Getting dirty is the easiest thing in the world.
The strangest things happen after midnight. Like the time I was up late and remembered I needed to take out the trash. When I got to the curb, I realized I had company—a friendly skunk. He apparently had forgotten he was a skunk and was behaving like a puppy, instead. At that hour, I was the only company available, and he wanted to make friends. But I knew the drill. If the “puppy” felt threatened even for a moment, it would mean an oily stream of fluid so obnoxious that even a Grizzly Bear couldn’t stand it.
I did the manly thing and ran.
Some things of the world get on us or into us, leaving a lingering smell, a stench. It’s hard not to get sprayed, especially when every billboard or commercial, awards ceremony, or political forum is drenched in skunk oil. Wear it long enough, and it will begin to smell normal. In fact, after a while, anything that is clean will seem strange, freakish to you.
There’s only one thing that can shrug off being spiritually skunked.
This is graphically shown in Leviticus chapter 11, where we find clean versus unclean animals. If you’ve ever spent time in this passage, you’ve probably been struck by the strange ceremonial guidelines given there. It’s a holiness guidebook for the people of Israel. The chapter is set up to demonstrate how uncleanness and death can come from every corner of our world—land (11:1-8), sea (11:9-12), and air (11:13-19).
Uncleanness is highly communicable. The ancient Israelites not only became defiled by eating an unclean animal, but by merely touching the carcass of one. If any of the people brushed up against a dead camel, or donkey (animals of daily utility), or removing the corpse of the family dog, they would be ceremonially unclean the rest of the day.
And if a carcass fell on an earthen vessel, a clay bowl or pot, the vessel was hopeless:
“It shall be broken in pieces. They are unclean and shall remain unclean for you” (Lev. 11:35).
Such a dish could sit there for a thousand years and still be unclean. All the owner could do was break it and dispose of it entirely.
“Nevertheless, a spring or a cistern holding water shall be clean” (v. 36).
Water couldn’t be defiled, especially if was moving. Looking at all of this through a New Testament lens, we’ll see an early truth emerging in the text—good news for all of us. For even while we are called earthen vessels (c.f. Rom. 9:21, 2 Cor. 4:7), and are in a world of uncleanness, flowing water is simultaneously within us.
Jesus said, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).
The Lord’s colorful metaphor portrays the Holy Spirit as an eternally flowing, and therefore, clean source. Nothing can taint Him. Nothing can make Him unholy. Once a person receives Him through faith in Jesus Christ, there will always be something holy and clean within—perfect, pure, pristine.
Though earthen vessels, none of us could ever be discarded while the Spirit flows within. Even if the careless, weak believer wanders into uncleanness, the effect cannot be eternal, only temporary.
We sinners love to cuddle the skunk of sin, but it’s never the fun we think it’s going to be. One good spray can result in three weeks’ worth of banishment to the basement, or a series of tomato juice baths.
Definitely not worth it.
But before you despair of ever being free of the stink, remember the relentless perfection still flowing within, immune to uncleanness, and calling you back into its depths.