The Holiness of the Ekklesia

by Mike Ratliff

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.  (1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV)

The Church is not a building. No, in the New Testament, written in Koine Greek, our English translations of it where we find the the word “church,” it is a translation of  a form of εκκλησια or “ekklesia.” For example, in Acts 5:11, “καὶ ἐγένετο φόβος μέγας ἐφ’ ὅλην τὴν ἐκκλησίαν καὶ ἐπὶ πάντας τοὺς ἀκούοντας ταῦτα,” which the ESV translates as, “And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things,” contains ἐκκλησίαν or “ekklēsian,” which is the accusative, singular, feminine case of εκκλησια. All that means is that ἐκκλησίαν is the direct object of the main verb in that sentence. However notice that there is just one εκκλησια. “This word literally means, “the called out ones.” It’s usage in scripture denotes the New Testament community of the redeemed in a two-fold aspect, the first referring to all those called by and to Christ in the fellowship of His salvation, which is the “Church” worldwide at all times. The second aspect, rarely used, refers to a local body of believers.

In our Lord’s prayer in John 17, we read Him praying for unity amongst and holiness for His people. He prays for their sanctification and that they love one another. It won’t take long in our day to see that there is much division in the visible Church. There is a great deal of conflict and there is little personal holiness evident as well. The focus of most professing Christians is on themselves. Does this mean that our Lord’s prayer for His Church was for naught?

We must come to terms with what it means for the Church to be Holy. What does the word Holy mean? The Greek word used for Holy is “αγιον” or “hagios.” It means to be set apart, sanctified, consecrated. This word carries the idea of separation, consecration, devotion to God, and sharing in God’s purity. It has moral significance. Is this the state of the visible Church in our day? Since there is little difference between the moral bankruptcy of the world and the visible Church we must sadly conclude that what passes as the Church in our day has become compromised with the world. However, we must never forget that in Christ the Church is always positionally set apart as Holy.

2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:2-3 ESV)

The key to living up to this high calling of morality and total devotion to God is to submit entirely to the work of God in the heart to sanctify us. The Apostle Paul gave us a very good word picture of this process.

9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.  (Philippians 2:9-13 ESV)

What is our motive for doing this? It is because God has highly exalted our Lord Jesus Christ bestowing on Him the name that is above every name so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth. Every tongue shall confess that He is Lord, for the glory of God the Father. This is what is missing in much of what is called Christianity these days. The focus is moved away from our Lord and our God and placed on people. The focus of worship and praise and even hearing sermons has all been reworked or revisioned to entertain people. However, this loses the concept of our utter submission to our “κυριου” or “Kurios,” our Lord as His “δουλος” or “doulos,” His slaves. It makes our religion all about us instead of about our Lord.

As we submit to our “Kurios” this way then we are more aware of our great need of sanctification. God is working in us for His good pleasure, but if our focus is on us instead of Him then we will react to the chiseling, the cutting, the burning, the reshaping in rebellion and fear and perhaps resentment. Trust me, I know all about this because I did that very thing for many years as a younger Christian. However, once God got my attention and I began devoting myself to Him as His “doulos” things changed. I still experienced the flames of sanctification, but instead of rebelling and becoming resentful I began praying for wisdom, discernment, and joy so that I could bear it. I don’t like pain. I don’t like the pressure of God working in me for His good pleasure, however, I have learned that if I submit to it with a joyful demeanor towards my Heavenly Father then I am able to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling. What He does in us is not for our glory. No, it is for His alone. We are the “doulos” of God and we are His workmanship.

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.  (Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV)

The Greek word translated as “workmanship” in v10 is “ποιημα” or  “poiema.” This word is derived from “poieo,” which refers to quality, or to make, to endow a person or thing with a certain quality. What does this tell us? Before God saved us we were fleshly and spiritually dead. However, all those called by and to Jesus Christ are part of the redeemed and Holy Church. All in Christ are new creations.

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  (2 Corinthians 5:16-21 ESV)

According to this passage all in Christ are new creations and ambassadors for Christ with the ministry of reconciliation. How are you doing with that? I would like to share with all reading this that I know there are times when I can be quite rough on those that have stepped over the line by editing the Gospel or dummying it down, but I do not enjoy it at all. However, that is what we are called to do. We are called to contend earnestly for the faith. This is God’s command to us. However, the motive for doing this is not to hate, kill, or destroy. No, it is reconciliation. It is to show the truth to those in darkness so that the Holy Spirit will convict them of their sin and draw them into the light of repentance. This is the reconciliation of men to God.

The Greek word for “reconciliation” here is “καταλλαγης” or “katallage.” This word means “a change or reconciliation from a state of enmity to one of friendship.” So, this is speaking of salvation my brethren. Our role as the Church is to be holy, pure, set apart, obedient slaves, and ambassadors to this lost and dying world to be ministers of reconciliation, bringing peace between God and sinners. This is what we are supposed to be about and the more we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, the closer we become to being the holy, moral Church that we are called to be whose witness God uses to accomplish His will through us.

Soli Deo Gloria!

2 thoughts on “The Holiness of the Ekklesia

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