Blood and Water: The Christian Fight for Holiness
We fight for holiness, for this leads to real peace and joy. We fight for holiness, “for without holiness no one will see the LORD” (Hebrews 12:14). We fight for holiness, because our Father, whom we love, is holy and he wants us to be like him. “Be holy, because I the LORD your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2; 1 Peter 1:15-16).
The apostle John stood on Golgotha and watched Jesus die in agony. He heard him utter, “It is finished,” and he saw his head drop at the moment of his death. He saw the soldier take his spear and plunge it into Jesus’ side, right into his heart. And he saw something remarkable: an immediate flow of blood and water (John 19:34). This distressing and surprising sight gripped John’s mind and soul. We know that because of the very weighty testimony he gives to it:
The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.
(John 19:35; see also 1 John 5:6-8; all Scripture quotations from NIV)
This makes us think of the temple. The temple was God’s house, and a person could only go into God’s house via the altar and the sea (1 Kings 7:23-26 and 2 Chron. 4:2-5). At the altar sin was atoned for by the blood of a substitutionary sacrifice. At the sea—which held some seventeen tons of water—sin was washed away.
Reconciliation to God means blood atonement, and washing. Jesus’ death, releasing water and blood, accomplished both for his people.
Jesus’ death has washed us.
My impression is that we focus very much on the blood. I believe in Jesus, he died for me and his blood atoned for my sins, and so I have been saved from the punishment of hell. This is glorious, but he did not die just to free us from punishment. He died also to wash us and make us clean. He died to save us from the punishment of sin, and he died to wash away the corruption of sin: the guilt of our sin, and its power over our lives.
A believer therefore not only has a new ultimate destiny, but a new life right now. The old sinful nature has been crucified (Rom. 6:6). We have been freed from its slavery (Rom. 6:18). We were once wedded to the sinful nature; but that cruel old husband is now dead, and now we belong to a good husband (Rom. 7:4). Our sinful hearts of stone are transformed into tender hearts of flesh (Ezek. 36:26). There is rebirth (John 3:7) and a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).
Sanctification is the process of growing in holiness.
Jesus’ death has washed us. We are free to walk in this new life, we will want to walk in this new life, and we must walk in this new life. This is sanctification.
The word is built from the Latin sanctus, meaning “holy.” In the Latin Bible the angels around the throne in Isaiah 6 call out Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus! Sanctification is the process of growing in holiness.
At this point we must distinguish between definitive and progressive sanctification. Definitive sanctification is really the same as justification; it is an act of God whereby he declares us right and holy in his sight on the ground of Jesus’ death:
…But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
1 Corinthians 6:11