“When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, ‘I will return into my house from whence I came out,’ and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there. And the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.” – Matthew 12:43-45 (KJV)
I’ve quoted only from the King James Version (KJV) for months now. I think the New King James Version (NKJV) has too many non-stylistic changes. However, I’m not KJV-only. Such people are ignorant, so from now on I’ll use the NKJV. I don’t want to give KJV-only people “God speed.” Scholarship has its uses. I quoted the KJV above only because the phrase “swept and garnished” is how this passage came to me (Matthew 12:44). The NKJV says “empty, swept, and put in order” (12:44). “Garnished” suggests window dressings and home furnishings, an important concept that the NKJV lacks.
Is the Textus Receptus (Byzantine text-type) underlying the KJV and NKJV perfect? No. This doesn’t mean I trust other text types. The Alexandrinian and Vaticanus codices are Roman Catholic sources, and I don’t doubt a Vatican plot. I’m also learning the vast differences between the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint (LXX), the Bible of the New Testament church. Minus the Apocrypha, the Septuagint might be more accurate. I don’t trust cursed Jews with an anti-Christian agenda. Why should anyone else?
Rant over. So let’s go back to “swept and garnished.” What is Jesus saying? I wasn’t sure until a Christian song popped in my head. I first heard “Redeemed” at a Southern Baptist church, accompanied by a Rick Warren music video. But the lyrics bothered me. Why? They perfectly illustrate the concept of “swept and garnished.” Only Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can “shake off” the chains and “wipe away” the stains, not the sinner. We can’t save ourselves. Only Jesus can. This song doesn’t mention conviction and repentance either, the true path to conversion.
I am redeemed
You set me free
So I’ll shake off these heavy chains
And wipe away every stain
Now I’m not who I used to be
I am redeemed
– Big Daddy Weave
In Ezekiel, God makes dry bones come together and sinews and skin cover them (37:7-8). Then he makes the Holy Spirit “breathe on these slain, that they may live” (37:9). In Zechariah, God makes the Angel of the Lord remove filthy garments from Joshua the high priest (3:3-4). Then he makes the Angel “clothe [him] with rich robes” and “put a clean turban on his head” (3:4-5). Salvation is no different. “New wine” requires “new wineskins,” namely the new birth (Matthew 9:17). Having one’s soul “swept and garnished” is the same as putting “new wine into old wineskins” (9:17). What happens? They “break” (9:17)!
Churches today, both pulpits and pews, are filled with people whose souls are “swept and garnished.” They’ve learned the lingo by attending Sunday School, worship services, and Bible studies. So they know all about salvation, baptism, holiness, and heaven. But instead of repenting and submitting to God so that he’ll make them a “new creation” by the power of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 6:15), they’ve tried to free themselves and clean themselves – without divine help. These people won’t humble themselves and come to Jesus so that they might have life (John 5:40). Are they redeemed, as the song says? No. One day, the unclean spirit that left them will find “seven other spirits more wicked than himself” and return, so that their “last state” will be “worse than the first” (Matthew 12:45). Some people are already in this worse state. We’ll know them by their fruit (12:33).
 All Bible verses are from the NKJV, unless otherwise noted.