Sunday, March 1, 2015

Mark 7:1-23 -- Removing the Root of Sin

Jesus rebukes the Pharisees (Mark 7: 6-9) due to their focus on the letter of the law and their own invented traditions, Due to their righteous piety, they inadvertently refuse to garner their hearts toward God. The Pharisees, moreover, “reject God’s law in order to uphold their own teachings” (9). Jesus, God incarnate, tells them this directly and with authority. Their focus on ritual cleanliness (religiosity) detracts from where the true focus should be, the purification of the heart and rending its corrupt nature; this is the reason God sent Jesus, to save us from our sinful hearts.

In many conservative churches today, however, the focus can gravitate toward man-made traditions.  These traditions, moreover, are even, at times, proof-texted with scriptural support.  As a result, these pious declarations of man are held on the same level and sacredness as Scripture and, at the behest of traditionally-minded leaders, are occasionally forced on the Body of Christ as essential doctrine. When tradition conflicts with Scripture (church leadership denies this ad nauseam) and opposes reason and formed conscience, there is a vast and relevant problem, the same problem Christ points out to the Pharisees in first-century Palestine. We need to condition our hearts to God through prayer; the reading of Scripture; a well-formed, reasonable conscience; and scripturally-sound tradition. We must allow Christ to rend our unclean hearts of sin, refuse the “outside of the cup” rules imposed by pious church leaders, and adopt the heart of Christ.

Jesus directly links evil thoughts with evil deeds in verses 21-23. Likewise, in the gospel of Matthew 5:28, Jesus says that desire for adultery is the same as committing it. Jesus is pointing to a wonderful, liberating truth that identifies the cause of sin in our lives: It is in the heart, for sinful actions are mere results of a sinful nature. Sinful action, moreover, is the symptom of a sinful heart. What Jesus teaches points us to the root of sinful behavior, our corrupt disposition and thoughts.  These heart-based dispositions are what Jesus will, by his grace, change in us.  But we must allow him, through humble submission and true repentance, to work in our hearts. By rooting out our sinful hearts, Jesus makes us new and fills us with his Spirit. This concept is well illustrated in Shakespeare’s Hamlet when Claudius tries to privately confess his sins. During this false confession  (see Hamlet 3.3.36-101), Claudius realizes that words and external signs in are meaningless without true repentance evidenced by giving up the gains of his sin, namely Gertrude and Denmark.  Unlike Claudius, however, we must truly repent in our hearts, handing all of our sinful desires over to God. This is the only way, through Christ working in us, that our sinful symptoms (physical sin) will stop.  We have to, in essence, allow Christ to surgically remove our sinful hearts and replace them with his. This is a lifetime process and never easy; it will entail a tough cross to carry. But the rewards of being a new creation in Christ are immeasurable and eternal.