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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:St. Albert Canadian Reformed Church
 St. Albert, Alberta
Title:Dirty Sinners get Washed
Text:LD 26 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 24:1,2                                                                                            

Reading – Titus 2:11 - 3:8

Ps 103:1,2,5,7

Sermon – Lord’s Day 26

Hy 36:3,5

Hy 5:1,2   [after Nicene Creed]

Hy 65:1,2,3

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

Brothers and sisters in Christ, a newborn is pretty helpless. There’s so much that a baby needs, and there’s so little he can do for himself. From the moment a child enters the world, he must rely on the care given to him by others. First, the care given by doctors and nurses. And then at home, he must depend solely on his parents.

            It’s mom who must feed him. It’s dad who must change him. It’s the parents who must dress him, and carry him, and strap him into the car, and take him for his shots and checkups. A little child really is quite dependent. Without the constant loving care given by his parents, he wouldn’t last very long at all.

            And so far we’ve only mentioned the physical things a child needs, like food and drink, clothing and shelter. He also needs things that might be less visible, but are no less important: he needs love and discipline, guidance and security. So it’s also these things that parents will try to give, that their baby might grow to become healthy and happy and well-adjusted.

            Today we want to speak of how a child is needy in another way too, needy in a way that his parents (by themselves) can do nothing about. So much they can do for their child, but not everything. Why, the most important thing, they cannot do!

For a child, every child, is lost in sin. Every child is a descendant of Adam – and for that reason alone ought to be condemned by God. Even our cute little children have polluted hearts, hearts from which will spring all sorts of wickedness and sin. So young, and they are already guilty, through and through.

            Now parents, when they see their children in pain, would do anything to help. They’d even take the hurt on themselves, rather than see a beloved child suffer. But here, parents are helpless. Those who do so much for their children – feeding, bathing, changing, dressing, carrying, nurturing – can do nothing when it comes to human sin, their own dear child’s guilty condition. They can’t change this, and they can’t bear the punishment that it deserves.

            But what parents can do is present their children for holy baptism. For in baptism, the God of all grace shows that He sees our helpless estate. He knows how much we need, and He knows how little we have. He knows; therefore He promises to give the one thing we need more than anything else: complete cleansing from sin! That’s our theme, based on God’s Word as summarized in Lord’s Day 26,


            In holy baptism, sinners are washed:

1)     with Christ’s blood

2)     with Christ’s Spirit


1)     sinners are washed with Christ’s blood: We’ve been talking about newborn children.

And everyone has probably been thinking of the little ones down in the nursery. They do provide us with a nice example to ponder.

            Yet let’s widen our field of consideration. Today we shouldn’t only think of children that we know or are expecting. For when we speak of being helpless and dependent, lost in sin, and polluted to the core, we should think of ourselves. At one time, we too, were all infants. At one time, we too, were all presented by our parents for holy baptism, whether one or three or eight decades ago.

            And it’s striking that at such a time, God promised us cleansing. When we were only a handful of days (or a couple weeks) old, God vowed to wash us from all our sins. That is, at the one time in our life when someone might’ve said we look quite innocent and pure, God said that all our filth and all our rottenness would be completely removed.

            For sin is something that cannot remain hidden forever. It’ll always come out. Also our sinful heart, something we’ve had from Day One, cannot be masked or sugar-coated. It’s the original “tell-tale heart” – it constantly speaks of the death within, even if we don’t want to see it or hear it.

And indeed, as we’ve grown up from infants into adults, all of us have gone astray. In one way or another, we’ve all rejected the good things of God’s Word. All of us have shown ourselves to be dirty, and all of us have shown we’re helpless to do anything about it. In our sin, we remain as weak as little children, without any sort of control, completely powerless. Left alone, we’d wallow in deadly filth, and not know any better.

            But to all our children – and to all of us – God has promised cleansing! He promises a washing, but not with water. Sure, we use water at baptism, just as the Israelites always used water for their ceremonies of cleansing. And water might be good for washing our bodies, but it only does an external job. So when water is sprinkled in baptism, when water was sprinkled on you and me so many years ago, this water pointed to something else.

            The water points to blood. Let’s picture that for a moment. It’s as if blood was touched to our children’s foreheads. It’s as if blood was sprinkled on our heads, too. Instead of going to the kitchen tap to fill up the baptismal bowl, it’s as if the ushers went to the fridge, where they filled the bowl from a four-litre jug of blood.

            Why blood? What cleansing qualities does blood possess? If anything, we know blood leaves behind a sticky mess. Yet the LORD God places a great importance on blood. When we read the Scriptures, we often hear God saying things like, “The life of a creature is in the blood” (Lev 17:11). And because blood is so vital to our existence, God has made blood into a symbol of life. Still today, we speak of the “life-blood” of this or that – the thing that keeps it going.

            So then, if someone sins, his blood must be poured out – his life must be given up. That’s the penalty for sin God has set from the very beginning. Yet herein lies the problem: Who can give his own blood for saving himself? We have only so much blood to pour out; we have only one life to give. Meanwhile, our sins are so many; our guilt is so great! One little, wretched life could never pay for it all.

            Helpless, indeed. Unless God provides the blood. And God does. He first provided it through the countless animal sacrifices in the Old Testament. They say that rivers of blood used to flow out of the temple at Jerusalem, each and every day, as the people brought their offerings to God. Streams of blood would flow down special channels in the courtyards, out of the temple, out of the city, where it would collect in vast, red pools in the valley below.

So much blood was shed, because so many sins were committed. Yet all these sacrifices could only point to a sacrifice yet to come – the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus Christ. God gave him as the first and final true payment for human sin.

Now, we spoke earlier of all that parents will do for their children. They will love them, and care for them, and give them gifts. From the time that they’re so helpless, to even beyond the day that they finally leave the home, the bond of parents to their children is real and living.

So why do parents do all this? Even though they’re evil (as Jesus says), why do fathers and mothers give their children bread and clothing and shelter? In short, why do parents love? Well, when children are very little, it’s easy to love them, because kids are just so cute, and they bring mom and dad so much joy.

But as they get older, all children become a little less cute, and that polluted heart shows itself a lot more often. Still, parents keep on loving them. And why? Because they’re flesh and blood, there’s that firm and steadfast bond.

Yet consider the miracle of God’s love for us. In Christ, the Father gives us the thing we need more than anything else. Though we are powerless, and helpless, and dependent, and unworthy, He grants cleansing in Christ.

And why does God love us? Well, it’s certainly not because we’re cute. Rather, we’re despicable in our sin. There’s nothing about us that distinguishes us as special, or worthy, or attractive. Day by day, we only show ourselves to be uglier and uglier.

So is there some other kind of strong bond between us and God, like the flesh-and-blood tie that parents have with their kids? Again, we must say “No!” In ourselves, we’re not God’s friends, we’re his enemies. As Paul writes somewhere, “At one time we… were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy…” (Titus 3:3).

But still God loves us. He loves us generously, and He loves us freely. “When the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:4-5). God loves us, because that’s who God is: God is love. He loves us, for the sake of Jesus his Son.

Beloved, Christ’s blood was poured out on the cross, so that ours doesn’t have to be. It was his life that was taken, so that ours could be preserved. That’s what the water of our baptism points to: Christ’s blood, shed completely – and shed for us.

No, there’s no blood in the baptismal bowl. There’s no blood in the kitchen fridge. There’s no dried blood on our children’s little foreheads. But God has linked the water of this baptism with the blood of Christ. In the baptismal bowl is the mark of God’s sure promise! In the words of the Catechism, “To be washed with Christ’s blood means to receive forgiveness of sins from God, through grace, because of Christ’s blood, poured out for us in his sacrifice on the cross” (Q&A 70).

            This total washing is available – so who would turn it down? This complete forgiveness is promised – so who would ignore it? And indeed, in this church there are no parents who don’t present their children for baptism. Parents are eager to see this day, when rich mercy is bestowed on their guilty children!

Yet the meaning of baptism is much more than just that simple event. As a ceremony, from the reading of the Form to the prayer of thanksgiving, it’s all done in about ten minutes. It’s just a brief ceremony, one we might not give a second thought. But meanwhile, something very important has happened. God has given us the mark of holiness. God has assured us and our children of total forgiveness. God has claimed us as his very own.

            Is baptism something to overlook, then? Something to hurry through, and forget? Most assuredly, it is not! Yet how often do we think of our own baptism? Or how often do we as parents reflect on the baptism of our children?

            As they all have vowed, parents must speak with their children about Jesus Christ. Not just who He is, and what He did, but how Jesus Christ gave his blood for my sins, and for your sins, too! Parents always want what’s best for their children – so they must speak to them about the most important knowledge there is! Parents would do anything to see their children spared undue pain and misery – so they must tell them about Christ, that they also, might believe and live forever!

            May every one of us think about our own baptism, too. Do you acknowledge, that you too, are helpless and weak? Do you acknowledge, that you too, have the blood of Christ marking your forehead? Do you acknowledge that Christ has claimed you, in body and soul? What comfort, what hope, what peace and what joy does this bring you? And how does that washing with blood change how you live?


2)     sinners are washed with Christ’s Spirit: We all try to stay clean. Whether we’re young

or old, we take a baths or showers on a regular basis. That’s also one of the many duties the parents of children have: bathing their son or daughter. And the thing with bathing is that it can feel like a never-ending task. We have to do it every day, or at least every few days. It’s been said by many a child, “Why do I have to go in the tub? I’m just going to get dirty again tomorrow, anyway!”

            Not to put it too humanly, but God sometimes must feel the same way. That is, God continually washes us from our sins. But then, no sooner have we received God’s mercy, do we need to ask for it, all over again. As you know from your own life, it’s a never-ending cycle: we sin; we ask for forgiveness and we receive it; but then we sin again.

            And we know why this happens. We become filthy, not just because we live in a dirty world. We become filthy, because our hearts are dirty. We can’t just stop sinning, because so much of it comes from within.

            It’s for this reason that God washes us not only with the blood of Christ, but also with the Spirit of Christ. Now, let’s be sure we understand what the “Spirit of Christ” is. The Spirit of Christ is none other than God the Holy Spirit. That is, Christ sends us the same Spirit who filled him, during his time on earth.

Think back to Jesus’ own baptism. There, after John had baptized Jesus with the waters of the Jordan, the Father’s voice came from heaven, and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove upon him. This event took place at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry – and rightly so. For it was the Spirit who powerfully equipped Jesus for all his work: his work of preaching and teaching, healing and performing miracles. It was also this Spirit whom Christ promised to send to his disciples, after his time on earth was done.

So then, we’re given the same Spirit who enabled Christ to live a perfect life on earth! For God never gives his grace without also calling us to gratitude – there’s never promise without obligation. Think of Paul’s words in Titus 2:11-12, “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”

Once we receive God’s grace, God calls us to a new life. No longer are we to say “Yes,” whenever temptation strolls by. No longer are we to be uncontrolled in our desires. Rather, we must be upright and godly in every way, from the time of our youth to the day we die.

How can we do it? Who can say “No,” when Satan is being that aggressive salesman for sin? Who can say “No,” when it looks like there are so many reasons to say “Yes?” And who can give himself to God’s service, when we have so little to offer, when we can never stay on task? 

            Well, as we said, God knows what we need. So at baptism, He promises to wash us in Christ’s Spirit. In Christ, we are clean – now by his Spirit, God helps us stay clean! He gives us the strength to fight temptation’s lure. He gives us the courage to stand up to sinful desires. He gives us the ability to do what we couldn’t do before: to do good, to do what is holy.

            These things all go against the grain. To us, all these things are unnatural. But the Spirit He gives is powerful. In Titus 3, we read of how God saves us “through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously” (vv 5-6). Listen to those words: In the Spirit, we have the washing of rebirth, the washing of renewal. That is, God grants us a new start.

He will give the Spirit, to replace that old nature, to create a new heart. He will give the Spirit, to make us sinners into children who are holy and pure. That indeed, is the miracle of life – the miracle of new life, through the Spirit of Christ. Even to our young children, even from the moment they are conceived, God has already promised a new beginning, a second birth!

Yes, as the water is sprinkled, God promises a washing in the Spirit. A washing – for we don’t just need a dabbing with the Spirit, a cursory wipe. No, we need to be washed, from head to toe, so that we’re changed within, so that we become holy and pure.

This beloved, is the purpose that God gives to our baptism. Baptism is not just for the comfort of the parents. Baptism is not just for the encouragement of the children. No, baptism is for God – so that the people He has claimed might live for him! Again, Scripture says, “Jesus Christ… gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:13-14). 

            The meaning of baptism underlines again how serious is the parents’ task. We must teach our children to put off the old nature, and put on the new. We must teach our children to deny themselves, and do God’s will instead. We must teach our children that it’s through God’s power alone that they can do what is good.

And baptism calls all of us to live in an entirely different way. We’ve been baptized, so we must act like those who are washed with the Spirit. We’ve been baptized, so let us stay clean! Let’s not go to places where sin can easily make us dirty. Let’s not speak words that cause us to be unclean. Let’s not entertain thoughts that reek with sin.

            Rather, let us live in holiness, in purity. Let us open our hearts for the Spirit’s work. Let us follow the Spirit’s leading. Let us dedicate our lives to God’s glory, even as our Saviour did – for we have the same Spirit who filled our Lord!

            In so many ways, all of us remain children: helpless and weak, foolish and naïve. When it comes to redemption, there’s so much that we need, and so little that we can do. Yet as children of the loving Father, with his constant care and blessing, let us strive to grow up in our salvation. Let us put aside our childish ways, and go on to maturity. That indeed, is the enduring call of baptism, that “more and more” we become dead to sin, and lead a holy and blameless life.

            Beloved, is that true for you? Since the day of your baptism, have you grown in the Lord? Since this time last year, have you matured in Christ, even a little? Have you grown stronger, wiser, more faithful, more holy? Have you gladly stood in the warm shower of God’s grace, or have you ignored the cleansing that He offers? As those who have been baptized, let us not receive Christ’s blood in vain, and let us not grieve Christ’s Spirit!

Rather, let us be washed. Let us be renewed. Let us praise the Triune God for the promises that He makes to every one of us, and let us accept these promises in childlike faith!  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 2007, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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