Cleansing ourselves to qualify for heaven
Jesus described Himself as a “bridegroom” who makes us all a “marriage offer”. If we accept His offer and remain faithful to Him, He will return to gather all of us, male and female, for His “marriage feast” and an eternal union with Him. As His “bride-in-waiting”, we are responsible for preparing ourselves for the “wedding day” by purifying and cleansing ourselves through His Word and Holy Spirit. Only then are we ready to be lawfully wedded to Him when He returns.
Mark 2:19-20 ESV And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? …
Jesus as the Bridegroom of His people
Throughout the Bible, God alludes to our relationship with Him as a marriage according to Jewish traditions.
- Jesus made a marriage “contract” | Mark 14:24 ESV And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.
- He paid a “bride price” for us | 1 Corinthians 6:20 ESV for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
- Jesus prepares a “bridal chamber” before He returns | John 14:2-3 ESV In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
- Jesus loves the church as a “husband loves his wife” | Ephesians 5:25 ESV Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
Jesus also used a number of parables about weddings to describe His expectations of us.
The wise and foolish brides-in-waiting
In the Parable of the Ten Virgins, Jesus gave a sober warning to believers who do not prepare themselves for His return (Mathew 25: 1-12). In this illustration, half of His followers are described as wise and the other half, foolish.
The wise ones were adequately prepared with extra flasks of oil for their lamps so they are able to find their way to His marriage feast. Oil is a metaphor for the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:18) while lamps are metaphors for God’s Word (Psalm 119:105). Jesus reiterates the importance of these two elements when He said that we must worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24).
Psalm 119:105-106 ESV Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to keep your righteous rules.
John 4:23-24 ESV But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth .
The foolish believers in the parable were ill-prepared. They ran out of oil and therefore arrived late. By then, the gates to heaven were already shut. They cried out to Jesus, “‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’” (Mathew 25:12) This is the destiny of anyone who accepts Jesus’ offer of salvation but then neglects to grow in abundance of His spiritual life.
Just like a bridegroom who cancels his offer of marriage to an ungrateful, unfaithful bride, Jesus will also revoke the promise of salvation from anyone who is not faithful to His Spirit. He warns that “”Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.“” (Matthew 7:21-23)
Matthew 25:1-12 ESV “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’
Matthew 7:21-23 ESV “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Preparing for Jesus’ return
No one turns up for a wedding in filthy rags. God’s Word calls us to “cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit” and purify ourselves because God is pure. It is the bride’s job to cleanse herself, not the bridegroom’s. Similarly, Jesus expects us to cleanse and make ourselves ready for Him.
2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.
Revelation 19:7 ESV Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;
1 John 3:3 ESV And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
Being cleansed and ready
In the Parable of the Ten Virgins, we see three important ways we are to prepare ourselves so that we qualify for the wedding feast.
1. Virginity – Repenting to regain spiritual purity
Virginity was a pre-condition for marriage in Jesus’ time. We see that Joseph was going to divorce his fiancé, Mary, whom he thought had committed adultery and was no longer a virgin.
Matthew 1:18-20 ESV Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
Similarly, God expects us to put away our “ex-loves” and turn away from spiritual adultery, once we accept His “marriage” offer. Here are some ways God says we commit adultery towards Him.
- Not renouncing all forms of idol worship, whether spiritual, mental or emotional. | Psalm 106:39 ESV They defiled themselves by their evil deeds, and their love of idols was adultery in the Lord’s sight.
- Not dying to our fleshly impulses; pride, ungodly sexual indulgences, jealousy, selfish desires and so forth | Colossians 3:5 ESV Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
- Not loving God more than we care about the things of this world | James 4:4 ESV You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
The Bible repeatedly calls us to “crucify” such idols and idolatrous ways. We are to die to our sinful nature, as if it never existed, so that we can be purified like spiritual “virgins”, never defiled or touched by idolatry or fleshly desires.
Romans 8:13 ESV For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Galatians 5:24 ESV And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
This must be done through confession and repentance of all past sins since young, especially those related to idol worship, witchcraft, fortune telling, ancestor worship, unforgiveness, hatred, curses etc.
Only then can we be cleansed and made new like a spiritual “virgin”, uncorrupted by the world. God promises to be “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is the process in which our old selves “pass away” and our inner selves are “renewed”.
1 John 1:9 ESV If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
2 Corinthians 4:16, 5:17 ESV So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day… Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
We cannot qualify for heaven by doing good works. We only qualify if we submit our unclean selves to God and humbly ask Him to forgive us and remove our polluted rags of sin. Jesus said that those who “wash their robes” will enter the gates to His heavenly city. Those who have yet to cleanse themselves of their past sins will be rejected and locked out. We will face the same fate as the five foolish followers in the Parable of the Ten Virgins that Jesus told.
Isaiah 64:5-6 ESV … Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
Revelation 22:12 ESV “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
It is not possible to be cleansed all at once, because we may not remember or know all the spiritual “adultery” we have committed. In His grace towards us, God allows us to be “transformed into the image of Jesus Christ from one degree of glory to another” with the help of the Holy Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
2. Flasks of oil – Overflowing with the Holy Spirit
In the Parable of the Ten Virgins, both the wise and foolish believers began with oil in their lamps, except that the oil of the foolish believers soon ran out. The wise, on the other hand, had built up reserves of oil, a metaphor for the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our salvation. He is the seal of our “marriage contract”. Without Him, we do not truly belong to Jesus.
Ephesians 1:13-14 NIV And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession–to the praise of his glory.
Romans 8:9 ESV You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
All the ten virgins rightfully belonged to the Bridegroom, but only half eventually found their way to Him and the marriage feast. After we have received Christ Jesus as Lord of our lives and receive a “deposit” of the Holy Spirit, we must continue to follow Him and multiply that deposit.
The apostle Paul repeatedly used a race as an analogy for our walk with God. We all begin on the same starting line but it is how we finish the race that determines our salvation. Salvation is not automatically guaranteed at the point of us accepting Jesus as our Saviour, as the foolish virgins found out a little too late. We only reach the finish line of being with God when we follow the race rules until the very end. Otherwise, we are disqualified – whether we were aware of the rules or not. Sadly, some of us may remain within a Christian community on earth all our lives, but will be shocked to find that Jesus will not welcome us into His heaven gates – unless we become like the wise believers with “flasks of oil”.
Colossians 2:6-7 ESV Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
Philippians 3:14 ESV I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 2:5 ESV An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.
Galatians 5:7 ESV You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?
Colossians 2:18-19 ESV Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
When we do not develop an active obedience to the Holy Spirit, it is impossible to really know God with our entire being. After all, God is spirit (John 4:24). Our faith will simply be an intellectual knowledge of God and like the foolish followers in the parable, our lamps will run dry. This is why Jesus will say to some of us, “‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.'” (Matthew 25:12)
It is the Holy Spirit who prepares us for our Bridegroom. After we have been made spiritually pure (virgins) again through repentance and confession, the Holy Spirit continues to groom, renew and refine us.
- Washes and renews us for Jesus | Titus 3:5-6 ESV He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.
- Guides us to God’s truth | John 16:13 ESV When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
- Helps us and prays for us | Romans 8:26 ESV Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
- Gives us new physical and spiritual life | Romans 8:11 ESV If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
We can recognise whether we have “flasks of oil” by a few signs.
- Turn away from the world | We have a significantly reduced desire for worldly comforts and an increased passion for God’s kingdom work. (James 4:4) Old sinful desires and lusts now repulse us. (1 John 2:16)
- New soul | We do the things that were impossible for us in the past, such as love our enemies, forgive all grievances, have self-control etc. (Matthew 5:44-45)
- New heart | Our hearts are humbled. We are open to instruction and rely on the Holy Spirit to convict and guide us. (Colossians 2:8)
- New mind | The Holy Spirit inspires our thoughts and guides our choices. We speak with wisdom that is normally beyond us. (Matthew 10:20)
- New strength | We allow ourselves to be mistreated and will yet rejoice because God is with us. (Matthew 5:11)
- No fear | Our fears and anxieties are put away. (1 John 4:18)
- Share the good news | We want to share God’s love and our testimonies with everyone, including those we used to dislike and avoid. (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13)
1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 ESV and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
We receive the Holy Spirit after we repent and are baptised in Jesus’ name. Baptism is also symbolic of the ceremonial baths that Jewish brides must take to cleanse themselves before their wedding day called the Mikveh. See Preparing our hearts for baptism
Acts 2:38 ESV And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
3. Lamps – Following God’s Word
A lamp is only beneficial when it is put to practical use. Otherwise, there is no light and its users remain in darkness. Similarly, God’s Word only brings light to our lives if we put it to practical use. As we obey the “living and abiding word of God”, we continue to purify ourselves.
John 12:46,48 ESV I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.
1 Peter 1:22-23 ESV Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;
For more, see What Jesus demands of our salvation.
Our wedding “accuser”
Most wedding ceremonies make allowance for anyone to object to the marriage with a statement such as, “If anyone can show just cause why this couple cannot lawfully be joined together in matrimony, let them speak now or forever hold their peace.”
Unfortunately, there is someone who will constantly object to our union with God. His name is Satan. The Bible states that he accuses us “day and night before our God“. Our enemy will stand in the way of our joyous wedding with many accusations. He gains the right to do so by deceiving us into being part of many contracts with him all through our lives, with or without our full awareness, and causing us to commit “adultery” (see examples listed above).
Revelation 12:10 ESV And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.
All terms and conditions of a contract are legally binding once we have agreed to it, whether we read the fine print or not and whether we were aware of it or not. Satan is an expert in legalistic, condemning “fine print”. This is how he traps us.
We will still be bound to our old contracts with Satan even after we have accepted Jesus’ offer of eternal union with God – until we repent and renounce them in the name of Jesus. Only then, can we call God “my Husband” instead of turning to “Baal” as our god. Baal is another name for Satan.
Hosea 2:16 ESV “And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’
Will we be cleansed and ready when Jesus returns?
When we accept Jesus’ offer of eternal “marriage” with God, our Bridegroom does not leave us any ambiguous terms. Everything He desires of us is written in His Word and He gives us His Holy Spirit so we have the ability to follow Him faithfully.
Jesus also told another parable about a wedding. In the Parable of the Wedding Banquet, a guest appeared without a proper wedding garment provided by the King. The garment is an analogy for our robes of righteousness, which is our renewed self after spiritual cleansing.
Isaiah 61:10 ESV I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
Ephesians 4:24 ESV and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
In the parable, the King took the guest who neglected to be cleansed and renewed and threw him into eternal darkness. With this parable, Jesus declared that “many are called, but few are chosen.“
Matthew 22:1-3,11-14 ESV And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast… “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
How ready are we for Jesus’ wedding feast in heaven? Unfortunately, no one knows when that day is. We are only told to “be on guard and keep awake“. He can return any time now.
Mark 13:32-33 ESV “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.
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