What Is the Meaning of the Body of Christ?

Only those who have been baptized by the Holy Spirit, i.e., saved by grace through faith, can join the church. Scripture distinctly uses the phrase “Body of Christ” to demonstrate the identity and oneness of believers in Christ.

Contributing Writer
Updated Jul 22, 2021
What Is the Meaning of the Body of Christ?

Being a part of a group is a normal part of human identity. People join groups and clubs to engage with others who are like-minded or share common interests and hobbies.

Throughout a person’s life, they are a member of a family, a part of a sport’s team, find identity in a group of friends or colleagues at work, and identify with those within an ethnic culture.

Searching for a sense of belonging, individuals will join social media groups, book clubs, or even special associations and societies.

All these different groups may provide a person with fellowship and interaction, but they all point to the deeper longing to belong in the family of God. The ultimate membership a person can join is in the Body of Christ.

Stated plainly, the Body of Christ is the church (1 Corinthians 12:27). This does not mean individual church buildings where Christians meet regularly. Rather, believers collectively form the church as the Body of Christ.

A proper understanding of what the church is, who is in the church or Body of Christ, and why the New Testament writers chose to use this metaphor will help to clarify the meaning of this phrase.

What Is the Church?

A common misunderstanding among those in Western cultures is that the church is merely a building where people attend services each Sunday.

These buildings are called churches, but biblically speaking, the church is the entire group of individual Christians who have professed faith in Christ (John 3:16; Ephesians 5:25).

The main terms and metaphors that are used in reference to the church in Scripture include “the Bride of Christ” (Ephesians 5:24-27), and “the Body of Christ” (Ephesians 1:22-23). Nowhere in the Bible is the church equated to a building or structure.

Historically, the church began on the day of Pentecost with the giving of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). The church was not present in Old Testament times, as it is a mystery to this age of time (Ephesians 3:5-6; Colossians 1:25-27). Salvation has always been by faith (Romans 4:2-3), but the church is not a continuation of Israel.

When Paul referred to the creation of the “one new man” in his epistle, he was clear that the church, involving both Jews and Gentiles, is a New Testament teaching and a new way that God has chosen to interact with the world (Ephesians 2:14-16).

Furthermore, when Jesus referred to the church in the gospels, he stated that “I will build my church,” implying something new in the future (Matthew 16:18).

He did not say “I will continue growing my church,” which would have indicated that the church existed before Pentecost. Based on Scripture, the church is distinct from Israel and is unique to this time.

Just as the church is not a building and is not to be equated with the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, so also is the church not headed or controlled by a human representative.

The controversies in history over the head of the church being an emperor, the Pope, or king and queen fail to take into consideration that there is no need for a human head of Christ’s Body.

According to the Bible, Jesus is the Head of his church (Ephesians 1:22; Colossians 1:18). No pastor, pope, bishop, or monarch has control of the Body of Christ.

Jesus alone is the Head of the church. He alone started the church, is growing his church presently, and will preserve the church for the day of the Wedding of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-9).

Who Is in the Church?

Just as the word “church” cannot be tied down to a specific building, so also is the church not specifically restricted to those of a certain denomination. One specific Christian group or denomination cannot claim they are the “one true church.”

The one and only qualification in the Bible for being a member of the Body of Christ is to place trust in Jesus. Ephesians 2:8-9 is clear that no work is required for salvation: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast” (NIV).

Faith in Jesus is the only requirement for becoming a part of the Body of Christ, which means the church includes all believers since the day of Pentecost.

Pentecost greatly affects one’s view of the church since the giving of the Holy Spirit plays a major part in the believer’s membership in the church. One of the aspects of being a member of the Body of Christ is being baptized by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13).

Yet again, this argues for the view that the church did not exist in Old Testament times, since no one before Jesus’ giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was baptized by the Spirit. Baptism by the Spirit happens at salvation and is permanent (Titus 3:5).

Believers are baptized by the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:4-5). Their identity, therefore, is permanently related to Jesus as a member of his church.

In addition, at the moment when someone places faith in Jesus, they are not only baptized, but also indwelt, sealed, and gifted by the Holy Spirit.

Indwelling and sealing by the Holy Spirit also both occur in believers instantly when they trust in Jesus for salvation (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Ephesians 1:13-14).

Only those who are indwelt and sealed by the Holy Spirit are part of the Body of Christ. They are not only secure and assured in the church, but also receive spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:11).

These gifts help to build up the rest of the Body of Christ and are used by the Lord for his purposes (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).

Why Does the New Testament Call the Church the Body of Christ?

Scripture uses the phrase “the Body of Christ” to indicate identity, oneness, and unity in Christ. When people believe in Jesus’ death for the sins of the world and in His resurrection, they are joined to Christ in his death and resurrection (Colossians 2:12).

Therefore, it is common for the New Testament writers to refer to Christians as being “in” Christ (Ephesians 1:4; 2:13).

Believers are positionally identified with Christ’s death and resurrection, which is why the Bible refers to believers as the members of Christ’s Body (Romans 6:1-10). Christians are identified with and in Christ.

Expressing the oneness of believers in Christ was important for the writers of the New Testament as they were guided along by the Holy Spirit.

In the church, there is no longer any distinction between Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free, because all are united equally in Christ to form his Body, the church (Galatians 3:28).

The Apostle John included Jesus’ prayer to the Father, asking that all believers be one as they are One (John 17:20-21). Paul chose to use the metaphor of one body with different members (1 Corinthians 12:27).

Not all have the same function, but all work together for the overall good of the Body of Christ (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12).

Unity in Christ is important in Scripture because the Lord wants all believers to live in harmony with each other and to be “like-minded” (Romans 12:16; 15:5; Philippians 2:2). A body with unified members, working together, will be productive and bear fruit for Christ.

[There are] a lot of different metaphors in the Bible that help us understand who we are as a people of God, but none more to be treasured or more to be meditated upon and applied than the body of Christ. When the Bible says that we are the body of Christ, the metaphor begins with a picture of Jesus as the head of the body. Meaning this, he is the incarnate Lord. 

He is the one who has literally come from Heaven into this world, taking a body unto himself. In his incarnate life, Jesus never ceased being God, but he took fully to himself our humanity, and now that he has ascended after his crucifixion and resurrection, his body in our midst, the way by which he does his Kingdom work, he reveals his commitment to make all things new is through literally his body. Men and women that he died for, that he now has called forth to live in union with himself. And so the body of Christ celebrates that image, that metaphor. It celebrates that we belong to Jesus, not ourselves, that we have been engrafted, we have been birthed literally into his heart. 

And we are called and gifted and commissioned to live out under his headship with his heart. We're to extend his tear-wiping hand into the culture. We're to be the means by which he will begin to demonstrate how he's making all things new. So the body of Christ is much more than just a metaphor. It's literally who we have been constituted by the truth of the Gospel, by the end-dwelling Spirit, and by the gifts we've been given. So it should humble us. It should gladden us. It should focus us on how we live in light of the day when he comes back to finish making all things new.

The Ultimate Membership

As has been shown, the Body of Christ is not a building or specific denomination, but rather is comprised of believers of all time since Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit plays a major part in joining individuals to Christ through indwelling, baptism, and sealing.

Only those who have been baptized by the Holy Spirit, i.e., saved by grace through faith, can join the church. Scripture distinctly uses the phrase “Body of Christ” to demonstrate the identity and oneness of believers in Christ.

Followers of Christ alone possess the ultimate membership that rivals any earthly team, party, club, society, or association.

For further reading:  

What Is the Importance of Having a Spiritual Family?

What Is the Purpose of the Church?

The Church Is the Bride of Christ — What Does that Mean?

Can the Church Still Be Connected Without a Building?

What Is a Believer’s Baptism?

What Really Happened at Pentecost?

Is the Church Still the Church?

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Caroline Jacomin

Sophia Bricker is a freelance writer who enjoys researching and writing articles on biblical and theological topics. In addition to contributing articles about biblical questions as a contract writer, she has also written for Unlocked devotional. She holds a BA in Ministry, a MA in Ministry, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing to develop her writing craft. As someone who is passionate about the Bible and faith in Jesus, her mission is to help others learn about Christ and glorify Him in her writing. When she isn’t busy studying or writing, Sophia enjoys spending time with family, reading, drawing, and gardening. 


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