Sanctification, part 4: Water Erosion and Growth
The Holy Spirit and the Word of God are both likened to water. I wrote about that last week. Jesus said that whoever comes to Him to drink the water He has to offer, whoever believes in Him, "out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." (John 7:37-38) John explains that Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit whom He would send after He ascended back to heaven. Jesus told the Samaritan woman, "whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life." The Holy Spirit is that fountain of water; He produces those rivers of living water within us. Peter and Paul both tell us that it is the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us (II Thessalonians 2:13, I Peter 1:2).
But God also talks about His Word being like water, as Isaiah 55:10-11 says: "For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please. And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it." And Paul tells us that Christ sanctifies and cleanses His church—us—by washing us with the Word (Ephesians 5:26). Jesus told His disciples that they were clean because of the Word that He had spoken to them (John 15:3). He also prayed on the night before He died that God the Father would "sanctify them with Your truth; Your Word is truth" (John 17:17).
The Holy Spirit is like water; the Word of God is like water. The Word of God sanctifies us; the Holy Spirit sanctifies us. The Holy Spirit breathed the Word of God and moved upon men as they spoke and wrote the Word (II Timothy 3:17, II Peter 1:21). There is no disconnect between the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. When we read the Bible, we are reading the words of the Holy Spirit who is revealing to us the mind of God.
Why do I make such a repeatedly big deal about this connection between the Holy Spirit and the Word of God? For these reasons: the Holy Spirit pursues us through the Word of God, and we pursue the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. The Word of God is what gives us faith and builds our faith (Romans 10:17), and the Spirit gives life (I Peter 1:23). The Word of God and the Spirit of God together sanctify us.
Sanctification, that big Bible word, is the process of cleansing our souls. Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit whom He would send would abide with us and be in us forever. When we put our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, His own Holy Spirit regenerates our spirit and He moves into our new spirit. Our new spirit becomes His dwelling place, His holy temple (I Corinthians 6:19-20, II Corinthians 6:16). He then begins the renovation process of redeeming our souls that are totally sin-saturated.
We may not look so bad on the outside to others, and we may not even think we are so bad ourselves; but given the right set of circumstances where our will is crossed or we are hurt and offended—watch out! A lot of junk can come to the surface fairly quickly! We didn't even know that junk was down there, but God did. He is in the business of revealing to us all the junk within our hearts and doing a thorough clean-up job.
This is what sanctification is all about: cleansing our minds, our wills, and our emotions. He wants us to learn how to repay evil with good, to speak with kindness instead of anger, to care more about the needs of others than we do about our own, to give way to others, to listen rather than airing our own opinions, to seek an offender's blessing rather than seeking revenge, to choose submission to others rather than asserting our own way. None of those things come naturally to us.
So the Holy Spirit has moved in and made our spirit His new home. But our soul surrounding that new spirit is still full of dirt. This is the beauty of the water metaphor. The Holy Spirit is like living water, which means flowing water, as opposed to stagnant water. We live near the Duckabush River, one of the clearest—and coldest—rivers I have ever seen. It flows from the snows of the Olympic Mountains. It rushes over rocks and through gorges, cascading over high cliffs in dancing sprays of waterfalls. If I were to throw a clod of dirt into that river, even on the flats, the sparkling water would carry it away in seconds, washing the place where I threw it quite clean and clear. The Holy Spirit flows through our lives to bring cleansing every moment of every day and to replenish us with a fresh supply of His very own righteousness.
But the Word of God is also water. As we let the Word of God flow into our lives every day, even several times a day till we eventually learn to meditate on it day and night at every available moment, it acts in the same way: convicting us of sin, revealing the dirt that is within our souls and then carrying it off by the truth of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit uses the Word to reveal to us the truth about ourselves, to show us our hearts, to hold up before us a different standard, to enlighten our understanding about what is really true, causing the life and mind of God to flow through us.
Over time, water erodes hillsides and even wears away rocks, pulverizing and carrying them off in miniscule pieces. Depending on the force and flow, water can uproot trees, carry off huge boulders, and strip houses from their foundations. Think for a moment of the tremendous amount of work necessary for God to cleanse our souls of all its self-centeredness and all its angst. Think of the enormity of the task of converting our sin-saturated hearts into the perfect image of Christ. What will it take? The water of the Word and the Holy Spirit.
Most often they flow through our lives at a normal pace, gently wearing away the dirt within our souls, carrying it off; patiently, consistently reshaping our lives to conform to the likeness of Christ. But other times, the Holy Spirit uses the Word like a flood; we are suddenly hit full force with a revelation, a conviction, an event that causes major catastrophic change. In both these ways water has a powerful impact for change, whether slow and barely perceptible over time or rapid and cataclysmic. The water of the Spirit and the Word is molding us into its shape, its flow, moving out of the way anything that impedes His blessed Life within us, until our dirt-filled soul (mind, will, emotions) is as clean and clear as our reborn spirit that houses the Holy Spirit!
Let the water of the Word of God and of the Spirit have its effect in your life, eroding away the I-shaped sin-bent within your soul. Get in the Word and ask the Spirit to breathe that Word into your life, empowering it as it flows through every facet of your soul, your body, and your relationships. Out of your inmost being will flow rivers of living water! "Sanctify them with Your truth; Your Word is truth."