Why should Christians and the church be concerned with doctrinal purity? People today often take truth to be relative and thus look on Christian doctrine as quite unimportant.
It is essential to remind ourselves that God doesn’t hold the same view. God actually prevents us from doing so by very clear biblical teaching. An important part of that instruction is grounded in the statement that Christians and the church are the bride of Christ. The relationship between God and His people is graphically illustrated by the marriage relationship between a man and a woman:
“ 25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.
28So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30because we are members of His body.
31For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. 32This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5.25-32)
Here is a remarkably strong statement about the church as the bride of Christ. Notice how God carefully intertwines the church with the normal marriage relationship. The two ideas are so fused that it is almost impossible to divide them.
Here are three inseparable relationships: the man-woman relationship, the Christ-Christian relationship; and the Christ-church relationship.
Who Is the Bride?
In the New Testament, brideship is thought of in two ways. Some texts emphasize the fact that each Christian is, individually, the bride of Christ. Other texts stress that the church as a whole is the bride of Christ. There is no contradiction – the church, collectively, is the bride of Christ collectively composed of individual Christians, each one of whom is the bride of Christ.
Paul states in verse 32 that he is speaking of a great mystery – and what a mystery it is! The very fact that Christ, the eternal second person of the Godhead, the Creator, has become the divine bridegroom.
This Ephesian passage does not stand alone. In John 3.28-29, John the Baptist introduces Christ in these terms:
“You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, I have been sent ahead of Him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full.”
Romans 7.4: “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be married to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.”
This passage is an overwhelming picture of a bride who places herself in her bridegroom’s arms on their wedding. And as children are born to them, so too the individual Christian puts himself or herself in the bridegroom’s arms bearing the offspring of Christ into a fallen world alienated from God.
The Wonder of Relationship
This marvelous man-woman relationship of marriage is stressed throughout Scripture as an illustration of the wonder of the relationship of the individual and Christ and the church and Christ. The way in which Scripture parallels the human man-woman relationship and our union with Christ guides our thinking in two directions. First, it makes us understand the greatness and the wonder and the beauty of marriage, and second, it helps us to understand profoundly something of the relationship between God and His people and between Christ and His church.
Simply put, that is why infidelity and sexual promiscuity are wrong. Not only because God says it’s wrong, but because it adulterates the man-woman relationship and the Christ-Christian relationship – the church as the bride of Christ.
adapted from The Church before the Watching World
by Francis Schaeffer