In many nations, owners of small farms raise hogs for family use. The pigs eat the farmer’s garbage and the farmer eats the pigs. This is an ancient method of recycling, although an unhealthy one that the Bible definitely forbids!
On these small farms, hogs are typically kept in a pen, sometimes referred to as a pigsty, and spend most of their lives there. Modern commercial hog farms operate differently. But the problem with having the pigs live in a confined area is that their spilled food and droppings turn the dirt of the pigsty into a foul mire that creates quite a stench. You can be 100 meters away and still have a strong conviction that you are downwind of a pigsty! But while the mire is abominable to us, the pigs seem to love it and will wallow around in it all day.
The Apostle Peter mentioned this long ago when he described people who, having been baptized into God’s Church, decide to go back to the ways of the world.
For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Peter 2:20–22).
Peter makes this uncomplimentary analogy to show us that just as the filth of a pigsty’s mire is abominable to us, the uncleanness of our sins is abominable to God. God wants us to see our sins as He does. But just as the sow in Peter’s vivid example loves the mire, the carnal mind loves the sinful world in which it lives. And even if the farmer takes the sow out and washes her, she will go right back and soil herself again. Sadly, people can be that way spiritually.
A Profitable Meditation
But let us consider Peter’s teaching a bit more closely. Peter said that the sow returns to the mire after she has been washed. That means that the farmer did not wash her in the mire.
Now, extend this analogy a bit. Let’s say that the farmer sees the sow covered in filth, and being disgusted by it, decides to wash her. He wisely takes her out of the mire, because he knows that if he washes her while she’s still wallowing in it, washing will be a futile exercise. But the problem is that after she is washed, as soon as he lets her go, she will head straight back into the mire, because that is what she likes.
The Apostle Peter also gave instructions for people to be washed. When his sermon on Pentecost convicted his audience of their sins, they asked, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” His answer was plain: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:37–39).
We are told throughout the New Testament to come to Christ in true repentance. Instances of this are many and easy to find (for example, Mark 1:14–15; 2:17; 6:12; Luke 24:47; Acts 2:37–38; 3:19; 5:31–32; 11:18; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20; Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:10; 2 Timothy 2:25; Hebrews 6:1–2; 2 Peter 3:9). If even our human righteousness is like filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6), how much more like the sow’s mire are our sins! In Peter’s brief analogy of the sow, the farmer took the sow out of the mire first—which is like our repentance. But when the sow was taken out of the mire, she was still covered with mire because of what she had already done.
So it is with repentance. We cannot repent of sin and continue breaking God’s commandments at the same time. Those who think they can do so are deceived. But while repentance changes what we are going to do in the future, it cannot change what we did in the past. All the repentance and commandment-keeping in the world can’t do that. You can’t un-ring a bell. Having repented, the guilt of our past sins still profanes us, and we are still cut off from God. Only one thing can remove that guilt: the washing that comes through the blood of Christ. Why are we baptized? As Peter said, “for the remission of sins.” We have to be cleansed of the guilt that profanes us.
Changing a Pig’s Mind
Back to our extended story. Let us imagine that this farmer has a most unusual ability. Once he has washed her, this farmer can change the sow’s mind and cause her to see the mire as he does. The nice clean sow now looks back at the mire and says, “Eeeewww! I used to wallow in that all day? I never want to go back to it!” She avoids the mire in the future and only has to occasionally have her feet washed to be “clean every whit” (John 13:10, King James Version).
God’s Holy Spirit gives us a changed mind! Some people say, “Well, you can’t keep the commandments.” They’re wrong. You won’t if you don’t want to, but you will if you do want to. For instance, if you’ve been taking God’s name in vain all your life and you repent of it, it changes what you’re going to say in the future. If you don’t change what you say going forward, you haven’t repented. But repenting can’t change what you said in the past, so upon baptism, God forgives you of that sin. Then He gives you His Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands of one of His true ministers, so that you continue to grow in the sort of nature that very much wants to have clean speech and to avoid profaning God’s holy name.
But what if you slip up and say the wrong thing? We all make mistakes, and God has made provision for that. Addressing members of the Church, the Apostle John wrote, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins [in repentance], He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness [ongoing]. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:7–10).
Christ is our advocate on an ongoing basis. “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:1–2).
But having the great blessing of ongoing forgiveness does not mean we are “free” to break God’s commandments. John continues, “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (vv. 3–6). And Jesus kept all of the Ten Commandments!
The Spring Feasts
We are reminded of these great doctrines every year as we keep the spring Feasts, and in the analogy of the sow, Peter has given us one way to understand them. The farmer takes the sow out of the mire, and similarly, when we are called, God grants us the opportunity to repent (Acts 11:18). Removing the leaven from our homes prior to Passover pictures self-examination and repentance.
The Apostle Paul instructed the Gentile Church in Corinth about deleavening: “Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old [spiritual] leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened [physically]. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:6–8).
But just as taking the sow out of the mire does not make her clean, our repentance does not justify us before God. We may repent of breaking God’s commandments and begin keeping them, but just like the sow, we are soiled by what we did before—the sow by the clinging muck, and us by the guilt of our past sins. We are then washed clean of that profaning guilt by Christ’s sacrifice, as an unclean creature can be washed of the mire that covers it. We go down into the water of baptism “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:37–38) and emerge sinless and justified in God’s sight. As Paul wrote, “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7). We meet in remembrance of our washing every Passover.
The Passover takes place on the evening that begins Nisan 14, just as it did the night Jesus instituted the symbols of the bread and the wine (Luke 22:15–20; 1 Corinthians 11:23–26). It is a somber night, on which the mood is different from that of other Church gatherings. There is a strong sense of the profound meaning of the event that took place that Passover almost two millennia ago.
The Days of Unleavened Bread comprise a seven-day Feast, and during this Festival period we remember that, as Paul said, we are to ensure we are spiritually unleavened. During this Feast, having been unleavened by Christ, we remember the importance of keeping the leavening of sin out of our lives.
God has us act out these important doctrines every year, so that we do not forget!
Returning to the Mire?
But what if someone rejects the leadership of God’s Spirit, forgets that he was washed, and like the sow, chooses to go back to the mire? Can someone fall away? There are those who say, “Once saved, always saved,” but the Bible contradicts that mistake in many places. The Days of Unleavened Bread remind God’s Church that we must remain unleavened. Again, we do make our mistakes and “soil” ourselves now and again. Yet we must remain dedicated to leaving the mire behind, never to return.
The New Testament contains many scriptures that tell us that resurrection to eternal life is ours if we overcome to the end. Consider these strong admonitions from the book of Hebrews:
… Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end (Hebrews 3:6)… Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God (v. 12)… For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end (v. 14)… Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience (4:11)… For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned (6:4–8)… that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises (v. 12)… Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: ‘For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.’ But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul (10:35–39)… Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled” (12:14–15).
The New Testament includes many passages that instruct us in this regard. You may wish to review these scriptures this Passover season: Matthew 10:22; John 15:1–6; Romans 8:13; 1 Corinthians 9:27; 10:12; 2 Corinthians 6:1; 13:5; Galatians 5:4; 6:7–10; Colossians 1:20–23; 1 Timothy 3:6–7; 2 Peter 1:8–10; 2:20–22; 3:17; Jude 24; Revelation 2:5, 10, 16, 25–26; 3:5, 10–12, 16, 21; 17:14; 21:7.
Peter Points the Way
Peter encourages us, “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth” (2 Peter 1:10–12, King James Version).
And even though we are “established in the present truth,” we have Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread to put us “always in remembrance of these things.”