Monday, May 6, 2013
Out of the Heart....
According to the Bible, the Pharisees were lovers of money and they justified themselves before the people so that no one would think less of them. They kept the letter of the Law, but they did not keep the spirit of the Law. They believed that if they did not physically kill someone they had not broken the commandment of God. Yet Jesus, time and again, pointed out that it matters more what is going on in your heart and mind. Sin begins in the heart, so we can do all the right things outwardly but have a foul nature inside. This is clearly revealed in His "Sermon on the Mount". In this address, Jesus clearly teaches what our character is to be like as believers. He takes the Law and makes it plain by addressing the fact that merely avoiding evil behavior (i.e. killing, adultery, stealing) does not exonerate our hearts from having the thought of doing evil. We are called to holiness.
At the time our Lord walked on this earth, the Pharisees were the most influential religious leaders of the day. Over and over again, though, Jesus called them out for living a life of presumed holiness. However, inside their hearts, they were empty. What they did was for show not for sincere worship. Therefore, they earned the recognition of the common man for their devout practices, but Jesus pointed out their hypocrisy. He told His followers: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you - but not what they do. For they preach but do not practice" (Matthew 23:2-3). To put it another way, the Pharisees were teaching the Law of God, but they were not living the truth found in and through the Law. Their lives were just the opposite so much so that Jesus said: "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (Matthew 23:27-28).
Now, lest we think we pass the "smell" test in our own lives, let us be honest. Are there not times when we justify telling a "white lie" or even taking something that doesn't belong to us because our boss won't miss it? Jeremiah writes: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds" (Jeremiah 17:9-10). Now those are scary verses. Jesus further elaborates on this notion when He says in Luke 6:45: "The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." Our words, thoughts and actions will only show what is in our heart. Do we love the Lord? Then our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees as Jesus told us (Matthew 5:20).
Society lauds people who are successful and seem to have it all together. Never mind that this person justified his sinful actions in stealing from a competitor because it was a necessary evil on his way to success...but basically he/she is a good person in the eyes of the world. However, that is not the measure by which God judges. What is acceptable in the sight of men and exalted by them is an abomination in the sight of God. Our heart motives reveal who we really are and to whom we belong. We are either in God's camp or the Devil's. There is no middle ground.
I am certain the Pharisees believed they were doing all the right things so they justified themselves and their actions. However, God saw their heart and our Lord condemned their self-righteous approach to holiness. We must examine ourselves daily to see if we fall into the same trap. Sin is subtle, deceitful and resides in each one of us since we have received the fallen nature of Adam. Only when we are regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit can we see our sin for what it is. Then, if we repent and turn to Christ, He clothes us in His robe of righteousness and gives to us a new heart. Therefore, we need to always check our motives even as believers. Are we doing something for the glory of God or for the praise of men? There is a difference, and we need to be on guard lest we trip over the trappings of sin and become "whitewashed sepulchers" looking good on the outside but filled with dead men's bones on the inside. May God help us daily to live the life of holiness from the inside out! Selah!