The Nature of the Church: The Church Is Holy and Spotless
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it; that he might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27).
Ephesians 5:22-33 is a wonderful passage that we use often to describe God’s intentions for a married couple. Yet Paul is really referring to “Christ and the church” according to Ephesians 5:32. Christ has given Himself for the church so as to set it apart, cleansing it, so that He can present to Himself a church that is holy and spotless (Ephesians 5:26-27).
The purity of Christ’s church is critical if it indeed represents a sanctified, or “set apart,” body. Jesus in Matthew 5:13-16 talks about how important it is for Christians to maintain their savor, so to speak, and not to be made ordinary. On what basis are we “sanctified” people? What is supposed to make us different from all others? The difference, as established in Ephesians 5:25-27, is that the church represents those whom Christ has cleansed. We are only going to be different if we represent the cleansed people that comprise the church! How is it that the church is cleansed?
We must recognize that the church universal, as spoken of by Paul in Ephesians 5:22-33, represents the collective of all who will be saved in Christ Jesus. One is not saved by virtue of being in the church; one is in the church by virtue of being one of the saved (Acts 2:47). Whatever cleansing that Christ provides will come to the individuals that comprise the church.
Paul says that the cleansing comes as “the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:26). The word represents the Word of God, which must be heard if anyone will come to God (Romans 10:17). The “washing of water” represents an image of baptism, being immersion in water for the remission of sin (Acts 2:38), described as how one “washes away sin” (Acts 22:16). The church, then, will be comprised of those who have believed the Word of God and have been baptized.
Sanctification, however, is not just something that happens at one moment and ends. We must constantly be striving to obey God and complete the work that God has begun in us (Romans 6:16-23). John establishes this well in 1 John 1:6-7:
If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and do not practice the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
It is clear that we must walk in the light and walk with Jesus if we desire to be the ones cleansed in His blood. If we begin to walk in the darkness and do not repent of sin, we have become part of the darkness!
What happens, however, if one is no longer walking in the light but walks in darkness? Perhaps there are some who will be able to be in the darkness and hide it from their brethren; they ought to know that nothing is hidden to God, and they will receive the due recompense for their deeds (Ecclesiastes 12:14, Hebrews 4:12). If, however, the sin is made known, then it is something that must be dealt with, for God has established that a local church has the responsibility to remain as an unleavened loaf (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:6-7, Galatians 5:9). Any brother or sister in unrepentant sin represents a stain on the church, and we know that Jesus is preparing a church for Himself that will be without stain or spot (Ephesians 5:25-27). Christ will purge such a person from His church!
Our concern is not to stand in judgment on any soul (James 4:12), but instead to seek and save the lost (cf. Luke 19:10). A soul that is in unrepentant sin is currently in a lost state, and we have the responsibility to disassociate from such a one until he repents (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, Matthew 18:15-17). This is to be done out of love, not in anger or judgment, hoping that the shock of being without association of the saints will force such a one to realize that their association with God has been severed and needs to be restored (Isaiah 59:1-2). It worked in Corinth with the one who had his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 2 Corinthians 2:1-10); it can work today!
There are great consequences if people in open sin are allowed to remain in the local congregation without being confronted. Just as a little leaven spreads and causes a whole loaf to rise, so the example of one sinning or teaching falsely can lead to others thinking that sinning is not a difficulty or that a false teaching must not be avoided, and then others follow in the same paths of dissipation and error (1 Corinthians 5:6, Galatians 5:9). This ought not be named among us, brothers (Ephesians 5:3)! We should know in truth that Christ will present Himself a holy and spotless church, and the only way that we will be a part of that group is if we have been cleansed and sanctified in Christ. If we will be part of His body, we must be cleansed and made whole in Him, walking in the light. Let us persevere in our faith!
Ethan R. Longhenry