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Is it time to let God clean up your act?

Spiritual spring cleaning

By George O. Wood

I have a difficult time throwing anything away.

I still have all my classroom notes from four years in college, four years in seminary, and four more years in law school. They are absolutely no good to me now. I haven’t looked at them in years — but they sit undisturbed in a file in my study.

I’m comfortable with the familiar. I haven’t traded for an automobile in years. I like the ones we have. They still run. Why go to the bother and expense of getting a new one? An old suit is just as good as a new one. Yesteryear’s tie still looks good, and who would ever think of changing eyeglass frames?

When I was a child I remember that my father often reflected on his experience of driving down unpaved roads in western Pennsylvania with a Model A (or was it a "T"?). The dirt roads often became rutted due to rain. One of Dad’s favorite lines came from a sign posted at the beginning of one road, "Choose your rut well. You will be in it the next 20 miles!"

So, in the humor of God, I — who am often rutted myself and settled into the ordinariness of routine and habit – offer this counsel appropriate to the spring season: get rid of the old, and welcome the new.

Fortunately, there’s an excellent word from no less than the apostle Paul on this very subject — an admonition we do well to heed. "Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast — as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Corinthians 5:7,8, NIV).

I got a practical taste of what Paul was talking about when I spent the Passover season last year in Jerusalem.

In all my previous 20-some visits to Israel, I had never been present for the Passover season and I had enthusiastically told our tour group about all the good bread — among other things — that we were going to eat.

About the second day there, all the good bread disappeared, replaced by matzo crackers. Even the spaghetti was made from potatoes rather than flour (and tasted accordingly). We quickly learned that all Israeli hotels, in keeping kosher law, observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the days leading up to Passover. The admonition of the apostle Paul, based on the teaching of Exodus 12:14,15 and Leviticus 23:4-6, teaches us to do spiritually every day what Israelis do physically each year in the seven days leading up to Passover.

All leaven is to be removed.
Leaven, or yeast, is dough that has been kept over from a previous baking and, in the keeping, has become fermented. Every observant Israeli home and hotel diligently searches out the presence of any leaven and removes it from the premises.

The apostle Paul tells the Corinthians and us to get "leaven" out of our own lives — the stuff that ferments and changes the nature of whatever it becomes kneaded within.

But, there is a striking difference between Paul’s counsel and the actual observance of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The sequence of events is reversed.

Paul tells us, "Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed." Removal of leaven for the Christian comes after — not before — the Passover lamb. In other words, salvation does not depend on our own good efforts to remove the junk of sin out of our lives — it depends wholly on the saving death of Jesus Christ received by faith. He is the One who cleanses us from sin in the sight of God. Ours is the discipline to actively engage in removing from our lives what is displeasing to God — not as a condition of our salvation, but as a response of thanksgiving and obedience to His work of redemption and regeneration in our lives.

As believers, we must take an active posture to clean up our own lives. The things we are to throw out vary from passage to passage in the New Testament.

We must toss out malice and wickedness (1 Corinthians 5:8); the old self — corrupted by its deceitful desires, falsehood, anger, theft, unwholesome talk, the grieving of the Holy Spirit, bitterness, rage, slander, every form of evil, unforgiveness (Ephesians 4:22-31); moral filth and a loose tongue (James 1:19-27). Quite a list. And the New Testament has many more – the above is just a sampling.

The same passages just cited speak also of what we are to put on: sincerity, truth, work, generosity to the needy, encouraging speech, kindness and compassion, forgiveness, Spirit-filled living, and looking after widows and orphans.

Cleaning house involves a decision to do so.
What changes do you need to make? What habits, life-style decisions and attitudes have become a part of you that are not a part of Christ? You will never begin to grow into the imitation of Jesus unless you make a decision to head that direction.

I know a nominal believer. He’s made an absolute mess of his life and his home. He has a foul temper, treats his wife worse than most people treat their dog, blames his lack of proper conduct on the dysfunctional home he grew up in, and ranges from depression to escapist behaviors.

He refuses to make a decision to change. I believe if he would go just once sincerely to church, respond to the altar call, and remain at the altar until he had thoroughly repented and received the assurance of salvation and the baptism in the Holy Spirit that he would have taken the most giant step possible for a spiritual inside housecleaning. It would result in a winsome and attractive life; reconciled to God, to himself, to his wife and his family. He would be a joy to be around.

But, he won’t make the decision to change.

How about you? If you don’t think any changes need to be made in your life, how about asking someone close to you? Maybe your spouse, best friend, anyone who will be honest with you. Just ask humbly, "Would you be honest with me and tell me what changes I need to make in my life?"

Change is not automatic.
Several years ago a newspaper in northern California reported this true story of a newly retired couple who had cashed in their stocks and bonds to purchase one of the most expensive motor homes available on the market. One of its fine features was cruise control, a novel device to them at the time.

As they traveled up the West Coast, the husband became tired and asked his wife to drive while he went to the back to take a nap. As she drove, she put the camper on cruise control and it worked perfectly. After an hour of straight highway driving she got up to go to the bathroom.

Her mistake was in thinking that cruise control was synonymous with automatic pilot. At least that’s what she told the highway patrol after the accident. Fortunately, neither the wife nor her husband was hurt — but the motor home was totaled.

You can never put your life on spiritual cruise control because you cannot drive the highway of life on automatic. You must make decisions!

This year it may be far more important for you to do spring cleaning on your life rather than on your house or property. The risen Christ is available to help you. Hear the promise of God’s Word: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17).

George O. Wood, D.Th.P., is general secretary for the Assemblies of God.

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