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