26 “that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:26–27 (ESV)
The Apostle Paul continues his comparison of the love a husband is to have for his wife with the love Christ has for the church. Christ’s love is the standard of self-sacrificial love of the will. A husband’s love for his wife is based and established on this sacrificial standard by the Lord Jesus. This holy standard, not only of God the Father’s love but also Christ’s love for the church, was previously spoken about by Paul in Ephesians.
Ephesians 2:1-4 says, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—.”
What was the purpose of such love by God for sinners? Paul sets forth three purposes of God’s love in today’s text. The first is “that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.”
Notice that the personal pronouns He and her respectively speakof the Lord and the church. Jesus Christ is the giver of self-sacrificial love of the will and the church is the object of that love. The purpose of such love is so that Christ might sanctify all believers.
Sanctify (ἁγιάζω; hagiazo) means to make holy. Believers in Christ possess the quality of holiness. The ultimate goal of God’s love is not only to save sinners from judgment, along with to declare them righteous, but also to ultimately make them righteous and holy. Salvation is deliverance from the penalty of sin, the power of sin, and ultimately from the very presence of sin.
This sanctification is possible because Christ has cleansed the church. Cleansed (καθαρίζω; katharizo) means to purge, purify and to heal. Our English word catharsis comes from this Greek verb.
Christ accomplished this cleansing, Paul says, by the washing of water with the word. This phrase does not refer to water baptism but rather monergistic regeneration by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel.
Dr. John Walvoord writes, “This is not baptismal regeneration for that would be contrary to Paul’s teaching in this book as well as all his other writings and the entire New Testament. Metaphorically, being regenerated is pictured as being cleansed by water (cf. “the washing of rebirth” in Titus 3:5). The “Word” (rhēmati) refers to the “preached Word” that unbelievers hear (cf. rhēma in Eph. 6:17; Rom. 10:8, 17; 1 Peter 1:25).”
The sanctifying reality of holiness begins at regeneration. Following the believer’s conversion unto justification, the process of sanctification begins. It does not conclude until the believer in Christ physical dies resulting in complete sanctification or glorification.
Take the opportunity today to praise God for His grace in loving you enough to set you apart unto holiness. May each of us reflect God’s holiness in the lives we lead for the glory of God.
Soli deo Gloria!