Clean Forever

river-scene-2-1413837-mHow often do you take a shower? Hopefully more than once in a lifetime.

How often do you cleanse yourself from sin? How do you do that anyway?

There are some pretty scary verses in the Bible that demand that we be cleansed from sin. According to 2 Corinthians 6:17 and 7:1, unless we are cleansed from sin, we cannot take full advantage of God’s awesome promises. In 2 Corinthians 6:16,18 Paul spells out several of God’s promises, enough to us really excited:

I will live among them

I will walk among them

I will be their God

They will be my people

I will welcome you

I will be your Father

You will be my sons and daughters

Sounds great right? Until you turn the page and find the caveat at the beginning of chapter seven: “Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God.”

It’s that little word cleanse that scares me. I know that God is holy; how can I ever be pure enough, clean enough, pure and virtuous enough to lay hold of those awesome promises? I want to know God as Father, to be welcomed by Him and to walk and talk with Him. But even if I’m good and clean enough for one day, what about tomorrow when I mess up again?

I wonder if ancient Israel dealt with such fears and guilt under the sacrificial system. After all, the priest constantly offered sacrifices and burnt offerings. Every Israelite knew they would break God’s law again, but they also knew there would always be one more lamb slaughtered for their sins. Day after day, week after week, year after year, they could walk away from the temple confident that they had cleansed themselves from sin in the blood of a lamb. God washed away their filth in an animal’s blood and once again they walked in God’s favor. All of God’s promises for protection, deliverance, health and provision were theirs.

So what about now? How do we cleanse ourselves? How can we be comforted in knowing that today’s sin and tomorrow’s sin is washed away as completely as yesterday’s sin, so that we can claim the sweet and precious promises of God?

As a whole, in the modern church, we act as if we are cleansed at salvation—that glorious, single moment when we prayed and accepted Christ’s payment for our sins. But then, we must keep ourselves clean. We stand from our knees determined to be better, purer, more God-honoring, cleaner people with set-apart lives. But uh-oh, merely 30 seconds later, or maybe it’s 30 minutes or 30 days—but sooner or later we feel filthy, tarnished and unfit all over again. For us, there’s no behavior, no lamb or other sacrifice or ritual we can perform to make us feel clean again. Are we doomed?

The word cleanse in 2 Corinthians 7:1 is katharizo. It means “to clean, cure, free from sin and guilt; to purify.” It is actually used over and over again throughout the Bible and many times in the Gospels.

The interesting thing about the use of the word katharizo in the Gospels is that it nearly always refers to something Jesus did. Specifically, this is the word used when Jesus healed lepers. Cleansing is an action performed by Jesus Christ. 

So how then can we “cleanse ourselves” as 2 Corinthians instructs, since we are obviously hopeless to keep ourselves clean? We cleanse ourselves from earthly things and sins, just as the ancient Hebrews did: we come again with the Lamb to the Father’s throne. No, Jesus doesn’t die again, His sacrifice was once for all, supremely more powerful than the blood of bulls and goats. (Hebrews 10:1-10)

When we come to the throne with Christ, the once-for-all sacrifice, the Father again—and over and over again for all our past, present and future failures—sees Christ’s sacrifice and deems us clean. The only way we do this, when we fail, is to anchor ourselves again in the knowledge that we ARE clean, because of Jesus.

We cleanse ourselves not by working to “stay clean” but by repeatedly coming, grateful and humble to the cleaner.

Below are several more verses that bear this out. I encourage you to look them up, dig The Word yourself and discover your ever-compete cleanliness.

Revelation 7:14, 1 Corinthians 6:11, Hebrews 9:12-14, Ephesians 1:7, Ephesians 5:26,

Titus 2:14, Hebrews 9:14, 1 John 1:7, 9

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The One In Whom

At 18-years-old, I stepped onto the sandy, Arizona soil in the driveway of an inpatient treatment center for the second time. Even after numerous counselors and previous inpatient treatment for anorexia, I still struggled with an addiction to exercise and food restriction. “Shipped off” to get well, I felt completely alone, unloved and abandoned by God and my family. My life didn’t appear to be “working out for good”. Circumstances seemed to belie the promises of a good God.

Many years later, my husband walked the sandy soil of Afghanistan, leading a company of infantry soldiers. Back home, I received one of the calls that every family member of a solider dreads. “We lost some.”

Patrick was the commander of Bravo Company 4/23. They had only been in theater a little over two months, when one of their strykers hit an IED (improvised explosive device) killing three men and maiming another. Hell broke loose on earth.

I watched my husband grapple with the agony and guilt of knowing he had been responsible for the men’s lives as their leader in combat. I felt like a mindless mist, moving through the motions of coordinating phone calls to the families, assisting to arrange the memorials and comforting the widows. Nothing looked like what I would expect from a good God. A few people voiced this.

“How can a good God let this happen? If God is in charge and powerful and loves us, why would He let these children lose their fathers?”

I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now. I don’t know how all this “works together for good”. I don’t know how this matches up with God’s Word, “I am the God who heals you.” I don’t know how lingering illness and addiction connects with, “It is for freedom that Christ set you free,” and “I have given you the power to tread upon snakes and scorpions and nothing shall by any means hurt you.”

God, how does this work?

If anyone ever had a right to pray that prayer, it was the apostle Paul. He spent almost six years of his ministry in a jail cell, he was whipped, shamed, ship wrecked and abandoned
(2 Corinthians 11:23-27). Finally, near the end of his life, he sat again on the cold damp concrete of a cell and wrote to the man dearest to his heart—Timothy. How desperately he wanted Timothy to be able to hang on to what Paul had taught him. He agonized over how to impress upon this young pastor:

Do not give up! Do not be dismayed by what appears to be. It may look like God has lost control, that perhaps He isn’t all that good—but Timothy—don’t give up. I haven’t. (paraphrase)

This kind of tenacious faith is exemplified in an Old Testament story:

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stared into the fire as flames leaped higher and higher.

“You have one more chance,” the Babylonian King told them. “You must bow down and worship my statue, or I will have you thrown into the fire.”

I wonder what raced through their minds. They had been faithful to God; they had not worshipped the idol. Surely God would rescue them! Surely, God wouldn’t allow them to be killed!

Their words in Daniel 3:16-18, teach us something amazing about faith, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.’”

The three men believed that God could save them! But even if He didn’t…

How do we have faith when the things we believe for aren’t happening? How do we have faith that God is good when bad things happen?

Hebrews 11 is often called the Faith Chapter. It lists many heroes of the faith, men and women who believed God against all odds, who had faith in God even when it looked like God wasn’t faithful.

Verse 39 says this, “All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised.”

Have you ever felt like that—like God hasn’t fulfilled His promises?
Have you had faith that God would do something, and then He didn’t?
Maybe you prayed that a loved one would survive cancer, but they didn’t.
Maybe you were sure it was God’s will that you find a job, or keep your job—but you didn’t.
Maybe you don’t understand what’s going on, or why God allows some things to happen.

When I feel this way, I am comforted by 2 Timothy 1:12, “That is why I am suffering here in prison. But I am not ashamed of it, for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return.” (emphasis added)

One weekend, my husband and I were driving through downtown Washington D.C. We were supposed to meet some friends for a baseball game, but as we wound through construction and down one-way streets, we got hopelessly lost—at least I did. I had no idea where we were going and I could see the lights of the stadium behind us. But I know my husband. He’s an incredible navigator. I knew he would get us there safely even if it looked for all the world like he was going the wrong direction. And sure enough, he got us to the baseball game on time!

You see, the secret is not what we believe. The power of our faith is not that we simply have faith, or even that we have hope. There will always be things we don’t understand and things that don’t seem to match up with what we believe about God. We may not understand what God is doing, but we have faith in who God is. We, like Paul, know who we believe, and that He is faithful.

Most world religions require faith. Most world religions have morality as their hallmark and eternal life as their goal. But, as Christians we do not merely have faith—faith in a reward for good behavior or faith in life after death. It is not mere faith that gets us through our troubles, sustains us in prison, or allows us to stand in the flames. The good news is not that you and I have faith, but that the One in whom we believe is faithful.

WEEKLY PRAYERS

WEEKLY PRAYERS.

I know I need prayer. It’s comforting to know that when it feels like my life is the one falling apart, others are bearing up under their own burdens. The Bible call us to bear one another’s burdens. I covet your prayers.

Pray for these requests too, and please, leave your own on my comments or email me.  I promise to pray – I’m spending a lot of time on my knees lately.