We have seen that sin makes us filthy in God's sight - that it is our hearts that are affected, that only God can cleanse us through the work of Christ and that this work is applied to us by the Holy Spirit.
What is it, though, that the Holy Spirit does to cleanse us? What is the nature of the cleansing that He does? Is it enough to be clean on the outside? Can we apply water to our bodies and be saved as a result? That could never be the case, considering the corruption lies in our souls. Is it, then, that He applies the work of Christ to us to wipe the slate clean concerning our former sins, and we have to live a good enough life from that point forward to earn our place in heaven? Once again, this couldn't work. We do sinful things because we have a sinful heart. If our sins are cleansed but our heart remains unchanged, it would be like working to clean up a beach where there is a raw sewage outlet, but doing nothing to stop the continuing flow of the filth. We would very, very quickly be in the same, desperate condition once again.
In each person who is saved, the Holy Spirit engages in an intricate and spiritual form of open heart surgery. The problem is spiritual and therefore the solution must be of the same kind. In this operation, the Spirit of God accomplishes the following:
- He grants the new birth because we are by nature dead in sin (Paul calls this "regeneration" in the text above)
- He gives the gift of saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, as a result of which we are justified, as Paul says. That means two things are declared to be true of us:
- first, that all our sins (past, present and future) are credited to Christ and He bears them away, taking from God the punishment we deserved in His body on the cross; and
- second, His perfect life of obedience to God is credited to us so that in God's sight we are counted as having kept God's law throughout our lives.
In this condition, we are new creatures, positionally spotless in Christ and heirs of heaven. This is the renewal that Paul mentions above. Note that Paul is emphatic that all this is done to us according to God's mercy and grace, and not as a result of anything we do or could possibly do.
Note, lastly, that this work, according to Paul, is clearly done by the Holy Spirit, poured out on us richly through Christ, and that it is regarded as a spiritual washing. This is what is represented physically in water baptism. It is the spiritual washing that saves us, though, and not the physical sign.
So think in these terms, and deeply, about your baptism and the inner washing of regeneration and renewal that it represents (if you possess it). This must be a very edifying and encouraging reflection for us all!
If you are not saved, though, you need to understand that there are no terms that can be used to understate the pollution in your heart and the magnitude of your guilt before God. Reach out to Jesus for cleansing! Turn from your sins, trust in Him, and then be baptized to show outwardly what God has done in your heart through Christ!