Water from Heaven: Cleansing

Photo by Leo Rivas-Micoud
Photo by Leo Rivas-Micoud

We are wrapping up a lesson series about water from heaven — looking at water’s role in our lives compared to the role God’s word plays in our spiritual development. We began by looking at water as something that shapes and changes the world we live on and how God’s word should so change us. We then looked at God’s word in light of how water refreshes and sustains us. God’s word is a source of spiritual life, sustaining us in a way that nothing else can, and it also revives and refreshes us when the cares of this life leave us parched and thirsty for something better.

The Cleansing Power of Water

Today, we’re going to look at one more role water has in our lives, and it is that of cleansing. In our culture, we experience water this way every day. We get up in the morning, and we take a shower. We wash our hands before meals and after using the restroom. We assume clean water as a part of our lives. In other cultures, it’s not such a safe assumption, but the cleansing power of water is still highly valued. Charitable organizations the world over understand the value of clean water for bathing and other cleanings, and they work tirelessly to bring clean water to every corner of the planet.

The cleanliness water provides is more than a convenience. It’s more than simply about feeling fresh in the morning. Quite simply, washing is the first line of defense in preventing the spread of disease. Whether it’s in the home, in a restaurant, or in a hospital, the cleanliness facilitated by water keeps us well and prevents viruses, bacteria, and other germs from infecting our bodies. However, the cleanliness of the water itself is important. Water that’s been contaminated can be just as dangerous as not washing at all, so that’s many organizations work so hard to make sure communities all over the world have access to clean water.

God Using Water in the Old Testament

The easiest place to see where God used water for cleansing is in the account of Naaman. In II Kings 5:1 – 14, we meet Naaman, a military leader of repute but also afflicted with leprosy. A servant of his from Israel mentions a prophet who can heal him, and this eventually leads him to seek out Elisha. In verse 10, Elisha sends a messenger to Naaman to go wash seven times in the Jordan. After some initial refusals, Naaman finally acquiesces, and he comes out of the waters with skin as new and clean as a child’s. Not only was he restored from illness, but I think it’s safe to say that his new condition was even better than before the leprosy.

God did this through water that Naaman himself said was unclean. God was able to purify where there was no purity. He was able to heal where healing would be impossible. We see more about water in the Old Testament a s well. In Leviticus, numerous ceremonies are preceded by washing in water. Paul, in I Corinthians 10:2 clearly illustrates the crossing of the Red Sea as an event that sanctified and separated God’s people, and Peter, in I Peter 3:18 – 22, even refers to the flood as a cleansing experience in which the world was temporarily washed of unrighteousness.

Water and Our Salvation

Peter then goes on to make a clear parallel with baptism. As the water of the flood temporarily lifted Noah and his family above the death occurring below them, so baptism lifts us out of sin. Peter calls baptism the answer of a good conscience toward God. It raises us out of spiritual death to walk in newness of life, and the effects are much longer lasting than the events of the flood or the Red Sea crossing. Where physical cleansing is temporary, our spiritual cleansing is unending. That’s not to say we can’t fall (as I John 1 points out), but God will always be there to forgive us and make us clean again.

Ananias, in Acts 22:16 calls baptism a washing away of our sins. There’s nothing special in the water that cleanses us, but, like with Naaman, God is able to purify where there is no purity. He can heal where healing should be impossible. Then, as Romans 6:4 illustrates, we rise out of that water in newness of life. Again, as Naaman was raised from that water better than he had ever been, baptism makes us every bit as fresh and new. Whatever sins we have committed, whatever blots lay on our souls, they are gone by the power of God, and we are now something better.

Charity: Baptism

Baptism is one of the only physical rituals that exists in the New Testament, and it exists as a testimony of God’s power to cleanse us. Colossians 2:12 – 13 and the first several verses of Romans 6 tell us it is the way we enter into Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. It is our way of accepting God’s great gift of grace and showing our obedience and gratitude for the salvation only He can provide. Our God cleanses us in the purest water available so that He can stop the spread of sin’s disease in our lives.

If we understand the importance of God’s water from Heaven, then we should become like those people trying to bring clean water to every community on the globe. We should want to share this water with others — this water that shapes and changes our lives, this water that never leaves us thirsty and that sustains our souls, and this water that cleanses our spirits of all disease and uncleanness. We should be excited to share this with others and provide them with the greatest water of all — God’s word. And we should want to keep that message pure, so that we are delivering a water that cleanses rather than something that will do more damage. We do this, not only through teaching and studying, but by how we live and how we behave when we leave these walls.

Water was pictured at the beginning of our Bibles, mentioned as early as verse 2, present before almost anything else was created, and we see it one final time in Revelation 22 as the river of life, flowing out from the throne of God. Water has been part of God’s creation since the beginning, and it will outlive this world. Will you enter into the cleansing waters of baptism, let the water of God’s word mold and sustain you, and share that water of life with others so that we can all gather at the river before God’s throne when this life is over? The water of His word has the power to do all of this if we but open our hearts to Him.

lesson by Robert Smelser

Water from Heaven: Refreshment

Photo by Leo Rivas-Micoud
Photo by Leo Rivas-Micoud

Water is essential to our lives, and God’s word is water for our souls. It is every bit as necessary and influential to our spiritual lives as is physical water to our lives on this planet. Ephesians 5:26 ays God’s word washes over us as water, so we are studying water, its effects on us and our world, and we’re looking at similarities with God’s word. Last time we were together, we talked about the way water shapes and changes our world and how God’s word should do the same for our lives. Next time, we’re going to look at the ways water washes us. Today, we’re going to talk about refreshment and sustenance.

A Refreshing Word, a Refreshing People

In Acts 3:19, Peter calls on those listening to him to “repent and tun back, so that your sins may be blotted out, that seasons of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” Also, in John 7:37, Jesus stands on the last of day of the Feast of Booths and calls out, “If anyone thirsts, come to me and drink.” In both of these cases, water is being referenced as something that refreshes, that energizes us, and that revives us.

Think about how if feels after you’ve been out working in the sun, running a marathon, or hiking in the woods — how good it feels to just get a mouthful of water during or after those activities. It may just be a splash to keep you going, but that water reenergizes and refreshes you. Water is the most revitalizing thing we can consume, but we might turn to the wrong thing at times. We don’t actually listen to our needs. For example, many times you go to grab a snack, drink a glass of water instead. You might be mistaking thirst for hunger, and you will then end up eating too much or make yourself more dehydrated by pursuing the wrong solution. It’s important to know when our bodies need water instead of some substitute.

The same is true of God’s word. We live in a world that is always wearing us out, but turning to God can be that moment of refreshment that gives me the energy to keep pressing on in that race the Hebrew writer describes in chapter 12. The world may leave us parched and weary, but God is always there to freshen us up, renew our energy, and help us renew our work in Him. The challenge is that the world offers may alternatives that look refreshing and that seem like they will reenergize us. The truth is that we might be left more spiritually parched than when we started. Psalm 81:10 portrays God saying that He will fill our mouths with good things. His is the only true and lasting refreshment.

We should then be a refreshing people. Matthew 5:13 calls us the salt of the world, and Colossians 4:6 says our speech should always be gracious, as seasoned with salt. Being around a Christian should simply leave a good taste with anyone we meet, and that should leave others longing for more. Galatians 5:22 – 23 says we produce a spiritual fruit when we behave a certain way — again, something that is flavorful and refreshing. Just as God’s word refreshes us, so should we be refreshing to others. If we are filling ourselves with the true water from Heaven rather than the sugar water of this world, we will be sources of refreshment.

A Sustaining Water

An even deeper purpose of water is one of sustenance. Put simply, we need water to survive, and nothing else can act as substitute. Mountain Dew, coffee, tea, Pepsi, root beer floats, orange juice — we can take a great number of fluids, but none of them can take the place of water. In fact, some of these other liquids are actively harmful to our bodies, and the other ingredients actually serve to actively remove any and all health benefits of the water they contain. The caffeine in coffee actively dehydrates us despite the water in it. A diet cola may acidify our blood and deplete our bodies of calcium despite the water it contains. Water is the single best fluid for keeping our bodies alive and well. Nothing else suffices.

Just as we might look to the world for energy or refreshment, we might come to lean on the world for spiritual sustenance. Unfortunately, there is none to find. We may seek to strengthen ourselves, but instead the things of this world slowly eat away at us, just as rust and moths eat away at the treasures of this world in Matthew 19. This world will always leave us thirsty for more. Instead we should be sustaining ourselves on the bread and water of God’s word. It is this living water that Jesus offers the Samaritan woman in John 4, and He offers it to us as well. It is that which can eternally sustain us. God’s word will fill our hearts and never leave us hungry or thirsty again.

A Healthy Water

Part of water’s sustaining nature is its healing influence on our lives. If you want to feel better, the first and simplest thing you can do is drink more water. Experiencing inexplicable aches and pains? Drink more water. Feeling lethargic and tired? Drink more water. Bouts with headaches and dizziness throughout your day? Drink more water. We don’t think about it because we’ve grown used to being dehydrated. We’re used to feeling a certain level of crummy. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Simply staying hydrated will start to make you feel generally better.

The nourishment of God’s word does the same for us. Psalm 30:2 records the psalmist saying, “I cried to you, and you have healed me.” John 10:10 has Jesus saying that He has come to give life and give it abundantly. Think of all the miracles Jesus performed around healing, even calling Himself a physician on one occasion. All of these were to illustrate the power of God’s word to heal our souls. When I’m felling spiritually depleted, when I’m down on myself and others, when I feel the pains of this world are just too much — chances are its because I’ve been neglecting time in study and prayer. I’ve been seeking sustenance elsewhere when all I really need is to return to the sustaining water of God’s word.

Losing Taste for All Else

It can be tricky to start leaning on water as our primary source of refreshment and sustenance. Your tastebuds may be used to the various sensations less healthy and harmful options offer. I know mine were when I first made the effort to switch. The things of this world are so much more enticing, but, as the Hebrew writer puts it, they are but for a season. I have to be able to keep things in perspective. It takes self-discipline to wean ourselves off the sugary, caffeine-loaded refreshments of this world to turn to the pure waters of Christ.

The great thing is this: the longer we are focused on God’s word and doing what we find therein, the less this world will entice us. I simply don’t crave certain drinks anymore since I’ve been focusing more on water. Do I still have cravings at times? Sure, just like I still crave certain sins and wordily pursuits. I even give in at times, but they just don’t carry the allure they once did. The pleasures of the moment just don’t seem worth all of the negatives. In the case of drinks, they’re just not worth the shakiness, the upset stomach, the headaches, or whatever else may come from those sugary, caffeinated beverages. Even when I give in to a craving, I find myself longing for water again.

Sometimes, I get asked if water as my primary beverage is ever boring, and to be honest, at first it was. In fact, it was downright hard at first because I went through sugar and caffeine withdrawal. And you know what? I sure felt a life of godly living was boring and unnecessarily difficult at one time as well. I went through world-withdrawal. Paul describes this when he says that his spirit and his flesh war with each other in Galatians 5:17. Returning to Hebrews 12, that writer says we deal with those burdens by laying them aside, and that’s exactly what Paul says he did in Philippians 3:7 – 8 when he says he counted all as lost for Christ. We trade the sustenance of this word for waters from God and we count it as loss.

We have a perfect source of refreshment and sustenance available to us through our Father. Let’s continually turn to Him in study and prayer so that we may have perpetual seasons of refreshing from a well that will never dry up. Let’s lay aside the cravings of this world, even those that seem so immediate and fulfilling in the moment. Lay aside their temporary pleasures so that they can’t erode our spiritual health. Let’s instead fill ourselves with perfect nourishment from above, continually refreshing and being refreshed, sustained by the love and word of our Father, and losing all taste for the things of this world.

lesson by Robert Smelser

Water from Heaven: Change

Photo by Leo Rivas-Micoud
Photo by Leo Rivas-Micoud

Water is important in the Bible. In the Old Testament, God uses water on numerous occasions to save, heal, or sustain both believers and unbelievers. We see God’s power and salvation through great and small events involving water. Furthermore, in the New Testament, we can see Christ and His apostles using water both symbolically and literally in their teachings. And why would there be such a heavy emphasis on water throughout God’s word? It’s likely because there is nothing more basic to our world and our survival than water. No matter where we are in world history or in our own personal lives, we need water, and the influence it has on us is immeasurable.

Nature’s Sculptor

Water shapes our world. It is nature’s sculptor. Think about it. What carves out valleys and canyons? What can change the geography of a coastline overnight? What hollows out caves and forms the stalactites and stalagmites within? What shapes our planet more than any other element? It’s water.

Whether we’re talking about hardened sediment or loosely held sand; whether feeling the influence of ocean tides or the steady persistent trickle of a mountain stream — water shapes everything through erosion. In this case, however, erosion as a good thing; because the parallel is this: water sculpts and shapes the land it erodes the same way God’s word should be shaping and molding us.

Isaiah 64:8 and Romans 9:20 – 21 both compare us to clay being molded by a potter. Furthermore Romans 12:1 – 2 says we should not conform to the shape of the patterns set down by the world around us. Rather we should be transformed by the renewal only our God can provide. When a stream starts running down the side of a mountain, it’s on a surface shaped by the tectonic forces that drove those rocks into the air. However, over time, that water changes the surface of that mountain. It transforms it into something new. God’s word should have such an effect on us.

Changes Both Fast and Slow 

If you look at satellite photography of most of the landmasses bordering the Indian Ocean from December 25, 2004 and compare the exact same region on December 26, 2004, you will see a coastline forever changed. Between those two days, the undersea Sumatra–Andaman earthquake occurred off of the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. That triggered a series of massive tsunamis that affected fourteen countries. Waves reached a hundred feet in height. 230,000 or more people perished with more missing, and the region’s ecosystem was entirely altered, perhaps permanently. All of that happened by water and water alone.

There are times in our lives when God’s word crashes against us and irrevocably changes us. Look at the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 when many gathered cry out, “Men and brethren, what must we do to be saved?” Look at the father in Mark 9:24 who cries out to Jesus, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” Look to Saul on the road to Damascus in Acts 9, who asked trembling, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” in verse 6. These people and more felt crisis when faced with the magnitude of God’s word and their own shortcomings. Their world shifted at that moment, and it can be that way with us too. God’s word can be like an overpowering wave that quickly changes us forever.

More often, however, water works slowly. It erodes. It molds. It shapes. The Colorado River worked millennium by millennium in carving out the 277-mile-long fissure we call the Grand Canyon. By that steady erosion, we can see remnants of our planet’s history left exposed by the perpetual and steady influence the water has had on that monument of granite, sandstone, limestone, and shale. As long as the Colorado River runs, the Grand Canyon will only grow deeper. It is a geologic testimony to the slow, persistent power of water.

Likewise, God’s word can take time to work on us. Look no further than the apostle Peter and how long it took him to really understand Jesus. Over the course of the gospels , we see Peter grow and waver in turns. We see him jump out onto the water in Matthew 14:28 – 29 only to see him sink one verse later. We see him proclaim that he will defend Jesus with his very life only to then deny Christ three times. Later, through Acts and Galatians, we see Peter be the first to preach to non-Jews only to behave in a prejudiced way later. But it’s this same Peter who would one day write (in I Peter 5) that we can last all of our cares on Christ, that we can drive the devil away with faithful resistance, and that we can called to eternal glory in Christ.

God’s word worked patiently with Peter, eroding his worldliness and reshaping him into something spiritual over his entire life. That erosion exposed his shortcomings and laid bare his need for a Savior. It can take time for God’s word to shape us. It can take time for our own efforts to touch the hearts of those with whom we study and try to influence in love. It slowly opens our eyes to our own need for a Savior and exposes our need for transformation. That’s why Peter would also describe God as eternally patient in II Peter 3. It’s because He wants to give us that time for His word to expose us, mold us, and transform us. He is as persistent and patient as the waters of the Colorado River, and His effect on our lives can be just as deep and long-lasting.

Responding to Change

Unlike nature, though, we have a choice. We can either allow God’s word to erode away our worldliness and mold us into something new and better, or we can resist it. No coastline or canyon can resist the changes water will impose upon them, but we can resist God. We can look at His word and decide it does’t apply. We can justify our own worldly pursuits and attitudes. We can even justify sin. A piece of shale that never eroded under the influence of water would be unnatural, and that’s exactly how James describes us in James 1:22 – 27 when we look into God’s word and resist it.

In Acts 7:51, Stephen accuses those who would stone him of resisting the Holy Spirit. These were people resisting God’s power to shape and transform them, and his audience was comprised of spiritual leaders. You see, we can call ourselves God’s people but resist Him all the same. That’s when we need to be more like Peter, who was always being shaped by God’s word in small ways. That’s when we need to be like Paul, who was willing to discard his past self in exchange for the man God was changing him into. That’s when we need to be like the jailor in Phillipi who let an experience with God redefine his life.

We are always being shaped by things around us, whether or not we want to be. We are always being influenced. There is always something eroding us, but we have the power to choose. We can either let the world erode our spirituality and shape us into something conforming to this world, or we can allow God to erode that worldliness and transform us to be more like Him and His Son, our perfect example and king. We can either be shaped by the waters of sin and temptation, or we can be shaped by the waters from Heaven. I know which I want to mold me, and I invite you to make the same choice. Be changed by God, and begin a life as one transformed by the pure water from Heaven.

lesson by Robert Smelser