…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,
Philippians 3:10 NKJV
Question 65 of the Larger Catechism, asks, “What special benefits do the members of the invisible church enjoy by Christ?” It gives the answer, “The members of the invisible church by Christ enjoy union and communion with him in grace and glory.” Last week we looked at the nature of the invisible church. We saw that this somewhat strange terminology is used in recognition of the fact that not all of those who belong to the visible church are truly saved. Theologians refer to those, who do not merely outwardly profess their faith in Christ but actually possess it in their hearts, and who do not merely externally conform to His law but actually love it in the inner man, as the invisible church. Having looked at the special privileges belonging to the visible church a few weeks ago, this week we consider the benefits enjoyed by those who really and truly believe in Jesus Christ as their savior and Lord, the invisible church.
There are tares among the wheat. Not everyone in the Church of Jesus Christ is as he, by virtue of his membership, claims to be. Are those who are false really able to siphon away any of the saving graces and glory that God has reserved for those who are true? To put it in Scriptural terms, will the son of the slave woman be heir together with the son of the free woman? Will the spiritual dogs, the reprobate, actually take away the bread from the spiritual children, the elect? Will fallen Adam and Eve steal some of the fruit from the Tree of Life before God drives them out of the Garden? To say it another way, will the devil win? Was Satan telling the truth in the Garden: that by sin, we can be as God? We answer with the apostle Paul, “By no means!”
Even though those false members of the visible church (those who are not in fact converted to Christ in their hearts so that they would also be members of the invisible church) will receive some of the same temporal blessings as the true children of God; even though they do, for a short time, enjoy the privileged position and unique opportunities given to the church (the corporate government and protection of God, His covenanted means of special grace, the wisdom of the Word, and the loving fellowship of the saints) they do not receive any everlasting benefit. They do not enjoy their privileged position within the church for the right reasons. Inwardly they do not submit to the government of King Jesus and they do not truly receive that special grace exhibited in the covenanted means. Likewise, they do not sincerely walk in the wisdom they receive from God’s Word, nor enjoy any real fellowship with God, which can only be possessed by faith! In other words, the true blessing of eternal life, and all that is contained therein – union with Christ, regeneration, justification, sanctification, glorification, righteousness, forgiveness of sins, peace with God, etc., – are never really enjoyed by false believers even for a moment.
Thus, the eternal blessings, the life-changing and spirit-renewing grace exhibited in and through the gospel in the Covenant of Grace are received only by the invisible church. As the Catechism states it, the members of the invisible church alone receive and enjoy union and communion with Christ in grace and in glory. In other words to the true believer, the means of grace actually do convey special grace! The true believer really is spiritually strengthened in the preaching of the Gospel, in prayer, in the sacraments, in fellowship, in service, and in every good work. His faith really grows and his repentance really does increase. Because in all of these means of grace, what the true believer receives is Christ! Only the true believer, only the invisible church has been united to Christ by faith. And what helps the true believer is not his works, efforts, obedience to God’s commandments, or even Biblical rituals and traditions, but Christ. Christ is what we need. Christ is who saves us – His strength, His grace – and therefore, Christ gives Himself to those who are His. He died for them. He now enables them to live for Him. Here and now we enjoy union and communion with Him in grace. But the infallible promise is that one day we will also enjoy union and communion with Him in everlasting glory, for we too will be raised in glory (1 Cor. 15:43), never again to know shame or suffering or sorrow. Amen!