Cleansing: Inward and Outward (Part 1)

Cleansing Inward and Outward Part 1.jpg
The Pharisees in Jesus’ time had placed the emphasis on the ritual cleansing - the washing of hands but not of heart (Matthew 15:2). Jesus re-ordered the emphasis (Matthew 15:3-20), bringing us back to the order Isaiah gives us.

When Peter says baptism is not just a cleansing of the flesh but is an appeal to God for a clean conscience (1 Peter 3:21), he is connecting the experience of baptism into Christ with a strong biblical theme - the need for both inward and outward cleansing. In Matthew 23, Jesus chides the Pharisaic “hypocrites” for their attention to detail on outside cleanliness while leaving leaving filth inside a seemingly well-polished cup and rotting flesh inside a white-washed tomb. Even the purpose of 2 goats being involved in the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) has connection to the need for both inward and outward cleansing. The blood of the slain goat was sprinkled where no one save the high priest and God Himself would witness - a private, inward cleansing. The live goat was sent into the wilderness with confessed sins laid upon it as a public witness to all - an outward removal of the filth.  

The opening chapters of Isaiah reveal the sin-stains of “a people weighed down with iniquity” (1:4) and “whose hands are covered with blood” (1:15). So God clarifies their need in 1:16-17 as 3-fold: 

    1.    Inward Cleansing: “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean.”

    2.    Outward Cleansing: “Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight” (sounds like the  scapegoat concept of Leviticus 16)

    3.    Ethical Transformation: “Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

Notice the order here. As in the instructions for The Day of Atonement, inward cleansing happens first - the appeal for a clean conscience within. Then outward cleansing is possible. And only then will a change in ethical behavior happen. There are 2 main components of purity in the Levitical Law: 

    1. Ritual (outward - concerned with contamination of the flesh)

   2. Moral (inward - concerned with contamination of the heart)

The Pharisees in Jesus’ time had placed the emphasis on the ritual cleansing - the washing of hands but not of heart (Matthew 15:2). Jesus re-ordered the emphasis (Matthew 15:3-20), bringing us back to the order Isaiah gives us. Outward signs of purity and true changes in ethics both must begin with inward cleansing. So with the stains on the inside out of my reach, I need a God who can reach. I need a promise like the one God delivers in Isaiah 1:18:  

 

“Though your sins be as scarlet,

They will be as white as snow;

Though they are red like crimson,

They will be like wool.”

 

To His Glory, 

Caleb Cochran