In Ephesians 5:22 and following we find instruction for a wife to submit to her husband. Paul then continues in commanding the husband to love his wife. The following illustration of Christ and the Church is given:
“. . . Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 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 5:25-27, ESV)
What does it mean when it says that Christ is sanctifying and cleansing the church (not individual Christians)? Who makes up this church? Are baptized members of the church who later fall away included? If the church is only made up of individuals who are truly regenerate then why does it need cleansed? If this cleansing is meant to really only refer to individual sanctification then why refer to the church?
The church is a living breathing organism that is in need of cleansing. Christ purchased her with his blood but impurities remain. Those impurities need cleansed “by the washing of water with the word” (ESV).