The Holiness of the Church

by Mike Ratliff

9 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY. 1 Peter 2:9-10 (NASB) 

The Church is not a building. No, in the New Testament, written in Koine Greek, the English word translated as “church” is the word ἐκκλησία (ekklēsia). 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 ἅγιος (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 which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:2-3 (NASB) 

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 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Philippians 2:9-13 (NASB) 

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 either entertain people or meet some pragmatic cause such as Social Justice. However, this loses the concept of our utter submission to our κύριος (kyrios), our Lord as His δοῦλοι (douloi), His slaves. It makes our religion all about us instead of about our Lord.

As we submit to our Kyrios 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 years. I am ashamed of it to be honest. However, once God got my attention and I began devoting myself to Him as His δοῦλος (doulos), slave, 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 glory. We are the douloi of God and we are also His workmanship.

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as 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 so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10 (NASB) 

The Greek word translated as “workmanship” in v10 is ποίημα (poiēma). 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 Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. 17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 (NASB)

According to this passage all in Christ are new creatures 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. I do not enjoy that 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 καταλλαγή (katallagē). 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 Church

  1. While I am convinced “church” is NOT a translation of ekklesia, it is what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. Your description of the called out ones is spot-on. Are you aware of “Mid-Acts Dispensationalism?” It’s close to heresy, wherein Paul had a different gospel than Jesus and the other apostles and what Peter wrote in that passage you quoted at the beginning was written ONLY to dispersed Jews and does not describe Gentile Christians.


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