How often do we think about the church as a bride in desperate need of a groom? This imagery is all throughout Scripture, just take a look at Hosea. So maybe you think about this every day, but I know I could use the reminder in my propensity to forget how needy I am. So, remember with me today.
Taking a step back, let's first remind ourselves of the character of our God, because it is only in knowing Him that we can understand anything else: God is Trinitarian, meaning He is three persons in One God. These persons are the same in substance and equal in their glory and their power, but they are distinct persons in the Godhead. Perfectly united in all their works, these persons– Father, Son, and Holy Spirit– have eternal fellowship with one another. As image-bearers, God has created us for fellowship, too.
Way back in Eden, when the world began, man fell into sin by valuing his own finite voice over the eternal God's Word; Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden as a result. The most important form of fellowship– that of communion with their Maker– was forfeited. From that time forward, the Old Testament recounts the embarrassing history of our continued and constant waywardness from God and His good promises. God called His people into community in the wilderness when He gave His law through Scripture, teaching them to walk in submission to Him together, and mediating His presence through the priests, in and out of exile. It was here that God betrothed a people to Himself (Hosea 2:19), but the marriage day had not yet come. Israel learned to worship God together, but what we truly needed was God's presence as our ultimate source of fellowship, but we lost it in the garden by our sin and have failed to earn it back ever since; however, this fellowship is exactly what Christ came to restore by His perfect obedience and sacrifice, and His creation of the church.
A church is not something we simply "choose" or "join;" the church is something we are made into– and not of our own will, either. In saying that the church is the "bride of Christ," this draws us back to the many promises God made in the Old Testament to His wayward covenant people: "For you are a holy people belonging to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be his own possession out of all the peoples on the face of the earth" (Deuteronomy 7:6). Israel was not holy because of any merit they had, and certainly not because of any propensity for cleanliness; they were holy because God had set them apart for Himself. It was His plan to make them into a truly holy people.
This reality somewhat painfully reminds me of the modern church, which is one of the primary means by which God feeds us on His Word and His presence and offers to us the gifts of communion and baptism. Why is this a painful reminder? Certainly not for any of the reasons I just listed. No, it is painful to remember the wayward Old Testament Israel because we who stand in the church building today are not much different. It's painful to remember that, in all our hoping in what God has already accomplished by our salvation and the securing of our eternal home, there is so much that is not yet complete in us. It is altogether joy-filled and heart-aching to be the bride of Christ today, because Jesus, in His mercy, is still washing His bride with the water of His Word, that He might one day present her faultless for the wedding ceremony, bringing the long period of betrothal to an end forever, and wedding us to Himself in joy and that perfect, ever-necessary fellowship with Himself. A fellowship that we can never again lose or forfeit by sin, because we will be a spotless bride. But there is still a heart-aching feeling in our present days, as we wait.
Because we wait beside fellow sinners– fellow bride members. We are hurt by them. We hurt them. We watch the world groaning and the nations raging and we witness the remnants of our sinfulness, which can no longer control us, creep into our daily lives and pretend they still have power over us– and often we believe them. We grieve and pray and repent and heal and wait. And we cling more firmly all the time to the things that are already ours in Christ.
The church is the sweetest place for conviction over sin to take root, because as we look around, we see those fellow sinners who are His bride too, and who walk the road of repentance with us. As we remind one another of our brokenness, by our own sin towards them and their sins against us, we must point each other to the only One who can heal us. We guide one another back to the sinless Groom who was broken for us by our sin, and who alone can heal us and our fractured world (Hebrews 3:13). Sanctification, this process of refining as God makes us like Christ, will always be joy-filled and heart-aching– until it's done.
And our groom has done all the work. He set us aside for Himself, even while we were in the very depths of our fawning over sin– a false lover– even while we ran from Him. It was He who paid the penalty that we incurred by exposing ourselves to that false lover over and over again. He was the One who drew us to Himself with cords of lovingkindness (Hosea 11:4). And it is Him still who is perfecting His bride. The hope we cling to as we wait and worship together is this: Christ is already perfect, and it is His perfection that we stake our eternal hopes on. Our joy as we wait for the wedding is that we have already received the gift of being counted as the bride of the groom.