He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour … (verses 5-6)
When he was quite young, our third child couldn’t get enough of the water. Swimming, he loved. Even as a toddler, before he really knew how to keep himself afloat, I’d stand in the shallow end of the pool, hold him out at arm’s length, and then drop him, feet first, into the water. Down he’d go, completely submerged, then bobbing to the surface where I’d catch him again and hoist him up, arm’s length, ready to go once more. He loved it! He couldn’t get enough. I think my arms got tired before he was ever ready to quit!
And any fountain we happened by, would immediately grab his attention. All that water shooting up, spilling over, crashing down, in continuous motion, was sheer delight. He almost missed one of the best rides at Disneyland because he was standing by himself, mesmerized by a fountain!
He’s not the only one. Water captivates. It sparkles as it flows, promising refreshing coolness. We drink deeply, knowing its vitality will slake our thirst. We heat it up and plunge into its warm embrace to be cleansed and washed clean. Kids love running through a lawn-sprinkler, while adults love knowing the grass is getting well hydrated.
No wonder water so often appears in the scripture as an image for bountiful spiritual blessing. And so often it’s in connection with the Holy Spirit.
So here. Water flows in these verses, with the Spirit himself right at the centre.
The passage starts with the word “He”, referring us back to the previous sentence where the Father is in focus (“God our Saviour”) whose kindness and love have saved us, not on the basis of our own goodness, but purely by his own mercy.
The passage concludes, a sentence later, with a focus on Jesus Christ, the One who saves us, justifying us by his grace so that we receive the hope of eternal life.
Between this activity of Father and Son, we see the Spirit, poured out like water. Paul says it’s an outpouring that produces “washing.” “Bathed” is actually the word, implying full cleansing, the scrubbing away of dirt and grime that refreshes every part of our being. COVID-19 taught us to value the importance of handwashing (continually!) and of disinfecting surfaces from viral enemies. Here it is the Spirit who does the work, bringing about the “washing of rebirth,” a cleansing that is so thorough, so complete, that we are made entirely new, our slate wiped clean, our very person reborn to a fresh start.
He also brings a washing of “renewal” – a total transformation. The flow of the Spirit yields refreshment and new vitality. Changing the image slightly, this word speaks of “renovation,” conjuring the image of a rundown, passé, undesirable dwelling getting a full redesign, a complete upgrade and thorough repurposing that makes it entirely liveable – indeed the hovel becomes a refuge. Such transformation happens as we are plunged within the Spirit’s flow.
And, oh, what a flow it is! The Spirit is “poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour.” If ever anyone knew about generosity, it is our Lord. He who did not begrudge sacrificing his own life, clearly knows how to give without holding back. And so he pours out the Spirit – no holds barred.
Like one of those fountains that mesmerized my son – water flowing endlessly over and over, from top to bottom, spilling down, down, down – so, too, the Spirit lavishly flows over us, in us and through us.
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me. Wash me. Renew me. Pour out your life-giving presence. In Jesus’ name.
Reflect: Take several moments to simply sit in the Spirit’s presence, picturing him poured out on you, generously. Receive. Pause during the day to renew the reflection.