Here we find that the word of God compares the relationship between a husband and his wife with the relationship between Christ and the church. The church is presented as the “Bride of Christ.” In Revelation 19:7,8, it says,
Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. (8) 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. (Rev 19:7-8)
The Bible presents the consummation of this relationship of Christ with His church, using the symbolism of a wedding. This is interesting. Marriages sometimes grow a little stale, but most married people can remember that one of the most beautiful and intense periods of their lives was that time when they met, courted and got married to that person whom they loved above all others. It was an experience that was the central point of most people's lives. We look backwards at it, and count forwards along our lifeline from that moment. It is an event that we remember for the rest of our lives. Even when the shine wears off our marriage, we never forget that first love.
Now the Bible presents Christ's relationship to the church using that kind of terminology. It says that Christ loved the church so much that He gave Himself for it. A good man will die for his wife, he is her protector and he will face any challenge rather than allow her to be hurt. Christ is like this and it says that He gave Himself for the church. His ultimate aim is to present the church to Himself as a bride, on His wedding day, spotless, pure, clean and beautiful, as a bride dressed out in her wedding apparel, prepared for her husband. This is the consummation of the plan of salvation.
A Great Mystery
What is the essence of this marriage to Christ? What does it really mean? We read again in Ephesians 5:31,32,
For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. (32) This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Eph 5:31-32)
In verse 31 Paul explains the union which takes place between a man and his wife. A man and his wife become “one flesh.” This is a literal union which actually takes place when a man and his wife come together in the consummation of a marriage. This is not really a mystery; the biologist can explain how it takes place. It is not difficult to explain this physical union of bodies which takes place between a man and his wife and which results in the conception of children. This is not a mystery.
But Paul says that he is talking about “Christ and the church.” This is what he is referring to as a “great mystery.” What is this mystery? It is the secret of how Christ and the church can become one. This is the mystery which Paul refers to over and over in his writings. It refers to the union which takes place between Christ and His people. Is this really true? Can this be accepted literally? Do Jesus and His people really become one entity?
In 1 Corinthians 6:17 the apostle Paul tells us,
But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. (1 Cor 6:17)
I have heard people explain this verse in such a way that it has made me wonder if they really believe it. Some say that this is not literally true, but only true in a figurative way. They have argued that it is not possible for two persons to live in one body. They have explained that what really happens is that, as we read the Scriptures, our thinking changes and we begin to think like Christ and so because of this, we may say, figuratively, that Christ lives in us, but it is not literally true.
But the Bible is very insistent and very clear in expressing the truth that Jesus Himself lives inside of the believer. Jesus Himself says, “my Father and I will come and make our home with you (John 14:23).” The apostle John says, “truly, our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son (1 John 1:3).” Paul says, “ Your body is the temple of the living God. God has said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk in them (2 Cor. 6:16).'” This is too clear and is repeated too often in the Bible and by too many people for us to believe that it is merely a figurative idea.
1 Corinthians 6:17 tells us clearly, “ he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit .” It is wonderful to read it; it is even more wonderful to believe it. Now this is the essence of what it means to be married to Christ. In Ephesians 5:28,29, we read:
Love of Himself
So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. (29) For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: (Eph 5:28-29)
We can easily understand the truth of this. When Adam first saw Eve, his comment was, “ this is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. This wonderful being just came out of my side, she in nothing more or less than an extension of me !” So Paul concludes that the man who loves his wife, in loving her, is in reality loving himself! There is no better way of saying that a man and his wife have truly become one, totally united. A man should love his wife because she is him. How much more true is this of Christ and His church-bride. In fact, the human experience does not even perfectly illustrate the relationship between Christ and His church. A man and his wife become physically joined together, only at certain times. But the Bible uses this to illustrate Christ's relationship with His people at all times, and it says, He has become one with us. Therefore, in loving us, Christ is loving Himself. What the Bible is telling us as forcefully as possible, is that we and Christ have become one in the fullest sense that it is possible for two to become one.
One of the greatest problems with the Christian faith today is that most of us do not take the teachings of the Bible seriously, or literally. When we find that something is not true in our experience we think of it as figurative. In doing this we adjust the Bible to suit ourselves, rather than allowing the Bible to change our thinking, and consequently, our lives. Let us remember that the truthfulness of the Bible does not depend on our experience.
Now while it is true that every Christian is joined to Christ, it is also true that the church as a whole, is not yet ready for the marriage to Christ. Christ develops this relationship with us individually, but on a greater scale He is going to be married to the entire church one day. When the entire church is ready, clothed in white raiment, the righteousness of saints, all of us together, clothed in His righteousness, then will come His wedding day and He will be married to the church.
Union with the whore
It is interesting to note that everyone on the earth will be involved in some kind of union. Not everyone will be married to Christ, but everyone will be in some kind of relationship. What alternative will be open to those who do not unite with Christ? We find the answer in Revelation 17:1,2.
And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will show unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters: (2) With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication. (Rev 17:1-2)
Everybody is going to be involved in some kind of a union. It will either be marriage to Christ, or fornication with the prostitute. But the principle of union with Christ is different from that of union with the whore. When a person is joined to the Lord, they become one spirit , but what about when a person is joined to a prostitute? Here is what it says in 1 Cor. 6:16:
What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. (1 Cor 6:16)
This verse comes just before the one which tells us that the person joined to the Lord is one spirit, and it is in direct contrast to it. Those joined to Christ are united with Him in spirit – those joined to the harlot are united with her, only in body .
When a man is intimate with his wife, the action seems the same as when a man is intimate with a prostitute. But the experience is as different as night is from day. One experience involves the heart and the spirit, there is tenderness, gentleness, warm feelings. In the other relationship, it is nothing but business. It is only the carnal satisfaction of flesh being excited. It is an external thing and has nothing of the heart in it. In fact, if a man cares about a women he will never treat her like a prostitute. By its very nature, relationship between a man and a prostitute requires no love, just a desire to satisfy selfish animal instincts and to do a business transaction.
Conformity vs Transformation
So let us apply the principle of these two kinds of relationships to the two relationships which the Bible presents as the destiny of all on the planet. The relationship with Christ which is a relationship based on united spirits and which is founded on love, and the relationship with the prostitute which is based on an external union of bodies and is only a business deal, entered into for mutual profit. Romans 12:2 shows us very clearly what is the difference between these two kinds of union:
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Rom 12:2)
Here we find two kinds of behaviour. One is called “conformity,” and the other is called “transformation.” What is the fundamental difference between both? Conformity is superficial change, it is adjusting the outside, it is putting on the right clothing, it is modifying the behaviour to create a certain appearance, but there is no change on the inside. Transformation, on the other hand, comes about by the renewing of the mind. It is a change which takes place from the inside and affects the entire being. It is not just a cosmetic adjustment of certain actions, but it is a recreation of the entire being from the inside.
There is only one person in the universe who can change anybody from the inside. Everything else in this world, no matter what agency, institution or person we turn to, can only deal with conformity – outward change. Nothing can change anybody on the inside, except the spirit of God. Therefore, if we are not married to Christ, we will never truly change, we can only conform.
This is the difference between the Old and the New covenants. In the New covenant God says, “ I will put my laws in your hearts and in your minds, I will put my spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and to do them .” (Hebrews 8:10; Ezekiel 36:27). In the old covenant the laws were written on tables of stone. In 2 Corinthians 3:7, Paul refers to the old covenant as “ the ministration of death, written and engraven on stones .” When something is written on stones, it can make demands of me, but it cannot change me. I may try to meet those demands, I put my body to work, I put my hands to work, I put my feet to work in not stealing, in not telling lies, but my heart remains the same because stone cannot change human hearts. So the principle of the old covenant is external behaviour, the principle of the new covenant is change on the inside, by union with Christ.
Now the principle of the prostitute is conformity, external change, and sadly, the majority of religions today, and even so-called Christian groups build on the principle of the harlot. They try to change people by rules, regulations and church authority. In fact, it is not just the churches, it is every system which is based on the principles of this world. These principles are intrinsically the very foundation principles of Satan's kingdom, that is, keeping people in subjection to the minds of others by external rules, authority and force.
It is true that at one time God gave the law and used that kind of system to keep order and to preserve human life even among those who were chosen to represent Him in this world. In the letter to the Galatians we read,
Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. (Gal 3:19)
But the system of law was a temporary measure, intended to last only until the seed should come. This cannot be the Christian method because Christianity does not deal with the form of change (the external), it deals with real change (the internal). This is the principle of the New covenant, the principle of Christ in you, the principle of union between Christ and His bride. The more we understand this, the more we can see why it is a dangerous thing to continue to relate to the Lord on the basis of the letter of the law. We must move from the external law, that which only governs outward behaviour, to Christ Himself, the living law who in uniting with us, transforms us from the inside.
There are still some Christians who believe that natural change is unrealistic. They contend that it is not possible for a person to change unless he is educated in new kinds of behaviour. They feel that it is not God's plan to transform a person by a miracle so that in a moment he no longer desires to do the evil which was once his pleasure. They feel that we need to be continually instructed in the law and reminded constantly of its requirements, or else we will not have any reason to change our behaviour. They fear that unless the law is continually held up before Christians they will be tempted to take advantage of grace. But this is folly, anybody who will take advantage of grace is not a Christian. The friends of God, the children of God do not depend on instructions in order to live righteously, for the life of God in them naturally produces the fruit of the spirit. When we have to use external methods to produce proper behaviour in people, then we may know that we are operating on the principles of Babylon.
In Romans 2: 12-15 we find an interesting passage which clearly expresses this truth of “natural religion.”
For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: (15) Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) (Rom 2:12-15)
Paul says that these gentiles, who know not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law! Let us consider that carefully. They have never learned what the law says, because they “have not the law.” But still, they do the things contained in the law! How is that possible? It is because they have the law written on their hearts. How did it come to be written there if they have not the law and have never seen or heard of the law?
It is clear that these gentiles have experienced the new covenant, they have been changed by the indwelling of the spirit of God and so they do the things of the law, although they have never learned of the law. This is what I refer to as natural religion, the religion which naturally produces the behaviour of Christ without a person being told how to behave, but which comes about simply because such a person has come under the control of the spirit of Christ. They show the “work of the law written in their hearts.” This is exactly what Christ says He will do for His people by the new covenant:
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith 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: (Heb 8:10)
The new birth is a real experience, and just as, when a person is born as a human, he does not have to be taught to become a human, but is human simply by virtue of his birth, the same is true of the born-again Christian. Such a person does not need to be taught how to be a Christian, but produces Christian behaviour simply by virtue of the fact that he is born of God. John tells us this plainly:
Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. (1 John 3:9)
Notice why he does not sin: It is because his seed, the very life of Christ remains in him.
The old covenant basically says, “read, learn and conform.” The New covenant on the other hand, produces transformation through the literal, real, impartation of the very life of Christ Himself. It is natural religion as opposed to legal religion. Christ's marriage is all about the principle of the new covenant: One spirit uniting both the bride and the Bridegroom.
Brothers and sisters, we need to ask ourselves, upon what principle are we operating? Are we operating on the principle of union with the prostitute? Conformity without the heart involvement? Or have we really understood and accepted the principle of the new covenant, which produces the new creation?
The Great Obstacle
This brings us to the next question: What is it that prevents us from experiencing this new covenant? We sometimes come to the place where we say to ourselves, “I understand things which are so beautiful. The truth makes me want to cry and to laugh and to sing and to jump! And yet, I don't find the righteous life appearing naturally. I am still working and struggling with little success. Why is this so? The answer may be found in Romans 7:1-6.
Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? (2) For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. (3) So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. (4) Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. (5) For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. (6) But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. (Rom 7:1-6)
Let us make sure that we get the point of the illustration: Here is a woman and she is married to a man. There is another man that she likes and to whom she would prefer to be married. But she cannot have this other man because her husband is still alive and the law forbids her to be married to any other man while her husband is still alive. But if, and when the first husband dies, then she is free to marry the second man. Now it is clear that the second husband is Christ. It says so plainly in verse 4. The woman represents me, the individual. So here we find that I, the woman, desire to be married to Christ and if I should be married to Christ, then I will become one spirit with Him. He and I will be joined as one. My problems with sin would be over, I would be done with conformity, with pretense, with failure and guilt. I would be living in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
But, let us not forget, first, something has to happen. Before I can be married to Christ, the first husband must die. But who is this first husband? Who does this first husband to whom the woman is married, represent? This first husband represents the carnal mind , sometimes referred to as “the old man,” or, “the body of sin.” Paul divides me, the individual into two parts. One part of me, the will and the conscience is represented by the woman, who desires what is good and wants to be married to Christ. The other part of me, the carnal mind or the body of sin, controls and dominates the will and the conscience and compels me to do as it desires. This part is represented by the first husband. So I am married to my other half and my other half is the carnal mind!
A little further on in chapter 7 Paul describes the conflict which arises in a person as a result of the conflict between these two parts of him, represented as the wife and the first husband. This quote is taken from the New International Version.
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. (16) And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. (17) As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. (18) I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. (19) For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing. (20) Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (Rom 7:15-20 NIV)
This is the problem with every person who is not united with Christ. They can never be untied with Christ as long as the carnal mind lives, and so their lives are constantly tormented by this friction between their consciences and the carnal mind. The carnal mind is the part of me that puts self in control of my life. As long as this part of me remains alive, Christ cannot live. That is what the Bible teaches.
Many of us are not willing to die one hundred percent, but we try to die maybe eighty or ninety percent. But the truth is, a person cannot die unless he is fully dead. Eighty percent dead is to be still very much alive and it is so with us when we cannot surrender fully to Christ. We remain very much alive and very much in control, but we put on a façade, a pretense of death, so we change outwardly, we conform! We change our behaviour and we start keeping most of the commandments. But we wonder why it is that we still don't love our enemies and care for anybody too much except ourselves and our own, and why we cannot see the glory and power of God manifested in our lives. It is because we deceive ourselves that self is dead when in fact we have only given God bits and pieces.
Paul says we cannot have Christ until the old husband is dead. That is the straight truth. The songwriter expressed it perfectly:
You have longed for sweet peace
and for faith to increase
You have earnestly, fervently prayed;
But you cannot have rest or be perfectly blessed,
Until all on the altar is laid.
Is your all on the altar of sacrifice laid?
Your heart, does the spirit control?
You can only be blessed and have peace and sweet rest,
As you yield Him your body and soul.
This includes even our opinions, it includes the doctrines which we cherish, it includes the principles which we hold so dear – many of them based on the existence of the self-life. Why should we cling to something which prevents Christ from living? We have lived too much of our lives like that! We have suffered too much to continue with this way of life! When will we learn that our way only brings disaster? We need to give up all and to trust the Lord with everything. We need to say, “Lord, I believe You know best. I don't know how I am going to be happy, but I believe I will be happy with You. I choose to die so that you may live.”
If there is a God who cares so much that He gave His Son for me and has been reaching out for me for all eternity, and who has never left me alone for a moment of my entire life, then how could I be so stupid as to keep on resisting Him? What is there about my way that is so precious that I can't give it up? But the Bible tells us clearly what our problem is. The old husband is still alive. We are unwilling for self to die.
The habits of our lifetime have conditioned our thinking and our behaviour. We have been saturated with the thinking that we have to make our own choices and decisions, to chart the course of our own lives, and when we have read Christ's appeals to surrender, we have not been radical or decisive or extreme enough in severing the strings which have kept us bound to self, the old husband. We have not understood what it means to give it all away.
The Greatest light
When Christ appears on the horizon there is no light which can compare to that light? When we come to see Him, the light of the world, it happens to us as it happened to Paul on the Damascus road. Our glory is cast down into the dust where it belongs. We come to see ourselves and our ways for the foolish, meaningless things they really are: All our ideas, our schemes and our dreams are revealed to be no more than trash, when we see His glory. The next thing which is bound to follow is that we will hear His voice asking us, “why are you kicking so hard against the pricks? Why are you resisting my voice as I speak to your conscience? Don't you know that I have loved you since eternity? Don't you know that all I want is the opportunity to make you happy?”
Like Paul our inquiry is, “who are you Lord? I thought I was serving You all along. Who are you really?” And we hear His answer, “I am Jesus, the one who loves and wants to make you happy.” Finally we have met Him, we have seen Him as He is, we have seen ourselves as we really are and our only response can be Paul's response. “Lord, what do you want me to do?” God help us to end as Paul ended: “whereupon O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.”
For the rest of his life Paul was obsessed, single-minded (read his testimony in Phil. 3:7-10). People said he was mad. I suppose it seems to be a kind of mania to be so single-minded and so wholeheartedly focused on one object only. People might say, “man, open up your horizon, be more balanced.” But nothing could turn Paul from his course. It wasn't even the work or the mission so much, which moved him, it was Christ. What he saw on that Damascus road never left his mind. Every opportunity he had he repeated the story of that life-changing experience. It burned its way into every fiber of his being and determined the subsequent course of every moment of his life.
This is what needs to happen to us. Sadly too many of us don't have the courage to give it all to Jesus. Consider the following illustration:
A man is very much in love with an attractive woman. She means everything to him, but sadly, although he has asked her to marry him several times, she keeps on telling him, “no, I need to think about it some more. I don't think I know you well enough.” What is the problem? Obviously she is not sure that she can trust him. Very often that is the problem. He may be a good-looking fellow, yes. He may be financially stable and may offer security and may seem to truly care about her, but unless she is certain that she can trust him she will continue to be hesitant.
But if this man is truly a trustworthy person, what is it that needs to happen in order for this obstacle to be overcome? Obviously all that needs to happen is that the woman must get to know the man better. The only reason for not trusting a trustworthy person is the fact that I don't really know him well enough. His trustworthiness is unknown to me because I don't know him well enough.
There are many who still doubt that they will be fully happy if they give Christ everything. For them the thought of full surrender to Christ is like taking a bitter tasting medicine continually. Something which hurts and is distasteful, but which must be endured because there are some benefits. However, if there is some other possible way, or if the taking of the medicine can be put off, it is avoided as much as possible. This is the condition of many people who still doubt that they can be happy, giving Christ everything. The problem is that they don't know the Person. They need to know Him better.
Not too late to change
Let us give ourselves a project, let us approach the issue in a practical way as we would do business or as we would take up some aspect of education. Let us set ourselves a program to get to know Christ.
We all have the capacity to make changes on a superficial level. People have adjusted and changed the pattern of their lives even when they were sixty years or older. Some of us know people who have gone back to school at this age. They changed their program at sixty years of age because they set their minds on obtaining something. If knowing Christ is really important, we will find the time, and the ways, and the wherewithal. I remember an outstanding Christian writer who put it like this: “there needs neither art nor skill for finding God, but simply a heart which determines to apply itself to nothing but Him, for His sake.” So if a person asks me, how can I find God, I wont give him a formula, I will simply say, “if you want Him badly enough, you will find a way to obtain Him.”
May God help us to see what He has done, what He wants to do and how we ourselves have limited and restricted His ability to work in our lives by our fear of surrendering fully to Him. May we determine to change our habits, to overturn the way we do things so that our lives become oriented towards knowing and receiving Him. When we know Him there will be no more reservation in giving ourselves to Him one hundred percent. This is the guarantee that we will be included when He takes His bride unto Himself.