know what the Body of Christ needs to grow and flourish?

You.

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27), and “when each part is working properly, {it}makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:16). And lest you think that you have nothing to offer this glorious Body think again, for “the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Corinthians 12:22). John Calvin, in commenting on Ephesians 1:23, says “this is the highest honor of the Church, that, until He is united to us, the Son of God reckons Himself in some measure imperfect. What consolation is it for us to learn, that, not until we are along with Him, does He possess all His parts, or wish to be regarded as complete!”

You see, Christ cares for the entirety of His body. He will not neglect the health of His heart to the neglect of His lungs. He will not concentrate on strengthening His hands at the expense of His legs. You who mumble and stutter are just as integral to the Body as those who wax eloquent with the best of them. You who stumble and crawl are as crucial to the Body as those who run with grace and ease. Not because of what you have to offer, but because of Whose Body you are part of. Nobody becomes part of this Body by proving themselves worthy, and nobody keeps themselves there by the same measure. Because what Christ is doing when He builds His Body with the weak and the strong, with the foolish and the wise, with the beautiful and the ugly, with the calm and the temperamental, with the rich and the poor, and with the best and the worst is He is bringing a balanced image of His glory to the world for all to see.

The church is “His Body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” What’s reflected in this motley crew of ragtag misfits we call the Church is the fullness of the glory of Christ. It is no coincidence that when God decided to image Himself to us in a perfect way, He chose the way of humility, of suffering, of hardship, of strife, of mocking, and of cruelty. He did not come as a political King, a benevolent philanthropist, or a self-help guru. He came as a lowly Jew, a blue-collar worker from some no-name town. He came as one of us. What greater way could God convey His love and heart for mankind than to actually become like us in every respect (Hebrews 2:17)?

When faced with the truth of Ephesians 1, capstoned by the incredible conclusion of verses 22 and 23, we shouldn’t feel so hesitant to speak or think well of humanity, the church, one another, or even ourselves, as is strangely the case. We shouldn’t be so quick to espouse total depravity without also espousing complete redemption. We should balance our critique of ourselves with a healthy dose of Ephesians 1 encouragement.

So, the church, this Body, has been given the task of living “to the praise of the glory of His grace” (Ephesians 1:12), of imaging His glory to the world. This Body is bloody, scarred, and wounded, but those aren’t things Christ is willing to give up (John 20:27). One day perfect healing will come, but for now, we are bringing all our sin, baggage, and our faults, giving them to Christ and banding together to fulfill the mission of Him who is “head over all things” to truly be “His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

[i] Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary.

This post first appeared at Servants of Grace.

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