Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so 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.
In this practical section of marriage and family relationships, God inspired Paul to give us this wonderful description of Christ’s love for the church and His complete redemption of the church. This is a beautiful description of the grace of God in Christ that brings us from being dead in our transgressions and sins to being free from blemish, to be considered splendorous and sanctified completely. This new understanding of who we are in Christ is granted within our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
Yet many believers still struggle in seeing themselves in this light that defines us by the benefits of grace, and not the failure of our sin. Guilty consciences must be cleansed by the blood of Christ and washed with the water of the Word of God so that we live in the victory of grace, not the defeat of our own sin.
As Shakespeare’s Hamlet delivers his thoughtful monologue, “To be or not to be,” he cautions himself against suicide. Thought, he says, keeps us from taking our life, for we do not know what we will face in the after life – “And makes us rather bear those ills we have, Than fly to others that we know not of. Thus Conscience does make Cowards of us all.” By conscience he meant consciousness, the ability to think and reason causes the natural man in us to fear the great unknown beyond death. He is, of course, speaking of his own sins, his own personal guilt, that had undermined his confidence of what he would experience in the afterlife. The Shakespearean tragedy is a moving story of the moral corruption in the world, and Hamlet himself, a fictitious Prince of Denmark, is caught up in the business of revenge, and it destroys him and his entire royal family.
We can all become Hamlet-like, delving into dark thoughts on the moroseness of our sin, rather than focusing on the grace and the forgiveness we have in Christ. Our own awareness of our sin, “conscience” or thought, is both a good thing and a bad thing. To the degree that it leads us to repentance and humility, to be aware of our need of grace, to be grateful for our salvation, to praise and thank God for His grace toward us in Christ, awareness of sin is a good thing. This is what Jesus spoke of as the work of the Spirit in the world, to bring conviction of sin to our hearts (John 16:8-11), and to press the issue to our minds that we might repent and turn to Him for cleansing. This is what the Bible calls “godly sorrow” that leads to grateful faith and love and service to Christ (2 Cor. 7:10-11). “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Rom. 5:20b).
But to the degree that our awareness of our own sin rejects the thought of grace, to the degree that it causes us to sorrow without hope, to doubt Christ’s death is sufficient for our cleansing, to question if we could ever be fully forgiven and restored, to cause us to see ourselves constantly as morally stained, without hope, or hopelessly blemished, then awareness of sin has polluted our minds and dishonored the sacrifice of Christ for us. This is what the Bible calls “worldly sorrow” (2 Cor. 7:10).
If you ever feel that God cannot or will not forgive you for your sins, if you ever feel still dead in your transgressions and sins (assuming you are a true believer in Christ), then this thought was not placed in your heart by God, but by the devil. According to the Good News, you are cleansed by the grace of God and are “God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works” foreordained by God that you should do (Eph. 2:10).
God’s message to us in this passage is that there is no longer any blemish in us, we are cleansed in Christ, and made holy, even splendorous. Our sins are forgiven and we are now fully accepted, just as a beautiful bride is to her husband. Accept yourself in Christ as being clean and a new creation. This is God’s testimony to you. Live in the reality of grace.
Concerning marriage, by the way, this is a strong message for us men, to love our wives and see them as precious. And when we might notice any fault, we should seek to lovingly redeem them through love, not to put them down in insult and labeling, but to lift them up. We should deal with them as graciously as Christ deals with His Church.