Christians use images to explain their religion. When I began to “hang around” a Christian crowd, it was very common to refer to a person’s life with Christ as a walk. “My walk with Christ” is my life I live with Jesus. Planting is another normal image that is used. Dr. Willard refers to that in Chapter 7 as he refers to the “implanted word” in the life of the born again Christian. Until I studied Hearing God I had never heard of the image of washing a shirt referring to the process of living a sanctified life in Christ.
When we are born again, you might say that we have a “new life” that is in us. Dr. Willard references James 1:21 when he states that we should “welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.”
What happens to our old life? It is there but it takes on a new direction, which Dr. Willard calls “channeling.” Our normal human powers remain but we have a different purpose for them; they no long are used to gratify our own desires. If we are open to the leading of our Lord and Savior, we find reasons for doing what we do, “Godly reasons.”
Another image that we all know is the human body as a temple. Paul used this in 2nd Corinthians 6: 16-17 “For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them,
and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’” The born-again Christian now possesses a temple in which God exists and a person’s “natural life…promotes the ends of God’s kingdom” [Willard, 151]
This takes us to the image that really captures my imagination, the washing of the dirty shirt. We know that a person who feels that the Holy Spirit has taken over their life does not become a perfectly “clean” individual overnight. This is not a switch on, switch off process. I use the word process on purpose because it is just that. The old ways still linger as one becomes redirected. “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the Word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” [Ephesians 5: 25-27].
It is not much stretch from this Scripture to the image of washing a shirt. Dr. Willard says to think about the washing of a dirty shirt as the water and laundry soap move through the fibers of the material to carry out the dirt lodged within the fibers. When we come to God, we have all kinds of things in our minds that are not of God, habits that we need to eliminate, past deeds that linger on in our memories, and attitudes that are dangerous to our newfound faith.
The word of God “moves into every part of our personality, just like the water and soap move through the shirts fibers. God’s word [the laundry soap] pushes out and replaces all that is false and opposed to God’s purposes.
Years ago, I encountered another image that was almost as powerful for me as this one. The fact that I remember it after many years is testimony of its power. Pastor Charles Swindoll used it. He told of a vacation home that his family owned and compared the land around the home as the Christian life. The home was on the side of a steep hillside and every year that his family visited, his father asked him and his brothers and sisters to pick up stones in the yard. The problem was that between visits the area had several inches of rainfall which caused a runoff of soil from the hillside. What happened? All the stones were picked up, time elapsed, rainfall occurred and new stones were exposed. More stones had to be removed as they became evident. It was easy to see that he used this image to illustrate the Christian life. As time passes, we become aware of more sins that we once took for granted as normal ways of life. They are not “normal” anymore and they must be removed.
Either way, Willard or Swindoll are trying to say that the Christian life is a process of cleansing that occurs over time. Whether it is the washing of soil off a hillside or the washing of a shirt, the end result is the same: “Hearing God becomes a reliably clear and practical matter for the mind that is transformed by this washing of the Word” [Romans 12:2].