26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word,
The Lord had an ultimate purpose behind His love for the church—“that He might sanctify and cleanse” the church.
There are three “that” clauses in verses 26 and 27 in the Greek:
In order that he might “make holy”
In order that he might “present”
In order that it might “be holy and blameless”
“That” here shows the purpose Christ has for the church by His sacrifice for sins. There is a goal that Christ has for His church and there is a goal for the husband.
He might sanctify
There are two elements to sanctification and cleansing: (1) consecration to God and (2) separation from something unclean. Consecration is coincidental with cleansing. Cleansing is the removal of sin, while sanctification here is positional setting apart to God.
Christ’s purpose is to “sanctify” or set apart the church for Himself. He wants to consecrate her for Himself. This is positional sanctification, not progressive. Christ’s goal is to set the church apart for exclusive and permanent relationship with God. Positional sanctification is a onetime event whereby the believer or the church is sanctified forever. Christians can never lose this permanent status with God.
The purpose of sanctification of the church is a one-time setting apart the church unto Christ. Jesus accomplished this by His death upon the cross. This was a past action with no future action beyond the accomplished action of the past. This is a permanent sanctification.
and cleanse her
Cleansing the church here is not baptismal regeneration but simply regeneration. This cleansing of the church was contemporary with her being set apart unto God. Christ removed sin from the church so that she would be presentable for eternity with God.
with the washing of water
The word “washing” means a bath. The imagery here has to do with the prenuptial bridal bath. During this betrothal ceremony the bride was prepared with her wedding clothes. This imagery focuses on spiritual cleansing by God’s truth. Christ’s death on the cross is what cleanses us from our sin. In culture, this bath by was effected by water, but here Paul used “washing” metaphorically, not literally. It is a spiritual washing.
The only other occurrence of the word “washing” is in Titus 3:5, where it is used for regeneration. The Bible nowhere else asserts that the church is baptized, so the idea here is not of baptism.
by the word,
The Greek word for “word” here means the proclaimed or spoken word, a sound produced by the voice, not the written word. This phrase “by the word” refers to the cleansing of the church; it is the purifying of the gospel preached that saves the church.
Through Christ’s sacrificial death, He claimed the church as an exclusive and permanent relationship to Himself.
Christ made the church holy by cleansing her. This cleansing came by the gospel preached. In God’s eyes the church is perfect, positionally sanctified and regenerated.