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The Righteousness of a Disciple

Discipled to Disciple

When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, "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. - Mark 7:14-15

The Pharisees were always looking for some way to accuse Jesus. This time they observed a discrepancy in the behavior of His disciples. They were eating food without first washing their hands. Our first thought is “they should wash their hands. Our mom’s always made sure we washed our hands before we ate.” But it was not a cleanliness issue. It was an expectation based on the outward performance of tradition. And, everyone towed the mark. To fail to do so would place you under the criticism of the religious authorities.

When they asked Jesus why His disciples didn’t wash before they ate, Jesus nailed them. He quoted Isaiah 29:13 where the prophet decried the apostasy and unbelief of the leaders of his own day. In effect Jesus was saying, “nothing has changed. The religious leaders are serving themselves, not the people and, certainly not God.” The mechanism for doing this was to substitute man-made commands for those of God. Whereas God’s word addresses matters of the heart, man’s traditions address outward performance.

Not only that, the Pharisees believed their outward performance established their righteousness. They thought they were righteous because they followed their own rules. They were hypocrites because their religion was outward only. They looked good and sounded good but their inward reality was anything but good. In fact, in Matthew 23:27 Jesus referred to them as whitewashed tombs.

Jesus went on to explain the root of the problem. People in general want to establish their own righteousness by means of outward performance. When others fail to measure up, they “prove” their righteousness by comparing those who fall short and condemning them. They convince themselves and others that defilement (read sinfulness) is a matter of what we touch, eat, read, hear, the things that come from the outside and enter our bodies and minds.

In reality sinfulness is first and foremost the problem of sin that resides within the individual. Nothing that comes from the outside in makes us right or wrong. We are all wrong to begin with. The purpose of the law was not to make people right but to convince them through the standard that they were inwardly sinful and in need of a Savior. Paul writes in Galatians 3:24 that it was a “schoolmaster.” (KJV) to bring us to Christ. Staying put with God’s rules reveals the inward problem of sin. Substituting man’s rules gives the appearance of righteousness without changing anything.

This is what people love to do. They find ways of condemning other while giving themselves a pass. They do it in terms of the gospel which prevents them from being saved. You know “I’m not so bad; others are worse…at least I don’t…” They do it as believers to avoid their own inner conviction and ongoing mortification of sin, so they can keep the most deeply rooted patterns of sin in place. They look past the huge beam in their own eyes to magnify and pick at the speck in those of their neighbors.

Don’t fall into this trap. Stay in the word. Let it reveal the sin in your own heart. Know the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Resist the temptation to give yourself a pass. Don’t excuse; don’t blame others; don’t minimize; be honest with yourself and God. Remember that the attitude of the Pharisees is alive and well in our churches today. Nothing has changed. But people need to be changed from the inside out. They need Jesus, the only One who can do it. They need people who are being changed in that same way to help them. Let’s not fall short!

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