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 2 Corinthians 11:2For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.
American King James Version×).
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 Revelation 19:6-8  And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunder, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigns.
 Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife has made herself ready.
 And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.
American King James Version×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.
While salvation is attainable only by God's grace (Ephesians 2:8-9 Ephesians 2:8-9  For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
American King James Version×), 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 Romans 6:1-2  What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?  God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
American King James Version×, 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 Genesis 5:22And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters:
American King James Version×; 6:9; 7:1; 26:5). God's people under the old covenant were told to become blameless or perfect (Deuteronomy 18:13 Deuteronomy 18:13You shall be perfect with the LORD your God.
American King James Version×). 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 Matthew 5:48Be you therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
American King James Version×).
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 Luke 18:27And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.
American King James Version×). 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 2 Corinthians 7:1Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
American King James Version×).
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 Matthew 5:21-22  You have heard that it was said of them of old time, You shall not kill; and whoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:
 But I say to you, That whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whoever shall say, You fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
American King James Version×). Sexually lusting after someone breaks the Seventh Commandment (Matthew 5:27-28 Matthew 5:27-28  You have heard that it was said by them of old time, You shall not commit adultery:  But I say to you, That whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.
American King James Version×).
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 Matthew 7:21Not every one that said to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven.
American King James Version×). 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 Romans 3:25Whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
American King James Version×; Hebrews 9:7 Hebrews 9:7But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people:
American King James Version×). Other sacrifices were offered at other times for sins committed knowingly but unintentionally (Leviticus 4:2 Leviticus 4:2Speak to the children of Israel, saying, If a soul shall sin through ignorance against any of the commandments of the LORD concerning things which ought not to be done, and shall do against any of them:
American King James Version×).
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 Numbers 18:21-26  And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation.
 Neither must the children of Israel from now on come near the tabernacle of the congregation, lest they bear sin, and die.
 But the Levites shall do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they shall bear their iniquity: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations, that among the children of Israel they have no inheritance.
 But the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer as an heave offering to the LORD, I have given to the Levites to inherit: therefore I have said to them, Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance.
 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
 Thus speak to the Levites, and say to them, When you take of the children of Israel the tithes which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall offer up an heave offering of it for the LORD, even a tenth part of the tithe.
American King James Version×; Hebrews 7:5 Hebrews 7:5And truly they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brothers, though they come out of the loins of Abraham:
American King James Version×). 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 Hebrews 8:8-10  For finding fault with them, he said, Behold, the days come, said the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:
 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, said the Lord.
 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, said the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:
American King James Version×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 Deuteronomy 29:4Yet the LORD has not given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, to this day.
American King James Version×; Romans 8:3 Romans 8:3For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:
American King James Version×; Hebrews 8:8 Hebrews 8:8For finding fault with them, he said, Behold, the days come, said the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:
American King James Version×; 2 Timothy 1:7 2 Timothy 1:7For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
American King James Version×).
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 Romans 6:23For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
American King James Version×). 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 Hebrews 7:25Why he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come to God by him, seeing he ever lives to make intercession for them.
American King James Version×, 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 Romans 7:15For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.
American King James Version×; Philippians 3:12 Philippians 3:12Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
American King James Version×). 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 Romans 8:34Who is he that comdemns? It is Christ that died, yes rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.
American King James Version×; Hebrews 7:25 Hebrews 7:25Why he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come to God by him, seeing he ever lives to make intercession for them.
American King James Version×; 1 John 2:1-2 1 John 2:1-2  My little children, these things write I to you, that you sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:  And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for our's only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
American King James Version×).
This is necessary because sin interrupts and mars our relationship with God who separates Himself from evil (Isaiah 59:2 Isaiah 59:2But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.
American King James Version×).
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 Hebrews 10:1For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.
American King James Version×). Such sacrifices could only symbolically purify the flesh (Hebrews 9:13 Hebrews 9:13For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies to the purifying of the flesh:
American King James Version×), 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 Acts 13:39And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.
American King James Version×; Romans 3:25 Romans 3:25Whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
American King James Version×; Hebrews 9:15 Hebrews 9:15And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.
American King James Version×). 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 Hebrews 9:14How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
American King James Version×. 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 Hebrews 10:19-22  Having therefore, brothers, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,
 By a new and living way, which he has consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
 And having an high priest over the house of God;
 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.
American King James Version×). God's repentant people have obtained mercy and are considered a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9-10 1 Peter 2:9-10  But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light;  Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
American King James Version×), 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 Matthew 6:6But you, when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father which is in secret; and your Father which sees in secret shall reward you openly.
American King James Version×, 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 Ephesians 1:4According as he has chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
American King James Version×). 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 Revelation 11:15And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
American King James Version×, 18; 22:12). We should keep in mind that we are saved by God's grace (Ephesians 2:8 Ephesians 2:8For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
American King James Version×), but rewarded according to our works (Matthew 16:27 Matthew 16:27For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
American King James Version×). 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 Matthew 25:14-30  For the kingdom of heaven is as a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered to them his goods.  And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.  Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.  And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.  But he that had received one went and dig in the earth, and hid his lord's money.  After a long time the lord of those servants comes, and reckons with them.  And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, you delivered to me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.  His lord said to him, Well done, you good and faithful servant: you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things: enter you into the joy of your lord.  He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, you delivered to me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.  His lord said to him, Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things: enter you into the joy of your lord.  Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew you that you are an hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not strewed:  And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the earth: see, there you have that is yours.  His lord answered and said to him, You wicked and slothful servant, you knew that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strewed:  You ought therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received my own with usury.  Take therefore the talent from him, and give it to him which has ten talents.  For to every one that has shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that has not shall be taken away even that which he has.  And cast you the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
American King James Version×and Luke 19:12-27 Luke 19:12-27  He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return.  And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said to them, Occupy till I come.  But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us.  And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called to him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.  Then came the first, saying, Lord, your pound has gained ten pounds.  And he said to him, Well, you good servant: because you have been faithful in a very little, have you authority over ten cities.  And the second came, saying, Lord, your pound has gained five pounds.  And he said likewise to him, Be you also over five cities.  And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is your pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin:  For I feared you, because you are an austere man: you take up that you layed not down, and reap that you did not sow.  And he said to him, Out of your own mouth will I judge you, you wicked servant. You knew that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow:  Why then gave not you my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required my own with usury?  And he said to them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that has ten pounds.  (And they said to him, Lord, he has ten pounds.)  For I say to you, That to every one which has shall be given; and from him that has not, even that he has shall be taken away from him.  But those my enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring here, and slay them before me.
American King James Version×.
But in order to bring "every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5 2 Corinthians 10:5Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;
American King James Version×), 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 2 Corinthians 4:16For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.
American King James Version×). We also need to continually monitor our thoughts, and replace the evil ones with others that are edifying (Philippians 4:8 Philippians 4:8Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
American King James Version×). If sinful thinking continues, it will ultimately bring eternal death (James 1:13-15 James 1:13-15  Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempts he any man:  But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.  Then when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death.
American King James Version×).
Jesus Christ is judging His Church now (1 Peter 4:17 1 Peter 4:17For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?
American King James Version×), and is purifying His spiritual body (Ephesians 5:26-27 Ephesians 5:26-27  That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,  That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
American King James Version×). 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 Matthew 27:51And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;
American King James Version×; Hebrews 10:20 Hebrews 10:20By a new and living way, which he has consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
American King James Version×). 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.