The Mystery

by Mike Ratliff

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:28-32 ESV)

In our 21st Century languages, the word “mystery” is used as a series of clues to be figured out. However, the Apostle Paul used the Greek word μυστήριον or mustērion six times in the book of Ephesians, twice in Romans, once in 1 Corinthians, four times in Colossians, and once in 1 Timothy. It is found nowhere else in the New Testament. His usage was not as a series of clues to be figured out, but of a grand word that points to mystery as a heretofore-unrevealed truth that has been made clear. Its usage in the Greek text preserves the sense that the revealed truth has such awesome implications that it continues to amaze and humble those who accept it. Many of you are familiar with the term describing the current day Evangelical Church as being a million miles wide and one inch deep. That sad fact is due to its losing its grasp of this Mystery and its implications all tied to the Sovereignty of God, the Deity of Christ, and the fact that Salvation is the result of Justification by Faith alone by the Grace of God alone not by the efforts of man. This loss has resulted in a focus on self rather than God. In return, God has caused His judgment to fall on these people so that they no longer hunger for God’s truth, but only hunger for what is new, cool, and culturally relevant. They seek it, but are never fulfilled by it while the very thing that would fulfill their hunger, God’s truth according to His grace, is available, but they look everywhere but there. 

When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (Ephesians 3:4-6 ESV)

When the unsearchable riches of Christ are preached among the Gentiles, one result is an understanding of the fact that Gentiles become fellow heirs or partakers of the “fellowship of the mystery.” Read the passage I placed at the top of this post. Do you see that when believers come to Christ that it far more than simply becoming religious? They become one with Him. As Paul says, “This mystery is profound.” Paul then asks the Ephesians for boldness to proclaim this mystery.

and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:17-20 ESV)

Paul asks that he would be able to “boldly proclaim the mystery of the gospel…” The Gospel is not mysterious because it is hard to understand. It is mysterious because it is unexpected, unmerited, and free. Perhaps the best summary of this “mystery” would be, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

In any case my brethren, let us not be surprised when large numbers of professing Christians look at this “mystery” with the 21st Century English take on that word then live out their so-called “Christian” walk within the parameters of self-focused religiosity that could best be described as “moralistic, therapeutic, deism.” When my father died last year, I found many of my grandfather’s old books as we cleaned out his house. He was a Baptist preacher from the late 1800’s through the mid 1900’s. In any case, he was not well educated, but his ministry was centered on God’s Word being God’s Truth. He preached it and God used him. Within these books, I found letters from others in which the focus was his dedication to God’s Word being the source of God’s Truth. I would love to get his take on what these jokers who call themselves Christian leaders in our day are doing. From what I have heard of him, he would have made mincemeat of them. Oh, we need some to stand in the gap like that in our time!

Soli Deo Gloria!

7 thoughts on “The Mystery

  1. I am not one to believe that people are more or less of something from one age to another. They, we, are just as sinful and rebellious as in any other time, but it is our time and it’s what we see. There are grandfathers such as yours out there, who exemplify what preaching, teaching and living a God fearing life is and should be. I dare say we may have such a one near to us, perhaps one who frequently writes on this very site. They can easily be lost amongst the loud and popular Warren types. What a goldmine going through those books must have been!


  2. A friend of mine and I were talking about Scripture recently.
    She reads a lot of works by and listens to a number of people who’s theology is at the very least – a bit “off”.
    She was talking to me about the “mystery” and I didn’t really get what she meant – but I’m thinking it’s one of those things that false teachers can easily take and twist to mean something it’s not. They can take that word and make it mean whatever they want to.
    Thank you for your article.


  3. Mike,
    Have you run into that? People turning that word into something it’s not supposed to be? Do you have an example?


  4. I run into all the time Lisa. That is called heresy and it is rampant throughout the visible church. We see it in teachings in which Salvation is all about man rather than God and His glory. We see it in prooftexing to try to proof an heretical doctrine, but using only part of scripture to do so while leaving out the passages before and after that would show that what is being taught is heretical. Yes, I see this all the time especially in those who teach that God cannot save anyone unless they choose to be saved where the Bible clearly teaches the exact opposite.


  5. Thanks, Mike.
    I’ve listened to what I thought were solid teachers in the past – and I never fell for the health and wealth preachers or the – you know – the real “out there” kind. Yet…still I find gross error and false teaching.
    The more God reveals to me through His word the more I understand and am able to discern, though.


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