I’m stuck; for the past several days I’ve got a portion of Scripture lodged in my head that keeps gnawing at me and won’t let me go. I’ve looked at several study Bibles and a few commentaries, but nothing has jumped out to me that helps me resolve what the Spirit is speaking to me… that is; we have work to do and we are going to be held to account for the work we have not taken responsibility for. Maybe it would help if I shared the snippet of Scripture. The passage comes from the Book of The Revelation and chapter nineteen, verse seven.
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready… (Rev. 19:7)
Now, there are a lot of things to consider here hermeneutically, contextually, symbolically, and otherwise. I think we might be able to find plenty to debate and discuss about what is taking place at this point of the revelation…but that is not my purpose today. My meditation has been on six words and what those six words mean to me, to us… the “following” Church and Bride of the Lord Jesus Christ. His Bride has made herself ready.
Okay, I’m gonna make a leap here, but I think the passage is talking about the Church, those who profess their belief and salvation through the atoning work of Jesus Christ (that would be us). We are “herself,” the Church.
His Bride has made herself ready.
The question that begs asking is, “what does it mean to make herself ready?” I have often heard that sanctification (or whatever you wish to call it) is a lifelong process that never really completes on this side of eternity. I don’t know that my understanding of that process (sanctification) is absolute or comprehensive at this juncture with my theology, but in either event I believe that regardless of whether it is attainable or not on this side of eternity, we should be striving for it in its completion on this side of eternity.
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature be thus minded; and if in anything you are otherwise minded, God will reveal that also to you. Philippians 3:12-15
12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ Ephesians 4:12-13
As I said, I don’t know if sanctification finds completion on this side of eternity or not…but I do believe it is what we diligently strive for with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. This, I believe, is giving ourselves over completely to the transforming work of grace that results in wholly recreated, no longer frail and fallen, human beings. What is our work in this?
Herein lies part of the problem; “work” is a four-letter word for many souls belonging to the Church. However, the greater truth (my personal gleanings) I have found in Scripture is that our salvation, while made available and complete only through the work of God in Jesus Christ, is still a partnership. I don’t believe God saves us against our will… likewise, I don’t believe God sanctifies us against our will. In similar terms, I don’t believe that God “whitewashes” the Church or “Bride” against her will or in spite of her will. And, I think this is why “His Bride has made herself ready” has been grating on me for the past few days.
I think we like to slip our own responsibility in this partnership; we like every benefit we receive in the arrangement, but we prefer to dodge the elements that put the onus on us. It is by grace that we have been saved, but it is the discipline and obedience of the follower that works out the salvation to beautiful and sanctifying works of grace that ultimately culminate in a beautiful, spotless, holy Bride who has made herself ready.
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 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. Ephesians 5:25-27
What is my bottom line?
Tough call…this bottom line; I think it amounts to self-examination and a higher standard. What am I doing to make myself ready, or do I expect God to automagically make me ready. I know better than to think that is going to happen. I don’t see a single example where God saved, sanctified, or de-spotified anyone against their will in the Biblical narrative; not one. Maybe it happened, probably it didn’t…I wouldn’t hedge any bet on it, seeing that the majority (if not all) of our examples show that He doesn’t. Likewise, I don’t think God is going to do this for the Church. Ultimately, I think we are going to be held to account more for the things that we did not do as much as for the things we have done or ever do. I have no intentions of this happening…at least in my life and according to what I am capable of doing. I know God has revealed truth TRUTH to me and it includes getting off my “padded side” and exercising the discipline and (dare I say it) work that needs to be done on my part for sanctification and renewal of my soul as I work for the sanctification and renewal of the Church and ultimately the sanctification and renewal of all Creation. That’s what we are made for and what we are made to do (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
A complacent church that waits for stuff to happen is not making herself ready. A complacent Christian that waits for stuff to happen is not making himself or herself ready. A person that is not ready is…well…not ready. What does that say about us and what does that say to us? It is interesting that I see people of all ages (I used to be one) working diligently and highly disciplined for certain things they consider to be high value …or things they deem “worth it.” Think about it; high performance athletes working for a championship, professional artists, farmers, people working toward a “comfortable” retirement, soldiers training for dangerous missions, and the list could go on. It is interesting that the word pictures in the Bible reflect some of these same examples (1 Cor. 9:25; 2 Timothy 2:3-7).
Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, talks about a principle or rule he calls the 10,000-Hour Rule. Studies suggest that the key to success in any field has nothing to do with talent. It’s simply practice, 10,000 hours of it — 20 hours a week for 10 years. Now, I’m not going to debate the principle here; I do think empowerment and indwelling by God’s Holy Spirit weighs in on the Christian in a different light than the sheer weight and numbers of practice hours. However, I think Gladwell’s point can be applied if we look at how much time and effort we put into our own discipleship. Similar studies reveal that a large number of professing Christians have never read through the entire Bible even one time. Many (if not a majority) of Christians have little or no involvement with their faith outside of Sunday worship gatherings. So, let’s do some math. If it takes 20 hours a week for 10 years to become successful in something according to the Outlier or 10,000 Hour Rule, what does it take for the “average” Christian who might spend 1.5 hours at a weekend service and 15 minutes of devotional reading 6 days a week (total 3.0 hours per week)? The answer is sixty four years. This considers that the person in our example never misses a Sunday service and never misses a 15 minute daily devotional. On the other hand, if our passion is such as David, the Psalmist, who meditates on the Word of God day and night… or the apostle Paul’s admonition to “pray without ceasing” we might take a number like 10 hours a day from meditation, prayer, Bible reading, etc. for our figures and we turn out 2 years and 9 months to become a “high power” Disciple of Christ. Interesting “tale of the tape” there. I don’t want these numbers to be some hard and fast formula; as I said, I believe God’s Holy Spirit plays the predominant and preeminent role in our developing discipleship. Although, as I also said, we are in partnership with God in this discipleship and our part of the program is willing and passionate involvement in the process that requires sacrifice, discipline, and effort (or pardon my language, but work).
“His Bride has made herself ready”
So that I’m not tarred and feathered, let me state that no amount of work on our own can make a person ready for Jesus. You can “do all the right things” and your heart still be very far from God; take for instance, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. It’s a fine line, but that line is clearly defined in the heart of a man. Jesus said; “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…” (Matthew 6:21). I think his point, while made about money, can be made about our passion or anything else we place value on. The substance of our faith is not defined by the things we do, but the evidence of our faith is realized by the actions and efforts that our lives follow. We give energy and effort to the things we believe in. How much energy and effort are you putting into your faith in Jesus Christ? If you call yourself Christian, you are a member of the Bride. Are you making yourself ready?