Now that spring has finally arrived, one of the more pressing questions to deal with is, “How green do you want your lawn to be?” Will you rely on the rain to water your lawn, or will you use a hose, or perhaps install a sprinkler system? Will you feed your lawn to insure a full carpet? Will you spread pesticides to get rid of weeds?
While a healthy lawn adds beauty to the neighborhood, having a healthy soul brings satisfaction to our heart. Which begs the question, “How holy do you want your life to be?” Will you invest time in Bible study and prayer? Will you memorize Scripture? Will you fill your mind with wholesome music, books, and thoughts? Will you examine your motives on a regular basis? Will you make yourself accountable to a close friend?
Mark 7:1-23 paints a contrast between the traditional approach to holiness and a radical approach to holiness. The one looks at the outside and centers on behavior. The other examines the inside and is concerned with motives. The one is satisfied with following manmade traditions while the other wants to know what God revealed in the Scriptures. The one wants new and improved while the other settles for nothing less than transformation. The traditional approach leads to religion while the radical approach results in true holiness.
Religion tends to focus on surface issues (1-5). The religious leaders of the day were bothered that Jesus’ disciples did not follow the practice of ceremonial washing before eating. To be proper and holy, you had to wash your hands in a prescribed manner. While the washing of hands may not be our issue, we can get hung up on surface issues like style of music, Bible translation, and where we educate our children.
Religion tends to look for loopholes (6-13). Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13 to point out the danger of hypocrisy. We may have worship on our lips without it ever penetrating our heart. The religious leaders tried to look religious, but they allowed a custom of the day to negate the Scriptures. Instead of practicing the command to honor parents, they withheld support by piously declaring their money was dedicated to God.
Lest we be too hard on the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, we have our own share of loopholes we employ. We’ll avoid serving or giving by saying, “I’ve done my share. Let someone else take their turn.” We’ll skip church because camping on the weekends or having the kids in soccer is “best for my family.” We will justify an affair by saying that “God wants me to be happy.”
In contrast to outward appearances, holiness is a matter of the heart (14-23). Jesus challenges the thinking of the day by pointing out that one’s diet doesn’t determine God’s approval. Eating a bacon cheeseburger might make you less healthy, but it won’t make you less holy. It’s not the food that goes into the body that determines holiness, but rather what comes out of the heart. Jesus listed six evil actions—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, and wickedness—and six evil attitudes—deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness—that all come out of our hearts.
If we want to be holy, we need a heart transplant. We need God to forgive our sins and change our motives. Rather than settle for outward appearances that produce hypocrisy, we need to develop habits that lead to holiness.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on April 26, 2015. It is part of a series in the Gospel of Mark. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.