God has truly done amazing work on my heart while studying this passage. I have been humbled, by God showing me that 7 years ago I was the individual that was in the snare of satan, in a blind stupor of deception, and how He used a vessel that faithfully resolved, even prior to me being born, to separate himself from the current sway of the world in order to be used by God, to properly set truth in place. And if that was not humbling enough, His word cut deeper by convicting me that my focus had drifted from Christ, to my walk with Christ, which may sound pious of me, but as subtle or insidious as it was, it gave way to a poisonous self-centeredness that left me struggling for joy in obedience and impotent for Christ and His Kingdom. Studying this passage was nothing short of God providentially redirecting my focus and engaging my heart back to the preciousness and centrality of Christ.
It’s so easy to miss the forest through the trees, as we walk out our Christian faith. In doing so we can focus more on the means than the end, and by that I mean, there is an ever present temptation to lose the big picture while in microcosms of our daily walk with the Lord. The Westminster Shorter Catechism states that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”, a commanded and necessary means of that ultimate end is the personal pursuit of holiness. That is why the writer of Hebrews says “strive for peace with everyone and for holiness without which no one will see the Lord”. Pursuit of holiness is very serious business which commands our sober thoughts and intentional actions, but we can easily drift to make our personal holiness the end goal if we are not completely treasuring Christ, and in doing so completely miss the reason to pursue holiness, or even the point of our existence.
The way we conduct our lives on earth as God’s children is of the utmost importance because of the eternal ramifications that our lives on earth have, not only for us, but for those who we interact with on a daily basis. It certainly is not for the natural man nor easy for the Christian to think about the eternal ripples created by our day to day living, never the less that is why Paul exhorts us in Colossians 3 “if we have been raised with Christ seek the things that are above, where Christ is” [Col 3:1-2].
God is so amazing and the depths of His wisdom and knowledge are unsearchable, and His ways inscrutable [Rom 11:33], and yet every once in awhile, out of His loving-kindness, He allows us a peak above the tapestry to see how His sovereignty is working in congruency with mans responsibility that is occurring below. This passage is one of those divine peaks, at how an all knowing, all powerful GOD that is completely self sustained and sufficient calls His children to a life of holiness for His glory and our joy. It shows how His sovereignty does not oppose man’s responsibility but mandates it. It is not an order from a dictator, but instructions from a Father that wants our joy to be full, as He draws us closer to Him by sharing in His DNA of holiness, and uses us for His purpose as agents of repentance and carriers of truth.
One obvious observation in this text is a call to cleanse our selves, as a necessary preparation to be used by God. This may cause a mild degree of tension on your heart initially, it did for me, especially in view of Hebrews 1:3 and 9:14, which clearly communicate that Christ has purified us from sin once for all. Yet verse 21 seemingly grates at my heart, to raise the question: “if Christ has cleansed us already why are we exhorted to cleanse ourselves ” ?
Let’s quickly address this before moving on. For those who are in Christ, you have been eternally cleansed once for all, from your sin, solely on the basis of the blood of Christ, we are not talking about that cleansing, that is of the receiving kind only and it is a sovereign act of God. It is God’s grace being received through faith. The cleansing this passage is talking about is the cleansing done by God’s grace working through faith, which calls for our involvement. Essentially it is a revealing of who are truly God’s and who are not, its the living out of vs 19, which is saying the proof that we are in the root (Christ) is our fruit (departing from iniquities).
It’s important to clarify this. Christ must cleanse us first, if not than our effort is not only in vain but damnable. We are powerless to remove the stench of sin prior to God removing the guilt of sin, and the only sin that we can depart from is pardoned sin.
The cleansing we are called to do, is a vital means to a greater purpose, namely to share God’s grace, and this has to be done prior to being used by God because we cant share the grace of God, if the grace of God has had no effect on us. Or another way to say it is, how can we be effective in sharing God’s grace, if God’s grace has never affected us.
Can you guess why a surgeon has to wash their hands and put on sterile gloves prior to surgery? Answer …. because thousands of naturally existing microbes that may cause infection, and eventually kill the patient. Hospitals hire ER surgeons for a specific purpose to increase the survival percentage of the patient. They are hired under the assumption that they will be able to competently preform highly technical surgeries in stressful circumstances on sick and dying patients, with the end goal to increase the patient’s chance of a full recovery. What purpose would a surgeon serve, even if they were the best in the world, if they were chronically the source of disease causing microbes that eventually lead to the patients death?
If the goal of the surgeon is to increase the likelihood of survival, then they need to take every precaution necessary that will aid in that, and it starts even before they enter the surgery room with the proper cleansing and preparation needed to be used for the greater purpose. A successful surgery is not the end goal, it is a vital means to the end goal, which is patient’s survival, but an unclean surgeon no matter how much talent they posses will ultimately be a hindrance to the solution rather than a means to it.
Much like a surgeon, believers, as God’s chosen vessels are called to cleanse themselves from that which is dishonorable, and unworthy of the holy vocation God has called us to, prior to being used. This separating from or cleansing of, is the act of becoming holy, sanctified, or set apart. It would make no sense to be well versed in Scripture and then live without distinction in the immorality of the world, if you are trying to convey God’s life altering truth of the Gospel.
We see Peter relay this very same principle to His readers when he wrote 1 Peter 2. In verse 9, he states the relationship between the identity of the believer and the purpose they have been called to…. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Now Peter’s original audience had a leg up on us with the terminology of “priesthood”. The term was probably more relevant to his Jewish readers, because of their linage and carried a more accurate depiction of a group of people being chosen by God on the basis of His sovereign will. This group was then set apart from the rest of the population and given unique ordinances, but before they embarked on their prescribed duties, God cleansed them from sin. And Aaron ceremonially washed them prior to their service [Lev 8]
The cleansing however, did not end there, much like in v 22 of our passage, there was not only a removal of the dishonorable, but a putting on of the proper priestly attire. Aaron didn’t just wash the priests with water so that they could fulfill holy priestly duties while in their scrubby attire. God not only wanted them to be consecrated, but to display that consecration by wearing extravagant holy attire to point to the majesty of God. In Exodus 28 this attire was of the physical nature to symbolize purity and their unique call to righteousness, but in verse 22 we see that the believers attire is of the spiritual nature. We are not called to wear attire that symbolizes our new nature, we are called to pursue or put on our actual new nature (righteousness, faith, love and peace).
So in conclusion God’s call for us to be holy is not without great purpose, it is founded on His holy Name and His endearing love for us. Not only is this a call from our Father to share in His very nature thus making our joy full, but in our ever increasing holiness we display the power of His grace to renounce ungodliness, and to live self controlled lives. In order that His word of truth be rightly handled and taught competently in such a gentle, patient, and enduring manner that it sets truth in its proper place, so that God may grant repentance to the individual in error, waking them up from the ignorant stupor, in which satan kept them blinded with.
It is simply mind blowing that the ALMIGHTY who has no need of us, would call us to this great honor and use us as agents of repentance. It is for this reason that the carefulness that we are called to conduct our lives with is not in vain but rather, God is using it in His wisdom as He sees fit. The fact that God uses the foolish, the weak, the low and despised, is testimony in itself that His great love for us His predicated on His amazing glory, which should give us unwavering hope that He will not fail in bringing to completion the good work that He has started in us.