The Cleansing Of The Church At Ephesus (The Washing Of Water)

The Cleansing Of The Church At Ephesus (The Washing Of Water)

Many believe the church at Ephesus (the church being the membership) was cleansed from sin by faith based on the teachings of their denomination and the famous Ephesian passage found in chapter 2 verses 8 and 9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” (NAS)  Many, many passages of the New Testament teach that salvation is a matter of God’s grace (Acts 15:11, Rom. 3:24, Gal. 2:21, 5:4, Eph. 1:7, 2:5, 2 Thess. 2:16, 2 Tim. 1:9, Titus 2:11, Titus 3:7, 1 Peter 1:10, 1 Peter 1:13).  I have listed most of them here so the reader will know I am well aware of them.

I might also add here I am thankful it is that way.  If salvation was of works a man might well come up short (the Bible teaches he would – see Gal. 3:21).  He would need worry continually about what works (do I know all of them I am to do), have I done enough, did I do those I did well enough to pass the test.  Just about all of us have been involved in working endeavors in our life where we gave it our best, worked as hard as we could, and yet failed in the end.  Every time you watch a ballgame someone who has worked hard falls short and loses.  Many a man or woman has given their all on a job and then been let go.  Many a student has worked hard in preparing for a test and failed it.  How many more examples could be given?  So, yes, I think we are all glad salvation is a matter of God’s grace.

God’s grace is granted to us as a result of faith we possess.  “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand.” (Rom. 5:1-2 NAS)  “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” (Eph. 2:8 NAS)  There are many other passages teaching we are saved by faith.  Here are quite a number of them:  John 3:14-16, John 8:24, John 11:25-26, John 20:31, Acts 16:31, Rom. 10:9, 1 Cor. 1:21, Gal. 3:22, 1 Tim. 1:16, Heb. 11:6, 1 John 5:13, Rom. 3:26, 28, 30, 5:1, 11:20, Gal. 2:16, 3:24, 26,  Eph. 2:8, Philippians 3:9, 1 Peter 1:9.  These were again listed that the reader might know I am fully aware of them.

The question that arises, however, is what is this faith that justifies?  I am not asking what the object of the faith is for we know that and agree upon it.  I am asking what is the nature of this faith.  Most are persuaded today (and have been since the Reformation) that it is merely a state of the mind regarding a belief one has in Jesus, who he is, and what he has accomplished for us.  It is mental assent to the teachings of the scriptures about him.  This is the faith that it is said saves.  I certainly agree with that as far as it goes but it stops short, too short.  The demons believed (make that knew) who Jesus was (Matt. 8:29, Mark 1:34, Luke 4:41).

One must not only believe what the scriptures teach about Jesus, who he was, what he accomplished for us, but faith also commits us to believe the man himself, believe what he said, and act on it.  If faith does not lead to action it is dead faith (James 2:17).  James says it is “useless.” (James 2:20 NAS)  Even in this world as regards worldly matters how can we say we have faith in a man when we will not take the man at his word?

The faith the Ephesians had that resulted in their cleansing from sin was the faith they had in what Jesus taught them.  Paul was an inspired man but the Holy Spirit whether speaking through Paul or through any other apostle or first century prophet did not speak on his own initiative.  “He will not speak on his own initiative, but whatever he hears, he will speak…he shall take of mine, and shall disclose it to you.” (John 16:13-14 NAS – the words of Jesus referring to the Holy Spirit)  Thus the Holy Spirit spoke the words of Jesus.  No one knows who first brought the gospel to Ephesus but we can be certain in view of the fact that Paul addresses those to whom he writes the book as “saints” that they were taught the truth and obeyed it.  Who was their teacher?  Jesus, “But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you heard him.” (Eph. 4:20-21 NAS)  Him, the teacher, was Christ.  

Paul said later in the book of Ephesians that Jesus cleansed the church, “by the washing of water with the word.” (Eph. 5:25 NAS)  Who was cleansed that way?  Those Paul said earlier had been saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8).  The washing of water with the word is clearly a reference to baptism.  What did Jesus teach about baptism?  “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved.” (Mark 16:16 NAS)  “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5 NAS)

John 3:5 and Eph. 5:25 teach basically the same thing.  The Spirit gave the word.  The Spirit working through the word works on our spirit if we will allow it changing our thinking, our attitudes, our desires, our will bringing us to the point where we are ready to put the old man that was us to death and be baptized to arise in “newness of life.” (Rom. 6:4 NAS)  To be cleansed by the washing of water with the word is the same as to be born of water and the Spirit.  Furthermore in scripture the church and the kingdom generally, not always but generally, are interchangeable terms.  Peter was given the keys of the kingdom.  When he used those keys by preaching the gospel on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 when people believed and obeyed they were added to the church – one and the same. 

Were the Ephesians saved by grace through faith “before” they were cleansed?  Let me quote that passage in its entirety.  “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her; that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.” (Eph. 5:25-26 NAS)  What was the church (the church being the members) cleansed of if not sin?  Can you be saved without first being cleansed of sin?  They were saved by grace through faith when cleansed by the washing of water with the word.  That washing was done by “the obedience of faith.” (Rom. 1:5 NAS)  Paul said he had received grace and apostleship, “to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles.” (Rom. 1:5 NAS)

Paul himself, obviously a church member, was told at his own conversion, “Why do you delay?  Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” (Acts 22:16 NAS)  Paul had experienced the same washing and for the same reason as the church had at Ephesus.  No, water itself cannot wash away sins, that is not in and of itself, but it can if God has made the decision that that is the time and place where he will act in response to man’s faith.  Some have said it is a test of faith and I do not argue with them.

Naaman in the Old Testament “became furious” (2 Kings 5:11 NKJV) when told he needed to go wash in the Jordan 7 times to be healed of his leprosy.  He did not want to do it that way.  His faith had brought him thus far to Elisha and he felt that should be good enough.  Elisha should just come out and “stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.” (2 Kings 5:11 NKJV)  Obedience of faith had no place in his thinking.  One is reminded of today.

No, the water of the Jordan had no magic powers but faith in what God told Naaman through God’s prophet Elisha to do, a faith strong enough to get him to act simply because God said to do it, was the faith that made the difference.  Naaman is an excellent example of a man who experienced two types of faith.  The first failed him in obtaining his objective.  The second led him on his journey home a cleansed man.  So it is today in the spiritual realm with baptism.

There are two types of faith in what is commonly referred to as Christendom as it relates to our salvation.  The one says we will stop here (at the point of faith – mental assent) and do it this way, we have gone far enough, let God do the rest, while the other says God said to do it (be baptized) for this reason (the remission of sins – Acts 2:38), I believe him, and I will do what he says because I do believe.  Both have faith but clearly the faith is not the same.

One also has to ask the question if Paul did not consider baptism to be salvation by works why should we?  I do not know that I have ever heard a direct answer to that question?  Paul tells the Ephesians they have been saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8) and then tells them at the same time they have been cleansed by the washing of water through the word (Eph. 5:26).  He doesn’t miss a beat, doesn’t seem in the least to feel he has contradicted himself, so why should we feel that the two passages are contradictory and feel we have to try and explain it away, one way or another, that the washing of water is not baptism?

But there is much more in proof of the point I am making.  In Eph. 1:7 Paul says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” (NAS)  In him is a reference, obviously, to Jesus who shed his blood for us.  How does one get into him, into Christ?  Gal. 3:27 says we were “baptized into Christ” and so does Rom. 6:3, “do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus.”  I know of no passage in the New Testament anywhere that tells one how to get into Christ other than through baptism. 

If you were to start through the book of Ephesians and start marking about every passage you come to that talks about different things that are found “in him,” “in Christ,” “in the Beloved,”