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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:The Holy Spirit's Deep Cleaning Power
Text:LD 26 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The work of The Holy Spirit

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 86:3,4                                                                                

Hy 1

Reading – Psalm 51; Luke 3:1-20

Ps 51:1,2,3

Sermon – Lord’s Day 26

Ps 51:4,5,6

Hy 15:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, sometimes you see a car on the road that’s clearly just been four-wheel driving: a vehicle caked with dirt, covered with dust, spattered with mud. If that was your car, you might drive straight to the car wash and give it a good clean. After ten minutes of high-pressure blasting the dirt would be gone, and your car would stand sparkling.

The same action of washing is behind the basic lesson of baptism. For the sacraments, Lord’s Day 25 teaches, are outward activities that are loaded with meaning. They are given by God so that we might remember his great works of salvation and believe his steadfast promises. And at the heart of baptism is that symbolic action of washing.

If something is dirty, you clean it. It might be your car that’s dirty, after driving the muddy tracks, or it might be your body that’s dirty after being in the workshop all day. “Water washes away…” what is soiled and stained. In the same way, water is sprinkled on a covenant child or a believing adult—and that person is washed. Even if you can’t see the stains, and you don’t notice an immediate transformation, God says there’s been a real washing.

For what do the waters of baptism point to? Baptism points to Christ, the water to his blood. With his shed blood, we’re cleansed of all that accumulated sin, and rinsed of our original guilt. But at baptism, there’s something else going on too. We’re washed with Christ’s blood, and we’re also washed with his Spirit. Look at Q&A 69: “As surely as water washes away the dirt... so certainly his blood and Spirit wash away the impurity of my soul.” So what does it mean, to be washed by the Spirit of Christ our Saviour? That’s our focus as we study God’s Word and Lord’s Day 26,

In our baptism, God promises to wash us with Christ’s Spirit:

  1. this washing’s need
  2. this washing’s power
  3. this washing’s result


1) this washing’s need: When something is dirty, it needs to be washed. But sometimes washing seems pointless, doesn’t it? Those who tackle the Monday morning heaps of laundry would agree: cleaning is a never-ending task! Not to put it too humanly, but God must sometimes feel the same way. For He continually washes us from our sins. Each and every day—even more than once a day—we ask the LORD for the mercy of his forgiveness. We ask God to pardon the evil we’ve done, and to excuse the good things we’ve failed to do.

But as soon as we’ve received his mercy, we need to ask for it again. As you probably know from your own life, it’s a never-ending wash cycle: we sin; we ask for forgiveness; we receive forgiveness (thanks be to God!). But then we sin again and ask for mercy again. And then isn’t it often the same old sins that we committed last time? The same careless tongue. The same lack of prayer. The same attitude of pride.

Again and again we must pray as David does in Psalm 51: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of your tender mercies blot out my transgressions” (v 1). That’s our daily prayer, our (almost) repetitive prayer. So is it pointless? Or does God ever get weary with our constant need?

In answer, let’s think about Psalm 51 a bit more. We know the backstory, how King David had lusted after Bathsheba, had sex with her, then murdered her husband to try and cover it up. This sin of God’s chosen one was a shocking event. Think of the scandal that still erupts today whenever a well-known public figure admits to having an affair. We’re shocked to hear it, and maybe even feel a bit smug: I certainly wouldn’t do that kind of thing!

Yet if you think you’re standing, be careful lest you fall. Realise that the prayer that David offers in Psalm 51 could be spoken by any one of us, on any day, after any sin. Maybe we didn’t sin in exactly the same way as Israel’s king, yet his prayer is our prayer—it must be—as we enter the presence of the holy God.

For what does David pray? “Wash away thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (v 2). Notice what he asks for, the kind of treatment that he requests of God: “wash away... Cleanse me...” After committing this sin, he feels like he’s physically grimy; he feels like the filth is sticking to him and he can’t rub it off: “Wash away thoroughly my iniquity.”

He seeks cleansing, because David has insight into God’s law. He knew how the LORD always insisted on his people being “clean.” The book of Leviticus taught the Israelites that they had to eat the right kind of food, wear the right kind of clothes, treat illness with the right kind of caution—all to stay clean, and to make holiness possible. According to the law, countless things could make you unclean. This is why God’s people had to focus on leading a pure and sanctified life. There’s truth in the old saying: “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”

But David also knew that outward purity isn’t the same as purity on the inside. All the laws about ritual and sacrifice, food and fabric, were meant to teach the obligation of true devotion to the LORD. Let your heart be spotless in its desires. Let your mind be holy in what it thinks about. Let your life be kept from every pollution of sin. That’s true godliness.

Compare it to when your car is sparkling clean on the outside: it looks good and well-kept. But what happens when you open the door? Sparkling chrome and shiny rims don’t matter if the floor is covered with old coffee cups, and you’re sitting on last year’s receipts. It’s the same for us: we might be church-going and law-abiding—that’s the nice exterior—but inside there can be the festering uncleanness of sin. If someone opened the door on our private life, they might see that we’re in serious need of cleaning too!

So where does this filth come from? Some is from the world around us. As Christians, we’re tempted by the images we see on the screen, tempted by the people we meet, tempted by the fine things that are being offered by this world. We don’t always take care to avoid it, so sin accumulates—a layer of greed and anger and bitterness and lust and laziness builds up.   

Because of the world that surrounds us, we need washing. But it’s also because of the heart that rules us. David didn’t fall because he happened to see Bathsheba one sunny afternoon. We don’t fall into sin because we’re tired or because we haven’t been doing our devotions. We fall, because this is who we are: “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (v 5). And that’s not an excuse, like saying “I can’t help it.” For God created us with every ability to be right with him.

And that’s still what God expects. As David prays, “You desire truth in the inward parts” (v 6). God wants a heart that loves him, a heart that beats with integrity. He wants a spirit that is pure in its desires, a mind that reflects the mind of God himself. 

In Proverbs, the Spirit says that our heart is like a spring. For the water bubbling up from a spring might be undrinkable, or it might be sparkling clean and refreshing. In the same way, human hearts can be a constant stream of wickedness, or a source of goodness. And apart from God’s gracious working, all our hearts are corrupted in a profound way. God desires “truth in the inward parts,” but He finds falsehood, selfishness, and unbelief.

So we’re back to the question: What’s the use? Why wash something that’s just going to get filthy again? Why does God forgive our sin today, if we’re going to do the same thing tomorrow, or even worse? Why doesn’t God give up on us?

God’s grace abounds with a richness that we can’t imagine. And God is faithful: it’s just not in his nature to give up. In holy baptism, He sees that we need not only the blood of Christ, but also the Spirit of Christ. For only by the Holy Spirit can there be a real change in a person’s heart. Only by the Holy Spirit can there be a lasting improvement in a person’s condition. Only by the Spirit can that cycle of sin start to be broken! In Christ, we are clean. And by his Spirit, we begin to stay clean!


2) this washing’s power: When you start pressure-washing your car to clean it from last weekend’s mud, the cleaning looks dramatic. The dirt gets blasted off, and the shine is restored. I’ve always said that it feels good to drive a clean car, even though nothing has changed where it really counts: under the hood. When it comes to the Spirit’s power, we see more than just a scrubbing of the surface of things. We see spiritual revival—into the gearbox and engine of our lives!

So when David confesses his sin, he acknowledges his absolute neediness, and says that his only possible help was through the LORD. That’s why David makes this earnest prayer: “Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me” (v 11). If God will withdraw from us, if He’ll leave us without aid and cut us off from his Holy Spirit, we would be utterly lost.

But here’s the miracle of God’s covenant grace! Even before a child knows right from wrong, God has promised his Spirit. Even before you can cry out, “Lord, help my unbelief,” God is prepared to take action. Before you pray, “God, give me the courage to deny this temptation and strength to control myself,” God is ready to send you his help.

How do we know? Because at baptism, God vowed to give this miraculous cleansing that we need. In the words of the Catechism: “To be washed with his Spirit means to be renewed by the Holy Spirit” (Q&A 70). In his Almighty power and his steadfast love, God has promised to change and renew us, to make our well-spring clean and pure.

That’s why in the next Q&A baptism is even called “the washing of regeneration” (Q&A 71). If anything is radical and momentous, it’s regeneration. Regeneration means the giving of new life—for hearts that were dead, God gives spiritual defibrillation! He makes possible a restoration of our spirits, down to their deepest depths. Even as our life on earth is just beginning, God promises this fresh start, this new beginning.

That brings us to Luke 3, and what John said to the crowds who were coming to be baptized. He knew that some wanted his baptism for the same reason that lots of people get tattoos today: it looks cool, and everyone else is doing it. But they didn’t get the idea of “repentance.” They had the law, the covenant, the temple—what did they need to change? Nothing fundamental. But John rebukes them for being complacent: “Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (v 8).

We should see ourselves in both parts of that verse. Because we’re sometimes a lot like those Israelites, over-confident in our position before God. When you have it all, it’s hard to be humble! When you’re raised in the covenant, and you’re in church every Sunday, and you have a Bible on your phone and a cross around your neck, you could think all is well with your soul. What’s the need to change? Aren’t we good Reformed Christians? We have John Calvin as our father!” But each of us needs to live in daily repentance.

But the other part of Luke 3:8 applies to us too, when John says God is able to raise up stones as Abraham’s children. Because we weren’t a people before—we were Gentiles and outsiders—but now we’ve become God’s holy nation. Before our hearts were hard as rock, and stone-cold. Yet out of lifeless stones, He’s called forth a people and saved us!

Count it as nothing less than a divine wonder: that we believe, that we gather for worship, that we pray, that we confess our faith, that we love one another. When you see this in your life, and in your family, and in the church, give thanks because this is the work of God’s Spirit, just as He promised, performing the washing of regeneration.

This is why after David’s terrible sin, he prays for the Spirit’s work not to be withdrawn, but to be intensified, taken to the next level. We sinners need the Spirit now, more than ever! “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (v 7). Let the daily cleansing begin.

We need cleansing because we can see a lot of perverse things (online or on TV or elsewhere), and these things tend to stay with us. Once we see these things, they get replayed in the mind like a bad movie that just doesn’t end. Same for the filthy things we hear, like crude jokes and gossip—we have an excellent memory for these things, and then we share them with others.  Likewise it’s so hard to suppress our thoughts of jealousy or pride or resentment. So we need this purging, this cleansing. We need to be rid of all these toxins and poisons, so something better can take its place. We can’t do it ourselves. But God can.

This is what John announces: “I baptize you with water, but one mightier than I is coming… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (v 16). The Spirit comes with power and fullness in order to create a new people for God.

That’s the glorious name in which we were once baptized in the name of God the Holy Spirit! On that day, we were promised the indwelling of Almighty God himself. We were promised that the God who created all things will create in us a pure heart. We were promised that the God who breathed into us the breath of life will renew a steadfast spirit within us.

How amazing is this power, being baptized with the Spirit and with fire! Like an intense oven will do to precious metals, the Spirit can cleanse us from the impurities of all our sin. He burns away all the stains and flaws. You’re being refined, because even today He’s busy purifying our hearts, making us radiant and holy.

So pray for the Spirit’s washing! Pray that your thoughts would be clean, that your memory would be holy, that your view of other people would be sanctified. Pray that you would be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you’ll start to see the washing’s result.


3) this washing’s result: All of this means that cleansing in the Spirit makes a difference. If the Holy Spirit really lives in you, then there’s going to be a marvelous change. Just look at all the change David prays for in Psalm 51. He asks for the cleansing of the Spirit, and he knows that his impact will be real.

We find one such change in verse 12: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” Isn’t that still the result of the Spirit’s work today? When you have the Spirit, you have joy. In this life there can be a lot of sadness. We can suffer under the load of our guilt, or we can be miserable about where our life is right now, or we can be burdened with cares. But through the Spirit, God restores our joy—we have the joy in being forgiven, the joy in being God’s child.

A second effect is in verse 12: “Uphold me by your generous Spirit.” David prays that he’d be upheld and supported. Why does he need upholding? Because by himself, he was so weak. By himself, he’d only fall into sin again. That’s our lot too: weak, vulnerable, ready to fall. But by the Holy Spirit we’re enabled to do something different, upheld to serve the LORD. Through the Spirit we gain a new resolve and purpose.

This purpose is seen in what follows: “Then I will teach transgressors your ways” (v 13). When he was sinning, David could think only of himself. That’s what sin is like: it’s a constant self-centeredness, it’s an obsession with how I am doing and whether I’m getting what I want. But after repenting and being forgiven, David will take what he’s learned about God’s grace and power and share it with others—like he does in this Psalm and so many others.

Today, you know that you have the Holy Spirit when your thoughts begin to turn away from yourself and your own interests, and toward others, more and more. You’re thinking of their struggles, their burdens, and even their salvation. By the Spirit, we should become instruments of God’s love, to teach and instruct and build up in God’s ways.

And through the Spirit, our life’s direction turns toward God himself. For the Spirit-filled person says this, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth your praise” (v 15). In praise of the God who mercifully saved us, we learn to sing, we learn to pray, to witness. Our lips are open, for his glory.

That way of living needs to begin when we’re young and continue for every passing year. Think again of what John said to the crowds coming to be baptized: “Bear fruits worthy of repentance” (v 8). If you’re really a good tree, he says, you’ll bear fruit. If you’ve really been washed, you’ll show it.

And John gave lots of practical direction. He said the wealthy man should share his riches with the poor around him. He said the tax collector should stop his stealing. The soldier should not intimidate people and be cruel. These weren’t small changes, either—these were transformations of an entire lifestyle. For the rich man, the tax-collector, the soldier, it meant breaking of long-time patterns of sin.

That’s still the kind of real change God expects of us, those baptized with the Spirit. Is there a sinful way of living that we’re stuck in? Are we bitter and critical in spirit? Or is there an idol that we’ve set up in our life, around which we’ve let everything revolve, like our money, or career, or appearance? Have we tried to keep God out of certain parts of our life? Are we comfortable with God’s Word only when it doesn’t call us to do something hard? Do we think that we’re basically fine, and we just need to make a few small adjustments? Scripture says—and our baptism reminds us—that we’re called to break from sin! Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Lead a life that is different, that it obviously sanctified.

Day by day, remember your baptism: “I was baptized into the Name of God the Holy Spirit!” That’s a constant reminder of who’s on our side, and who’s in our hearts. Jesus Christ has cleansed us with his precious blood, so He’ll also give the ability to do what we couldn’t do before: to live by faith, to do what is right. Christ will help us begin to lead “a holy and blameless life” (Q&A 70).

There is a permanent washing from contamination. There’s a cleansing power, but we’ve got to seek it in earnest prayer. In our struggles with sin, we have to be asking the Lord every day for his care and help. And the good news is that the God who knows you has given you exactly what you need in the Holy Spirit!

May we embrace God’s promise in faith and plead on it in prayer. Ask God every day to keep his promise and to bless you with the Spirit you need: for a stronger faith, for a more consistent purity, for deeper wisdom, for great strength and courage that is more resolute. May the Holy Spirit’s cleansing work in you continue, day by day. May He continue until in heaven’s glory you stand perfected: sparkling and fresh and made like brand new!   Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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