Christ did this, so that he would have a glorious and holy church, without faults or spots or wrinkles or any other flaws.
Ephesians 5:27 (CEV)
Under a caption in the Detroit Free Press appeared a new prescription for retaining beauty [the ad said] “…Ladies, do you want to stay young? Then join a church choir. Women who sing stay younger looking. A singer’s cheek muscles are so well developed by exercise that her face will not wrinkle nearly so soon as the non-singer.” This is the article we have been waiting for. Now women and men, if you do not want to look like a prune, join the choir![i]
For most of us a church without “spot or wrinkle” is a long way off! In fact, a face without wrinkle is a pipe dream! But, John and Charles Wesley beg to differ (at least on the church issue, if not the face). The Wesley brothers contended that “perfection” in this life is not only attainable, it is expected in the life of a believer. One of the questions asked by Wesley of candidates for ordination was do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life? The question remains to this day in the United Methodist Church, asked by bishops in the Wesleyan spirit.
No wrinkles, no spots…what does that mean? Let’s look at what the Scriptures say about ironing-out the wrinkles and Oxy-cleaning the spots. We’ll be guided by Charles’ hymn, Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.
Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven, to earth come down;
fix in us thy humble dwelling; all thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, thou art all compassion, pure, unbounded love thou art;
visit us with thy salvation; enter every trembling heart.
The idea of “perfection in this life is intimidating; how in the world can we actually be clean enough to have a heart pure enough to please God? Even in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:8), Jesus said only the pure in heart will even see God.
Psalm 23 is a favorite for many people, green pastures, table set, dwelling in the house of the Lord forever! But note what Psalm 24 says about that:
Psalms 24:3 - 4 (NLT) Who may climb the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? Only those whose hands and hearts are pure, who do not worship idols and never tell lies.
It would seem that the benefits and promises of Psalm 23 are contingent on the obedience of Psalm 24. Who can be that good? Who can wash his hands and heart?
This is just the point…we cannot clean our hands and hearts, but Jesus, through his sacrifice on the cross is willing to do the scrubbing for us. Oxy Clean® has nothing on what God can do with blood!
1 John 1:9 (NLT) But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
God’s salvation is just that…it is God’s! But he is willing to share it with us as we confess our need. This is how he “fixes his humble dwelling” in us. Paul’s image of Christ “presenting” the church to himself is Christ giving Christ a gift – us. The word “present” means “to stand alongside”. Like a bride and groom stand before God, Jesus is willing to have us standing alongside him once we’ve been washed in the blood! That’s salvation!
Charles wrote it, we sing it, fix in us thy humble dwelling…
Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit into every troubled breast!
Let us all in thee inherit; let us find that second rest.
Take away our bent to sinning; Alpha and Omega be;
end of faith, as its beginning, set our hearts at liberty.
The target of a holy life is to be freed from the control of sin. Sin is a very strong addiction! (See the book of James).
The “second rest” of assurance in Jesus Christ means God wants us to be like him – holy – different from sin-loving. It was always his plan. Notice what he told his servant Moses to tell Israel:
Leviticus 11:45 (NLT) For I, the LORD, am the one who brought you up from the land of Egypt, that I might be your God. Therefore, you must be holy because I am holy.
The idea of a “wrinkle” is from an ancient word in Hebrew that suggests a flow, or hemorrhage of blood. It’s a progressive draining of the life, God’s life out of your spirit and soul. Where sin can be characterized as wrongly putting your interest and energy into the things of this life – power, money, prestige, materialism and the like, living a holy life is gaining the priority of placing the eternal over the temporal. Peter told the church to make a choice – this world or the next:
2 Peter 3:10 - 11 (NLT) But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment. 11Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live,
This world can be a strong drug – cars, boats, houses, clothes, and all the glitz and glimmer of what you see in popular culture; stuff that will make you happy. God wants to give you freedom from that kind of thinking.
That’s what Charles Wesley meant when he wrote the words we can use to invite God to do this work of freedom in us – sing it together, Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit into every troubled breast…
Come, Almighty to deliver, let us all thy life receive;
suddenly return and never, never more thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing, serve thee as thy hosts above,
pray and praise thee without ceasing, glory in thy perfect love.
True life in Christ finds its expression in praise, particularly the kind of praise where we find ourselves serving others.
1 Peter 1:22 (NLT) 22You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart.
Genuinely moving along in “being made perfect in love” is an “on-the-job-training” kind of experience. We learn best how to love when we love. Jesus said we would be his “church”. The New Testament word is ecclesia – or, the called-out ones. To be a person of faith as a follower of Jesus Christ is to think differently than the world; to be different and act differently than those outside the family. We are to demonstrate the love of Christ to the world by loving as Christ loved the lost.
Charles wrote: Thee we would be always blessing. As you serve Christ by serving others, you will be joyful…that equation never varies!
Finish, then, thy new creation; pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see thy great salvation perfectly restored in thee;
changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place,
till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love, and praise.
2 Corinthians 7:1 (NLT) 1Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God.
Charles Wesley had one of the great distinctive Christian doctrines in mind in here: God’s redemptive purpose was to reconcile His creation to himself.
2 Corinthians 5:19 (KJV) …that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself…
To “reconcile” is to seek agreement. When the bank sends you your account statement, you reconcile your own record with what the bank says you have in the account. You are seeking agreement.
This world was far from being in agreement with God’s purpose and nature. It began in the Garden of Eden, and all people who had Adam and Eve as ancestors carry the sin gene. Now, on the cross, God did that reconciling work through Jesus’ death. It’s called “propitiation” – Jesus paid it all!
But that only leveled the playing field; it is up to us to choose God’s gift of salvation and freedom from slavery to sin. How can you do that? How can you “go on to perfection” – in THIS lifetime?
I believe we can count on Charles for understanding this. He has three words, lost in wonder, love and praise. All three of those words, like everything else in life, cannot be done “perfectly” if you consider “perfect” to be without any kind of flaw. We are not capable!
But the word is telios[ii] and it means not without flaw, but rather complete, in the sense of mature and functional. It means to act as you were created to act. A rose bush is telios, mature, when it produces roses that engage the eye and sense of smell. A Christian is telios when he or she is living life lost in wonder, love and praise.
…is the sense of respect and genuine thankfulness for the life with which you’ve been blessed. You know you’re created, and you are in awesome wonder of your Creator!
…is the response of the heart and life to what you’ve been made for; we were created to praise and adore God and to have fellowship with Him. We were meant to correspond to God’s nature and reflect that glory. The glory of God is expressed in how we live:
James 1:27 (NLT) 27Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
…is the outward response of a heart and life that understands just how glorious and wonderfully our God has been in creating, sustaining and loving his children.
Lost in wonder, love and praise is Charles Wesley’s way of describing what a divine love that excels any other kind of love looks like when it washes all over a child of God.
Pure and spotless let us be… is the prayer of a life which recognizes you would not want anything unholy to be in your life so you CAN reflect the goodness, grace and majesty of your Lord and Redeemer!
And this is the finishing of God’s new creation – turning us back to being lost in wonder, love and praise of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Message version of our text says it this way:
Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness.
Finish it, LORD, in me….finish your New Creation. Help me to be lost in wonder, love and praise for your goodness, mercy and grace!