Notice what Paul said, “Such were some of you, but you were washed.” The converted sinner must no longer identify with the sin that once enslaved him. He must be willing to say, “That is what I once was, but that is not what I now am. For the old me that once was has been crucified with Christ.”
In Genesis 35, God appeared to Jacob while he was living in Shechem. God then specifically commanded Jacob to return to Bethel and to erect an altar of worship there. Now that God had fulfilled His promise to take care of Jacob during his flight from home, Jacob needed to fulfill the vow that he had made there at Bethel decades earlier. Jacob’s time of halfway obedience was over, and now he obeyed God as the angels obey God in heaven. Jacob obeyed fully and without delay.
Jacob prepared his household for an encounter with God. Some in Jacob’s household may have possessed some idols that they had taken with them from Padan Aram. You might remember the household idols that Rachel had taken from her father Laban. Others in Jacob’s household probably possessed idols that they had recently plundered from the city of Shechem. Certain earrings were also idols.
There was nothing intrinsically evil about an earring shaped, for example, like a crescent moon. There was, however, an extrinsic problem with such jewelry in a culture where such a shape was associated with a moon god or goddess.
Jacob told his household to put away all such idols. Valuable as these objects might have been, everyone, without delay or resistance or complaint, turned such objects over to Jacob, who then buried them. The word here translated “hid” can refer to hiding for later retrieval, like a pirate’s burying treasure on an isolated island. The word can also refer to hiding something that needs to remain hidden, like Moses’ burying the Egyptian whom he had slain in his days as a prince in Egypt. In this context, the meaning is hiding something to remain hidden because what is being hidden is something forbidden.
In addition to putting away their idols, Jacob commanded everyone to put on new clothes. This is similar to how Israel prepared to meet God at Mount Sinai under Moses by washing their clothes. Both changing clothes and washing clothes can symbolize changing one’s character through a spiritual renewal. The Apostle Paul later used this symbolism when he commanded Christians to put off their sinful ways of living and to put on righteous ways of living. The Spirit of God must have been moving in Jacob’s household because they obeyed both his commands without questioning them.
This principle of burying idols and changing clothes continues to apply today. For example, if a man today seeks to be ordained as a minister or elder or deacon, then he needs to bury his idols and change his clothes. There are those who have engaged in homosexual acts in the past, who now claim to be converted and called to ordained service in the church. This is possible, even as the Apostle Paul made the transition from persecutor of the church to sacred apostle.
Yet some who make this claim today refuse to bury their idols and change their clothes. They say that their sinful desires are an aspect of their essential self that cannot be changed. They refer to themselves as gay Christians. Some continue to dress and groom in ways that culturally identify them as homosexuals. Some continue to participate in and celebrate certain identifying aspects of homosexual culture.
Our response to this must be an insistence that men bury their idols and change their clothes as a minimal requirement for being ordained as ministers or elders or deacons. Our response in new covenant terms must be the like the statement of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? … And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
Notice what Paul said, “Such were some of you, but you were washed.” The converted sinner must no longer identify with the sin that once enslaved him. He must be willing to say, “That is what I once was, but that is not what I now am. For the old me that once was has been crucified with Christ.” How much more this should be true of those who seek to be ordained as officers in the church.
Dr. Grove Gunn is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of the MacDonald PCA in Collins, Miss.