There will not be perfection in the Church of Christ or in any Christian upon earth, in this age.
Individually, we are a mixture of saint and sinner in our one person, old and new nature in an ongoing spiritual war, bearing fruit unto God even while groaning within ourselves for the redemption of our bodies and the final and full mortification of our flesh (Romans 6:22; 7:18-25; 8:13-14, 18-23; Ephesians 2:21-24). In this spiritual warfare, God is at work in us, by the Holy Spirit, enabling us “to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). For we would not do it of our own selves.
Our prayer for the church in the world should be the same as what the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews prayed for his readers: “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21).
Tares among the wheat
What we are individually is how the Christian church at large has always been, and will continue to be, until the coming of our Lord. The enemy has sown tares among the wheat of God’s church throughout the world, and these tares will remain a corruption in the church until the harvest at the end of the world (Matthew 13:24-30). There yet remain branches that shall never bear fruit and which God himself will break off and cast into the fire (John 15:1-6).
There are wolves in sheep’s clothing who are in our midst, who will not spare the flock (Matthew 7:15; Acts 20:29-30). Worst of all the “many antichrists” that have been with us throughout this “last time” (1 John 2:18) is that Antichrist, “that man of sin [who shall] be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). He has elevated himself up as the head of all the church, thereby appearing to usurp the throne that belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ alone.
This “mystery of iniquity”, which the apostle exposed as already working in his day, has been working ever since throughout the centuries. Many will believe this “strong delusion”—but the Lord’s people will be taught the truth: “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:11-14).
Enduring to the end
The Lord Jesus Christ warns us that throughout the history of the Christian Church, some who seem to be Christians at first wither away or have their apparent life “choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection” (Matthew 8:14). He also warns us, that “because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Matthew 24:12-13). Some church-goers will succumb in the “perilous times” of superficial godliness in churches that are, in reality, full of immorality (e.g. see 2 Timothy 3:1-8). And numerous times the apostle warns of professed Christians departing from the faith, falling away, not enduring sound doctrine (see 2 Thessalonians 2:3; 1Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 4:3).
So, there will be setbacks for the Christian Church. Some churches will languish, perhaps for many generations, but they will become revived and reformed by the gracious work of the Holy Spirit. Other churches will become so compromised that all true Christians should “come out of her”, that they be not partakers with her evil deeds—and of her judgment to come (Revelation 18:4ff). As a local church or denomination, there may come a time when their candlestick must be removed by the Lord (compare Revelation: 2:5). And the members of these churches where Christ is not known, he will say of them, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:21-23). Being devoid of all light and salty savour, they will be cast out to be trodden under foot by men (Matthew 5:13).
All such troubles within the Church on earth come from the world, the flesh and the devil (Matthew 13:18, 39; 1 John 2:15-17; Galatians 5:15-17; 2 Thessalonians 2:9) and not from Christ. We must resist these worldly enemies within the Church, and we must resist our own still-present “old man” of sin within us (Ephesians 4:22-24; Hebrews 12:3-4; James 4:7). And we must remain faithful to Christ even in the face of haters of Christ and Christianity, who would wipe out the Church entirely if they could (John 15:19; Revelation 20:9).
So, put on your spiritual armour, brothers and sisters in Christ, and fight this spiritual battle: “Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (Ephesians 6:13-18).
Take to yourselves what God provides: Truth. Righteousness. The Gospel of Peace. Faith. Salvation. Prayer for all saints. Only with the whole armour of God will you continue to “withstand” and remain a Christian.
Many people think that the apostle Paul had a Roman soldier in mind when he illustrated these marks of grace as like armour for the Christian. But Paul said it was the “armour of God”, not of a Roman soldier (compare Psalms 35:2; Isaiah 9:7; 59:17; 61:10; 63:5; Zechariah 1:14; John 2:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:8; Revelation 21:2).
God is still wearing his armour, with which he clothes and equips the Christian—this truth, righteousness, salvation, love and zeal for his things. He is still wearing his armour within you.
No wonder you are still standing, and still winning!