Knowing God in Christ
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 4 - The Corporate Christ: Head and Body

Reading: John 14:8-11,20; Mark 8:27,29; 1 Cor. 12:12.

By the above passages we are brought on to the foreshadowing of the collective knowledge of God in Christ, for primarily these words in John 14:20 are to the company. They apply to what is collective, what is to be, in His resurrection, corporate: "In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you". That has a personal and individual realisation but it is primarily a collective or corporate matter. It foreshadows that word in 1 Cor. 12:12, one Body with many members, forming a corporate expression of Christ. So much is oneness recognised there, that that corporate thing is called "the Christ". It is the fulfilment of this word, "I in you" in the collective or corporate way. "But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him" (1 Cor. 6:17). It is impossible to dissect spirit, to divide spirit. Oneness is spiritual, therefore indivisible, and it becomes Christ in expression, in manifestation. How wonderfully did they come to enter into the fulfilment of this word of assurance and promise: "In that day you will know". "It is oneness between Myself and the Father, and Myself and you; you and Myself, and the Father." Those first days of the Holy Spirit's advent were marvellous days of one expression, a united expression of Christ. He spread Himself, as it were, over them as a company, as a Body, and they found that all those things which divided them (whether they be national, social or of any other kind) became entirely subject, if not entirely ruled out. They meant nothing, they were all so one, and it was Christ.

So here we are led to the foreshadowing of that corporate Christ which is the expression of God in Christ in the church, in believers as forming one Body. We can perhaps best arrive at an understanding and apprehension of the meaning of the knowledge of God in Christ in the church by dealing with the effects first.

We have already referred to the sevenfold "I am" of John's Gospel. In the chapter in Mark the Lord Jesus asked the question twice concerning His identity: "Who do people say that I am?", "But who do you say that I am?". In an inclusive answer Peter said, "You are the Christ". That is very comprehensive. It was a title, a designation; it implied at least that this was the Anointed of God. Whether Peter understood what that meant is still open to question. He certainly learned a good deal more about it later. It is one thing to say, "You are the Christ" in a comprehensive and inclusive way, attesting Him as the Anointed of God, or even the Son of God. That may resolve itself into a creed, and then a great many people may accept that as the main factor in a creed and call themselves the Christian church. Our question is, What is the church? We need Christ's own meaning, Christ's own definition of Himself before we know what the church is. He answers the question Himself in this very detailed and blessed way when He says seven times, "I am". As we listen to His own answer, and to His own question, we shall know through His own person what the church is.

Of course, inasmuch as this is a sevenfold "I am", there is some significance bound up with numbers in the Scriptures. This indicates spiritual completeness, the completeness of spiritual order. That is the meaning of "seven" in the Bible. Then if He has said "I am" seven times, giving to each of those a separate and specific significance, putting the whole seven together we have a completeness of spiritual order, and that spiritual order is the constitution of the church. Let us put that in another way: it covers the whole range of life in union with Christ. Whatever union with Christ means, we shall find it here in its seven parts, and in its completeness in this sevenfold "I am".

This, of course, will be individual as well as collective, but we are thinking especially of the collective at this time. It must be taken as a personal challenge. What is union with Christ personally, and collectively, and as constituting the church which is His Body? The answer to the question is in each and all of these seven phrases. As we allow this Word of the Lord to lead us we shall see that it is not so difficult, so complex after all.

So, again, we run through the significance of "I am".

Divine Sustenance
"I am the Bread of Life

What is union with Christ? In other words, what is the church which is the corporate expression of union with Christ? In the first place it is the living expression of complete satisfaction as found in Him.

Allow a parenthesis here. The church is not an assemblage of people, a congregation, a society of those who have given an assent to certain credal statements or doctrinal expressions. The church is the living, experiential embodiment of a Life. The church is the expression of a spiritual state, a spiritual condition. We have said that with no little consideration. That is not just something thrown off. That is not extemporaneous. Go to the Word of God with that. Take the statement of the apostle in the Letter to the Hebrews. "But Christ as a Son over His House, whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm to the end". 'Oh, I thought that the House of God, the church, was something established now, something set up, and we are that!' You are making something, perhaps, of an assemblage, a congregation, a society, a number of people who have agreed to certain truths, and you say that is the church. No! We are the House of God only on condition that a certain spiritual state obtains, and the House of God, the church, does not exist if that spiritual condition does not obtain. It is not a matter of how many people agree to the creed and the doctrine.

So the first phase of this spiritual state, this spiritual condition, which makes the church, is that those exist who are living on the enjoyment of full satisfaction by Christ. "I am the bread of life." From our side it is, quite simply: I have found my satisfaction in Christ, He has answered my heart hunger, He has met my soul's longing, He has come between me and death by starvation, and has become the very staff of Life to me. That is the church. That is union with Christ at its beginning.

We must not hurry with this matter. We have to challenge our own hearts as to the truth of this. Is that true? Can that be said in all honesty? May I ask, very sympathetically, some of the younger friends if that is true? I remember how during certain years of my own life I was a Christian in a way, because there was held over me the fear of hell, the loss of heaven, and my consciousness was so worked upon. I would go to meetings, and would refrain from all sorts of things, because they were the wrong things to do, to go to, and these other things were the right things to do, to have. A very sensitive conscience kept me in a strait jacket, and when I got to a certain time in my later teens I first of all secretly started doing the other things, and going to the other places, and then I shed the yoke and had a fling. Now I ask some of the younger people, is there any element of that in your relationship to the Lord and the things of the Lord? Are you with the Lord and the Lord's people and the Lord's things, because you personally, inwardly have found your full satisfaction in Him, or are you hungering after something else? Is there all the time a looking over the fence with almost wistful eyes at some of the things which the world has? Test this matter, and be sure of your ground. Do not have any legal Christianity, any forced Christianity, any Christianity which is simply a matter of conscience like that. At some time or other you will shed that strait jacket, you will break away. True union with Christ (and the church has the corporate expression of that union) begins here: that He has been discovered as the Bread of Life. That, in other words, is full satisfaction of the heart. When you are fully satisfied it is not difficult to go on. There is nothing like real satisfaction to make life spontaneous and testimony spontaneous and to drive the "must" and the "ought" out, and to bring in the pleased, the delight.

With that we lay the foundation. You can clearly see the principle that is at work, when we mean and when we say that the church is a spiritual state. It is satisfaction with Christ. To speak of belonging to the church and being worldly is to simply be a contradiction and a denial. Those two things cannot go together.

Divine Illumination
"l am the Light of the World"

The church is the corporate expression of a divine illumination. Eyes have been opened, things which could not be seen by men in nature have come to the knowledge of those whose spiritual eyes have been opened and enlightened by the grace and Spirit of God. The church is the company of those who can truly say, "One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see" (John 9:25). Eyes have been opened, and there is a knowledge, a comprehension by a spiritual faculty of perception which is uniquely the property of the child of God. No one else has that. So the church is the place of divine illumination, and the central and inclusive Object of the illumination is Christ. We shall see more, and more, and more as we go on, but there is an initial eye opening. Have you had it? Are you living on the ground of the really personal, definite experience of having had your eyes opened? I do not ask if you are having a great deal of teaching and truth presented to you, which you are able more or less to grasp and understand. I am asking if you have within your own spirit a faculty of spiritual apprehension so that you are able to say from time to time, with wonderful satisfaction: 'The Lord has made that clear to me; the Lord has shown me that; the Lord has brought that to my knowledge, not as information but as transforming illumination. It is something not which I have learned as a matter of truth, but is something which has made a tremendous difference in me since it was revealed to me.' That is the value of illumination. It transforms, it changes. The church is the illumined company of those in union with Christ and by which illumination it is being changed unto the image of Christ.

Divine Communion
"I am the Door"

Here the significance is that union with Christ means access into that realm, that sphere of fellowship and communion with God. The door represents exclusion or inclusion. You are on one side or the other of a door; that is what a door is for, to have you on one side or the other. It represents a line of demarcation, a point of division, and it says you are outside, or you are in. Christ as the door excludes or includes. That from which He excludes, and that into which He leads is living fellowship with God. In the meaning of His redemptive person, in Him in Whom the sin which separates and bars from the presence of God is taken up in His own divine Person and dealt with, there is fellowship with God. The sin, the rejection, the exclusion, the judgment, the death has been taken by Him and put away, and now, accepting Him as the sin-bearer, as the judgment-bearer, or rejecting Him, determines which side of the door you are so far as the presence and fellowship with God are concerned. The church is the company of those who are inside, in the place of communion and fellowship with God in a living way.

Divine Leadership and Protection
"I am the Good Shepherd"

What do we need more to add to the completeness of the Christian life? We shall need to know, now that we are of the company of His own, that there is a way to go, there is a testimony to be borne, there is a work to do, there is a life to live, there is a world in which to move. And in this whole realm, so marked by difficulties, perplexities, perils and dangers, we shall need to discover our need more and more. We shall need to be led, we shall need a Leader. Our prayer will daily arise from a sense of need, "Teach me Your way O Lord, and lead me in a level [straight] path" (Ps. 27:11). Because of the perils on every side we shall need protection also. Union with Christ secures this for us, for He says, "I am the good Shepherd."

In the capacity of the Shepherd, pictorially He is the Leader and Protector of His own, whom He has now secured as His own flock. The church is the company of the Christ-led and the Christ-preserved.

Resurrection and Life
"I am the Resurrection and the Life"

Is not that enough? No, for there is an enemy abroad, and an enemy with one object. His object is to slay the sheep. The great enemy is termed in one Scripture, "him who had the power of death" (Heb. 2:14). Death is a very comprehensive thing. Death can saturate an atmosphere, so that your spirit may be overcome and paralysed and your mind or your body brought under its power. We may know spiritual death as we walk about this world. Those who have to live the life in the world, in much worldliness and godlessness, know only too well the meaning of spiritual death. Oh, for a breath of Life! They come into gatherings of the Lord's people, and they know the difference in the atmosphere. They say, 'This is Life; we can breathe here; we can live here.' Spiritual death is abroad, seeking by every means to destroy that which is of God, to overwhelm the believer and the church, and this deceiver will never rest until he has done his utmost to bring to death what is of God. What is the church, then? What is union with Christ in individual and corporate expression? It is, "I am the resurrection and the life."

Union with Christ means union with the Resurrection and the Life. It is a spiritual state which works itself out in a progressive and continuous overcoming of death because He has overcome death. Lay hold of that. We are going to survive because we are bound to the inevitable "Survivor". He has survived. He cannot be overcome of death. Union with Him means that His own victory is for us over death, to be expressed in the church. "I am the resurrection and the life." What is the Christian life? It is all these things. What is the church? It is all these things. Nay, it is Himself expressed in all these ways. Is not that enough? No, we have still two features, for we are not at the end yet.

Full Attainment
"I am the way, the truth and the life"

The journey still stretches out before us. We have not finished our course, and this is a meaningful course, a vital, important course, fraught with tremendous significance. There is the possibility of failing in our attainment, it is possible to contemplate not finishing the course, a falling short, a missing the mark, a making shipwreck. Then a need arises to secure the full end, to see to it that there is a full attainment to all the meaning of God in calling us, in bringing us into union with Himself in Christ. What do we need? The answer is in this: "I am the way, the truth and the life."

The Way. There is everything there to secure full attainment. Union with Christ means that the whole way is given to us. There is no going astray, there is no mistaking the path, there are no alternatives. Union with Christ puts us definitely, positively upon the Way. The end is secured at the beginning when there is union with Christ. It is as though by union with Him we had reached the end, for He is not only the beginning of the way but the end of the way in Himself.

The Truth. In this way there are many things that we shall have to learn, there are many things to know. Knowledge of things grows in this way. We cannot walk blindly and insensibly in this way. We are called upon in this way to receive education, to grow in understanding. How shall we know all that we have got to know? How can we secure all the enlightenment that we must have? How can we learn all that is to be learned in this vast way upon which we have started? There is a simple answer. "l am... the truth." "Union and communion, fellowship with Me means that you simply come to understand, you come to know." The knowledge is secured. It will not be brain exertion, it will be heart enlightenment, heart instruction. It is not knowing a host of things, it is walking with Him. If we know the Lord then we have our heart problems answered.

The Life. We have set out on this way, it is a great way, a responsible way, and there is much in this way that we have to learn, and we fear that we shall fall short of the knowledge and understanding that we ought to have in this way. We are so weak, so feeble to go in this way, so strengthless. How shall we, having started, be able to go on, to continue, and to get to the end and finish our course, not make shipwreck, not fall short, not break down? How shall we arrive? "I am... the life". What is that? A mighty energy to keep you going, a mighty power to triumph over your weakness. The apostle Paul was the embodiment of the great revelation of the truth entrusted to him concerning the church; and look at him in this respect, "We had the sentence of death within ourselves... we despaired even of life... God who raises the dead" (2 Cor. 1:8, 9). That man, who came to the place where, apart from God in resurrection, he would have broken down on the way and fallen short of completion, was able at last to say, "I have finished my course". Why? Because he had found Christ as the Life for the way. The church is that. Union with Christ is that. It is a spiritual state; Christ expressing Himself as our way, our direction, our course, our understanding, our knowledge, our wisdom, our energy, our power, our strength, our vitality to go through to the end. That is the church.

That all has to do with our living, our life; but then what do we live for? Is there no vocation? Is it all just to reach the end? Is it all just to live the Christian life successfully? God has brought us into being for His own heart satisfaction, that He might get something. The main issue of our lives and of the church should be that God has gained thereby. Can that be? Is that possible? Can we present God with anything to His satisfaction? Can the church provide God with that which will meet His pleasure? Yes, it must be; that is why we have been called. How can it be? The whole question of fruitfulness arises. "My Father is glorified in this, that you bear much fruit" (John 15:8). "I am the Vine, ye are the branches" (John 15:5). Christ is the great Media of the Life of God for His own satisfaction. It is a corporate thing: "... so also is the Christ". It is a Body with many members. It is the Christ bearing His own fruit through His own limbs. How shall we be fruitful to God's satisfaction? Not by effort of our own, striving and straining, arranging and organising, and projecting and pursuing plans and programmes, but by abiding in Him. Restfully, trustfully, we bear fruit which is of His producing. "I am the Vine...". Basically, fundamentally He is saying this: "It is Mine to produce the fruit, yours it is to abide in that union and communion with Me which makes that fruit-bearing possible." Oh, that the church had remained on that ground. Oh, that you and I had remained on that ground. We surely deplore as much as anything, that we have not known this earlier. We have spent ourselves in making efforts to be fruitful, and we have done many things for the Lord, and we cannot see a great deal of real, definite satisfaction in it, we cannot see that God is very much satisfied and glorified in it all; it is labour and travail, but with severe limitation. If only we had known more truly the meaning of the Lord yielding His own fruit through us by our deeper, quieter, restful faith in Him and abiding union, things would have been different.

Here is the sevenfold perfection of the church's life, and you will see that it is a spiritual state. It seems strange to say that the church is a spiritual state, but that is really what it amounts to. It is the company of those who are in this condition, from heart satisfaction to God's satisfaction. That is the whole compass.

May the Lord find us so.

[ Previous Chapter ] [ Contents ] [ Next Chapter ]

  • Alphabetical
  • Chronological
  • Topical
  • Alphabetical
  • Chronological
  • Topical
  • Alphabetical
  • Chronological
  • Alphabetical
  • Chronological