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The Place Of The Ecclesia in God's Purpose
Part 4 - Holy and flawless in His sight

by John H. Essex


 
 
IN our last study we considered a phrase, "among the celestials," which is peculiar to the Ephesian epistle. In conjunction with its first occurrence is another phrase, which appears altogether ten times in the Greek Scriptures, but only once in the writings of Paul—"the disruption of the world." We must now consider this as it affects the ecclesia.

THE DISRUPTION OF THE WORLD

The expression "disruption of (the) world" katabole kosmou occurs in two forms; seven times it is "from the disruption of the world" and three times, "before the disruption of the world." These two prepositions establish the phrase as an important line of demarcation in God's activities, and we should be careful to distinguish between that which is before the disruption and that which is from the disruption. For that which is before the disruption is obviously unconditioned by that event, while that which is from the disruption may well have come about in consequence of it.

In one instance, the same feature of God's purpose is described as being both before and from the disruption of the world, and this has relation to the death of Christ. Let us look at the two scriptures, and see how they differ.

Peter (in 1 Peter 1:19,20), writes of "the precious blood of Christ, as of a flawless and unspotted lamb, foreknown, indeed, before the disruption of the world, yet manifested in the last times because of you...." John (in Rev.13: 8), speaking of those who will be worshipping the wild beast, adds "everyone whose name is not written in the scroll of life of the Lambkin slain from the disruption of the world."

In these two scriptures, we have a progression of facts concerning the same event; foreknown before the disruption, slain from the disruption, manifested in these last times.

The normal person, looking at the death of Christ, sees it as a crime committed by men somewhere around the year 33 A.D. This is how the four accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John present it, although even in these there are suggestions that it was not entirely controlled by men. For example, Jesus spoke of the manner of His death before it occurred (John 3:14 and 12:32), and also of the fact that no one had the power to take His soul away from Him, but that He would be laying it down of Himself (John 10:18). No one could stretch out his hands against Him until the hour spoken of in Luke 22:53 had arrived, and He permitted Himself to become submissive to the jurisdiction of darkness.

Now the jurisdiction of darkness finds its origin in the disruption, for darkness then covered the whole of the submerged chaos that the disruption had caused (Gen.1:2). In the book of Revelation, the slaying of the Lambkin is actually dated from the disruption, and this takes us back to a time before humanity was created, thus absolving men from any responsibility for predetermining this event, though not from their accountability to God for their part in bringing it about.

The Lambkin is said to be slain from the disruption of the world because the disruption, with its accompanying darkness, both physical and spiritual, was the prior evidence of rebellion against God which must have taken place in the celestial realms since, as we have just said, man had not yet been created. We note that the phrase speaks of the disruption of the world, or kosmou, and not the disruption of the earth. The earth was undoubtedly disrupted, but so were the heavens; hence the need for the creation of a new heavens as well as a new earth (Isa.65:17; 2 Pet.3:1013; Rev.21:1), and for the reconciliation of all in the heavens as well as on the earth (Col.1:20).

But if the Lambkin was slain from the disruption of the world, the slaying was not something planned as an afterthought because of the disruption, for Peter declares that the precious blood of Christ, as of a flawless and unspotted lamb, was "foreknown, indeed, before the disruption of the world." This is the same expression that Paul uses in Ephesians, and it speaks of a time antecedent to those circumstances that brought about the disruption. In short, the slaying of the Lamb was not a consequence of anything attributable to Satan, who will never be allowed to claim that he was able to change God's designs—it was not an improvisation to correct something that had gone awry in God's plans—but was an integral and predetermined feature in His purpose. And so too is the ecclesia, for it also was chosen in Christ before the disruption of the world, when God's counsels were unchallenged and His love unquestioned.

Just as God purposed every feature of the matters surrounding His Son, even to the giving of Him up, and was constrained by nobody, not even Satan, so too He has purposed every feature concerning the ecclesia which is the body of Christ, and will not be deviated one whit from His intentions. Certainly not by Satan; he cannot interfere.

It is interesting to note the other usage of the expression, "before the disruption of the world." It is in John 17:24, and tells of the love which God had for His Son. The full verse reads, "Father, those whom Thou hast given Me, I will that, where I am, they also may be with Me, that they may be beholding My glory which Thou hast given Me, for Thou lovest Me before the disruption of the world."

BEFORE THE DISRUPTION

These three usages of the phrase, "before the disruption of the world," bring out three vital aspects of the Deity of God.

First, there is His love, concentrated primarily in the Son of His love, and passed on through Him to all His creation (Col. 1:13-17).

Second, we see His foreknowledge of events before they come to pass. This is because He, and He alone, is able to operate all according to the counsel of His will (Eph.1:11), which-means that He can designate beforehand what He wills in accord with His purpose.

Third, His prerogative to choose whom He wills for whatever place He wills is shown. Only He can do this, and He chooses us, the ecclesia, "for the place of a son for Him" (Eph.1:5).

These three usages of our phrase also cover three aspects of God's purpose. Its motive is to be found in the love which God has for His Son—all is for Him (Col.1:17). The means by which His goal is achieved is the death of Christ, for He makes peace with all through the blood of His cross (Col.1:20). The medium through which all in all is being completed is the ecclesia, which is Christ's body (Eph.1:22,23).

HOLY AND FLAWLESS

Now there can be no doubt that the love which God had for Christ was, and is pure and spotless—completely unadulterated; equally it is clear that the blood of Christ was that of a pure and unspotted sacrifice. Significantly, therefore, it is stated of the ecclesia that it was to be "holy and flawless in His sight." As the complement of a holy and flawless Christ, it surely must be holy and flawless in itself. And in God's sight it always is!

The verb in the phrase, "we to be holy and flawless in His sight," is in the infinitive form, and does not indicate a finite time. Though the infinitive may sometimes point to the future, as in a phrase like "I hope to be here tomorrow," it can equally well refer to the present, as in "I am glad to be here today," or even to the past as in, "I was glad to be here yesterday." So it is really timeless. In the hymn, "Take time to be holy, speak oft with the Lord" the second line runs, "Abide in Him always, and feed on His word," and the whole theme of the succeeding lines lies within present experience.

And so it is with the expression, "We to be holy and flawless in His sight." In the context of Ephesians 1, this is a status for all time, not something only to be attained in the future. (In the context of Ephesians 5:27, a different aspect is being presented, which we will look at in a later study.) Here, in Ephesians 1, we are looking at the ecclesia as it is seen by God, chosen by Him in Christ before the disruption of the world—that is, before anything occurred to mar or to spoil, or to entice away from God. The ecclesia is not the child of a rebellion or the offspring of sin, and none of the consequences of the disruption— the sin and death that have entered into the world—can destroy the perfect status of the ecclesia in the sight of God. To Him, it is ever holy and flawless, in accord with His predesignation of it for the place of a son for Him.

It is true that there is a different aspect of the ecclesia, in which its members are seen to have been descended from Adam, chosen from out of the old humanity with all its faults and failings, offenses and sins. Again, we will look at this more fully in a later study, but for the moment let it be noted that when one is reckoned to be of the faith of Jesus, he is immediately justified (declared righteous) gratuitously in God's grace through the deliverance which is in Christ Jesus (Rom.3:24- 27), so that Paul is able to declare, in Romans 8:1, that "Nothing, consequently, is now condemnation to those in Christ Jesus," and to ask, later in the chapter, questions that have no answer: "Who will be indicting God's chosen ones?" "Who is the Condemner?" If God will not indict, and Christ will not condemn, who else dare stand up to challenge the righteousness of those whom God has chosen?

In 2 Corinthians 5:16,17, Paul speaks of our life in the flesh as something that is passed by. From now on, we should be acquainted with no one according to flesh, not even Christ, Who did not sin while in the flesh. If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: the primitive passed by. Lo! there has come new! In Ephesians 2, Paul speaks of our behavior, while in the flesh, as something of the past, no longer operative. Notice how the apostle twice makes the point that we are dead to the life of the past (verses I and 5), just as he twice stresses that in grace are you saved (verses 6 and 8). The one expression perfectly complements the other.

The words holy and flawless are not synonymous: they do not mean the same. The word holy describes that which is in touch with God, or that which is set aside for His use. Its first occurrence is in Exodus 3:5, when God instructed Moses to take off his shoes because the place on which he stood was holy ground. Now what had made that ground holy? In what way was it any different from the surrounding earth? Intrinsically, it was no different; the soil did not undergo any sudden change, either actual or apparent. What had made the ground holy was that God had, at that moment, set it aside for His own use. He had chosen that particular spot in the wilderness to demonstrate, through the illustration of the bush which burned fiercely but was not consumed, the present and future experiences of His people, Israel. Though the nation might be persecuted to the limits of endurance, it would not be destroyed, but would remain a people. Its continued existence would be guaranteed by God Himself, Who later, through the prophet Isaiah, declared Himself to the "Holy One of Israel." What does this last phrase mean? Simply that, having chosen Israel to be "a holy nation, a procured people," set apart for His service, He would set Himself apart to watch over them and direct them.

The ecclesia which is the body of Christ is declared to be holy. It was set aside for God's service long before Israel came on the scene. Even long before humanity was created, the ecclesia was assigned a special function in the purpose of God, being designated beforehand for the laud of His glory—we, who are pre- expectant in the Christ. In that future great and glorious administration of the complement of the eras, when all in both heaven and earth shall be headed up in the Christ, we have a vital part, for our lot was cast in Him (Eph.1:10-12).

The word flawless means "not having spot or wrinkle or any such things" (Eph.5:27), or, as the Authorized Version has it, "without spot or blemish." Israel, as a royal priesthood, should have been a nation without blemish, but they soon demonstrated that, because of their own imperfections, they needed a priesthood to minister on their own account—to intercede between them and God. But the ecclesia never needs a priesthood to stand between it and God: it has direct access to the Father through Him Who is its Head (Rom.5:2; Eph.2:18; 3:12). In love, it was designated beforehand for the place of a son for Him, and its individual members, even while still on earth, are imbued with that spirit of sonship whereby they cry, "Abba, Father" (Rom.8: 15; Gal.4:6).

IN HIS SIGHT

What we have in fact been suggesting is that the state and status of the ecclesia both remain constant in God's sight throughout all its history and in all its experiences. If it be argued that its individual members are still sinners while they are in the flesh, we would reply that from the moment of our being chosen, Christ became to us not only wisdom from God, but also "righteousness and holiness and deliverance" (1 Cor.1:30).

God does not see us as being in the flesh; He is able to "vivify the dead and call what is not as if it were" (Rom.4:17). We are regarded by Him as being righteous now; nothing, consequently is now condemnation to those in Christ Jesus. God, the justifier, will not indict His chosen ones; He cannot, or His justification would be shown to be an unreality. Christ, Who died, will not condemn. On the contrary, by His being made to be sin for us, He has ensured that we may be becoming God's righteousness in Him (2 Cor.5:21). That is to say, that just as He, the One not knowing sin, became a sin offering for our sakes when He hung on the cross, that sin itself might be repudiated, so we, sinners as we were, become God's righteousness in Him. The two states date from the same moment, Christ's death on the cross. We judge this, "that if One died for the sake of all, consequently all died" (2 Cor.5:14). "Our old humanity was crucified together with Him" (Rom.6:6). Why? "That the body of Sin may be nullified." And this is how it appears in God's sight.

In His sight—these are wonderful words! For there can be no higher estimation—no higher criterion of what is right and what is wrong, what is just and what is unjust. God must be just as well as the justifier of the one who is of the faith of Jesus (Rom.3:26).

"If God is for us, who is against us?" (Rom.8:31). God is for us. He declares us to be righteous—this is the meaning behind justification. He accounts us to be holy and flawless. This was a condition established before the disruption, and nothing that has occurred as a result of the disruption can in any way impinge upon, or in the slightest degree affect, the standing of those who were chosen in Christ before that event took place. They are holy and flawless in God's sight, and must ever remain so.

How and why members of this ecclesia of God came to be chosen from among the sons of sinful humanity will be considered in our next study.


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