How would you define dirty, filthy? I asked a group of friends the other evening, and we had some fun trying to get a satisfactory definition of dirt. Why is it that if a boy plays in the mud he gets dirty, but a woman can put a mud-pack on her face and she is not dirty! To be sweaty is dirty, though it comes from one's own skin. And so on. Our conclusion was that dirt is something that is socially unacceptable, that indicates slovenliness and lack of care of one's body, that smells bad, that contains elements of decay . . . so one could go on describing dirt without ever reaching an over-all definition.
By and large, people were dirtier in Biblical Palestine than they are in Britain today, because of the shortage of water, especially in the desert. I have no doubt that Jesus and his disciples were very sweaty and would not be socially acceptable here. In fact, the Pharisees who were meticulous in their washing, according to their own hygienic and dietary traditions, accused the disciples of being dirty — not washing their hands in the proper way before meals, nor their cups and pots and brass vessels. (Mark 7: 2-4.) I can just imagine them saying: "CLEANLINESS IS NEXT TO GODLINESS!" But Jesus retorted rather sharply, reminding them that their rules of cleanliness were not commanded by God but were merely the traditions of men. Then, in an important statement, Jesus defined what HE meant by dirt. Calling the people to him and claiming their full attention, he said: "Hearken to me everyone, and understand. There is nothing from outside a man that, entering into him, can defile him, because it does not enter into his heart but goes into his stomach and so passes on. But the things that come out of him, these are what defile the man. For from within, out of the heart, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evils come from within; they defile the man." (Mark 7:14-23.)
There you have what Jesus meant by dirt. It is from such inner corruptions that you must be cleansed by spiritual washing if you are to get to heaven. And it is from these that the saints are said to have been cleansed in Rev. 7:14 — "These are they who came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb." And Isaiah says, at the very beginning of his prophecy: "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes: cease to do evil, learn to do well . . . Come now and let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool." (Isaiah 1: 16-18.)
Jesus was simply restating this when he said on Easter Sunday evening in the upper room: "He that believes and is baptized (or dipped in water) shall be saved; but he that does not believe shall be damned." (Mark 16:16.) The Lord himself does not, and could not, damn anyone; but spiritual dirt does, so long as we let it cling to us. It separates us from those who are clean, and lands us among those who are as dirty as we are, in hell. "Like attracts like" — it is the Judgment. But a course of baptism — or spiritual washing — will put us right.
God created you and me and all of us pure and unsullied. Spiritually speaking, there is no such thing as inherited dirt or hereditary sin. There is nothing wrong with the human ego as it leaves the hands of the Maker. Those who tell us that the ego is evil and must be destroyed, are telling us we must destroy ourselves, which would be to undo the creative work of God. The human ego is a vessel — a vessel perfectly designed to hold the love and wisdom of God; a beautifully patterned wine glass (each of us with our own distinctive markings and patterns) meant to contain and hold the pure wine of the Life of God. Unfortunately, however, we most of us start off by filling it with dirty, stinking water, from hell. You could change the analogy and think of the ego as a leather bucket, which is sodden with dirty water and oozes thick black fluid into itself. Before putting into it clean spring water you must empty it out and scour it round and disinfect it and dry it; then, and only then, can it be used to contain and hold the Water of Life from God.
How does one cleanse one's own ego? We must clean it with that very same Water of Life — the truths of God's Holy Word, the teachings of Scripture. Any truth that reveals God's nature can make us clean if we absorb it and model our lives upon it. So Jesus said in the upper room: "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved."
In the past it has generally been assumed that, by baptism here, Jesus was referring specifically to the Sacrament of Baptism used as a sign of admission into the Christian Church. But a better interpretation of our Lord's words would be: "He that believes and is washed clean shall be saved." When a minister baptizes a baby and makes the sign of the cross on his forehead, he is dramatizing and making a public declaration of the intention and determination of the parents to bring the child up as a Christian, so that he or she may be spiritually cleansed in the Christian manner. But the act of baptism does not itself cleanse; it is only a symbol of the cleansing which will result from the living of a Christian life. Unfortunately many a baptized child fails afterwards to become a cleansed Christian. On the other hand, millions of good-living people who have not had Christian baptism — Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Moslems — are cleansed spiritually by living according to the tenets of their own religious faith. All who are clean will go eventually to heaven.
Look again at that terrible list of dirty evils which are said to proceed out of the heart of man and defile him. The catalogue is very inclusive. I am sure we can all see some of these grimy spots and blotches on our own hearts when we look in the mirror of our Lord's perfect purity. But how easily they wash off when we orientate our thoughts according to the instructions laid down in God's Word! For example, read carefully and prayerfully through the Sermon on the Mount, and try to bring your attitude towards life into alignment with it. All your hatred and jealousy, your greed and covetousness, your competitiveness, your arrogance and your pride — disappear! Of course they will come back again after the first washing, for they will bubble up from within, and the cleansing must go deeper than the mind, right down to the heart. But the Word of God, when properly understood and accepted and painstakingly applied over a period of time, will penetrate through and cleanse even the heart, changing its direction from love of self and worldly pleasures, to love of God and the neighbour. That is spiritual washing in its complete and final form.
If we are spiritually dirty we should be as ashamed of it as civilized men and women are ashamed to appear in public with dirty bodies and untidy or dirty clothes. Like the Pharisees of old, most of us are very concerned with outward cleanliness. Let us be even more concerned with inward cleanliness, using the solvents and the scouring abrasives and the sweet oil of God's Word. Submit to a thorough purging and polishing of the heart, soul and mind. Have proper pride in yourself, keeping yourself clean and neat and tidy, spiritually as well as physically. "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart; who has not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation." (Psalm 24: 3-5.)
The teachings of the Word are often likened to the waters of the River Jordan. That is why baptism is associated with Jordan water. John the Baptist baptized in the Jordan, as we know. Even today, if a minister takes a group of tourists to the Holy Land, he has to be prepared to baptize some enthusiastic member of the party in the Jordan! This symbolism of the Jordan goes back to Old Testament times, when crossing the Jordan signified entry into the spiritual Canaan. We remember how Naaman the Syrian general was told by Elisha to wash or dip himself seven times in the River Jordan to be cured of his leprosy. He was annoyed at this, the River Jordan being rather an insignificant stream in Naaman's eyes, familiar as he was with the magnificent rivers of his native city. "Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?" he said. "May I not wash in them and be clean?" He went away in a rage. However, his servants dissuaded him from deliberately avoiding the cleansing regimen; so, in the end, he went down into the little river and dipped himself seven times, according to the instructions of the man of God; and his leprous flesh came again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. (II Kings 5:14.)
The symbolism here is fairly obvious. By the great rivers of Damascus are meant the teachings of worldly wisdom, the prolific waters of science that flow through our great universities and medical schools. The church says: "Go to the Bible for cleansing," and the worldly-wise man raises his eyebrows and turns away in disdain. "The Bible is naive, it's outdated! Who bothers about the Bible these days? Haven't our intellectuals proved that the so-called Incarnation of God is only a myth? And as for these sins you speak of" (says the modern man) "this so-called spiritual dirt, it is only a form of mental sickness that a competent psychiatrist will be able to straighten out for you. You should feel no more guilt over so-called sin than you would over a broken leg or an attack of asthma."
Such people are scornful of the Jordan and want to wash instead in the rivers of Damascus, the waters of worldly wisdom. But such waters are powerless to cure our spiritual ills. Only Jordan can do that. Dip seven times in Jordan. Go back to the Word of God and immerse yourself over and over again — seven days a week! Love the Lord your God with heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself. Be guided by the Lord through his prophets, and have faith in the Divine Providence. Strip off all accessories of mind and soul, all complexities and fussiness, all self-concern and boastful conceit. Be pure and simple (naive if you want to call it that!) Become again like a little child, as Naaman did in Jordan: "for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven."