Feb 24 2013 - Mark 7:1-23 – The inside out life
Jesus tells the Jewish leaders that their preoccupation with ceremonial purity is an exercise in missing the point. A person is not made unholy by contact with something "unclean". Holiness begins with the inner life. It flows from a living relationship with God and a desire and determination to live to please him. The quality of that inner life is then displayed in the things we say and do: "For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person" (Mark 7:21-23). Holiness flows from the inside out.
In this, Jesus was not saying anything new. Proverbs 4:23 expresses the same thought when it says, "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it."
How does one guard the heart? I'm really not an expert on this question; in this matter I am conscious that I am still very much a learner. Nevertheless, I would suggest that guarding the heart requires firstly that we are honest with ourselves about the state of our hearts. We need to know ourselves and to be conscious of the way our inward thoughts and desires can lead us away from the life God wants us to live. Secondly, we need to learn to depend upon God and his Spirit for the help and strength we need to put the inner seeds of sin to death before they grow out of control (see James 1:14-15). When wrong thoughts arise, we need to turn immediately to Christ for help in subduing them. Above all, we need to maintain a strong and continual focus upon Christ – a delight in the glory of all that he is and a desire to grow in likeness to him: "And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18).
We also need to remember that, while holiness begins with the inner life, it is not to be an individualistic preoccupation. We are to encourage one another in holiness – spur one another on in following Christ. Paul encourages such growth among the Christians in Ephesus when he writes, "Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work" (Ephesians 4:15-16). We are to grow together into what God has called us to be in Christ. Then we will, "no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking" (4:17). Holiness is to be a corporate preoccupation.
Finally, we need always to remember that God's purpose is for us to be holy (like Christ), for the sake of the world. We must be careful that the desire for holiness does not separate us from the world around us in the wrong sense; that it does not encourage us to keep ourselves in our own holy huddle. We want to be like Jesus: the one who lived to bring the blessing of God to others; the one who came to bring the transforming power of God to those whose lives were broken and damaged. Holiness needs to make us like Jesus, not like the Pharisees.
Lord Jesus, by your Spirit continue the work you have begun within me to make me like you. Help me also to be a fertilising influence within the fellowship of your people promoting strong growth, beautiful flowering and generous fruitfulness. So may we bring your healing and transforming presence to those around us.