"He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all."
In my formative years, Christian influence was hit or miss. My parents divorced when I was five years old, and I spent most of my childhood in and out of churches hearing little about Jesus. I was schooled in life by the world and the prevailing cultural ideals around me. Coupled by the fact that I am an only child, I learned quite early how to navigate this world in self-protective, self-promoting ways, most of the time with a simple nod towards God. “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake was the theme song for my life. It was “the only road I’ve ever known,” and indeed, living life apart from God is earthly living.
In John 3, a dispute arose between John the Baptist’s disciples and Jesus’ disciples. Both were baptizing, but John’s disciples inquired as to whose baptism was really purifying people. Jesus’ baptism was the correct answer because He came from above; He is the only one who can purify us from earthly ways.
We need this purification because things are askew on this earth—death, pain, heartache, injury, suffering, separation from God, manipulation, greed, sin, anger, and adultery. All of these grievances cause us to respond to life in earthly ways—taking our own path, navigating life without God, Whitesnake kind of living, projecting, hiding, scheming, plotting, running, escaping, and being numb.
John the Baptist recognized the need to be purified by Jesus’ baptism, so he pointed us to Jesus. John never forgot his place as the one who pointed to Jesus because Jesus was from above and therefore can purify us and “seal” us (v. 33) in God’s Word. These horizontal conditions in which we now live are ripe for sealing in earthly ways, but Jesus came from above to purify us from these earthly ways. It must be this way; nothing on earth will do. Everything here is tainted, stained, and ruined by sin.
Yet this purifying from earthly ways is a process. God began this process for me when I was 20 when, much like the woman at the well, He showed me all the cisterns from which I had been drinking left me forever thirsty. He gave me true water and quenched my thirst. But much purification is still needed, therefore I drink more of Jesus day by day, not out of emptiness, but out of a fullness that I already have in Him. So now His water is at work inside of me, purifying me from earthly ways, and this process will continue until He returns.
Remember the occasion when Peter brandished a sword and severed a soldier’s ear? “Put up the sword, Peter. We’re not going to do it this way. Those are earthly ways. Instead of taking life, we’re going to give it away,” Jesus implied. Earthly ways push, shove, manipulate, drive, run, push harder, and drive harder. Heavenly ways cultivate, love, serve, walk, rest, and give.
I like to achieve and strive. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with those attributes, but I know my heart’s tendency to achieve and strive is a mechanism to cover my deficiencies, shortcomings, and also the shame of my past and present injuries and sins—again, earthly ways, Whitesnake ways. Jesus wants to give me life in order to promote Him and His ways of life and joy, living alert to His great truth, His saving power, and the promise that the “above” will be here soon. One day, earthly ways will be swallowed up by heavenly ways, and by virtue of Jesus’ resurrection, that process has already begun. So I ask: to which way do you submit? Which way has sway over you?