Cleansing for service… (E. Radmacher)

A Series on Sanctification: Part 2

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Author's Bias | Interpretation: conservative | Inclination: dispensational | Seminary: Dallas Theological

1. Having described the Father's concerned care for all believers in the prior verse (John 15:2), Jesus addresses His men in particular. In John 15:3 He tells them that the process of "cleansing" has been completed by His Father through the instruction they have received from Him. The direct implication is that they are therefore "fruiting" branches, and that their "season" of fruitfulness is upon them. Does the word "cleansing" used here in the context of: a) cleansing from the penalty of sin (justification) or b) cleansing and purifying our minds for service (sanctification)?

Jesus' use of kathairō seems purposefully to have both a horticultural and religious sense, meaning both "to prune" and "to purify." (1) This is similar to the command in Ephesians 5:25-27 for husbands to love their wives like Christ loved the church. In that command the analogy is developed that Jesus "cleansed" the church by washing her with the "word" in order to present her to Himself as "holy and blameless." Similarly, Jesus affirms that He has "purified" the disciples through His instruction. When Jesus says He has cleansed them with the words He has spoken to them, He must be reminding them of all that He has said in chapters thirteen and fourteen, especially the tremendous teachings of chapter fourteen.

God uses His Word to purge those things from our lives that keep us, and others, from bearing fruit. Even so, that is not the focal point of what Jesus is saying. Rather, He is saying that the disciples have prepared for fruitfulness, something which will be defined more fully later, by the action of the Father as He has used Jesus' teaching to "purify" them in the sense of making them fit for service.

The cleansing to which Jesus alludes should not be seen as the believer's cleansing from the penalty of sin that occurs at the time of the new birth (cf. John 13:10). This is not justification truth. Rather, this cleansing is a sanctification truth. This is 1 John 1:9 forgiveness and confession. This, again, is seen in the nature of the purpose of the cleansing. The cleansing to which Jesus refers has prepared them for service, not for heaven. Believing in the Jesus of the Bible give us heaven-a gift of life-but the process of disciple making prepares us for service-the stewardship of that life.

Again, this interpretation fits the context best since service is in view and is, by nature of its being commanded by Christ, something a believer may or may not do. Those who would see this as justification cleansing would hear Jesus saying, "You are all saved (v. 3). And you will demonstrate that salvation by bearing fruit (v. 4)." Rather, we should notice how these words parallel so well what Jesus did to them in John 13:4-17. He confronted their sinful attitudes and prepared them for service with a model (i.e., show and tell).

Contrary to seeing this as the cleansing from the penalty of sin that occurs at our justification-salvation, this verse likely has the concept of Old Testament ceremonial cleansing in view. When a priest entered into his period of service in the temple, he began first by going through the process of becoming ceremonially clean before the Lord. This included washings as well as offering certain sacrifices for his sin. When he had completed the cleansing process, he was qualified to serve. This is what Jesus is picturing here more than the idea of God purging specific sins from someone's life.

At the beginning of this discourse the disciples were still egotistical and self-centered, not ready to serve. Jesus had washed their feet and given them an example of humble service to follow. But, regardless of their immature attitudes, the disciples had indeed been set apart to serve God and were now acceptable to Him. So, though the foot washing was not a spiritually cleansing ceremony, Jesus may be alluding to it here as a parallel to the priest' washing as he entered the temple to serve. This may also help us understand the significance of what Jesus is going to say in verse sixteen. As the priests were chosen by God to serve in God's program, so too, the disciples were chosen by Jesus. And, as the priests had first to be made fit to serve by being "cleansed" before entering into service, so too the disciples were "cleansed" by Jesus' instruction, including His washing their feet.

2. How is this concept applied?

The best explanation is by way of example. A very special event comes to mind that occurred in January of 1989. A dear friend, Lorelei Dedini had a serious recurrence of the breast cancer that had gone into remission five years before. Her doctors told her that she had six months to a year to live. But what had really troubled her was the statement of some of her Christian friends, who had prayed for her, that God was going to heal her.

"How do they know that," she said. "God didn't tell me that."

Well, we looked at the Word and prayed and I said, "Now, I would listen to your doctor and make plans. If God chooses to heal you, well and good. But it appears that you may have a short amount of time to do some strategic things."

Several weeks later the Dedini's took my wife and me to a lovely dinner in Saratoga. Sitting across from me, Lorelei rejoiced, "God is so good."

Strange words from a lovely lady dying at forty-seven? "Tell me about it," I responded.

"Well, some people get taken so suddenly. God has given me time. There are things that we needed to straighten out." And she went on to spell some of them out. "God is so good," she repeated.

Shortly thereafter, I had occasion to take Lorelei with me to a preaching engagement in Los Altos. The wonderful sixty-voice youth choir was singing a rather jubilant and rocking rendition of "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord." Lorelei elbowed me in the side and said, "Get a load of this. They're singing it and I'm doing it." When they finished, I had her step up to the pulpit with me. She was wearing a bonnet on her head because of the devastating work the chemotherapy had done to her lovely head of hair.

She began her testimony of the power of God's Word turning to the youth choir, "You have been singing it and I am doing it," and then continued to the whole audience. I shall never forget the scene at the alter after the service. In forty years of ministry, I have never had so many people come forward with responses. One stands out. A psychiatrist gave her his card and asked her to make an appointment.

"Oh, thank you doctor. But I don't need an appointment." She said.

"I know you don't. But I do," he replied.

When I would fly through San Jose every couple of weeks or so, I would call on Lorelei and her husband Dominic. On one occasion I remember holding her chest X-rays up against the patio door light and saying, "Lorelei, I believe you are going to see Jesus before I do, and when you do, tell Him I am coming, too." We smiled.

Several weeks later, I called from the airport, and Dominic answered, "Are you coming over? I will get her ready." Upon entering, I heard her weakened voice say, "It's the Word! It's the Word! That's what you said and it's true." She grabbed my arm as I got close to her emaciated body still radiating Christ's love as she was almost "finally home."

Lorelei wrote her own funeral service that was held before a full crowd at Calvary Church. As a result of the funeral service, a good friend was led to Christ by her husband, Dominic.

This kind of miracle in the lives of believers is replicated over and over again when we dare to take seriously the power of the Word of God. "Now you are clean," Jesus said, "through the Word which I have spoken unto you." God's Word purges those things from our lives that keep us from bearing fruit.

Dr. Earl Radmacher was born almost seventy years ago in Portland, Oregon just a couple of miles from Western Seminary where, in the providence of God, he would later serve on the theological faculty for thirty-three years (1962-1995) and in administrative positions as Dean of the Faculty (1964-1965), President (1965-1990), and Chancellor (1990-1995). In 1995 he was designated President Emeritus and Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology Emeritus.

His parents, who were immigrants from Romania and Austria, settled in Portland in 1913 where they brought eight children into this world, Earl being the last. The whole family was very active in local churches so every Sunday found Earl spending all day in church-Sunday school, morning worship, potluck lunch at the church, recreation break, youth service, evening service, and after service. Even though he heard the gospel preached Sunday after Sunday, he did not personally receive Christ as his Savior until he was fourteen years of age. He has often stated that sitting in church Sunday after Sunday doesn't make one a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes a car…

At that juncture in his life, Earl came in contact with another Earl-Earl Gile-a faithful Sunday school teacher who lived right across the street from the grade school he had attended, and he opened up his home as an outreach to boys from the school. Mr. Gile's church rented the school gymnasium on Thursday nights and made it available for boys to play basketball if they came to Sunday school on Sundays. That sounded like a good deal, so he went. Shortly after that, the teacher announced a forthcoming boys camps at Twin Rocks Beach, Oregon. He decided to go; and there, at fourteen years of age, he accepted Christ as his Savior.

Although the church preached the gospel faithfully, they didn't go beyond the gospel to build up believers in the faith. He has often said, "As a believer, I didn't need a birth message, but I did need a growth message. That being absent, I tended to flounder, and my growth in Christ was stunted. Thus, the high school years were a disaster as far as the things of Christ and spiritual growth were concerned."

As graduation time neared, he took the normal batch of tests to determine which line of work he should pursue. The tests indicated mathematics or mechanics, so he decided to go the route of mathematics and join it with money by starting a career in a savings and loan institution. He started as a file clerk and worked up to an investment statistician that year.

His plans in the investment business were dramatically interrupted, however, by a visit to Portland of a new evangelist on the scene, Billy Graham, in August of 1950. A friend invited him to go to the meeting and, although he had little spiritual appetite at that time, God seemed to press him toward the affirmative. As the poet Francis Thompson has written: "He tracked me down the corridors of time." As it turned out, Earl not only went that night but every night thereafter for six weeks. The only meeting he missed was the women's meeting (they wouldn't let him in!).

After listening to the powerful preaching of Billy Graham for six weeks, at the conclusion of the last service, he found himself standing on his feet, going forward, grabbing Cliff Barrow's hand, and telling him that God called him to preach. His next question was, "What do I do now?" Cliff said, "You go to college to prepare" and he recommended his alma mater in South Carolina.

Once again, god had a man prepared to help him take the next step. As the tabernacle cleared out, he saw a man he hadn't seen since grade school. In the beautiful providence of God, this man, Jerry Burleson, was going to the same college in South Carolina that Cliff Barrows had recommended, and he was looking for one more rider. Although it was just two weeks before Fall semester, Jerry assured him that they would accept him on probation through his recommendation. He worked nights for two weeks training another person for his job so that he could leave with the good graces of his employer.

Twelve years and four degrees later (together with broad opportunities of experience in preaching and teaching, overseas missions and military chaplainry, local church pastor and parachurch ministries, rural and urban outreaches), he ended up not in the pastorate, but in the training of evangelists, pastors, and teachers at Western Seminary. His years there involved traveling over ten million miles and preaching and teaching over twenty thousand hours in over a thousand Bible conferences and thousands of churches.

Among the numerous books and articles that Dr. Radmacher has authored or edited are the following books: You and your thoughts (1977), The Nature of the Church (1978, 1995), Can We Trust the Bible (1979), What to Expect from the Holy Spirit (1983), Hermeneutics, Inerrancy, and the Bible (1984), The NIV Reconsidered (1990), The Nelson Study Bible (1997), Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Commentary (1999), and Salvation (2000).

Dr. Radmacher has often stated, "In my wildest dreams fifty years ago, I could never have imagined the exciting plans that God, in His sovereign grace, had for me." His life mission is found in 2 Timothy 2:15, "Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." His personal life verse is 2 Corinthians 3:18, "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord."

This article was adapted from The Disciplemaker: What Matters Most to Jesus by Gary Derickson and Earl Radmacher (Salem: Charis Press, ©2001) and used by permission from its authors. Drs. Derickson and Radmacher, in their concern about the process of Christian spiritual growth (discipleship), provide much food for thought in this under-emphasized area of Christian living. How do you choose to live for the Lord?

The literary arrangement of the Gospel of John is in 5 parts:

Prologue (John 1:1-18)

The Word who created the world became flesh in order to reveal God and give life to those who believe in Him.

Jesus' Ministry to the Nation (John 1:19-12:50)

John's testimony and Jesus' signs and public discourses reveal that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that one may experience an abundant, unending and refreshing, life by believing in Him.

Jesus' Ministry to His Apostles (John 13-17)

Jesus further revealed the Father to His disciples as He comforted and encouraged them in His final words and prayer.

Jesus' Passion and Resurrection (John 18-21)

Jesus allowed Himself to be arrested, tried, and crucified, dying and raising from the dead, thereby demonstrating that He is the Son of God and producing joy and faith in those who witnessed His resurrection.

Epilogue (John 21)

Jesus restored Peter to leadership by the Sea of Tiberias.

Take a moment to read the whole book of John with this outline, and see if it helps you understand the Gospel of John better!


1. Richard, "Expressions of Double Meaning and Their Function in the Gospel of John.," 102.

Series: Understanding the process of sanctification (Radmacher)
Part 1: Unfruitful branches? Lift up! Lift up!

Series: Understanding the process of sanctification (Radmacher)
Part 3: Intersection…divine sovereignty and human responsibility…

Related subject:

Topical Index: Salvation>Salvation From the Power of Sin>Sanctification

Related verses:

Scripture Index: The Gospels>John

By author:

Author Index: Radmacher, E.

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