Maybe you can picture it: Jesus Christ ascending into heaven. Perhaps you’ve imagined who was there and how they reacted. Though most Christians have heard the story numerous times, one part often gets overlooked: the Lord’s final words. Although the book of Matthew recounts the last thing Jesus said as being the Great Commission to go into all the world and make disciples, Luke’s gospel gives an additional detail: “And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51).
Jesus’ last act before returning to His Father was to bless those first members of His church. In fact, everything about the church is the result of God’s grace. Sometimes we think of grace as simply the way we are saved, but it’s actually the means by which we exist as God’s people. The church was founded by grace, is kept by grace, and will reach its culmination by the grace of God. From beginning to end, the church has been showered with blessings and gifts from the Lord.
The Gift of the Cross
The cross is the only means by which we can be saved and become a part of Christ’s church. When Jesus hung there with hands and feet pierced by nails, a divine exchange took place: “He [God] made Him [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). His life for our life—the gift of a God who, in humility, chose to live as a human being and die at the hands of His creation, that we might no longer be estranged from Him.
He has set us free. As a result of that loving gift, forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of Christ are given to everyone who repents and believes in Jesus as Savior and Lord. The One who made us—and who has lovingly sustained us even as we have lived apart from Him—has opened heaven to us. Of course, a person can refuse that gift. But all who do will one day be required to stand before Him and offer an account for why they turned away from His love. In that moment, they’ll receive God’s righteous judgment, the truth of their hearts revealed. The cross is the only hope of salvation—it is the only way to be united with Jesus and live with Him for all eternity.
The One who made us—and who has lovingly sustained us even as we have lived apart from Him—has opened heaven to us.
The cross of Christ also gives us victory over sin. For those of us who have been saved, there is another blessing that comes through the cross. When Jesus was crucified, we were so closely identified with Him that we died with Him: “Our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin” (Rom. 6:6). The person we were before salvation—what the apostle Paul calls “our old self”—has died, and we have been raised with Christ to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4). This new life is actually Christ’s life lived in us through the Holy Spirit, who now indwells our physical bodies.
God didn’t save us and then leave us to struggle through life as best we could. We have His presence and power in us through His Spirit. Because of the cross, we never walk through trials and temptations alone but can overcome through Christ and live in triumph rather than in continual defeat.
The Gifts of the Spirit
God’s gracious blessings to the church include spiritual gifts that ensure the body of Christ can grow and build itself up in love. Spiritual gifts are divine abilities that equip us to serve the Lord effectively. Although they’re given to each believer individually, they are for the common good of the church (1 Corinthians 12:7). As we work together according to each one’s unique giftedness, the church benefits and we experience the joy that comes from obediently serving the Lord.
Although spiritual gifts are given to each believer individually, they are for the common good of the church.
Therefore, we each need to discover our spiritual gifts and begin using them to accomplish what the Lord created us to do. Being a good steward of our gifts requires more than sitting in a church pew on Sundays. No matter how little we think we have to offer, God wants us to make ourselves available for service. Instead of using our difficult backgrounds, inadequacies, or past failures as excuses, we should do our best and trust the Lord to work through us.
The Gifts for the Church
God has also given other blessings to the church as His corporate body. We as His people can boast of nothing, nor can a church accomplish anything apart from His supernatural enablement. Everything a church needs is provided by its head, Jesus Christ:
Gifted Leaders. After His ascension, Jesus gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers to equip the saints to serve and grow in maturity (Eph. 4:11-13). The apostles and prophets recorded the divine revelation that we now have in the New Testament, and evangelists and pastor-teachers continue the work of building up the body of Christ.
God’s Word. Scripture says the church becomes “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). That’s why the preaching of the Word is a top priority for pastors. It’s also the reason that God’s people should strive to live Christ’s life at all times, with all love and humility, in their communities: so that the truth would be evident (Matt. 5:14-16).
Fellowship. Those in Christ have a connection with each other that transcends every societal barrier (Gal. 3:26-28). Our commonality is the Lord Himself, who binds us together in love.
Prayer. Before His crucifixion, Jesus promised the disciples that He would provide whatever they asked in His name (John 14:13-14).
Ordinances. Jesus left His church two ordinances as reminders. Baptism symbolizes our salvation, when we died to sin and were raised to life in Christ (Rom. 6:4), and the Lord’s Supper helps us recall His death and anticipate His return (1 Corinthians 11:24-26).
We as His people can boast of nothing, nor can a church accomplish anything apart from God's supernatural enablement.
All these magnificent gifts should motivate us to worship our Lord, who has abundantly supplied His church with every spiritual blessing. Because of His goodness, we want for nothing. Therefore it’s our privilege to walk humbly with Him, serve Him joyfully, and freely share with the world the message of salvation in Christ.
The Cross: Scripture clearly teaches that we are so intimately connected to Christ through salvation that we have died with Him—our old self was crucified, yet we still struggle with sin. And in the same way, we are declared righteous, but we know our thoughts, attitudes, words, and actions are not always godly. Paul described this struggle in Romans 7:15-25.
We are so intimately connected to Christ through salvation that we have died with Him—our old self was crucified.
- How do you identify with this scenario?
- What particular sins seem to take over, even though you hate them?
- How does knowing your position in Christ help you stand firm against sin?
Spiritual Gifts: The gifts of the Spirit are listed in Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:8-11, and Ephesians 4:11-12.
- Which of these gifts do you think you may have? How are you using it (or them)?
- If these gifts are necessary for the common good, what do you think happens when some church members don’t use their gifts?
- Imagine what your church would be like if all members were serving in their areas of giftedness.
Gifts for the Church: Review the list of gifts Christ gives to the church. What do these blessings reveal about His love and care for His body? What needs of yours are met by Christ through these wonderful gifts?
Father, thank You that Your grace appeared at the cross of Christ, bringing me salvation. Now I ask that You continue Your gracious work in me by training me to deny ungodliness and worldly desire and to live righteously in this present age. Help me grow in love for Christ and His people, and may Your grace flow through me as I serve them by using my spiritual gift. I ask this in Jesus’ name and for Your glory. Amen.
- The Cross: Romans 6:1-23; Colossians 2:9-15; Colossians 3:1-17
- Spiritual Gifts: 1 Peter 4:10-11
- Gifts for the Church: Acts 2:41-47
If you feel as if you are losing the battle against sin despite the fact that the Bible says you have died to it, try praying scriptures like Ephesians 4:22-32 or Colossians 3:1-17, both of which affirm what God desires for you. Any time you offer prayers according to His will, you can be confident that He will answer (1 John 5:14-15).
Are you uncertain what your gifts are? If so, compare how you respond to situations or needs with the list in Romans 12:6-8. But also remember that gifts are discovered as you jump in and serve. Often, other people can help you discern your specific areas of giftedness.
Photograph by Ryan Hayslip