Before we proceed, we need to get something straight when it comes to Christ’s Bride. Much of our focus has been on how the church is perceived by the world. This is critical to our success in a culture that has grown increasingly hostile to the gospel. The world in which Christ planted the first church was also hostile, which is why the New Testament encourages us to be sensitive in our conversations, behaviors and relationships with non-believers.
However, did you know Christ didn’t call His Bride so she could impress the world? I think the Apostle Paul’s wording in his letter to the Ephesians is revealing in this regard. He says Christ died to make the church holy and “to present her to himself as a radiant church” (Ephesians 5:27). Did you catch that? Christ wants His Bride to look good so He can admire Her radiance, which He produced. Of course, it pleases Him when the world praises the church, but only because it increases her radiance and ultimately brings honor to Himself.
This truth alters how we define the beauty of the church. No church on earth will ever be perfect. As we have already seen, she will do a lot of very unattractive things. But her radiance will be evident to the extent others see Christ in her. The purity of her radiance will be determined by the single-heartedness of her members as they seek to live for Christ and Him alone. Nothing shines as brilliantly as the church, washed in Christ’s blood and walking in His grace.
I have witnessed this dynamic in earthly marriages. I once saw it through the eyes of a husband named Ray whose wife was afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. The husband was a retired high-ranking military officer who had worked with a president, a king, a general and a prime minister. When I met him his responsibility included bathing, feeding and dressing his wife. When he brought her to worship with our church family her appearance reflected his amazing love and care.
This is what Christ wants the world to see. He wants sinners to see what other sinners look like when they are covered in grace. He knows He will never have a perfect Bride on earth, but He wants others to realize they can be made perfect in His Father’s eyes. He also wants a church that burns with zeal for those who have never heard how much He loves them.