In Romans 12 and other places, Paul taught that when we become believers we are to see ourselves primarily as the body of Christ, and only in a secondary way as individual members.

The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, is credited with originating the familiar phrase passed on by numerous observers ever since: “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

Truer words were never spoken. The whole body of Christ is greater than the sum of the individual members, because the Spirit of Christ arises in our midst. It is the interactions between the members that give the body its character, not its individual members. Otherwise, the church is just a gathering of individuals with common interests. 

How did Paul get such a novel idea, to equate Christians with Jesus Christ? Maybe part of the answer comes from his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. When a light from heaven flashed around him and Paul fell to the ground, Jesus asked (to paraphrase), “Why are you persecuting Me?”

Notice Jesus didn’t ask, “Why are you persecuting My people?” Paul’s initial, life-changing encounter with Christ cemented this connection forever in his mind. It prompted him to write the words that appear in 1 Corinthians 12:12: “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.”

The ending to that sentence is a key to understanding the importance of the body. Paul didn’t end with the words, “so it is with the church.” Instead, he wrote “so it is with Christ.” This shows how deeply Paul felt we are one with Christ, not simply a group of individuals with a common interest.

It is vital to keep this distinction from growing muddled in our minds and hearts. The body of Christ is clearly defined in the Bible. The body is composed of individual believers with Christ as the head, nothing more.

So although local churches, ministry organizations, denominations, Christian music, Christian literature, and Christian schools do good things and serve worthwhile purposes, they are not members of the body.

Although useful for assisting us in accomplishing God’s plans, neither Christian organizations nor church institutions are part of the body; it consists of individual believers.

Jesus not only created and founded the church, He is still present in the church, giving it life. When we are healthy members of the body of Christ we can participate in the same life and power that motivated our Savior when He walked on this earth. Jesus makes Himself known more fully to us as a body than to us as individuals.

Only a living spiritual organism can fulfill the plan of God for the world; many religious organizations have tried and failed. The first step to succeeding in fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission is to see ourselves as the body of Christ.