Editorial Notes On Continual Cleansing

By Mike Willis

I make notations to myself regarding things I want to write. Several of these notations have accumulated pertaining to which a full article is not needed. Hence, this week’s editorial will be a collection of “short stories.”

Continuous Cleansing And The Windshield Wiper

Recently a sermon by Guy N. Woods on “Continual Cleansing” was published by Britnell Publications, Little Rock, AR. In defending the position of “continuous cleansing,” brother Woods wrote,

Now having seen this remarkable promise, may I illustrate it somewhat like this, crude though it is. You start out in your automobile on a rainy day, and it’s necessary to use your windshield wipers, and you turn them on. You don’t operate them manually, at least you don’t any more. One time you did. I remember those early Fords when you had to drive down the highway manually operating your windshield wipers. Today, we set in operation a process that keeps them going. These passages teach us that the Lord, for his faithful people, sets in operation a process by which he keeps them continuously cleansed. What is the process? If we walk in the light, the blood cleanses. If we keep on walking in the light, it keeps on cleansing (p. 3).

As I understand the sermon and illustration, the Christian is cleansed of his sins of weakness, frailties, imperfections, ignorance, and stupidity conditioned upon the general intention to walk in the light. Brother Woods said, “If we walk in the light, by which it is meant if we do our best to live according to His word, the blood keeps on cleansing,” just like the windshield wipers keep on wiping water off our windshields.

I grew up in East Texas and have lived in Florida, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. In every state I have lived, I have witnessed relatively long periods of drought. I have never seen motorists in any of these places driving down the highways during these periods of drought with their windshield wipers on, just in case rain perchance might fall. Instead, the cars come equipped with windshield wipers which must be turned on by the operator when they are needed. When rains begins to fall, the motorist turns on his windshield wipers which clean the windshield. Now, if I have understood brother Woods and others who are circulating the windshield illustration, they imply that, at conversion, a process of cleansing which the Lord sets in operation is begun which continues unabated until the sinner willfully sins or dies. If their illustration was parallel to their doctrine, a motorist upon purchasing a car would find equipped a set of windshield wipers which ran non-stop in the event that rain might begin to fall. I have never had a car like that but, if I ever get one, I will take it back to the company which sold it to me to get it fixed, just like a man does when his horn begins blowing and will not stop.

“Living the best we know how” is no different doctrine when taught by a Christian than when taught by denominational folk. For years denominational folks have taught that man was saved if he did the best he knew how – even if he never was baptized. Now some Christians are teaching the same doctrine, implying that one is justified who is doing the “best he knows how” even though he might be worshiping where the instrument is used or where institutions are supported from the church treasury.

Cleansing is continuously available but conditionally given!

A Step Is Not A Walk

Another catchy phrase which has been used in the continuous cleansing controversy is “a step is not a walk.” Some have used this phrase to state that a person whose general character may be described as “walking in the light” does not fall into a state of condemnation by a single sin. He is not “walking in darkness” as a result of a single sin.

I fully recognize that “walking in the light” and “walking in darkness” describe one’s general course of life. A man like the apostle Peter can be described as one who “walked in the light” in spite of the fact that he fell into sin from time to time.

In spite of the fact that “a step is not a walk,” we recognize that a walk begins with a step. A man will never walk in the light unless he takes the first step and a man will never walk in darkness unless he takes the first step. When a Christian takes his first step in darkness, he begins a walk in darkness unless he repents and take a step back into the light. The step in darkness is a sin which brings guilt and places a man in jeopardy of eternal damnation, whether this step in darkness is committed in ignorance, weakness, or high-handed rebellion.

The life of Peter is particularly instructive in this case. The apostle was “clean through the word” which Jesus spoke (Jn. 15:3). But on the night of Jesus’ betrayal, he denied the Lord three times. Jesus had taught, “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 10:33). Having denied Jesus, Peter needed to be converted (Lk. 22:32). His step into sin brought him into condemnation; he needed to be converted in order to be cleansed by the blood of Jesus. Later, at Antioch, Peter again fell into sin, being guilty of hypocrisy as a result of “peer pressure” (Gal. 2:11-14). Because of his sin, Paul said “he was to be blamed” (ASV: he stood condemned). His sin brought guilt which could only be removed by the blood of Christ on the condition of repentance and prayer (Acts 8:22). His previous “walk in the light” did not cause the blood of Christ to cleanse him. His was not a life of “walking in darkness,” but it was a step – a step in darkness which made him stand “condemned.”

Carefulness In Terminology

The discussion on “walking in the light” has called my attention to the need for careful attention in defining our terms. For example, one says, “‘Walking in the light’ does not describe a life of sinless perfection. A man commits sins while ‘walking in the light.”‘ I agree that “walking in the light” describes a general lifestyle – a lifestyle such as displayed by the apostle Peter. I have no hesitancy in saying that Peter, “walked in the light.”

However, then the latter statement is added: “a man commits sin while ‘walking in the light.”‘ Tell me what you mean by your phrase “walking in the light” and I will tell you whether or not I agree with the statement. I agree that a man whose general character is that of faithfulness may occasionally commit sin. However, his sin is an act of darkness, not of light. The word “light” is used in opposition to “darkness.” In the “light” there is no sin. In order to commit sin a man must step out of light and into darkness. Whether such an individual may continue to be described as “walking in the light” or should be described as “walking in darkness” depends upon whether he repents and goes back into the light or persists in his sin. All this seems axiomatic to me and accepted by all brethren.

The trouble comes when someone whose general character might be described as “walking in the light” commits an act of sin (darkness). Some are teaching that this man’s sins are cleansed even as they are committed on the condition that he is generally trying to please God. In this area disagreement exists. We are thankful that brethren have focused and are focusing in on this point and are rejecting the idea that one’s sins are cleansed “even as he sins,” before and without his repentance.

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 6, pp. 162-183
March 19, 1987