The Heavenly Calling, Conduct and Conflict of the Church

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3 - The History of the Church Illustrated in the Old Testament

Reading: Ephesians 1

In our previous meditation we were answering the comprehensive question which is connected with the thing that Ephesians brings mainly into view. The question is: do the Scriptures authorise the belief that the Lord's people are intended to know and to experience a present union with Christ in ascendancy over their spiritual foes? Our first answer to that question was found in the significance of Christ Himself. Why Christ? Why the incarnation? Why the death, resurrection, ascension and exaltation? Every one of these things, or every phase of Christ, is related to the Lord's people with a view of their now knowing in their own experience what is true in Him as seated at God's right hand in the heavenlies. We shall proceed to answer that question. We cannot depart from Christ, we shall keep with Him all the time, but we can see Him from different standpoints.

But I pause in order to emphasise this one thing. The ultimate value of the Lord's people to Himself is as to how much they count in the spiritual realm - not how much they believe as to truth, doctrine, and not as to how much they do in the matter of things for Him here. While these two things may be important and have their place, the real value of the church, which is all believers, is their value in the unseen realm: the measure in which His Lordship, enthronement, sovereign Headship, absolute victory as represented by His exaltation are made to apply in that unseen realm of spiritual powers of antagonism to Him. We must put the emphasis in the right place.

We come to ultimate things in the letter to the Ephesians. In every way the letter to the Ephesians brings us to ultimate things, we really come to final matters there; not the beginnings of our salvation, not only the aspects of our Christian life here, but the full and consummate issue of the church's life, experience, and vocation. We come to final matters in this letter where everything is headed up in relation to that original and full purpose of God, conceived and projected in eternal counsels before the foundation of the world. As we have pointed out before, here we have not the details themselves, the phases, but the consummate thing. God has conceived of a Body, a church, a company which is finally to come to a place in union with His Son, as members to a Head, of spiritual administration in the heavens and the earth. That is the end of the thought of God. There are many things which lead to it, but after all, they are only the things which lead to this end. All the doctrines of grace, wonderful and blessed, are all unto this end, as this letter makes so clear. It gathers them up. Redemption, forgiveness, the Blood, all such things are here, but they are all focused upon the end which God had in view, and that is this church, this Body in this position where the administration of heaven through heaven and through earth is bound up therewith.

Now, when we come to ultimate things like that, the thing that matters is how much effectiveness or value there is in our relationship to the spiritual realm. I do not think that this is an assumption of the prophetic office in the predictive sense, but I think there are evidences of it already - as the church gets nearer the end of the dispensation, the church will find itself less and less able to do earthly work for the Lord, to do many things that it has done through the ages on the earth, and it will find itself more and more called upon to justify its existence in the spiritual realm, rather than in the temporal.

I mean this, and this is a serious issue for the church at the end - if we cannot break through and establish ascendancy in the realm of adverse principalities and powers, and spiritual hosts, we are finished. Some of you will not be able to appreciate that statement. If you cannot enter into it, do not worry. I am quite sure that some do know what is meant by that, and we are conscious that this is a situation which is growing, and would to God that all believers recognised this.

Of course, it must not be taken in a wrong way. It must not mean that we are going to give up seeking to do that essential work for the Lord. We must not abandon the seeking of unsaved people and their salvation or anything else that it is our work to do, because our work is higher up. No, let us not abandon it. But, even so, we shall discover that that sort of thing requires something more than the ordinary equipment of the Christian life, that our resources have got to be in another realm and we have got to be able to deal with things back of seen situations, and if we cannot do that, it is a poor lookout for us here among men. That is becoming more and more patent.

Unless I am mistaking the signs of the times, it is true that we are really up against a mighty intensification of spiritual antagonism to the interests of the Lord. That is quite understandable. If we are nearing the end of the dispensation - I put in an 'if' for the sake of argument, we can leave 'if' out and make a positive statement - but for the sake of argument, if we are nearing the end of the dispensation, what is the supreme characteristic of the end of the dispensation? It is the dethronement of Satan's hierarchy, and the enthronement of the church with the Christ in its place. Well, there is bound to be an intensification of resistance to that. That is quite logical, and so, from every standpoint, we have to recognise the nature of things at this time, and it will become a very apt and timely message of the Lord to us if He comes and reveals to us the heart of this message in Ephesians as to the heavenly calling, conduct and conflict of the church.

Well, all that gathers round the fact that the real and ultimate and supreme value of the child of God and the church of God is to be found in its effectiveness in the realm of things unseen. And if you have not got the secret in that realm, you will be at a loss, you will be all over the place, the enemy will be making an awful mess of you and of your affairs, and he will be just playing with you all the time and holding you up. Hence the importance of getting to this position set forth in this letter.

Now then, as to the Scripture's warrant for our believing that the Lord intends us to know and experience a present union with Christ in ascendancy over the spiritual forces. We can go on to see how important in this connection is an apprehension of Christ along every line of His own experience.

We know it is not a profound matter, but simply recognisable, that the Lord Jesus was not exalted until He had fully perfected His earthly experience. That earthly experience of the Lord Jesus was for us, not for Himself. There was no need, apart from us, for God to become incarnate and be born in baby form at Bethlehem, to grow up through childhood on the earth into manhood. There was no need for Him, on His own behalf, to live His life here and to die that death, to be raised from the dead, to be received up again into glory and be enthroned. That was a cycle of experience which was for us and as one of us, but what a One! No one else could have taken that position, could have so occupied the capacity, but it was as one of us. It may be difficult for us in our minds to see how Christ in incarnation was as one of us, but if we knew clearly and fully the meaning of union with God, what Divine union is, then we should understand the incarnation; God joining Himself with man and man with Himself. He never, of course, let go His Deity, His Godhead, but He took a form which brings man and God together in spiritual oneness and spiritual fellowship. It is a conception beyond our power of rightly and wholly apprehending and is full of perils in the realm of doctrine. Nevertheless, the heart of the thing is the most wonderful thing of which we can conceive, that He became incarnate for us and, in a sense, as us. That is, when you see the Lord Jesus Christ and recognise that this is God and man in one, you see how God has moved to bring about oneness between Himself and man.

It is a part of the experience of the Lord Jesus which is for us. The incarnation is for us, whether we understand it or not. It is for us and it is so closely related to us that it is intended to be as us. "We are members of His body". The following sentence is supposed to be a later addition: but it is, I think, quite good: "We are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones" (Eph. 5:30). Oneness!

Every other phase of His experience is for us and as us. His death is for us and as us, and even before you reach His death, His life here. There is no meaning in the life of the Lord Jesus through those thirty-three years, apart from this: that He was doing it as us. God was having in Him a Man who, under every stress and strain, was satisfying Him. He was going to take a Man to glory who had been perfected through sufferings, and that was not necessary for God Himself, that was for us. I thank God that there is One in the glory who is a Man who has satisfied God in human form, through every human trial and temptation, and I am able to say, by the permission of God, that that Man not only represents me, but in God's thought He is as me in the presence of God. That is, God looks upon me in Him and looks upon Him for me. God has a triumphant earthly life in perfection in that Man.

His death is not only for me, for you, for our sins. It is our death as us, and in His resurrection and His ascension and His exaltation, He has perfected the cycle of human experience for us and as us, and then, when that is done, He is given to be Head to us, for us, as us. Look again at that great clause - "He... gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that fills all in all" (Eph. 1:22,23). Now, "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him should not perish, but have eternal life". That is one giving of Christ, but here is another. "Gave Him to be head over all things to the church", and giving Him to be Head over all things to the church simply signifies that everything is gathered up in Him as for the church, as to the church. That is, all that is in Him is to the church, and His full and perfected cycle from birth to glory is unto the church - from incarnation to glorification - is to the church. Our birth, and from it to our glorification, is because He has perfected the cycle already for us; given to be Head to us. It is as though God completed the whole thing in Him and then said, "That is yours; I give it to you. All that is for you, the church". How we need, then, to apprehend Christ in relation to the full thought of God, the significance of Christ in relation to God's full purpose.

Now, not only do we see this revealed in the full way in Him as He comes out from the glory and returns to the glory, but it is just that thing which has been foreshadowed ever since it became necessary. I wonder if you have really grasped, in a way which means something to you, the fact that the 'one new man' idea of Ephesians is not something which has come in at a late date in the history of this world, is not something subsequent, but it is prior to all other things. I think some people have got the idea that - in the first place there were Gentiles and then there were Jews and so we have Jews and Gentiles and then, as something after that we have got the church - something later. Not at all! Before ever there were such things as either Gentiles or Jews, there was the church. It stands before all other things. That is God's first thought, God's primary thought. Gentiles and Jews - well, they may have a great history in the grace of God and in the sovereignty of God, but after all, they belong to the earth and they belong to respective times. The church does not belong to the earth and it does not belong to time. The church is from eternity to eternity in the thought of God. It is not something subsequent, and therefore all other things in the history of this world are constituted upon eternal principles, eternal thoughts and they are governed by eternal laws, so that when you come back to the Old Testament you find all history is governed by Christ, and Christ in this eternal sense where the church is in view.

Let me make that clear. The Old Testament is divided into two main sections historically. There is that section which runs from Adam, or if you like, Abel, to Moses, and then from Moses to Christ. That is hardly strictly Old Testament, but you see what I mean, it leads us right up to Christ. If you look at it, you will find that that first section - Abel or Adam to Moses - is entirely governed by these very things of which we have been speaking. What? Firstly, the primary thought of God - man in a place of spiritual dominion. Then the related things - death, because of and unto sin; resurrection, as making alive unto God for God's purposes; ascension, an essentially heavenly and not earthly people or man; exaltation. You can see that is your first section from Adam or Abel to Moses.

You see those very laws wrought out in the history of the patriarchs one by one. You take up Adam. Why was he made? "Thou madest him to have dominion". Abel - what is his testimony? Death because of sin and as God's way of getting rid of sin. Noah - resurrection; Enoch - ascension, and Joseph - enthronement. I leave big gaps, of course, but you see the principles. I simply indicate that that first long section (and it is a long section of many centuries, practically two thousand years) is governed by these very principles of Christ, the very same principles as we find in the New Testament and in the letter to the Ephesians focused in the church; the Body of Christ, the administrative instrument of God through the ages of the ages.

Israel in Egypt

Then as to the second section - Moses to Christ. The thing is so patent that it would be taking you back into the kindergarten even to point it out. Take the three phases of Israel's life without dealing with the details. Egypt; what is the climax of the Egypt phase of Israel's life? What is it that stands over that phase pre-eminently? You have to ask, perhaps, before that: what does that phase represent? Well, it represents an elect people held in the bondage of this world under its tyrant, and doomed to judgment because of being in that position. What is the climax? It is death as in the lamb as God's way of deliverance from the authority of darkness, the power of Satan, the bondage of the world, the judgment resting upon the race. It is death that marks the climax of the Egypt phase, death to the world with all that that means, its state and its overlord, its bondage and its destiny.

The death of the Lord Jesus is a mighty cancelling of a whole system unto a mighty deliverance, and that is represented there. But that is what you have got in Ephesians, brought now to its final and consummate application to the church. Israel does not lead to the church; the church is only having its history illustrated in Israel. All earthly institutions are representations of heavenly things, as Ephesians will tell us very clearly presently about domestic and other relationships - husbands, wives, parents, children, and so on. We shall be shown in this letter that these earthly institutions are reflections of heavenly things and have got to be held in the light of the heavenlies. "As Christ loved the church". That is the realm in which we are moving. Well now, there you have Christ in His death set forth for Israel's deliverance from bondage and doom, as bound up with this world.

Israel in the Wilderness

You move then to the second phase of Israel's history. It is the wilderness. What does the wilderness phase of Israel's life represent? You cannot understand the climax of it until you see that, and it is simply kindergarten to speak of such things. The wilderness aspect of Israel's life represents the life of the people of God now, redeemed and delivered from the world and all that the world means, but not yet delivered from themselves, or, if you like to put it in the singular, not yet delivered from the self-life. Unfortunately, that is true to spiritual history in the New Testament as in the Old and in our own experience. What is the climax of the second phase - the wilderness life? Ah yes, it is death again, but death carried forward into another relationship, into this relationship - a resurrection ascension position. Now you notice that in Ephesians those two things are not separated. You do not deal with resurrection and ascension as two different things when you come to Ephesians.

"The exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to that working of the strength of His might which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and made Him to sit at His right hand".

There is no break. Not - when He raised Him from the dead and so many days after the ascension took place. No - raised Him and set Him at His own right hand. It is a resurrection ascension. In a sense, after the Red Sea there is resurrection as from the dead, but when you come to an Ephesian position, resurrection goes on to something more. It is a new exercise of a new faith: "to us-ward who believe... the working of the strength of His might which He wrought in Christ". But that is not belief or faith unto salvation. This is something more unto a heavenly position, the resurrection ascension which effects a heavenly position. That heavenly position was anything but true in Israel's case in the wilderness, although from God's standpoint they were always conceived of as a heavenly people. Everything in the wilderness life from God's standpoint is emphasising, stressing, hammering that home. The High Priest's robe all of blue says that this is a priestly people of a heavenly order. The manna sent down from heaven says that, from God's standpoint, this people is a people sustained out of heaven, a heavenly people living on heavenly resources. But in themselves they were anything but that; their hearts were going back to Egypt very often. We know that sorry history. But that resurrection had to be carried further so that it was not just resurrection on to a natural level - that you can be in Christ positionally through faith and be living your own natural life and satisfy God. That is not God's thought. The urge is ever further and evermore upward. So the climax of the wilderness life must come in a new meaning of the Cross on its death side.

So we come to Romans for believers. Romans 6 is not for the unsaved now, but for the saved, for Christians the Cross of the Lord Jesus in its death application, but leading through to Romans 8 instantly, with just a parenthesis of Romans 7 between. Resurrection ascension - that is Jordan. The climax is death to the self-life and the earthly life. The second section of the letter to the Ephesians will tell us what that is.

This is all not merely some abstract position, some nebulous, doctrinal thing. What does this mean? Let us get to grips with practical matters. All this wonderful heavenly life, this wonderful heavenly conflict, this wonderful heavenly calling - what does it mean?

"I therefore beseech you to walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love".

"Husbands, love your wives, wives be in subjection to your own husbands... Children, obey your parents. Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath... Servants, obey your masters. Masters, be fair to your servants".

Oh, that is coming down out of the heavenlies! That is an anticlimax! Will you make a note of everything from the beginning of Ephesians 4-6:9 which comes within the compass of that governing clause - "walk worthily of the calling"? Put it down, tabulate it one by one. Walk worthily - what does that mean? In meekness, lowliness, forbearing, longsuffering. If you are a husband, put it down. If you are a wife, put it down. If you are a member of a family, put it down. Is there a husband who has not been in that spirit toward his wife; "Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her". Put it down. Look at it for yourself. Is there a wife who is not in this connection called upon in the same language to love her husband, but to be in subjection to her husband, it says that and it says that is walking worthily of the calling wherewith we were called. That is God's Word. Go through fragment by fragment and get that section before you.

This is walking worthily. This is what the first three chapters mean and imply, and I may take it as settled beyond any dispute that I can know nothing about the last section - victory over the enemy in the heavenlies - until I have got on to that basis. This is a very practical matter. You will find that not many things are left out, but even then I believe that what is there is not all that God means by walking worthily. There may be many other things that the Holy Spirit would touch in us which are not mentioned specifically there, but there is enough there to find us out.

"Be ye angry and sin not". We all go down before that. We all have to confess we do not know how to be really angry and not sin. What do you mean by being angry and not sinning? The Lord Jesus was angry. He took knotted cords and was really angry, but how was He angry without sinning? There never came a personal element into His anger. That finds us out. We are usually angry because something touches us. We do not know how to be angry apart from ourselves. That is a wilderness side. That is where resurrection ascension comes in. You say, it is too high, it is too far on. Well, beloved, "Now unto Him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us". The Lord has made full provision for all He requires, and we find it here.

We are speaking about the climax of the wilderness phase in a new meaning of the death and a new and fuller meaning of the resurrection, which is the resurrection ascension.

Israel in the Land

Then you pass to the last phase of Israel's history - in the land. This is the exaltation aspect of things. They are found to have power over the spiritual hosts as typified by the enemies in the land. This is Ephesians in its full significance - power in the heavenly realm over the heavenly hosts. It is ascension union with Christ.

The warfare is very different here from the warfare in Egypt and from the warfare in the wilderness. I am not going to stay to point it out now. But now this warfare is not as in themselves and not as in the world, but it is in the heavenlies, and as I started by saying, it is there that the final appraisement of our significance to the Lord is to be estimated and focused.

We cannot know what the Lord means us to know until we are out of the realm of the governance of the self-life, the carnal life, the personal interest life. We shall be like Israel in the wilderness, that is, generally in defeat, in a very weak position in the main, and certainly with no straight through course to God's end, if in any way we have not apprehended Christ, firstly for Egypt, and secondly for the wilderness, and thirdly for the heavenlies. We cannot divide between these things and say, 'Well, we have Christ for deliverance from Egypt, but we will still live in the flesh, we will not have Christ for deliverance from self'. Neither should we say that we will have Christ for deliverance from Egypt and from self, but not Christ for warfare in the heavenlies. No, we will miss God's end if we take anything less than His full thought for us.

That is enough for you to work upon.

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