We, the Church, are the bride waiting patiently yet expectantly for her groom, Jesus Christ. Like an earthly bride approaching her wedding day, there is much to be done. Namely, the bride must be prepared to present herself to the groom dressed in holiness and cleanliness, purified and spotless. We may look forward to that day with anticipation, but we must understand that this preparation is not something that simply comes about on its own. The bride herself, the Church, has a great hand in this work. Let us dive into the scriptures and briefly begin to unpack the role of the bride in her own sanctification as she awaits her groom. I encourage you to take this short introduction to the sanctification of the bride and seek God further for your role in her preparation.
Song of Solomon 4:9-10
You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spice!
I attended a wedding this weekend for a friend who had been waiting for quite some time for God to bring her a husband. The romance was a whirlwind, and it happened so quickly that I had not even met him until the wedding day. I watched as they celebrated their marriage before friends, family and God. Having known her for more than a decade, I could see the genuine love and excitement in her eyes on that day. A lot of preparation went into that celebration, and she clearly wanted to present herself to her groom as a vision of beauty. The hair, the dress and the jewelry were not her usual vestiges. In addition to giving him her heart completely, she wanted to present herself to him as her best version in all respects. She wanted his excitement to show in his eyes as well. This was not an ordinary day, and she would not be showing up in jeans and flip-flops. She wanted to present her groom with the beautiful bride she believed he deserved on the inside and the outside.
These verses illustrate just how much Jesus Christ loves his Church. He speaks of being captivated by her, but this is not a lustful attraction. He is drawn not only to her eyes and her jewels but also to her love. That is how we want the bridegroom to feel for the bride on that day, but we cannot get there if we do not take the steps to prepare ourselves to be made beautiful for him. If we think about the core values of Jesus Christ, the characteristics that are undeniably his and cannot be separated from him, that should give us an indication of how we need to transform ourselves corporately to please him and capture his heart. The bride does not just show up on that day having met the standard by chance, but she must be transformed for that presentation. It should be her earnest desire, our earnest desire, that the bridegroom would be amazed at our beauty and purity on that wedding day. The bride must be perfect, and we must help make that happen.
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
Do you know that the marriage supper of the Lamb will have guests? I think we often consider the metaphor being presented to us here without understanding the literal accuracy of what is to come. There is a great multitude, perhaps a heavenly host, who will celebrate the union of Jesus Christ and his Church in holy matrimony. These are the witnesses to the union just as we have witnesses to our earthly marriages. They will be cheering on the processional, and it sounds like that will be quite a ruckus. It will be an exciting time for all who witness it, but we cannot overlook the reason why that day will be so exciting. Yes, it is the union that has been coming for thousands of years, but there is something that must be accomplished first. Before the marriage can occur, the bride must make herself ready.
These verses spell it out as plain as day. It is not for the bride to wait for the preparations to fall upon her like the rain falling upon the fields. The expectation is that the bride is looking forward to this marriage and not just waiting indifferently for the day to come. The expectation is that the bride is taking steps to purify herself, to make herself clean for that ceremony. This is an instruction to the Church to not sit idly by and wait for the groom to arrive. We are to speed the coming of the Lord by getting ourselves ready because He cannot be presented with a bride who is less than perfect, less than pure. If we are truly excited for our wedding day, we will work tirelessly and devotedly toward making sure that the day is all it can be. We will work now toward cleansing the Church because we know that her sanctification being completed will usher in the coming of the Lord. Once she has prepared herself, He can arrive.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
We can say that our individual Christian walk has two parts. The first is our justification, which is the moment that we are born again in the Spirit. The second is our sanctification, which is the process by which we are made holy through a time of cleansing. This is work that is done in the Spirit, but it is not work in which we do not participate. If we so choose, we can take steps to frustrate the process of sanctification. In fact, we often take steps backwards when we revert to our old ways and choose sin over holiness. By the same token, we not only have the option but are charged to take affirmative steps that move us along in our sanctification. It is for us to continually work to seek a renewed mind and a renewed heart, to chase after our transformation from a person who lives according to the flesh to a person who lives according to the Spirit. This same sanctification process is what must occur to the Church as a whole.
It is easy to read these verses and think that Jesus himself sanctifies his bride without her effort. In fact, it tells us that He cleanses her with the washing of the word. It seems like this is just the work of Christ, but it is not. This is a reference to the same sanctification process that we must endure individually. Christ also washes us with the word, but it is for us to work with the word so that sanctification can be made complete. Jesus offers everything available for the bride to be prepared, but she must tap into those resources and yield to the cleansing. She has been justified, selected and set apart for him. Now she must be sanctified, willingly transformed into that which is worthy of being presented to him. The hope is that she has a sincere desire to be sanctified and does not frustrate this process. The hope is that she desires her own purification as much as the groom, the one who gave himself so that she might be purified.
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
There is a deception that has pervaded the individual Christian and, by extension, the Church as a body. We seem to think that our battle against the enemy and against our flesh is some kind of tug-of-war on equal footing that has no sure result. The truth to combat this deception is that the gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church. This is not a battle on equal footing because Christ has given the Church abundant power to defeat the work of the enemy and of sin. It is for the Church, the bride, to come to a reckoning of this truth so that she will walk in the power and authority granted to her to overcome that which stands in the way of her being purified. She has a tendency to doubt and fear the same way we do individually, and this chips away at her confidence for sanctification. It makes her think that there are battles that just cannot be won, so she bows to defeat. The truth, however, is that she never need settle for defeat.
Considering the power and authority that Jesus Christ has given his collective Church over the enemy and over sin, it is a wonder that this process of sanctification continues today. The problem is that we are not walking in a single united Spirit as instructed, and this has affected our faith in our sanctification. The members of the Church are working willy-nilly doing their own things, and that will bring defeat for her collectively. When those defeats occur, it appears that she simply does not have what it takes to be victorious and have the freedom that our Savior has told us is available. We cannot continue to walk in this doubt, and we must recognize its source. The bride first must unite her members to work in a single concerted effort because division within her only causes her to fall. She is frustrating this process of sanctification because she lacks unity in the faith and works of her members. Her groom is calling her to take the steps necessary to fix this division so that the truth of her power and authority over sin and evil will manifest. It is only a question of whether she hears him and is willing to respond.
1 Corinthians 5:11-13
But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
There is a very difficult work to which the groom has called his bride, and that is the work of purging herself of sin and iniquity. It is akin to the work we must do in ourselves individually, but it becomes more difficult in the corporate setting. This requires that we judge the acts of one another, our fellow brothers and sisters, to make sure that those who choose to live in sin are no longer members of the Church. It sounds harsh and unforgiving, but it is necessary because of the standard to which our Lord holds his bride. She cannot be made pure and holy if her members have decided to embrace sin and iniquity as their custom and lifestyle. To have such members remain within her only will cause division and frustration of her sanctification. In order to purge her of her sin, she must remove from herself the members of her very body who keep her impure.
There is a verse that metaphorically tells us to gouge out the eye that causes us to sin by looking upon evil [Matt. 18:9], but that is not a metaphor when applied to the bride. This is a serious call for the Church to remove from herself the fakes and the hypocrites. She must address and cut off that which refuses to conform to the ways of the Lord. It can be quite a painful task to undertake, but it is necessary for her preparation because the groom will accept nothing but perfection from her. There are hands within the Church which must be cut off. There are eyes within the Church which must be plucked out. If the right foot desires to move the bride closer to her wedding day, but the left foot desires to take her in the other direction, that day will not come. The groom is calling his bride to remove from herself all that keeps her impure, and that will require that some be removed from the Church.
The process of the bride sanctifying herself in preparation for the marriage supper of the Lamb is critical and complicated. She must be committed to this process, but that will not be possible if her members are not united in purpose and in the Spirit. That is where we come in. It is for us to seek from God what our individual roles are within the body and to seek out that which must be removed from her. If we love our groom and are as excited for our wedding day as we say, we will take heed to purify ourselves and speed his arrival. It should be our desire to meet him even today, and it also should be our desire to please him once we are presented face-to-face. It is time for us, the bride, to seriously begin preparations for our presentation to the groom. It is for us to put in the work necessary to make the changes that will bring his return, which is our purification and sanctification to make us wholly pleasing to him.