I'm sure it never happened, but it makes a good story one most mothers can surely enjoy. Little Junior fell into a barrel of tar. He climbed out looking like the son of Godzilla. Finding him encased with black goo, his mother threw him back into the tar barrel saying, "It's a lot easier to start with a brand new one than to clean up the old one!"
Do you suppose God ever feels that way? In a sense, we all fell into the barrel of sin from the garden of Eden to this moment. Morally filthy though we may be, the Bible assures us that God would still rather clean up the old ones than start over with new ones. From Genesis to Revelation we read the good news of God's patient efforts to clean us up. "Come now, and let us reason together," says the Lord. "Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be white as snow. Though they be red like crimson, they will be like wool" (Isaiah 1:18).
Among the simple pleasures of life there is the special joy of coming in from hard work sweaty, sticky, dirty and getting clean again. Doesn't it feel wonderful? Well, something like that can happen to your deeply stained soul. Jesus, the Messiah, is in the cleaning business.
That's what the prophet said four hundred years before Christ came: "For he is like a refiner's fire and like fuller's soap" (Malachi 3:2 RSV). As an ex-Fuller Brush Man, I can assure you that the soap referred to in this scripture is not something you can buy from a door-to-door salesman. In ancient times hand woven clothes were so expensive that few people could possess more than one or two changes. Therefore an important job in every village was the "fuller." He washed clothes by placing them in large vats with strong lye soap and stomping on them with his feet. (See Mark 9:3.)
That is what the Messiah does to the stains on your soul. It has often been said, "Cleanliness is next to godliness," but in this case, cleanliness is godliness.
The writer of Revelation picks up that same theme when he says, "Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city" (Revelation 22:14).
Sainthood is not a graduate degree in Christianity, but the entrance requirement. A saint is not someone who is sinless, but someone who is forgiven. The same people Paul called "saints" he also sternly rebuked for their sinful behavior. In fact, he accused them of being worse than the heathen (1 Corinthians 1:2; 5:1). Saints are not sinless, just forgiven.
When saints are overcome by indwelling sin (Romans 7:20), they can take some comfort in the thought that they are not deserters, but prisoners of war. I say they can take some comfort, but not too much. The old cliché, "Nobody's perfect" is the sinner's couch of ease, but the saint's bed of thorns.
For too long we have tried to sell the world an easy religion that majors on "free grace" and minors on full obedience; a cheap faith that offers forgiveness without repentance and purity without washing. But the world won't buy that phony baloney. Even the unreligious know that a religion that costs nothing and demands nothing is worth nothing. It is a false religion of a false Christ who is pictured as coming simply to lower the standards of admission to the Kingdom of God so that almost everybody makes it except perhaps for Judas, Hitler and a few undesirables.
We have forgotten about holiness without which no one can see God (1 Peter 1:15,16).
In recent times holiness has gotten a bad reputation. "Holy Joe" is a name no Joseph would be flattered to receive. Who wants to be holy when our only image of holiness comes from religious sourpusses who imply that everything pleasurable in life is either fattening or forbidden? But the Bible gives another perspective on holiness with this beatitude: "Happy" are those who wash their robes" (Today's English Version). Holy living is happy living. It is life at its best and fullest. It is the fulfillment of Jesus' promise: "I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly" (John 10:10).
You are as holy as you want to be. The unholy defect is in your desire, not your circumstances. In all honesty you have to admit that you don't want to be a saint. You are content to be an ordinary generic brand Christian, just a decent guy or gal. But Jesus isn't interested in spot-cleaning, tidying up around the edges where the dirt shows. He wants to get the deep down dirt out. He doesn't say, "Unless you are perfect I won't help you." But he does say, "The only kind of help I'll give you is to become perfect" (Matthew 5:48).
You can get squeaky clean with steady use of the Christian's "bar of soap." 1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, he (Jesus) is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. When you soil your clothes, you wash them. You do not expect them to stay clean. The washing, though effective, is not permanent. If you get them dirty again, re-washing makes them clean again. The same procedure applies to your soul. God's cleansing is a continuing process. If you soil your soul through new or recurring sin, confess it, rejoice in God's washing and then get on with the business of abundant living. Of course you may need to do this again and again, but in time the joy be being clean clear through will help to keep you from falling into the pit of temptation.
The last beatitude of the Bible says, "Blessed are those who wash their robes that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates of the city." Two special privileges are specified for our scrubbed saints. First, they are given the right to the tree of life. That refers all the way back to the garden of Eden when humankind fell into sin. The first chapters of Genesis tells us that God mercifully denied them access to the tree which would have made them immortal in their immorality (Genesis 2:9; 3:22-24). The primitive people of God understood a fairly sophisticated theological truth: that living forever would be no blessing as long as we were bound in sin. No healthy-minded person wants to die. But neither would he or she want to live forever in this kind of world. God does want us to live forever but only after he has made us and the world in which we live fit for eternal life. Revelation looks forward to that wonderful day when we have been thoroughly washed from our sins and thus prepared to enjoy forever the fruit of the tree of life (Revelation 2:7; 22:2,14).
The second privilege of the saints is that they enter by the gates of the city. The Biblical story which began in a garden where mankind sinned ends in a city where even the horses and trash cans are holy (Zechariah 14:20 LB). The primeval curse has been repealed and the eternal blessing pronounced.
Your ticket through the pearly gates has been purchased by the precious blood of Jesus (Hebrews 9:22; Revelation 1:5). You are
But only the saints will go marching in. "Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying" (Revelation 22:15). The choice is really up to you. God will not take you by the ear and scrub you clean whether you like it or not.
There will always be some who won't like it. They are the kind of people refuse baptism into the church because they say, "There are too many hypocrites in it." Of course I won't deny there are hypocrites in the church. But frankly I would rather spend a few years with hypocrites in the church than eternity with them in hell.
Well, how about it friend? Will you be in that number when the saints go marching in? "Blessed are those who wash their robes that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go in by the gates of the city." Blessed indeed! For they have a happy life, a happy death and a happy eternity.
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