posted on Nov, 2 2018 @ 06:06 PM
“Such were some of you, but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus and in the Spirit of our God”
– 1 Corinthians ch6 v11
The message of the New Testament centres upon what God achieved in Christ, through his death on the Cross and his Resurrection..
All this was happening “on account of our sins”, for the sake of doing something about them.
And the promised result is the forgiveness of sin.
We are told that we have been “washed”.
Washing, in the Old Testament, was a physical act which became a metaphor.
The ritual laws demand that a man should wash himself, or part of himself, and perhaps also his clothing, on certain specified occasions.
Sometimes it is not physical pollution that is being washed away, but spiritual pollution.
So a person protesting his innocence of murder could act out his claim, by washing his hands to show there was “no blood on them”.
Of course this is exactly what Pilate was doing in front of the Jerusalem crowd.
Following on from this physical washing, acting out a metaphor , the washing itself can become just a verbal expression;
“I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence”. (Psalm 73 v13)
Therefore the prophets and the psalms speak of the need for the people to “wash themselves” from their sins.
Isaiah urges the people of Jerusalem to “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean”, because their hands are “full of blood”.
This “washing” is then explained as “cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the
widow”. (ch1 vv15-17)
And the prophet looks forward to a time when
“The Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem” (ch4 v4)
Jeremiah makes a similar demand;
“O Jerusalem, wash your heart from wickedness, that you may be saved.
How long shall your evil thoughts lodge within you?” (ch4 v14).
The same language applies to the sins of the individual.
In Psalm 51 we find the plea;
“Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin…
Purge me with hyssop and I will be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (v2, v7)
And this is another way of saying
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (v10).
Of course the washing could not literally cleanse away the pollutions of sin and guilt.
The act is a dramatized metaphor, offering the image of guilt as a removable blot, something which cannot be allowed to remain untreated.
The New Testament also picks up this metaphor.
God saved us “in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit which he poured out upon us richly” (Titus
Paul reminds the Corinthians that some of them used to be evildoers, guilty of theft and adultery and similar offences.
Then he adds, in the words quoted at the top of the page, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified…”.
This offers “washing” as the first stage of the process of entering a right relationship with God.
These references to washing may have been suggested, at least, by the ritual of baptism.
At a deeper level, though, the real cleansing agent in these events is the Holy Spirit.
Baptism is associated with the forgiveness of sin because it is associated with the Holy Spirit.
Thus Peter advises the crowd in Jerusalem to “repent and be baptised…in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall
receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts ch2 v38).
The version in 1 Peter is that baptism saves “not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the
resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter ch3 v21).
In the story of Cornelius, baptism is the logical consequence of a previous reception of the Holy Spirit;
“Can anyone forbid water for baptising these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts ch10 v47).
Baptism is not the cleansing act itself, but a symbol of the cleansing, what the Anglican catechism calls “the outward and visible sign of an inward
and spiritual grace”.
On the other hand, “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation ch7 v14) is an image clearly based on
the Old Testament rituals.
To be exact, it goes back to Zechariah’s vision of the high priest Joshua, standing before God clothed in the “filthy garments” of his guilt.
The angel of the Lord declared “I have taken your iniquity away from you”.
And as a token of that, they took away his filthy garments and gave him clean ones (Zechariah ch3 vv1-5).
An earlier chapter in Revelation declares that God’s people have been made “a kingdom and priests”, which puts them on the same level as Joshua,
having the same need for holiness.
Then the statement that their robes have been washed amounts to a similar declaration that their iniquity has been taken away.
References in the New Testament to “the blood of the Lamb” or “the blood of Christ” are shorthand for “the fact that Jesus died”.
So that startling and self-contradictory image of “washed white in the blood of the Lamb” carries the meaning that their guilt has been removed in
consequence of the death of Jesus on the cross.
If sin is not a literal blot, then the “washing” imagery of the New Testament remains a metaphor.
But there is (in Christian teaching) a vital difference between the two cases.
The washing ritual in the Old Testament was a way of describing what needed to be done.
The picture of being “washed” by means of the death of Christ is a way of describing what has been accomplished.
It means that the problem of sin has been dealt with, to the same effect as if it had been physically removed.
When Paul combines together those three claims, namely “washed”, “justified”, and “sanctified”, that indicates at the very least that they
were all made complete at the same time.
But it also implies that these are three different ways of saying the same thing.
Namely that, in the eyes of God, our state of sin is no longer held against us.
In the absence of the old barrier of sin, we have entered into a new relationship with God.