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Preparing to Be Christ's Bride

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Preparing to Be Christ's Bride

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The apostle Paul made a statement in his second letter to the Church of God at Corinth that needs serious examination and consideration by all of God's people.

"For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:2).

This passage describes God's people as collectively being a betrothed or engaged woman who is to be married to Jesus Christ. Revelation 19:6-8 amplifies this further by showing that this marriage will take place when Christ returns to this earth, and that His bride will have made herself ready by becoming obedient to Him.

Righteousness Necessary

While salvation is attainable only by God's grace (Ephesians 2:8-9), continual growth in obedience to God's laws is expected. "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin [at baptism] live any longer in it?… Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts" (Romans 6:1-2, 12).

Even in the earliest Old Testament times, men like Enoch, Noah and Abraham obtained God's favor because they obeyed Him (Genesis 5:22; 6:9; 7:1; 26:5). God's people under the old covenant were told to become blameless or perfect (Deuteronomy 18:13). The same standard continued under the new covenant. Jesus told His disciples to "be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).

While this has seemed like an impossible goal to some, Jesus went on to say, "The things which are impossible with men are possible with God" (Luke 18:27). The Hebrew and Greek words for blameless or perfect both convey the meaning of being upright in conduct, fully developed in a moral sense. They define the goal of behavior that God has set forth for all His people throughout the ages, which is attainable under the new covenant, with the power of God's Holy Spirit, to those who sincerely seek such righteousness.

People who follow Christ need to understand that He looks in anticipation to a chaste, bride who has cleansed herself spiritually. "Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7:1).

A Higher Standard

One of the major differences between the old and new covenants that Jesus highlighted was that Christians are now required and expected to obey God's laws on a higher and more complete level of understanding and application (Matthew 5, 6 and 7). The prophet Isaiah foretold this by stating that the Lord would "magnify the law" (42:21, KJV), which meant that it is now to be understood and practiced in the fullest way possible, in its complete spiritual intent that goes far beyond just the letter of the law.

For example, being angry with someone without cause, even if you don't kill him, breaks the Sixth Commandment (Matthew 5:21-22). Sexually lusting after someone breaks the Seventh Commandment (Matthew 5:27-28).

Jesus emphasized that more is required than just acknowledging and accepting Him as Lord. "Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). Just accepting Christ, without obeying what He taught, is a satanic deception.

A Better Covenant

But how is this kind of spiritual perfection developed and attained? Anyone familiar with the history of the Old Testament knows that the great majority of God's people Israel continually backslid and sinned, even though He revealed His laws to them.

What needs to be understood is the unique and awesome relationship with God that He has established for His people under the new covenant. Under the old covenant, only the high priest was allowed to enter the innermost sanctuary of the tabernacle—the Holy of Holies—once a year on the Day of Atonement, with designated sacrificial offerings (Leviticus 16). This most holy place behind the veil represented the throne room of God, where reconciliation with the Almighty was obtained for the high priest, his household and all of Israel (verse 17).

This important ritual pictured God passing over their sins of the past year committed in ignorance (verses 30-34; Romans 3:25; Hebrews 9:7). Other sacrifices were offered at other times for sins committed knowingly but unintentionally (Leviticus 4:2).

But Hebrews 7 shows that Jesus Christ supplanted the Levitical priesthood, and now administers a new covenant that is better than the old one (verse 22 and 8:6). Because He was from the tribe of Judah rather than of Levi, a change in the law (verse 12) had to be made regarding who could serve in the priesthood and also receive tithes, since only those of Levitical descent were appointed to these responsibilities under the old covenant (Numbers 18:21-26; Hebrews 7:5). Therefore, this change in the law concerning priesthood eligibility had to be made so Jesus could legitimately take over these duties.

But notice that this change did not do away with God's laws, as some have wrongly interpreted. Hebrews 8:8-10 goes on to clearly explain that one of the great purposes of the new covenant is to put God's laws into the hearts and minds of those who repent of their sins, so they will be able to obey the instructions of God.

The weakness of the old covenant was not in the law of God, but in the people who did not have the power, mind and love of God's Holy Spirit (Deuteronomy 29:4; Romans 8:3; Hebrews 8:8; 2 Timothy 1:7).

Spiritual Maturity Now Possible

Returning to Hebrews 7, notice that spiritual perfection was not possible under the Levitical priesthood (verse 11). The various sacrifices were only substitutionary and therefore not sufficient to pay the penalty for human sin, which is eternal death (Romans 6:23). As the Son of God and Creator of mankind, only Jesus Christ's singular sacrifice and death is able to forgive the sins of those who ask, so they can be cleansed and offered eternal life (Hebrews 7:25, 27).

But even after repentance and baptism, Christians still occasionally sin because of weakness. Even the apostle Paul acknowledged that he struggled with his sinful nature and had not yet attained full spiritual perfection, though he pressed continually on toward this goal (Romans 7:15; Philippians 3:12). He was therefore thankful, as we should be, that Jesus acts as Helper (Advocate) and Intercessor to the Father on our behalf (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 2:1-2).

This is necessary because sin interrupts and mars our relationship with God who separates Himself from evil (Isaiah 59:2).

God's revelation goes even further. In the first 10 verses of Hebrews 9 Paul summarizes Leviticus 16 and what happened on the Day of Atonement under the old covenant. He explains that no complete offering for sin could be made under that administration, because those offerings could not make perfect the inner conscience and mind (see also Hebrews 10:1). Such sacrifices could only symbolically purify the flesh (Hebrews 9:13), and did not pay the penalty of sin. They only caused God to cover over sins committed up to the time of Christ's death (Acts 13:39; Romans 3:25; Hebrews 9:15). They were incapable of forgiving sin.

Paul goes on to explain the marvelous truth associated with the new covenant. Unlike the blood of bulls, the blood of Christ is able to cleanse the conscience and mind of repentant sinners. His sacrifice has made spiritual growth and maturity possible! Read Hebrews 9:14. This is how God is refashioning His converted followers, who formerly were habitually sinning human beings, into a spiritually chaste bride. He is transforming their minds by giving them the power and qualities of His Spirit to resist and overcome sin!

Our Unique Relationship

Converted Christians have direct entry into the presence of God the Father, and are encouraged to boldly use this privilege (Hebrews 10:19-22). God's repentant people have obtained mercy and are considered a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9-10), which allows them to have an intimate relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ. They are specifically instructed by Jesus to pray directly to the Father, who forgives them as they forgive others (Matthew 6:6, 9, 14-15).

Therefore, spiritual growth and maturity of Spirit-implanted Christians is not only possible and necessary, it is anticipated and expected by God! It was planned out "before the foundation of the world" (Ephesians 1:4). This is the process, of being spiritually perfected by overcoming the temptations of sin, that God uses to bring many children into His family and ultimate glory.

While God's people attain various spiritual levels during their lifetimes, and die without having overcome every weakness, God's mercy and righteous judgment will reward us appropriately at the resurrection (Revelation 11:15, 18; 22:12). We should keep in mind that we are saved by God's grace (Ephesians 2:8), but rewarded according to our works (Matthew 16:27). It is therefore imperative that we properly use whatever abilities we have to continually press on toward the goal of spiritual maturity and perfection. Review Matthew 25:14-30 and Luke 19:12-27.

But in order to bring "every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5), each of us has to come to grips with himself in a totally sincere and honest way, and learn to approach God in prayer with our problems and deficiencies.

This may make us feel uncomfortable, because we are revealing our most private thoughts, but such matters should not be swept under the rug. Realize that God already knows what is in our mind (Psalm 139), and is waiting for us to face our faults so we can begin to correct them with His help.

We all have deeply seated habits that are contrary to God's laws, which need to be overcome. The more strongly ingrained shortcomings are so much a part of us that it often takes years to control and conquer them. This is why we must stay close to God by daily prayer and study of His Word (2 Corinthians 4:16). We also need to continually monitor our thoughts, and replace the evil ones with others that are edifying (Philippians 4:8). If sinful thinking continues, it will ultimately bring eternal death (James 1:13-15).

Jesus Christ is judging His Church now (1 Peter 4:17), and is purifying His spiritual body (Ephesians 5:26-27). We need to do our part by having the confidence to go directly to God for help, because the sacrifice of Christ has given us personal access to God's throne of grace (Matthew 27:51; Hebrews 10:20). Therefore, never tire of seeking the spiritual perfection that is pleasing to God, and becoming the chaste bride who is to marry Christ. He has made this possible by His death, Spirit and love for you and me.