The Four Marks: “Holy”

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A sermon on Ephesians 5:25-27 given by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD on July 5, 2020, the second Sunday after Pentecost. Part a four-part series on the Four Marks of the Church, as found in the Nicene Creed.

How Do We Treat the Church?

Today, we move onto our second classic mark of the Church: “Holy.” And to help us do that, we’ll be looking at Ephesians 5 and concentrating on verses 25-27.

Let me begin by asking you this question: how do you treat the Church? What is your relationship status to her? Is she a friend? Enemy? Is she like a distant relative to you? Maybe like that crazy uncle you see only now and again? Is she like a work acquaintance in the office that you don’t take home? Or perhaps she more like a mistress to you. Warm and fuzzy when the feeling is right, but cold and distant otherwise.

Friends, God has defined his relationship to his Church in no uncertain terms. Ephesians 5 is known for being a passage that fleshes out relationships in the church. Particularly, what it means for husbands to love their wives sacrificially and for wives to respect and honor their husbands. It has much to say about marriage.

But what we might overlook is that this teaching is rooted in the deeper reality of Christ’s relationship to his people. The Church is his bride. He has united himself forever to her, and therefore she is holy.

From the beginning, Holy Scripture’s teaching on marriage is rooted in this reality. Every time we see a bride presented to her bridegroom, this reality of God’s covenant love for us as his people is stirring and simmering just underneath the surface.

This is, by the way, one of the reasons why we can never go along with the redefinition of marriage being thrust forth in our culture. Marriage is God’s idea, not America’s, and the covenant relationship of husband and wife speaks of God himself – that he is the faithful spouse and lover of his people, his Bride.

So with this mind, let’s zoom in on Ephesians 5:25-27 and what it teaches about the holiness of Christ’s church. Here, Paul uses five words to describe Jesus’ relationship to his people. The five words are loved, gave, sanctify, cleansed, and present. Here, Christian faith is writ large and every individual Christian should recognize his or her own faith in these same words.

CHRIST …

Loved the Church

First, the source and foundation of the Church’s holiness is the love of Jesus. It is his initiative that has resulted in her being made holy by him.

You’ll sometimes hear people compare religions by saying that each one has its bad apples and good ones, and so they are all about the same, morally speaking. Please note: we see here that Christianity is something completely different. The church is not lovely, she is loved. It is not the purity of the bride, but the love of the bridegroom that makes her holy. There is a world of difference between the moralism of world religions and Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Second, we find here the definition and standard of love: Husbands, love your wives, as Christ love the church. Here, the word used for love is that agape love – that underserved and unbound love of God. As John Stott says, “Calvary Love” is the standard for love (The Message of Ephesians, pg. 235). So many of us have a view of love that is more romanticist and sentimental than biblical. I’ve yet to hear a better definition of biblical love than the one given by Voddie Baucum: “Biblical Love is an act of the will [a choice], accompanied by emotion [not void of or led by emotion], that leads to action on behalf of its object.” (Voddie Baucum, Biblical Love) This is the love Christ has for his people.

Lastly, we have to ask ourselves, do we love the Church? How is it that we can love Jesus without loving what he loves? And how can we dismiss, disdain, or reject his Body without harming ourselves? We cannot, for if we belong to Jesus, we are members of his Body (v.30).

By Giving Himself up for Her and Cleansing Her With Water and the Word

So how does Jesus’ love issue forth for his Church? Through his own self-giving and his cleansing work. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Think back with me to that most moving and awesome eyewitness event captured by John, when Jesus’ work on the Cross was finished. When his lifeless body hung there for the life of the world, what happened? John 19:34-35 says, “But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.”

Now see the Church being formed underneath that cleansing tide. See these two disciples, John and Mary, as representative of all Christians. See the covenant promises of our baptism held forth in Jesus.

Patrick Reardon writes,“[The Apostle] John speaks of three things issuing forth from the Savior’s immolated body: the Spirit, the water, and the blood. These things have to do with the gathering of the church at the foot of the cross because this is the place where Jesus’ identity is truly known. … It is the gathered church, then that receives the witness of the Spirit, the water, and the blood at the foot of the cross, thereby knowing the Son of Man’s identity as the “I AM.” (Patrick Reardon, The Jesus We Missed, pg. 189, kindle edition)

Markus Barth argues that the gospel “word” spoken to the Church is none other than “I love you.” He writes, “The Messiah as the Bridegroom…says this decisive “word” to his Bride and thereby privately and publicly, decently and legally binds himself to her and her to him.” (Ephesians, II, p. 691, as quoted in The Message of Ephesians by John Stott, pg. 228)

As the bride of Christ, the body of redeemed sinners, the church is holy because Jesus gives himself to her, freely and without cost. The church is holy because of the finished work of Christ on her behalf.

That He Might Sanctify Her and Present Her to Himself in Splendor

But there’s more. He does not leave his bride as he found her.

Jesus’ work is finished, but his work in the Church is not. The next two words sanctify and present carry the sense of Christ’s present and ongoing work to refine, beautify, and perfect his people. Are you unfinished in Christ? So is the Church. Do you need others to bear with you in your life as a Christian? Then so does the Church.

Now, we must never excuse sin in the church, but rather we must be given to continual repentance as we realize that she (meaning us!) is still a work in progress, and this work is Christ’s, too.

Speaking of the fruit of the Spirit in Christians (Gal. 5:19, Eph. 5:9), Dietrich Bonhoeffer powerfully expresses it this way: “There are many works of the flesh, but only one fruit of the Spirit. Works are done by human hands, fruit thrusts upward and grows all unbeknown to the tree which bears it. Works are dead, fruit is alive, and bears the seed which will bring forth more fruit. Works can subsist on their own, fruit cannot exist apart from the tree. Fruit is always the miraculous, the created; it is never the result of willing, but always a growth. The fruit of the Spirit is a gift of God, and only he can produce it. They who bear it know as little about it as the tree knows of its fruit. The know only the power of him on whom their life depends. There is no room for boasting here, but only for an ever more intimate union with him. … No clearer expression could be given to the sanctification of the individual, as well as the sanctification of the Church as a whole.” (The Cost of Discipleship, pgs. 284-285)

And not only does his work of sanctification continue in the Church, we find in our last word that it will be brought to completion. Jesus will present the church to himself in glory and splendor when he comes again. Each bride, presented at every wedding, points to the great day when Jesus’ work in the Church will be completed. Revelation 19:6-8, speaking of the Marriage Supper of Lamb says,

“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”

The word used for splendor in verse 27 is endoxon. John Stott writes, “The word may hint at the bride’s beautiful wedding dress, since it is used of clothing. But it means more than this. ‘Glory’ (doxa) is the radiance of God, the shining forth and manifestation of his otherwise hidden being. So too the church’s true nature will become apparent. On earth she is often in rags and tatters, stained and ugly, despised and persecuted. But one day she will be seen for what she is. … It is to this constructive end that Christ has been working and is continuing to work. The bride does not make herself presentable; it is the bridegroom who labours to beautify her in order to present her to himself.” (The Message of Ephesians, pg. 228)

The strife, the sin, the heresy, the disunity that besets the Church today will not always be so. Revelation 21 paints us that massive picture of the City / Bride coming down from heaven:

Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. (Revelation 21:9-11)

So will the purity and holiness of God’s people ever be.

Will You Love and Be Loved?

So I leave you with this invitation today, friends. Will you love the Church? Will you endure with her? Not because she is so different and innovative and wonderful, but because of the One who loves her, has made her holy, and is making her holy.

And will you know yourself to be beloved? Will you share in the promises given to her? Will you be part of this holy people? Because of Jesus, there is nothing else like her on planet earth.

The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord
She is His new creation
By water and the Word
From heav’n He came and sought her
To be His holy bride
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died

And so we give all praise to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and always, world without end. Amen.

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