The Washing of Water by the Word


The Bible contains a wealth that is far too rich to address in one article. But there is one aspect that is often overlooked and misunderstood that we need to talk about, and that is the cleansing effect it has on our hearts and minds. It has nothing to do with legalism, which is the effort of our willpower to live according to the Word, but everything with receiving its message as from a loving Father to His children.

The cleansing of our sinful nature runs like a thread from Genesis to Revelation, and will always be an important aspect of our lives because sin cannot stand in the presence of God. No wonder that our salvation begins with hearing the gospel, God’s Word:

For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? Romans 10:13,14

So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Romans 10;17

You receive salvation the very moment you believe the gospel:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:8,9

Salvation comes by faith in God’s grace alone; it can never be faith plus anything that we do to receive it. The only contribution we make is to receive this wonderful gift when the gospel is presented to us, and this is where the Word begins to do its work:

Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. John 3:5

You are instantly born again by the Holy Spirit when you respond in faith to the gospel. The water referred to in the verse above does not mention baptism anywhere in this chapter, but is firmly established in the context of the gospel message — the Word of God. Baptism wasn’t even announced by Jesus at that time, only the baptism of John existed. No doctrine should ever rest on the interpretation of a single verse, or a selection of verses. There is always a larger context that must be studied for accurate insight. The Bible has a way to confirm and support itself, which is a safety measure built into the Word to provide protection against error and heresy.

When the gospel is shared, conviction falls on the heart of the unsaved:

And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. John 16:8-11

The Holy Spirit works with the Word to bring conviction on the sinner, and this is where the Word begins its cleansing work. The Word tells you the blood of Jesus cleanses you from all sin, and as you abide in it, it will keep you clean throughout your life.

The disciples walked with Jesus and heard Him speak wherever they went. The Word came to them day after day, doing its work as Jesus said:

You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. John 15:3

An interesting incident happened at the last supper that Jesus was with them, when He began to wash His disciples’ feet:

Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.” Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, “You are not all clean.” John 13:6-10

Jesus used Peter’s reaction as an opportunity to teach a spiritual truth: he who is already clean only needs to wash away the dirt that clings to him from walking in this sinful world. By bringing Judas’ evil heart into the conversation, it is clear that Jesus did not mean they were bodily clean, but spiritually. Some people quickly connect this washing to baptism, but baptism was not part of this discussion. As a matter of fact, we have no record of the disciples’ baptism. We do believe they were baptized, but it is not mentioned here, and for that reason we cannot connect their cleansing in this passage with baptism.

In his letter to the Ephesians Paul writes about the washing of water by the Word:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. Ephesians 5:26-27

Jesus sanctifies and cleanses His church with the washing of water by the Word, removing spots, wrinkles, and blemishes, and this is how He prepares her to become the glorious church before He receives her as His bride. The cleansing by the Word is an ongoing process in the life of the believer. In His last prayer on earth, as the end of His earthly mission approached, Jesus included this request in His prayer:

Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. John 17:17

James, the brother of Jesus and pastor of the first church, emphasized the importance of the Word in our salvation:

Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. James 1:21

The soul is the mind, the control centre of your being where decisions are made and thoughts turned into action. If your soul is not continually exposed to the cleansing power of the Word, it will slide back into carnal thoughts, and, eventually, a sinful life. The “planting” of the Word into your mind is an antidote to a worldly life because it is fully able to save the soul.

Paul likens the Word to a mirror into which you look to be transformed into the glorious image of our Lord:

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. 2 Corinthians 3:18

Paul, in his typical way of bringing deep truths to us, described the cleansing ability of the Word in the verse above. The more you look into the Word, as if in a mirror, the more the impurities in your life will be exposed so that it can be laid down. The Christian’s desire is to become like the Lord — a work that will only be completed on your last day on earth. However, for now we strive to grow toward His image by looking into God’s mirror as much as we can. It will continue to cleanse and sanctify you, spot by spot, and wrinkle by wrinkle, until that final day.

The psalmist, whoever he was, discovered that it is hard to sin when the Word found a place in your heart!

With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments! Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You. Psalm 119:10,11

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