July 26, 2016

Rituals or Redemption . . .

The religious people of Jesus’ day had rituals that they assumed would please God. One of them was a ceremonial hand washing that they thought represented their innocence and purity. When Jesus’ disciples ate without performing this ritual, these Pharisees and scribes were not pleased. However, Jesus said to them . . .

“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” (Matthew 15:18–20)

As Chambers says, most people will deny feeling these awful things in their hearts. They claim ignorance and innocence, yet actually they simply do not believe what Jesus says. He adds, “either Jesus Christ is the supreme Authority on the human heart, or He is not worth paying any attention to.”

Obviously, Jesus cannot be telling the truth if He is lying. The Bible cannot be true if words like this are not true . . . 

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10–18)

I can read this and believe it is true about others, like the people who go into a mall and shoot children, or the people who make their living selling heroin, or the people who beat their wives — but what about me?

In trying to find out something about the ritual of hand washing, I happened on a book whose author said we are not sinners because of what we do because of our circumstances, or past mistreatments; we are sinners because of what we are: selfish, prideful, and only interested in having what we want when we want it.

It is easy to blame all sorts of things for having evil thoughts, but I realize that such things cannot be eradicated by rituals, by saying verses to counter them, by doing all the right things as if not following through on those thoughts gives me the right to declare my innocence. As Chambers says, it is a fool’s paradise to think that such ‘innocence’ is a safe refuge.

I’ve made excuses for sinful thinking. Chambers goes farther; he names the motives for those excuses and says anyone who does not carry out their evil thoughts is more likely a coward. We live in a civilized world and are afraid of what people will think. Any abstinence is more about loss in stature rather than obedience to God.

Chambers says, and I agree, that “When I am undressed before God, I find that Jesus Christ is right in His diagnosis.” He is also right in saying that the only safeguard is the Redemption of Jesus Christ. By giving myself to Him, “I need never experience the terrible possibilities that are in my heart.”

Of course godliness and purity is too deep down for me to get to naturally or by any of my own strategies. I need the Holy Spirit. He brings into the center of my life the very life of Jesus Christ. As 1 Corinthians 1:30 says, He becomes to me “wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

He can do that only because He died to take my sin and lives to replace it with Himself.

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