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  Car Wash ChristianityMonday, December 11th, 2023  
by Phil Ware

As I sat in the drive-through car wash, I looked at the inside of my old Plymouth. The AC didn't work, a big oil stain covered the front floor mat, "mystery fluid" leaked out from under the hood somewhere, and there was an odd assortment of old trash in the back floorboard of the car. As I drove down the road, most folks would have seen a nice shiny red car that looked good for it's age. I knew better. I knew it needed some serious work; a lot more than a quick trip through the car wash could perform.

"I ought to do something about this soon!" I thought to myself.

"Nope. It can wait a while longer. You don't drive this car that much anyway." I rationalized any sense of urgency away. I did remove the trash, but the stain, the broken AC, and the "mystery fluid" are still very much a part of the little red car driving experience. "At least it LOOKS good!" I re-assured myself.

That's when it hit me. For the last several years, a friend has asked me to preach a sermon or write an article on what he calls car wash Christianity. My visit to the car wash with my little read car made me realize the time had come!

A lot of us, good and decent folks that we are, go to church to keep up that nice "go to church" appearance on things. Rarely do we delve into the matters that God wants to accomplish in us. That's because this requires internal as well as external transformation. Some of us hope getting the outside clean and keeping appearances up will suffice for true spirituality. Deep down, however, we fear that if we let God in too close, if we open up our hearts and truly let him look inside us, then we will have to change significantly. Our pet hidden sins, our bits of pettiness, our grip on pride, our fits of self-centeredness suddenly are threatened. Others of us have never ever really seen God's transformational power at work in the lives of real modern day people, so we don't really expect that God will do that kind of transformation within us. We end up settling for the appearance of faith without sharing in the experience of faith.

We forget that God specializes in the work of transformation. In fact, the Holy Spirit's major job description is transformation. Paul reminded the Christians in the wicked city of Corinth that they had been horrible sinners. He gives a long laundry list of sins that described their life. Then he says: "And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Cor. 6:9-11). "God has cleansed you inside and out," Paul is telling them. In a later letter to the same church, Paul reminds them that the Holy Spirit gives them freedom to become what they couldn't become without him; God's children with power like Christ. He says, "We all show the Lord's glory, and we are being changed to be like him. This change in us brings ever greater glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (2 Cor. 3:18)

How do we open ourselves up to this transformational work of God's Spirit? While whole books are written to help us better understand this subject, let's focus on a handful key targets to get us started.
  1. Come to Christ for salvation
    Becoming a Christian is crucial. The presence of the Holy Spirit is the defining mark of who is Christian and who isn't (Rom. 8:9; cf. Acts 19:1-7). When we come to Christ for salvation, the Holy Spirit cleanses us and makes us holy (1 Cor. 6:11; 2 Thess. 2:13-14). One of the great gifts of salvation is the gift of the Holy Spirit living inside of us (Acts 2:28-39; 5:32).

  2. Ask God to empower us with his Spirit
    One of the great blessings of being a Christian is that we can ask God to empower us and strengthen us through his Spirit (Luke 11:9-12; Eph. 3:14-21; cf. Acts 4:31). While the Spirit is always present in us, he gives special power to meet certain obstacles and opportunities.

  3. Do what God says fills us with his Spirit
    Speaking to one another in songs, singing and making music in our hearts to God, giving thanks to God through Jesus, and submitting to one another to honor Christ are things that we can do and know that God uses to fill us with his Spirit (Eph. 5:15-21).

  4. Seek God's will in his Word
    The Scriptures are Spirit-inspired (2 Tim. 3:16-17; cf. 2 Pet. 1:20-21). When we read, study, and meditate on God's will in Scripture, the Spirit helps us understand what is said (1 Cor. 2:12-16), convicts us of what is wrong in our life (John 16:7-10), and empowers us to live what we are called to obey (Rom. 8:1-4).

  5. Pray, trusting in the power of the Spirit
    When we pray, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us (Rom. 8:26-27). We actually pray "in the Spirit" (Eph. 6:19; Jude 20) and this builds us up and insures that our prayers are heard according to the will of God, communicating our deepest longings.
Bottom line, God wants us to be cleansed, re-made, and empowered inside out and out. He doesn't want us to settle for car wash Christianity when transformational Christianity, Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered Christianity are ours. Let's not sell ourselves short on this matter. Let's ask God to cleanse us and empower us thoroughly!
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
(Psalm 51:1-2, 10-12)
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