Friday, 15 October 2010
Grace To Cleanse Myself
Let’s get practical. Does trusting Jesus to cleanse me mean I never have to go on a diet or start an exercise program? Not to mention other areas of dirtiness in my life, like losing my temper with my kids or lying to my husband.
No. The grace of Jesus doesn’t just cleanse us. By grace he makes us able to cleanse ourselves. In fact we’re commanded to do so.
Just when I begin to grasp the enormous truth that I’m saved by God’s grace, not by my own works, I come across statements like this that confuse me:
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. 2 Corinthians 7:1
I thought Jesus was supposed to cleanse me. Now I’m supposed to cleanse myself? Apparently Paul is not the only one who says such things either. James, Peter, and John have their own versions of this command.
- Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. James 4:8
- Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh…1 Peter 2:11
- And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 1 John 3:3
How does “cleanse yourself” fit with “Jesus makes me clean”? They seem the opposite, that either you cleanse yourself or Jesus makes you clean. But they actually fit together. Both are true. Both are expressions of the grace of God. Here’s how you might link them in the same sentence:
Because Jesus makes us clean, we can now cleanse ourselves.
That’s a nice sound bite, but how does it work? What does it mean? Well here’s what it doesn’t mean:
- that Jesus took care of the past, but I take care of the present (and future).
- that Jesus helped me when I was helpless, but now I’m able and expected to do it myself.
- that Jesus will still help me, but I have to do my part–5% or 15% or 49%
It’s important to wrestle with this, otherwise we have to turn a blind eye to all the commands in the New Testament. Grace is still the operating system of our lives. Grace enables us to take the commands seriously without being crushed by them.
Taste Grace Here
Let’s look back at our verse, 2 Corinthians 7:1. Don’t miss the grace in it. The command Paul gives is based on that grace. It begins, “Since we have these promises, beloved…”
First, the very word “promises” is like a hyperlink to God’s grace. The fact that God makes promises to us in the first place is a free act of his grace. And the fulfillment of every promise in our Bibles depends completely on his grace. Ultimately every promise points to the perfect life and atoning death of Jesus for us. He fulfilled the conditions and we get the blessing. Period.
The second clue is that word “beloved.” It’s one of Paul’s favorite nicknames for believers. That’s also a pointer to grace. The love of God has been poured out on us in Christ. We are beloved. That’s now God’s pet name for us.
Third,the specific promise Paul is referring to is quoted in the verses directly preceding his exhortation, 2 Corinthians 6:16-18, which is actually a combination of Old Testament texts. In its most basic form it looks like this:
- I will….I will…they shall…
- Therefore go & touch no unclean thing
- I will…I will…they shall
Do you see the pattern? Grace…command…grace. Without even looking at the full content of the verses we can see that God’s commands — and our obedience– is meant to be sandwiched between his almighty grace. Grace saves us. Then grace sustains us as we seek to follow him.
The Best Part of Grace
But there’s more. The white hot center of grace is a person. The substance and content of grace is him. God himself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the gift he gives us.
…I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 2 Corinthians 6:16
It is the commitment of his presence with us that enables us to take his commands seriously. We are not alone. Not ever. We join him in cleansing us because he joined himself to us when he made us clean.
So … go on that diet. Tell your husband the truth. Ask for patience with your children.
Because Jesus has made us clean, we can now cleanse ourselves hand in hand with him.