I saw an interesting article the other day. The gist of it was that in some cultures, people are more concerned about ritual purity than they are sin. People might not think twice about committing adultery, but would be horrified at the thought of not taking a bath afterward. Stealing is a minor matter, but they are aghast if a dog happens to lick them.
They have rules about how to blow their nose, personal hygiene, animals to avoid, and rituals to restore themselves to being acceptable. The culture teaches them that certain things are emotionally repulsive—disgusting—and it is not easy to tell them they are harmless.
The Bible has quite a bit to say about ritual purity. External rituals can make people outwardly clean, Hebrews 9:13 says, but only Jesus can cleanse us on the inside. As an illustration, consider a room filled with darkness. Put a light in there, and the whole room is filled with light—cured of its darkness. Similarly, God comes into human flesh in the form of Jesus to purify us from the inside out.
Ritual impurity is often considered to be contagious—if you touch someone who is unclean, you will be unclean, too. But for Jesus, it worked in the opposite direction: his purity was contagious, just as light could repel darkness. Jesus could touch lepers, and instead of being corrupted by them, he healed them and cleansed them. He does that with us, too—he takes ritual and moral filth out of our lives.
When Jesus touches you, you are morally and ritually clean forever. Baptism is a ritual that symbolizes this—it is a once-in-a-lifetime ritual.
New in Christ
In a culture focused on ritual impurity, humans are hopelessly unable to take care of their problem. Is that any less true in a culture focused on making life worthwhile through materialism and selfish ambition? It is only by grace that people in either culture can be saved—the grace of God in sending his Son to counteract the pollution with an omnipotent detergent and to bring true self-fulfillment through the power of his love.
We can lead people to the Savior who cleanses them and loves them. He conquered death itself, the most polluting agent of all. And he rose again, crowning human life with everlasting purpose and peace.
For people who feel dirty, Jesus offers cleansing. For people who feel ashamed, he offers honor. For people who feel that they have a debt to pay, he offers forgiveness. For people who feel alienated, he offers reconciliation. For people who feel enslaved, he offers freedom. For those who feel like they don’t belong, he offers adoption into a permanent family. For those who feel tired, he offers rest. For those who are anxious, he offers peace.
Rituals offer only the need for their continual repetition. Materialism offers only the craving for more. Do you know someone who needs Christ? — And is there anything you can do about it?