Spiritual Defilement

“There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” (Mark 7:15, ESV)

What Jesus was addressing here refers back to the beginning of Mark 7, the Pharisaical rules, particularly the ones concerning ceremonial washing and the washing of hands. We know that washing of the hands is important, especially before eating to avoid ingesting germs and toxins which can hurt us physically. This was not the reason why the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day were scrupulous in their washing rituals: they believed that it in itself was an act that marked them as righteous and made them holy. And they taught others the same.

Jesus pointed out that, while these rituals and rule had the outward appearance of piety, they did nothing to change the heart attitude of a person. In fact, as Jesus maintained, those who advocated for them were hypocrites. They attempted to follow rules out of a desire to look good on the outside. On the inside they did not love God or their fellow man. Their hearts, the core of their being, was not holy at all, but corrupt, lacking in love and filled with all manner of evil thoughts that manifested in corrupt words, actions, and lifestyles. Jesus said that food, dirty hands and cups did not make a person unclean or unholy. The evil thoughts and actions that arise from the heart corrupt a person, not what came from outside. The heart needs to be cleansed to be made new. This is possible only by the power of God who grants us the faith we need to depend on Him for all things.

Love in the Family.

“However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33, ESV)The standards of kingdom living govern the relationship of marriage and the family. Paul calls for respect and mutual submission, cooperation and obedience for all believers. This would have been a strong contrast to the standards of the pagan world of the Roman Empire in which there was little respect and a great deal of abuse. Slaves were treated as less than human, as property. Women and children fared little better. The Kingdom of God elevates the dignity of all human beings for all are made in the image of God. Therefore Paul urges all to accept their social standings in a way that imitates Christ and glorifies God: self-sacrifice. This means I surrender my agenda and rights for the benefit and edification of others. 

Unfortunately this passage has been often misinterpreted as law, while really it is about love and mutual submission. Many people these days reject what Paul says as they interpret thus to mean that the husband has license to abuse his wife by demanding absolute compliance and unquestioning obedience to his wants and whims. Yet what Paul says is that wives are to submit to their husbands as they submit to the Lord, that is, with loving obedience designed to build him up. This is her free choice made in the Lord and cannot be forced, for then it is slavery, not love. 

And Paul maintains that the husband has a great responsibility toward his wife: to love her as Christ loves the Church. That means he gives up his rights and agenda to build up her in the Lord. As Jesus set aside the glory of heaven and died for the redemption of helpless humanity, so the husband must surrender his needs, desires and wants to promote the spiritual growth and well-being of his wife. These standards would work well for all society but they cannot be forced. They are acts of love that are really possible only for believers because only they are filled with the Spirit of the Lord who enables us to obey and submit to His will.

Love not rules.

“You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” (Mark 7:9, ESV)

The Jews of Jesus’ day interpreted the Law of Moses in a way that dictated for them how to live. They cited the 10 commandments as the main source for their rules, but, as Jesus indicated, many of their rules and laws were based on their traditions derived from their rather detailed and meticulous interpretations of what the Law meant and demanded. This, as Jesus pointed out, often allowed them to circumvent God’s law, essentially rejecting God’s authority. They found God’s Law too hard to keep, but their traditions allowed them to manage and control it so that it was doable.

Such rules and traditions are dangerous. Following rules makes people think that religion is matter of their own works. Following religious laws and rules makes them think that just by doing certain acts or not doing others they can please God and make it into heaven. Following religious rules is a rejection of God’s authority for it puts us in control. We forget that God’s law is based on love and mercy, not the performance of pious acts. To neglect love in favor of following rules is to disobey God.

If we look at our lives, we would find that we too have set up our own laws about the Christian life. These rules often deprive us and others of the freedom to enjoy God’s grace. We seek to earn His favor by laws, regulations, observances and lists of dos and don’ts, what a Christian can and can’t read, how a Christian should dress, what kind of music a Christian should listen to. Rules can be good if they help us grow and enable us to fight off temptation but not if we fail to extend mercy to the weak.

Nevertheless it is quite easy to think that following rules can earn us favor with God. After all religious rules are easy to keep and put us in control of our life. They are quite rewarding for they give us a sense of growth, of accomplishment. They allow us to exalt ourselves, become proud and self-righteous over our neatly ordered life. Rules are a lot easier to keep that God’s Law, which as Jesus told us, is the Law of love. We don’t need God’s help to keep rules, but we cannot carry out the law of love without His help. We cannot love our enemies and those who hate us or bother us without God’s strength. That is why we would prefer rules and solid measures that reassure us that we are growing. Rules are easy. Love is impossible. 

Perhaps our lives do not reflect the love and power of Jesus because we do not love. Perhaps we, like the Pharisees, have a critical spirit. We condemn those who break our rules ore even God’s. We do not respond with love, mercy and grace but only anger, judgment and angry reproaches. We would rather be right than extend grace. Do you think that it is better to be right all the time? Shouldn’t we rather show love, grace, mercy, to be charitable and compassionate and forgiving? 

The Hypocrisy of Legalism.

“You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” (Mark 7:8, ESV)

In the book of Leviticus, we find the laws concerning ritual uncleanness, vows and clean and unclean foods which Jesus addresses here. Jesus upheld the Law but not the man-made traditions of the Pharisees and their predecessors. For example, ritual washing of hands and cups had originally applied only to the priests in the tabernacle, but tradition now applied it to all Jews. Jesus made the point about Corban to illustrate the fact that tradition had set itself above the Law and nullified its God-given intent. The Law was meant to help people to lead lives of holiness by depending on the Lord for mercy and help. Tradition made holiness something man could achieve by performing rituals and following rules. 

Sadly, many believers today hide behind a cover-up of good deeds and religious actions. They set a standard or norm of does and don’ts, traditions, rules and interpretations by which they judge their own spirituality or holiness as well the holiness of others. They reject and condemn those who do not keep their interpretation of the rules while priding themselves on their piety. They behave just as the Pharisees did and are just as hypocritical. Their many pious actions and words are often corrupted by inner evil desires such as greed, covetousness, and pride. Yet righteousness is not a matter of mere outward actions and behavior. It is a matter of a heart that is surrendered to Jesus who alone can make us righteous and holy.

Judgement for Unbelief.

“. . . therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.” (Isaiah 29:14, ESV)
When I was a charismatic it was common to take Bible verses out of context in order to preach health, wealth and blessings to a people who were frustrated by life, weary and downtrodden. I often heard sermons and prayers that took portions of Isaiah 29 out of context to suit what the preacher, teacher, “prophet”, “evangelist”, or “healer” wanted to say, particularly verse 14 coupled with 17-19. These words when spoken in a vigorous sermon or prayer sound as if God is about to bestow a spectacular blessing. Yet they occur in the context of words of judgment that will take place before the blessing. And the judgment is to fall not on Gentile pagans, but on the people of God. Though they kept the letter of the Law and made appropriate sacrifices and offerings, they behaved selfishly and did not extend love, mercy or compassion to their fellow man. 

Unfortunately from my observations of churches and church life these days, this is still quite common. Such a practice is the result of lazy theology and pride. It is dangerous for it leads people astray. Christians seek to please themselves. They think they can keep the letter of the Law while neglecting the essence of the Law which is love. They do not extend compassion and mercy to the poor and downtrodden. Rather than help the lost, the sick, needy and helpless they glorify the celebrities, the mighty, the dynamic, the talented and the successful and aspire to be just like them as is such exalted status were a sign of God’s blessing. Surely the blessing will come after the judgment, but on God’s terms and by His work, not ours. We need the power of the Lord Jesus by His Spirit to love as God loves us.  

God’s People Must Heed His Word

“Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.” (Isaiah 29:13-14, ESV)

Isaiah warned the people of Jerusalem that the whole city was going to become the site of God’s consuming fire to purge His people of idolatry and iniquity. Both leaders and people heard the warning yet they refused to listen. They pretended as if the words were sealed up or unintelligible. They preferred their religion to be composed of lip service and superficial acts which kept the letter of the law but did not come from a burning heart that was consumed with love for the Lord. Such religion rejects God’s authority treating Him not as Lord but as a servant who must give people what they want.

Many people reject the God of the Bible and His Word because they don’t want to have to obey Him. They would rather try to get Him to give them what they want. They keep some of the rules, or at least the ones they think are valid or fit in with their lifestyle, but will not surrender their wills to Him. They carry out law but fail to extend love and mercy.

God hates such false religion, but it is amazing to see the level of inconsistency that religious people and leaders are capable of. Quite often decisions are made and policies enforced based on individual whims, worldly ideas, political correctness and power politics rather than on what the Lord wants. Such disrespectful behavior denies the love of God as well as the message of forgiveness, mercy and humility that is preached in God’s word. We should strive with the help of God to live lives that honor Him.

Exposing the Darkness.

“. . . for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” (Ephesians 5:8-11 ESV)

Like the writer of Proverbs, Paul, in these verses from Ephesians contrasts wisdom and foolishness. He refers to wisdom as light. True wisdom is of God; it exposes sin and brings men and women into the light of God’s truth, mercy and grace. But darkness is where evil dwells and hides, where men and women hide from God in slavery to sin and Satan. Those who are in Christ must shun the darkness. They are to walk in imitation of the Lord Jesus. This involves not merely the avoidance of sinful behavior and sinful lifestyles, but also of the performance of actions of self-sacrifice and service to others and for the glory of the Lord.

True wisdom comes from knowing God, discerning His will and living in the light of it. The wisdom that the world promotes may at times seem to be virtuous and beneficial to all mankind, and in part it is, in so far as it agrees with God’s wisdom. Otherwise, though it appear noble and glorious, though it appear light and holy it is not for it is rooted in darkness. 

We believers today are caught up in the midst of a world that loves the darkness. We are to evaluate our personal lives daily to ensure that every thought, word and action is in harmony with the Lord’s will. We are to take stock of all we do to determine how we affect or influence others and how we represent the Kingdom of God. We are to make the most of our time and opportunities to do good and show the love of Jesus to others so that they too may be delivered from the darkness and become members of His Kingdom.