We all know that it is impossible to find a perfect church. Every congregation has flaws. But a day is coming when the church will be perfected. In the book of Revelation, John describes a vision of “the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Rev. 21:2). We might reasonably wonder whether he is speaking of the church or a literal city. Here John is using a figure of speech known as metonymy, in which the thing being described is both real and also represents something else. The city is real, but it also refers to those who will inhabit it.
The church is characterized as a bride in the New Testament. For example, Paul told the Corinthians: “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him” (2 Cor. 11:2). Elsewhere Paul compares the church’s relationship with Christ to that of a husband and wife. Husbands are to love their wives in the same way that Christ loved the church, by giving Himself up for her, “to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:25–26).
Perfection is what God does for the church. It is the result of Christ’s work. But that does not mean that the church has no role in the process. According to Revelation 19, the bride also makes herself ready for the Lamb’s wedding by putting on “fine linen bright and clean.” An interpretive note explains that fine linen stands for “the righteous acts of God’s holy people” (Rev. 19:8).
Note that this verse also says that fine linen “was given to her.” Although these righteous acts are done by the saints, they do not originate from within the church. They have their origin in God. These are the good works “which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10). The church is not perfect—not yet. But it will be.
To learn more, read Acting the Miracle: God’s Work and Ours in the Mystery of Sanctification,edited by John Piper and David Mathis (Crossway).