For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy; for I have espoused you to one husband that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. 2 Cor. 11:2
The world may well marvel at the words of Paul in this verse. How can someone who is stained with the world ever be considered a pure virgin bride? Yet that is exactly what Paul says we are. The Corinthians are a notable example for the world and for us of the miraculous power of God to clean up the unclean.
Among the early churches it would be difficult to find a more corrupt origin, a more evil background from which to emerge. Without the knowlege of how evil they were it we do not see the irony in the words "a chaste virgin".
Paul is reminding them of his mission. He is to present them to Christ as a bride.
There was a girl in my school who was a prostitute. It was not a rumor, it was an open thing with her. I remember as a kid walking to school hearing her make a date with an old man who was cutting grass, concluding a business deal and turning to grin at me in her impudence. She was shunned at school for the most part. But there was a Catholic girl who, knowing what she did about her, befriended her, sat with her and walked with her. One day in study hall the girl who was a prostitute used the name of Jesus profanely. The Catholic girl said to her with great seriousness, "You should never speak that way, that is a holy name you just spoke". It was touching to see the aplologetic attitude of the first girl. "I'm sorry," she said, "I won't do it again."
I learned a lesson that day. The extended friendship, the shared conversation and sympathies, made the rebuke effective. The Catholic girl had treated her with respect and this made all the difference to her friend. The rebuke was over her words and not her person, and was spoken in friendship, not scorn.
The Catholic girl taught me by example, that day and I have never forgotten her or her example. It took me years to learn about the nature of our faith and God who is its author. It is completely wrong to shun those on the fringe of society, who we think of as below our station. I remember the statement, "The ground around the cross is level". Amen to that.
You cannot be almost pure in the eyes of a holy God. We all have to be cleaned up completely. That is what Jesus does. We need to remember that Jesus said ;
"They that are well have no need of the physician, but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentece. Mark 2:17
In the eyes of God the Catholic girl, and her friend the prostitute, needed the same forgiveness and the same salvation. And God offers us all the same benefits. To use a modern example it would be like a car wash that cleans up a dusty little sedan or a muddy truck exactly the same. When they come out they both are gleaming clean.
Such an offer God makes to us all, Let me clean you up, let me make you perfect, I want to do it. Then you can live with me forever. Who would turn it down?
Do you remember Anita Bryant, the singer? She made a fatal career move when she became a Christian and told a group of homosexuals that they needed, like everyone else, to be made clean. I remember her at a gathering starting to read the following words; Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
As she read the following words the crowd began to shout her down;
And such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Cor.5:9-11
Anita Bryant had tears in her eyes as she pleaded with the group who shouted their hatred of her and the words she read. She had told them they needed to be made clean and to change how they lived.
I worked with a man who joined a homosexual church. He was looking forward to Wednesday evening, he told me. It was to be a special dress up night. It was Shelley Winters look-alike night. This was their response to the offered grace of God.
What of those who know they are filthy and want to be clean? King David wanted another man's wife. He had sex with her and murdered her husband so he could have her as a wife. That is dirty. Nathan called him on it, publicly. God's word records this in detail. The Bible shows us what depths a person can fall to and be recovered. The story is told in 2 Samuel 11:1-12:25
David wrote a Psalm of repentance over this sin, Psalm 51
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness; according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me....
My best friend worked for a government agency. His job could be very complicated and burdensome. One day he complied a list of documents that needed to be copied so they could be mailed to offices across the country. It was an intricate job of duplication and collation. There was a young lady who worked on such matters. Could she help, he wondered. He approached her with this armload of material. "What do I need to do to have these all copied and in order" he said. "Just ask" was her calm reply. He told me this story and described her gracious manner and how she put him at ease.
The story of David's adultery and murder, and his forgiveness, is just one example in the Bible of how God forgives when we ask him. David's later life was not easy, there are consequences to sin. The baby born of his liason with Bathsheba, died. But in eternity his name is cleared and his kingdom is assured. The same can be said of everyone who comes to God and confesses their sin. Just ask. Some will not do it, out of pride, and a spritual blindness that only God can take away. But for those who do humble themselves there is a wonderful future. They have lost their uncleaness and become virgins unto God. Paul uses this imagery of us all united in the church;
...even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it, That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word;
That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. Ephesians 5:25-27