Deep Clean (11am)
Topic: Deep Love Scripture: Psalm 103:8–103:14, Titus 3:3–3:8
I think we all know pet owners go to great lengths to love their furry family members. That’s certainly true for me. As long as I can remember, I’ve always loved animals. In fact, before I felt a call to ministry, the only thing I ever wanted to do was work with animals. And I’ve always had pets. When I was a kid, we had a dog and three cats. I loved them so much. Even when they didn’t love me back. My mom told me once that our dog, Toby, wasn’t my biggest fan. You see, I was the first kid in our family so Toby didn’t like all the attention I stole from mom and dad.
My mom told me that when I was first learning to crawl Toby would wait for me to get to the middle of a room and then he would run at me and knock me over. He never bit me but he wanted to let me know that he was top dog. And still, I loved him. Same goes for our cats. Cat people get a bad rap, I think. Dog people have Old Yeller and Marley and Me and Benji and 101 Dalmatians. Do cat people even have a movie? I guess the closest we get is Garfield and Cat in the Hat but those aren’t even real cats!
I’m a cat person. I love dogs. You need only bring me to your house and let me play with your dog to see that. But I’m a cat person. So much so that Caitlin got me a book called “Guys Can Be Cat Ladies Too” as a gift once.
And just like every other pet owner, I go to great lengths to show my kitties that I love them. One-sided conversations that I believe are really two-sided. Daily snuggles that are even sometimes reciprocated. I’ve even gotten Isaac to follow suit. The first thing he wants to do every morning is snuggle with one of our cats, Cedar. But there are some efforts I’ve made that are, in retrospect, a little silly. The biggest example of that is when I was convinced we had to give our cats a bath once a month. Have you ever tried to give a cat a bath? It’s a maelstrom of fur, claws, bubbles, and blood. But, gosh darn it, I was going to get my cats clean. Well, we don’t wash our cats anymore. They’re happier for it and I don’t go through as many Band-Aids. But my intention was good. I wanted them to be clean. And not just clean like they do when they lick themselves but a real deep clean.
That same kind of deep clean is something we encounter in our text this morning, just without the feline bubble bath element. This morning we are finishing our series in the Pastoral Epistles by looking at Titus 3:3-8. Let’s read.
I love Scripture. It has a way of just grabbing onto the heart and holding on. Not in a forceful or coercive way. Instead, it feels more like when we’re being hugged and the other won’t let go. I do this with Isaac all the time. One of the benefits of being bigger and stronger than him right now is that I can hold him as long as I want…or, at least, until his wiggling and screaming gets to me. But I hold onto Isaac for those extra moments because of the love I have for him and out of a desire for him to know that love. This text we’re at this morning feels like a hug from the Lord, where He won’t let go. It’s how I felt reading this text all week, reflecting on it, and all through writing this sermon. In our text we are given full view of our condition, our need for God, and the overwhelmingly powerful and personal reality of God’s love.
We start with a harsh reminder of who we were before God. Foolish and disobedient might seem like a mere slap on the wrist when we think about who we were before God’s love. But it goes deeper than behavior. Paul says that we were deceived and enslaved. That the very rhythm and pulse of our life was set only to our own desires, pursuits, and interests.
A very few of us would probably like to admit that. The Bible has a way of making bad people sound worse. But the truth is - that we weren’t just bad without God’s love and grace. We were lost, incomplete, and destructive. Without mercy, we would destroy ourselves with guilt. Without grace, we’d be crushed by the burden of the actions and thoughts we wish we had never done or thought. Without God’s love, we do not experience love in its fullest measure.
But that’s not where we left or where we are. Paul goes on. When the kindness and love of God appeared… Aw, I just love that. When the love of God appeared. It’s like the turning point in an epic story. The moment a hero emerges in disaster. And it’s the turning point in our story. Because at the moment we are saved. And Paul is clear here: It’s not because of anything we’ve done. It’s not because we worked hard enough, tried hard enough, or did enough. It’s because of His mercy. His love. There is no task we need accomplish. No distance we have to travel. He saves us and makes us heirs of His promise and hope. This morning before we started, there was a song playing. I want you to hear it again. It’s called “Never Too Far Gone” by Jordan Feliz.
I get why the church uses music and Scripture as the two main elements of worship. They have a powerful way of grabbing the heart. But I don’t want to stop here. I want to go back to our text and I want to expose something Paul says. He says in verse 5 that God saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. Washing.
See, I think we sometimes miss the reaching truth of salvation when we talk about being saved. It’s awesome language but it has a limitation of action and effect. We need saving. God saves us. We are saved. It doesn’t always carry the depth and lasting quality of what God actually did. If we are about to be hit by a car and someone pulls us out of the road and saves us, then yes, we were saved. But we’re pretty much exactly the same person we were a moment ago. Minus the injuries and hospital bill. But that’s not what God does when He saves us. This is why I think Paul uses the language of washing. Because something is different when it’s washed. When it’s restored and renewed. It’s not like it was before. And that’s the same with us.
We are washed. We receive a deep clean. The things that we carried are removed. The sins we committed are resolved. But we need to recognize a few things about what it means when we are washed by God and receive that deep cleaning.
First, it’s not only an exterior thing. Jesus used the analogy of white-washed tombs. What good is it if you put a fresh coat of paint on a coffin if what’s inside remains dead and decaying? What God does to us when He saves us, when we’re washed, isn’t an exterior thing only. We’re not just given a shower and a new set of clothes. It goes deeper. It touches, changes, cleans, and restores more. It goes to the heart.
That’s the second thing. When God’s love appears, it changes our hearts. And it gets rid of the things that make us those people we don’t want and never want to be. Sin is a word that may have lost its weight. But its power over us and against us is real and damming nonetheless. God removes that. But you know what else God washes off our hearts? He washes off all the lies we’ve been told and been convinced of.
Those lies that tell you that you’re not smart enough. That you’re not pretty enough. That you aren’t valuable because you don’t make enough. That you aren’t as good as him or her. The lie that you aren’t worth it. That you can’t do it. The lie that no one loves you. That you don’t deserve love. Those lies are corrosive and acidic. They fall onto our hearts and even though they don’t destroy us entirely right then and there, they settle onto who we are and slowly eat away at the beautifully and fearfully and wonderfully made person that you are. Until one day, we’ve forgotten who we are and remember only the lies.
That caustic acid is washed off our hearts and then God renews and restores our hearts. There’s another song I’ve thought about all week. It’s called “What Love Really Means” and it’s by JJ Heller. In it, she exposes some of the lies people have allowed to become their identity. A boy who believes no one loves him or could love him. A woman who thinks that if only she was a little thinner then maybe her husband wouldn’t have left her. That she wasn’t enough. A convict who sits in prison prepared for a death sentence and is broken and wants to go home. In every one of these stories, the chorus and God’s refrain is the same: I will love you for you. Not for what you have done or what you will become. I will love you for you. I will give you the love, the love that you never knew.
That’s what a deep clean looks like. That’s what God does to our hearts. In all of my training to be a good preacher, I’ve always been told that a sermon needs application. Something for the congregation to grab hold of and do after I’ve said, “Amen.” I don’t have a task or a list of things for you to do. Here’s what I want you to apply to your life, the thing I want you to hold onto: God loves you and He offers you a love that is more powerful than any lie you’ve ever been told. It’s a love that can restore every heart – no matter how worn down, broken, tattered, or discarded that heart may be. It’s a message of personal power. It’s not just a message for all. It’s for you, specifically. Friends, you are loved. Deeply. And He knows your pain. He knows your doubt. But none of it can remain when He’s washed you. It’s all removed and when the love of God appears we experience a true deep clean.