Cleansing or Washing. As believers, we have a double cleansing through the work of Christ. A moral cleansing when we received a new life with right desires and motives. A judicial cleansing when we rest in faith on the finished work of Christ.
By water and blood. The moral cleansing is “by water”, and the judicial cleansing is “by blood”. If you recall, after Jesus died on the Cross, the soldier with a spear pierced His side and forthwith came there out blood and water.” Water speaks of the moral cleansing from the defilement of sin. In John 13 Jesus taught about water-cleansing. He said that the disciples had been “washed all over” and did not need to be washed in that way again, only their feet on an on-going basis (John 13:10b; Eph. 5:26). The disciples (except Judas) had the moral cleansing by water because they were born again; and were “clean every whit”. They had a new nature inside them that was as holy as God’s own nature! But never in the gospels do we find blood-cleansing, because the cross was not yet accomplished. New birth is not specific to the New Testament, so they still had the moral cleansing before the cross. When we get to the epistles the truth of cross is fully brought out. Then we find that believers are washed/cleansed in the blood of Christ (1 John 1:7, Rev. 1:5; 1 Pet. 1:2b). Blood speaks of the judicial cleansing from the guilt of sin. Being washed in the blood is connected with believing the gospel, and it gives the believer a “purged conscience” (Heb. 9:14; 10:2) because he knows the blood of Christ has removed every charge of sin against him. It would seem that both issues will be taken up with Israel in the future; “In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness” (Zech. 13:1).
The Order. We have these two aspects to the work of Christ brought together in 1 John 5:5-10. It says that Christ came “by water and by blood”, that is for the purpose of effecting moral and judicial cleansing (new birth and salvation). The Spirit of God bears witness to that. He emphasizes “not by water only”. It was not the Lord’s purpose in coming only to cleanse His people from moral defilement, but also to give God a righteous basis to declare us judicially “just” in His sight (Rom. 3:26). One who is only morally cleansed is not a finished product. In 1 John the water was mentioned before the blood because that is the order in which they are applied to a believer. We must be born again first, then we believe on the only-begotten Son for eternal life. Even in Old Testament typology, the sons of Aaron were washed with water first, then sprinkled with blood (Lev. 8). But in John 19:34 the blood is mentioned before water because that was the order they came out in historically, and the order which has God’s interests first, before man’s need.
Other “washings”. There are two other “washings” that are mentioned in the New Testament. They are outward cleansings as opposed to inward cleansings:
- The “washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5) refers to the total transformation of lifestyle that a person undergoes when they are saved! Regeneration does not refer only to new birth and the moral cleansing associated with new birth, but to the effect of the whole work of grace in our lives. It involves a new life, and also the energy of that new life; i.e. the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is connected with New Creation, whereby we are “created anew” in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:10; 2 Cor. 5:17).
- The “washing away of sins” refers to Christian baptism. After Paul was converted he was told “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Paul stood in a questionable place outwardly until he was baptized. His sins were gone before God the moment he was justified by faith, but he still needed to disconnect himself outwardly from all the sins that characterized his life before conversion. Christian baptism is an outward washing away of sins!
To summarize, we have a number of different cleansings:
- The moral cleansing of our soul; “ye are washed” occurs when a person is born again (washed all over by water), and never is repeated. (See John 13:10a; John 15:3; 1 Cor. 6:11).
- The moral cleansing of our lifestyle; “washing of regeneration” occurs when a person has been born again and sealed with the Spirit, and had a complete lifestyle change (See Titus 3:5).
- The moral cleansing of our associations; “washing away of sins” occurs when a person is baptized with Christian baptism (See Acts 22:16).
- The moral cleansing of our feet; “wash one another’s feet” should occur daily when reading or being presented with the scriptures, (feet washed by water). (See John 13:10b; Eph. 5:26).
- The judicial cleansing of our soul; “washed from sins in his own blood” occurs when we believe the gospel and are resting on the finished work of Christ. (See 1 John 1:7; Rev. 1:5).