“When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of the works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4-5).
A lady had been backpacking in remote areas for a week. It had been hot. The hiker sweat daily. There had not been a lake or stream in which to clean up. The smell of campfire was in her hair and clothes. The smell of her daily exertion wafted from her. The trail she hiked brought her to a small town. She went into a store and was looking at the antiperspirants, deodorants, lipstick, etc. The kindly clerk noticed her enter the store. Other customers would start down her aisle only to go part way, turn back, make a face, and hold their nose. The kindly clerk approached the hiker. “Ma’am, I will gladly help you get some supplies. But before you use any of these supplies, it would be good for you to have a through washing”; the kindly clerk handed the hiker a token for a shower at the park, and a bar of soap.
I have been the filthy, smelly person coming into a store after days backpacking. There were also other times that I had an aroma after bucking hay, picking rock, digging ditch, chopping wood, athletic practices or games. However, I was usually looking for food or drink, not the personal hygiene products. I planned on taking a shower soon. What the hiker needed and what I needed was to be cleansed with a washing, not the application of something to try to mask or cover up our condition. Regularly, deodorants and the like are applied after the cleansing in response to being clean; to compliment the cleansing that has been completed.
We live in a fallen in sin world that continually pelts us with uncleanliness. Satan, and his hoard of demons, watch us carefully for weak spots to smear further grime onto us. As with the hiker and myself, much of the filth oozes right out of our sinful flesh. When our conscience is not hardened, by persistent denial of the obvious, we experience guilt because of or dirtiness. On our own, we will try to mask that uncleanliness with good works. In our own eyes, and often in the eyes and noses of those around us, the good works help mask the filth.
These good works can be an addictive game of “tit for tat” to massage our self-esteem: “O, I should not have been so gruff with grandma on the phone. I will send her a text message with hearts and flowers.” “O, I should not have taken that which was not mine. I will give back (maybe even fourfold) what I have taken.” The use of good works to atone for wrong, filth, and sin is disgusting. Isaiah proclaims, “We have all become like one who is unclean; and our righteous deeds are like polluted garments” (Isaiah 64:6). The Holy Spirit will bring good works from those Divinely cleansed, to compliment God’s refreshing cleansing work within that person.
O Lord, continually lead us to (make us to lie down in Your green pastures of) Your means of grace in the Word and Sacraments. Therein we receive a Divine “washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”
The Lord be with you,
Pastor Sam Wiseman