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.
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