“Would you like your food on clean plates? It will cost extra,” my interpreter asked. We were on a tour in Southeast Asia and stopped for lunch in a small restaurant off the beaten path. She asked us honestly, without batting an eye or cracking a smile. “The waiter would like to know,” she insisted. Now, this experience was not true or typical for all the restaurants in Southeast Asia I visited, but it was my particular adventure that day. Looking back, I’m not sure what the waiter meant by “clean plates” (clean vs. dirty, hand-washed vs. machine, old or new, china or paper) or why it would cost extra, but it did make me think about being clean and how much work that can take.
What is “clean”? Clean on what level? As clean as a whistle or a baby’s bottom? I could do a cleansing, detox diet or a clean jerk when I lift weights. We can have clean computers and ships’ holds and haircuts and consciences and bills of health; how clean does it have to be, really? Are we going by the three-second, five-second, or ten-second rule? I knew a guy once who started a relationship with a clean slate but had to come clean, so he tried to make a clean break and got taken to the cleaners and his clock cleaned – but that’s a different story…
It turns out there are national and international standards of cleanliness, according to NHS, OSHA, and ASTM, but my heart turns to spiritual matters. What is spiritual cleanliness, to be recognized and acceptable to the Lord? God has set a standard of cleanliness for us in all we do, as we live our lives: Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Be holy, as your Father in heaven is holy. To be clean in Old Testament times, it involved eating and not eating certain foods, wearing and not wearing certain clothes, associating and not associating with certain people, being removed from the camp when you were dirty, and regular sacrifice of animals to remove the dirt, stain, and uncleanliness of sin. Spiritual dirt and stain is sin, and it is an affront and “unclean” in God’s eyes. I could never be that clean, as clean as God expects or demands or is worthy of; could you?
A popular hymn we sing at church asks the question, “What can wash away my sin?” The answer: “Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” In and through Christ God has provided a new way to be clean before Him, through Christ’s sacrifice and death, “in my place condemned He stood.” The believer and follower of Jesus is clean before Him because he has been bought with the precious blood of Christ, not with perishable things such as silver or gold. It is by grace we are made clean, through faith, and not of our own doing; it is a gift of God, not the result of works. He who knew no sin became sin for us, so that we may be clean and righteous before Him. Cleanliness is possible and achievable before the Lord, in and through Jesus, by the power of His Spirit, for all who would believe. There is no other way.
“Sure,” I replied to my interpreter, “I’ll gladly pay extra for clean plates.” I’m happy there was something I could do to be clean that day. In all of life, I am happy there is something God did that guaranteed my cleanliness before Him. As you start your spring cleaning this season, don’t neglect the state of your soul.