The True Cleansing Agent
Years ago, I remember hearing about a man that became a community's project. He had been a homeless drunk living on the streets for years. Through a chain reaction of events, he became the target of a community wide effort to change his life. One of the town's tailors made him a brand new suit and gave him an entirely new wardrobe. The barber gave him a shave and a haircut. The restaurant owner treated him to a good meal. A local landlord got him into an apartment with deposit and first month's rent paid. A local furniture store got him new furniture for his apartment. A community organization raised money for him for general expenses in getting a new start in life. They also found him a job. It was such a marvelous undertaking, that a local news outlet covered the story. They interviewed the man who was overwhelmed with how the community came together for him. One could hardly recognize him. He was not the same man that spent many a night in an alley with a bottle of booze as his only friend. After the reception, news stories, and all that attention, he went home to his new apartment.
After the weekend, he was to start his new job on Monday morning. Of course, the reporters were there to cover his first day on the job along with a number of community leaders. The time for him to arrive at work came and went. He was late. In fact, it became so late that they become concerned. They went to his apartment, and he was not there. By now they were very worried and concerned. They looked everywhere for him and could not find him anywhere. That evening, a waitress found him on the way home from work. He was back in his old alley with a bottle of booze sleeping off most of the bottle. He was still in his new suit, though by now it was a little soiled. He also now had a five o clock shadow and his hair was messed up.
This story illustrates and important truth. Change has to come from the inside out. Cosmetic change is not change at all. This is one reason why the ministry of Christ is superior to the ministry of the priests of the Old Testament. They had provisions for ceremonial purification, which might include things such as washings, blood sacrifice, the ashes of a heifer, and other such things. However, they did not transform the heart. On the other hand, under the new covenant that Jesus enacted, he would write the law of God on our hearts and minds (Heb 8:10) and would purify our conscience (Heb 9:9, 14). Our hearts, minds, and consciences were all distorted and marred by sin. This is why men without God who profess to be wise become fools (Rom 1:22). This is why those in sin are darkened in their understanding (Rom 1:21; Eph 4:18). This is why the heart is deceitful and desperately sick (Jer 17:9). This is why it has to be God at work in us both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil 2:13). When we sin, we become a slave to sin (Jn 8:34), which means we are not strong enough or smart enough to take care of our sin problem. The only one that can truly make it right is Jesus himself. Only he can deal with sin and only he can give us the power to change from the inside out.