Clean: Inside and Out
Here's a question: why is that some Christians know in their minds that they are forgiven, but they somtimes don't feel forgiven?
In his encounter with a leper, Jesus demonstrates that his work in our lives goes well beyond what's obvious. In Luke 5:12-16, this encounter begins with a leper approaching Jesus by faith, declraring, 'Lord, If you will, you can make me clean'.
Here's a second quesiton: why did the leper ask to be cleansed, not just forgiven?
Leprosy is a vicious disease, and even though in Bible times the word did not mean precisely the contemporary medical condition (a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae), it reference a variety of skin conditions which would be both physically devasting and contagious for others.
And so in the Old Testament, to protect his people from contagion, those diagnosed with leprosy were forced to live 'outside the camp'. They could not return to normal life with the people unless they were healed/recovered as confirmed by a very elaborate ritual described in Leviticus 13-14. Not only could they not enter the camp, they also were forbidden from entering the tent of meeting.
Notice this: leprosy exlcuded people from fellowship, and it exluded people from worship. And here's the thing: sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2, Romans 3:23). And in this excluded state we do not participate in the true worship of God. By definition, salvation restores us to proper relationship with God for worship and service and appropriate fellowship with God's people.
The legal basis for this restoration is forgiveness, a decision by God to release us from the debt of our sin because of Christ's perfect life, atoning death, and glorious resurrection. Forgiveness is a judicial act of God rooted in his loving-kindness. If we understnad the detpth of our sin, the appropriate response is worship rooted in gratitude.
But sometimes, either because of the weight of past sin, or the presence of ongoing sin, we sometimes don't feel clean.
It reminds me of playing the sandbox when I was a boy. My father built a sandbox just outside our front porch. I even remember riding with him to get the sand. It was great. I would sit in that sandbox for hours and play with my toy earth-moving equipment, building hills, flat places, and especially secret tunnes.
But when it was time to inside, to participate in famliy fellowship, I couldn't just hop out the the sand and into the house. I had to go through a cleaning process, which in this case happened to be my fathering hosing me down. You see - it's one thing to get out of the sandbox, but it's another thing to get the sand off of you.
The good news for us is that in our salvation, Jesus not only pulls us out of the sand, he cleanses of the residual sand. This is the promise of 1 John 1:9:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Jesus doesn't just save and forgive us, he cleanses us. This means that is possible to feel clean - to have such a deep understanding and experience of forgiveness. How do we get this?
First, repent: Peter promises that times of refreshing come when we repent.
Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord. Acts 3:19-20
Repentance means to turn from it, and if you turn from it you can experience refreshing in God's presence.
Second, confess your sins to God. Remember the promise, if we confess, he forgives and cleanses. Confession is more than just mentioning to God what you've done, it includes repentance and faith - trusting that through what Jesus has accomplished, you can be forgiven.
Third, consider confessing your sins to another believer. Why? Because in addition to forgiveness from God, sometimes we need human affirmation of God's forgiveness in our lives, and we sometimes are helped by someone praying with us that the cleansing of God can be experientially applied to our lives.
James says it like this:
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. James 5:16
In Luke 5:12-16, after Jesus healed the leper, he told him to go show himself to the priest. Jesus affirms that he needs to keep the regulation established by Moses. The function of the priest was to declare 'clean'; it's not just a figment of your imagination, the leprosy is gone. The priest had the ability to restore the man to fellowship and worship.
Only God can forgive, but church leaders have a responsibility to protect God's flock regarding fellowship and worship (Acts 20:28-31). And God's people have the ministry of praying for one another so that we can be healed - especially of the shame that attaches to our sin.
In short: get out of the sandbox, and let God power-blast you with his word.