We are a people obsessed with love. We crave love and long to both extend and receive it. It is the subject of our favorite films, the theme of our treasured poems, the thrill of our happy hearts. Yet for all the love we see and experience, there is one much greater than them all. While we find it in a passage of the Bible that describes the relationship of a husband and wife, it points us to a love that is even deeper, even greater, and even more thrilling. Ephesians 5 tells a husband he must love his wife as Jesus Christ loves his church. So let’s forget about marriage for a minute and reflect simply on how we are loved by our great Savior.
Christ Loves the Church with a Sacrificial Love
First, Christ loves his church with a sacrificial love. “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Jesus’s life culminated in an act of sacrifice for the sake of his church. He sacrificed himself to all the horrors of the cross so that we would not need to endure it ourselves. He turned himself over to the wrath of God so that we would never need to face it. There is no sacrifice that could ever be greater or costlier than this.
Christ Loves the Church with a Sanctifying Love
Second, Christ loves his church with a sanctifying love. “Jesus Christ gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her.” The point and purpose of Christ’s sacrifice was sanctification. That word is used in a few different ways, but here it refers to being devoted to God. This tells us that Jesus sanctifies his church by setting her apart to the service of God. We were merrily (or miserably) going our own way, set apart to serve the world, the flesh, and the devil, when Jesus Christ reached out to us, saved us, and set us apart to serve God. Christ loves his church and sanctifies us to the best and highest purpose a human being can achieve—living to the glory of God.
Christ Loves the Church with a Purifying Love
Third, Christ loves his church with a purifying love. “Jesus Christ gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her.” Jesus does not merely set us apart to God’s purposes, but he also gives us what we need to be effective in accomplishing those purposes. And what is it that we need? Purity! Holiness! He equips us by purifying us from our sin. We enter the Christian life as people with sinful desires, sinful habits, sinful inclinations, sinful longings, but Christ delights to purify us. He gives us new desires, new habits, and new longings. This is not a one-time act but one that goes on every day as we take hold of his power to put sin to death and come alive to righteousness.
Christ Loves the Church with a Gospel Love
Fourth, Christ loves his church with a gospel love. “…that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.” We all know that water washes away dirt. It cleanses and purifies our bodies. What cleanses and purifies our souls? The gospel! The gospel is the spiritual water that cleanses us from all impurity. We hear this gospel and believe it and are saved, then all throughout our lives we continue to hear this gospel and to become purified from indwelling sin. The gospel is what saves us, the gospel is what sanctifies us, the gospel is what purifies us. The Christian life is not all about our grit and determination to be better people, but about continuing to hear, heed, and apply the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christ’s love for the church is declared by the gospel, enabled by the gospel, and eventually completed by the gospel.
Christ Loves the Church with a Purposeful Love
Finally, Christ loves his church with a purposeful love. Why did Christ sacrifice himself, then sanctify and purify his church by the gospel? Verse 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.” At the end of time, when history comes to its close, Jesus will present the church to himself in absolute perfection—this is the purpose he holds in mind. In Revelation John looks forward in time and sees this: “I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem [i.e. the church], coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.’” Here is a vision of Christ the groom receiving the church his bride, perfectly adorned for her husband. Spotless. Pure. Holy. Perfect. Unstained. And they will dwell together forever as one.
Do you see how we have been loved? Do you see how we are being loved? Do you see how we will be loved? Do you rejoice at the love of Jesus Christ for you, his church? You were dead in your sin, a spiritual corpse, unable to do anything but deepen your rebellion. There was no hope for you. But then, out of love, Christ sacrificed himself to do for you what you could not do for yourself. Out of love Christ sanctified you to God’s purposes, to set you apart so you could live the life God created you to live. Out of love, Christ purified you, so he could put aside the sin that hinders you and instead give you his righteousness. He did this all through the word of the gospel and through it all has a great and final purpose in mind. You are loved.