When we speak of the church it is important to understand that we are not merely speaking about a group of people or a building. When we speak about the church we are talking about a plan God purposed before the foundation of the world and executed in the fulness of time to bring about the salvation of man. Sometimes we talk about the plan of salvation. Or, we talk about the church being part of God’s plan of salvation. Actually, the church is God’s plan for saving man.
In his epistle to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul described the “mystery of Christ” (Eph. 3:3,4). This mystery is not something that cannot be understood or known for Paul wrote “how that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ” (Eph. 3:4). The word for mystery here meant something that was unknown to an individual until that individual was initiated into the mystery, then they were given knowledge of it. Think of it as a military plan which was not known by the troops until it was ready to be executed.
In this sense, it is very similar to a plan. Paul uses it this way when he compares the church to a marriage (Eph. 5:25ff). Of the relationship between the husband and wife, Paul said it was a great “mystery” but the real lesson he was teaching was about the relationship of the church to the Lord (Eph. 5:32). The church is the bride of Christ and must be kept pure, without spot or wrinkle, to be delivered to Him as a glorious church (Eph. 5:25-27). Paul did not want to hide the mystery or plan of Christ but, rather, to make it known (Eph. 6:19).
This scheme of redemption was no afterthought for God but was in His mind from before the foundation of the world. Paul wrote that from the beginning of the world it had been hid in God (Eph. 3:9). Peter declared that we know we were “not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you” (I Peter 1:18-20).
This plan, then, was foreordained. Paul states that God
Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ (Ephesians 1:9-12).
To be clear, God has not ordained individuals to be saved because He wants all men to be saved (I Tim. 2:4). But He has foreordained and predestined the plan whereby all might be brought together in Christ if they so choose. Again, Paul wrote that God has chosen us in Him “before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:4-6). Whether or not any one individual is saved is a personal choice of trust in the Lord made after hearing the word of truth (Eph. 1:13).
This plan, or mystery of godliness, is without a doubt a great one (I Tim. 3:15,6). None of the princes of this world knew or understood it or its benefits (I Cor. 2:7-9). Also, the prophets strained at understanding all that they were prophesying and even the angels desired to look into the things that are now revealed by the Holy Spirit unto the apostles (I Pet. 1:10-12). Paul said that he and the rest of the apostles spoke this mystery in words which the Holy Ghost taught, comparing spiritual things with spiritual (I Cor. 2:13). It is through the revealed New Testament Covenant, along with the Old Testament for our learning, that we can know and appreciate the mystery.
What a privilege and an honor to be able to understand the things about which the prophets spoke but never fully understood themselves. What a great blessing to be able to participate in the blessings found in only in Christ (Eph. 1:3). How grand to know that we are the ones about whom the prophets spoke (I Pet. 1:10-12). What a thrill to know the mystery of salvation.
Eric L. Padgett