Following up on the discourse with Nicodemus, John takes us to a scene where Jesus and John the Baptist are baptizing (John 3:22-36). During this period “a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew.” From what follows it appears that the discussion is about a lot of things, but purification or ablution does not seem to be one of them – at least on the surface.
John talks about receiving things from God, his role being not that of the Messiah, brides and bridegrooms. All of it ending in one of John’s oft quoted phrases, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Not a real thorough discussion of purification by any account unless you focus primarily on the wedding concept and the purification rites associated with that.
John goes on to talk about earthly things and heavenly things. He focuses on Christ as being the spokesman for God in that he “speaks the words of God….” and the Father has placed all things in Christ’s hands. Therefore………..
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.” In other words, the one who believes through obedience is purified through that obedience. The one who disobeys stands outside the presence of God and must endure his wrath.
It is through believing faith we obey and are purified in Christ. It is because of disobedience that we reject faith and are left impure with its attending consequences. Faith produces purification because we are obedient to God. It is not through the washing of hands or the cleansing of utensils that results in purification, it is through an obedient heart. A life committed, by faith, to be obedient to God’s word and his incarnate Word.
In our Western culture obedience is not necessarily fashionable. We want to be our own person, march to the beat of our own drum and express ourselves freely and openly without constraints of cultural conditioning. In the faith- culture, obedience means purification and to a large degree conforming to certain standards. Our belief system is not a bill of rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” but rather a right to build upon our faith in Christ through a life that conforms to scripture and leads to abiding and obedient faith. Quite frankly I struggle with that. I struggle with that a lot.
All to often I want faith to conform to my expectations rather than my expectations conforming to faith. I want to have obedience based on my standards, not God’s . I want to push the envelope of all things are lawful knowing full well that all things are not helpful.
I’m not certain what the Jew was questioning John’s disciples about regarding purification. Perhaps it centered on mundane matters such as the washing of hands before a meal or keeping other purification rites. If he were listening to John’s response to his followers, he would have learned that purification is a matter of faith not function. It was a matter of heart obedience not ritual conformity. The formula was simple; belief + obedience = purification. Simple on paper, but not so simple in practice.