Union with Christ: The Bride's Benefit
I love weddings. In my years as a pastor, I have had the opportunity to officiate nearly fifty, including my own daughter's. They are a privilege to perform because they mark some of the most memorable moments of people's lives. On that special day, a man and a woman publicly exchange vows, pledging their undying loyalty to one another and placing themselves in an irrevocable covenant as long as they both shall live. Nothing is quite like a wedding ceremony, because it creates a union between two people unlike any other.
This union goes back to the first wedding ever performed. When God brought Adam a wife, Adam said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Gen 2.23). That is essentially what marriage is: two people becoming one. The next words in Genesis 2 are the same that the apostle Paul quotes in Ephesians 5.31: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
Paul then adds an interesting piece of commentary: "This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church" (Eph 5.32). This is what makes a wedding even more amazing: It is not merely a covenant between two people, but a reflection of the sacred bond between Christ and his bride, which is the church. Just as a real, legal union is created between a man and a wife in marriage, so there is also a real, legal union between believers and the Lord Jesus. And this makes all the difference in the world. What is Christ's, namely, his righteousness and holiness, becomes ours.
In Chapter 4 of The Benefit of Christ, Benedetto Fontanini draws upon the marriage analogy to help us understand the great benefit given to the bride in her union with Christ:
"Just as the dowry of the wife becomes the property of her husband, so likewise the wife speaks of her husband’s house and all his wealth as hers…Jesus Christ says, ‘The dowry of a man’s soul has become mine.’ That is to say, ‘All the sins and transgressions of the Law, all God’s wrath against man, all the boldness of the devil over man, all the prison and torture of hell, and all the soul’s other evils have become Mine. They are in my power to do what I want with them. So it is my will to deal with them as I wish. Therefore, I blot out the handwriting of ordinances which is against the soul of my wife. I take it out of the way. I fasten it to my cross in my own body, and in the same way, I spoil principalities and powers. I make a show of them openly, and triumph over them, consume, and annihilate them utterly."
…In response, the Bride also says with the greatest joy: ‘The realms and kingdoms of my most dear Husband and Savior belong to me. By Him I am heir of heaven. My Husband’s riches – that is to say His holiness, His innocence, His righteousness, and His Godhead, together with all His virtue and might – are my property. Therefore, in Him I am holy, unblemished, righteous, and godly, and there is not a stain on me. I am shapely and beautiful, because my lawful Husband has no blemish but is stalwart and handsome. Since he is completely mine, all His qualities are consequently mine. Because they are pure and holy, it follows that I have also become pure and holy."
Consequently, God sees the believer as holy and righteous, through the holiness and righteousness of Christ. Our union with Christ includes the imputation of Christ’s active obedience to us:
"Therefore, when a man says, ‘Jesus Christ has fasted; Jesus Christ has prayed; Jesus Christ was heard of the Father; Jesus Christ was raised from the dead; Jesus Christ drove devils out of men; Jesus Christ healed the sick, died, rose again, and ascended into heaven’; then a man can likewise say that a Christian has done all these same works. For the works of Christ are the works of a Christian, and He has done them all for the Christian. Indeed, a man can truly say that the Christian has been nailed to the cross, buried, raised again, and has ascended into heaven and been made as a child of God. He is a participant of the divine nature."
This is the new status of the believer. He relates to God not according to his own personal righteousness, but according to the righteousness of Christ. He receives all the benefits of Christ by grace alone. Just as a bride rejoices over her new status as the wife of her husband, so also the church rejoices over her status as the bride of Christ, receiving all of his benefits. We can be assured that this is our status, not by looking to ourselves to see how godly or obedient we are, but by looking to Christ and believing his gospel.
There is a sense in which marriage testifies of the mysterious union between Christ and his church. Every time I perform or attend a wedding, therefore, I am reminded of what is mine as one united with Christ, and with the rest of the church I eagerly look forward to that day of "the marriage supper of the Lamb" (Rev 19.7) when we are "prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (Rev 21.2).
~ Michael Brown