"For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church" (Ephesians 5:30-32). Paul here likens the relationship of Christ to the church to that of a husband to his wife. However, he continues and speaks not just about an illustration but a spiritual reality. He calls this relationship "a great mystery." He says that we actually are "members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones." What makes the church the bride of Christ in reality—more than just an analogy?
"For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many" (1 Corinthians 12:12-14).
Paul tells us that each member being "made to drink into one Spirit" baptizes us into one body. We have been joined together by receiving a common life: the eternal life of God. Each one is made a member of the one body by our connection to Christ by the Spirit. This union is not just a symbol or illustration, but a spiritual reality.
As in the marriage relationship, the union is formed in one day, the day Christ baptizes us into the body by the Spirit. Now the rest of our life is to be lived in the reality of that union. We cannot live out the union if it does not exist, but once the union is made, our responsibility is to live out that union with other members of the body. All instruction to the church is on the basis of this union. For example, we are admonished to "maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3). We do not create the unity (God has done it by bringing each member into union with Himself) but we maintain that unity by how we conduct ourselves.
What is our part in entering into this new relationship? Is it not very similar to that of the bride? God comes to us and bids us respond to His invitation. Our response is to forsake all other relationships and give ourselves to Him. But even though we may be very sincere in wanting this new relationship with God, we cannot bring it about. The work is of God, not of man. All we can do is yield ourselves to Him. He is the One who creates the relationship by coming to dwell within. The union is created by God, not by us. This is the New Covenant. It is a relationship that depends on God, and our place is to yield and respond to Him in faith.
We read in the book of Revelation that this marriage with Jesus will be consummated at the end of the ages at the great wedding supper of the Lamb. "And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, ‘Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.' And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, ‘Write: "Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!"' And he said to me, ‘These are the true sayings of God'" (Revelation 19:6-9).
If this is true, what is our relationship with God now? In the terms of the Jewish wedding practices, we have been betrothed to Christ. "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). In the Jewish culture the betrothal was binding, and the bride was referred to as the wife of her husband even before the marriage was consummated through physical union. The betrothal period was a time of preparation, and at the appointed time the bridegroom came and took his "wife" to the house he had prepared.
So it is with our relationship with Christ now. This is a time of preparation for our marriage to Christ. To accomplish this preparation, God has given us a "guarantee" that He is serious about this commitment, namely the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. "In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory" (Ephesians 1:13-14). Thus God (by the indwelling Holy Spirit) is the One who is preparing us for our full union with Christ on that great wedding day. Only He can prepare us for such a high calling. It must be the work of God, not of man.
If we see all of this clearly, it should give great urgency to our response to the ongoing discipline of the Holy Spirit. "Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:9-11).
If we can see this master plan of God in some measure, it should help to remove lesser concepts of the church from our vision and direct our pathway into the fullness of God's purpose. The church is not about meetings and activities but about union—spiritual union with God and with each other. It is about answering the prayer of our Lord Jesus just before He went to Calvary: "…that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me." This is not something only to be realized in heaven, but something that is taking place now. Every part of God's plan for us works out from this basis: that we are one just as He is one. When we are experiencing oneness with God and with each other, God can show forth the testimony of who He is and use that testimony to draw men to Himself. God is love, and love is expressed in union.