And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrine the precepts of men.’ Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” (Mark 7:6-8)
In Mark 7:1-23, Jesus addresses the failure of legalism to convert the souls of men. God had given the Law to Moses to make a distinction between His chosen people and the ungodly, heathen nations of Canaan. They were to be a called-out, separated people, observing the laws which both protected them physically as well as made it possible for them to worship God, the blood of bulls and goats providing a temporary covering for their sin until Jesus came.
God’s laws were good, but the scribes and Pharisees had covered up God’s commandments with an intricate scaffolding of tradition and legalism which gave them a sense of power and control over the people’s lives. They ruled by fear.
Speaking of the unnecessary legalism created by the Pharisees, Jesus said, “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger” (Matthew 23:4). In contrast, Jesus came to relieve the burden of the law and give us rest.
Matthew 11:28-29 – Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
What was the difference?
The hypocritical Pharisees looked at outward appearances. As long as they properly washed their hands, ate the right foods, wore the right robes with the required fringes, and publicly said the right things, they felt were accepted by God. God, however, looks at the heart, for this is where sin dwells. We can appear outwardly righteous but hide a deceptive, wicked heart under a veneer of apparent holiness and piety toward God.
Only God can heal a wicked heart.
Only God can cleanse the hidden unholiness that keeps us far from Him.
We can put on nice clothes, sit in church our entire lives, and even teach God’s Word and sing praises to His name, but if we haven’t come to Jesus in repentance and faith, we are like the Pharisees, whom Jesus called “whitewashed tombs” – appearing beautiful on the outside but on the inside filled with dead men’s bones and all uncleanness (Matthew 23:27).
I grew up in what I would classify as a “legalistic” environment. While I certainly heard the truth of the gospel, there was a lot of unnecessary emphases placed on outward appearance. Good Christian young men’s hair never touched their collar. Good Christian girls always wore dresses. As I grow older, I can better appreciate the separation from the world for which our pastors and teachers were striving, and as I grew in my faith and studied scripture for myself, I could distinguish between man’s traditions and what was really God’s commandments. The rules of men did not deter me from my personal walk with God, and as a natural rule-follower, it likely kept me from some unnecessary scars that I’d regret.
The danger is when we put our trust in the words of men, rather than seeking the truth from God’s Word ourselves. If untouched by the conviction and guidance of the Holy Spirit, our hearts will bend towards the defiling actions Jesus mentions in rebellion against the constraints of the law: evil thoughts, fornication, thefts, murders, adulteries, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness.
Legalism – the keeping of the law, whether God’s laws or men’s traditions – will never redeem us. We must allow God to get, literally, to the “heart” of the matter, and wash our sinful, fallen hearts clean with the blood of Jesus.
Hebrews 10:4,10 – For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. … By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Is keeping “the law” important? Not the Mosaic law God gave His people as they came out of Egypt, but the commandments of Jesus and the wisdom God gave the apostles on how we are to live as Christ-followers?
By all means…yes.
Jesus clearly says, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). But it is not in keeping even those commandments that we gain entrance to heaven and favor with the Father. Jesus desires obedience that is the natural result of a heart that has been redeemed. Outward obedience without an inward cleansing by His blood is simply the same legalism for which Jesus rebuked the Pharisees.
3 thoughts on “Jesus Gets To The “Heart” Of The Matter”
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Great post! It does seem that many modern ministry outreaches merely reflect the same attitude that the Pharisees displayed.
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Thanks for reading! My prayer is that we recognize it and put our trust only in what God says!
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