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And He said, "What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man." Mark 7:20-23 (Read Mark 7:1-23)

How can we be clean and acceptable to God? Do we ever place more emphasis on man-made rituals than on God-given commandments and miss out on the great blessings God would give us because our traditions keep us from hearing and believing the promises of God's Word?

The Pharisees and scribes found fault with Jesus because some of His disciples ate bread without first washing their hands in accord with the tradition of the elders -- a special washing of the hands before eating to be certain that no uncleanness the hands may have touched would be transferred to the food and into their bodies.

In fact, the Pharisees not only held to such a washing of the hands (either rigorously or up to the elbow) but also insisted on the washing (baptizing in the Greek) of cups, pitchers, copper vessels and reclining couches. (The use of the word baptize here indicates that baptism means a washing with water which does not require immersion -- significant in our understanding of modes of Baptism.)

How does Jesus answer this finding of fault? He applied the prophecy of Isaiah to the Pharisees and scribes because they elevated the traditions passed down to them by the elders above the very Word of God recorded in the Scriptures (v. 6-7): "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 'This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men'" (cf. Isaiah 29:13).

Jesus further explained (v. 8): "For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men -- the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do."

As another example, Jesus told them (v. 9-13): "All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.' But you say, 'If a man says to his father or mother, "Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban"--' (that is, a gift to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do." By their tradition of exempting property devoted to God, they also exempted people from doing what God's commandments required of them in regard to caring for their aging parents (cf. 1 Timothy 5:4).

What was the problem with the tradition of washing one's hands to prevent uncleanness before God? It missed the point and did not address the real issue of uncleanness before God.

Jesus said to the crowds of people around Him (v.14-16): "Hear Me, everyone, and understand: There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!"

What did He mean? Jesus explained it to His disciples (v. 18-23): "Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods? ... What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man."

Washing one's hands before eating has its hygienic benefits, but it does not make or keep one clean before God. The real problem is what is inside us and comes out of our evil hearts -- evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, etc. These things which come from within our evil hearts defile us and make us guilty and unclean before a holy and just God (cf. Jeremiah 17:9; Genesis 8:21; Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:9-20).

This, of course, is the problem with teaching as doctrine the commandments of men. It fails to address the real problem, our sinfulness. Our traditions cannot make us righteous in God's eyes and sometimes can get in the way and keep us from hearing and believing the truth. And, then our worship becomes empty and worthless!

What is the solution to our uncleanness and sin? How can we be righteous in God's eyes and stand in His presence?

The answer is not in anything we can do but in what God has done for us. We cannot make ourselves acceptable to God by following any man-made rituals or traditions. But God sent His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, born of a virgin and made true man that He might take our place under God's law and fulfill it for us and then bear our just punishment and make full atonement for all our sins (and the sins of the whole world) by suffering and dying upon the cross as our substitute (cf. Galatians 4:4-5; John 1:29; 3:16; 1 John 2:1-2; 4:9-10; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Isaiah 53:6).

And because Christ died for our sins and rose again, having paid in full our punishment, God is merciful to us and offers and gives to us forgiveness and life through faith in Christ Jesus. He declares us just and righteous in His eyes when we give up on our own works and traditions and look to Jesus and His cross for mercy and forgiveness (cf. John 3:14-15; Romans 3:21-26; 4:5; Ephesians 1:6-7; 1 John 1:7 - 2:2; Psalm 32:1-5; Hebrews 10:11ff.).

Cleanse our hearts and lives, O God, not by our works and traditions but by the perfect works and holy sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus Christ, in our stead. Amen.

Devotion by Randy Moll. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Editorial on 09/06/2018

Print Headline: Cleansed by traditions or by Christ?

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