Yesterday we looked at how Jesus had a major disagreement with the Pharisees. He called them out pretty harshly; in fact, it would be hard to think of a way for him to insult them any worse than he did. To accuse them of abandoning the Law of Moses was definitely throwing down the gauntlet. But then he moved past simple observance of the law to a much deeper issue, and it’s one that has a profound impact on just about everything in life.
What’s the source of uncleanness? To the Pharisees and their modern spiritual heirs, the problem is mostly external. The Pharisees of old saw uncleanness all around them, and that’s why they were so fastidious about washing their hands. Supposedly this ritual helped them be cleansed from the filth they had encountered.
I mentioned their “heirs” in the last paragraph—Who are they? Well, I'd submit that anyone who sees our main problem as external is buying into their perspective to some degree. The monks who separated themselves from the outside world in order to keep themselves pure come to mind. But really this mindset has permeated much of modern thought. Where do evil actions come from? Why do people do bad things? If you place the blame mainly on someone’s environment—someone or something outside them--then think twice about condemning the Pharisees.
But then Jesus comes along and turns all this thinking on its head. Yes, under the Old Covenant the Lord placed several restrictions on physical cleanness vs. uncleanness. But the whole point of that is to illustrate sin and how we need to separate ourselves from it. It was an object lesson. Do you really think that God cared about how ritually clean you were if you were flouting his basic commandments?
The point that I’m making here is that we need to refocus on the real problem. As I said a couple of days ago, some people in the “Spiritual Warfare” movement point to Satan as the cause of most of our problems in life. Secular modern thinkers claim that someone’s environment is the problem. Others (while talking to their therapists) like to blame their upbringing for the baggage they’re carrying.
But according to Jesus, my main problem. . .is me. The sin that dwells within me. I could keep kosher all day long and that would only take the focus off the main issue. It’s not what goes into me that’s the main problem. It’s the uncleanness that's inside my soul right now.
And it all begins with the thought-life. Every bad action started with a bad thought. There’s not a murder out there that didn’t start with a murderous thought. I don’t believe in a single marital affair that “just happened”; it started with an adulterous fantasy life. Theft didn’t start with putting something into my pocket. It began with disobeying the 10th Commandment, the thought that “I deserve this.”
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not claiming that our environment has absolutely no influence on what we think and do. That would deny the many warnings which Proverbs offers about good companionship vs. bad companionship (like this one). And certainly the Bible teaches that good parenting vs. bad parenting can affect us all of our lives.
But that doesn’t change this basic truth. Again, if a doctor misdiagnoses my illness, he’ll do more harm than good. For any nonbelievers reading this, you’ve heard both the diagnosis and the prognosis. Your heart is unclean before God, and only the blood of Christ can cleanse you. Trust him and submit to him, and he can take care of that.
For those of us who already know him, this is a sober reminder of just where my problems lie: It’s in my thought life. If I fill it with God’s truth, then that’s good. If I allow the Holy Spirit time to point out any areas that need work, that’s good too. And the excuses are getting old.
Lord Jesus, your word is just like a surgeon’s scalpel—cutting and healing at the same time. Please help me to love you with all my mind. Put every thought under your feet.