Theme: True Religion
This week we see the pitfall that is self-righteousness
Matthew 15: 18-20
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.”
So we come to the end of Jesus’ radical words about the nature of true religion, which is the only religion God accepts. And I ask the necessary question: Do you stand before God with clean hands only, that is, with mere ceremonial religion, or do you come with a new, clean heart?
Washing our hands in a religious way is not the issue today, of course. But the principle applies in other areas. For some this type of ceremonial religion means good works, perhaps giving money to help the poor or donating time to charity. A person like this supposes that he will be accepted by God for these works. Another person thinks in terms of religious observance. So she is faithful at the church’s services, perhaps being especially careful to attend mass or make confession daily. Another person places weight on standing or sitting for prayers, how he holds his prayer book or whether he crosses himself in entering a church. My mother is a strong Christian today, but she says that when she looks back to her catechetical instruction in preparation for her first communion in the church where she grew up, all she can remember is how she was told to hold her prayer book and when she was to sit down and stand up.
If you have been understanding religion in these or similar ways, you may have discovered that ceremonial things do nothing to change the nature of your heart. For regardless of how often you go to church, it is still the case that out of your heart come such sins as “evil thoughts,. . .false testimony [and] slander,” even if not the greater sins of “murder, adultery, sexual immorality [and] theft” (Matt. 15:19). And you may be guilty of one or more of these greater sins as well.
You have two problems. You need forgiveness for your sins, and you need a new heart that will enable you to stop sinning and begin to live for God. Where can forgiveness be found? Where can a new heart be acquired? The good news is that Jesus came to give you both. He died on the cross so you might have forgiveness, he bore the punishment of your sins in your place, and he rose again to impart the Holy Spirit who is the source of new life. It is God alone who can give you a heart capable of loving and serving him.
It is possible to talk about the whole of Christianity as possessing a transformed heart. Do you want a new heart? The only place you will ever get it is from God and from Jesus, who made the gift possible. Come to him. Ask him for it. The Pharisees would not come, which is why they perished in their sins.
What ceremonial religion is practiced today?
Have ceremonial things disappointed you? Explain.
Pray that Jesus will give you a transformed heart.