Sunday, January 31, 2016

Jesus on Holiness and Sin and Our Traditions (Mark 7:1-23)

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?’ He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions’
(Mark 7:5-8,

Ever since God said, “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2), His people have busied themselves writing lists of rules, regulations and codes of behaviour to enforce holiness in each other’s daily lives. By the time of Jesus, the Jews had a total of 613 specific “tradition of the elders” (Mark 7:3) which had been passed on from generation to generation since Moses. These were not Old Testament laws given and inspired by God, but they were rules and regulations the well-meaning religious leaders devised in an attempt to apply God’s law to specific daily situations.

By the New Testament times the tradition of the elders had become so ridiculous in their demands on the poor ordinary Jews that it was almost comical. Mark 7:1-4 is an example of just one tradition that stated that anyone who was not a Jew was considered unclean to the Jews. So, the tradition required the Jews to wash themselves after they “come from the marketplace.” Another tradition stated that even the shadow of a Gentile (non-Jew) passing over their kitchen utensils made the utensils unclean! Jesus was unimpressed by the Pharisees’ and scribes’ external show of “holy” behaviour. When they questioned him as to why his disciple ignored the tradition of ceremonial washing, Jesus quoted Isaiah 29:13 implying that his accusers had a lot of external holiness to “show” but were far from God in their hearts. The self-righteous Jews were so intent on following their own rules that Jesus said they have “let go of the commands of God” but instead “holding on to human traditions.”

The Pharisees made a basic error about holiness. By their behaviour they were saying that holiness was something a person do outside of his life by right conduct. “Obey the rules, do the best you can, pray three times a day or more and you’ll be holy,” they seemed to say. But according to Jesus, the Pharisees and teachers of the law, or anyone who followed their own line of thinking about holiness is far from the truth. The New Testament shows that holiness must be an attitude of the heart before it can affect the external appearances. Furthermore, sanctification – the act or process of being made or becoming holy – is not something a person does but rather something a person receives by being a believer in Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 6:11, Hebrews 10:10, and more). God makes us holy as a result of our faith in Christ. Our holy actions are by-products of God-given holiness, not by attempts to achieve holiness by ourselves.

The Jews made a similar mistake about sin. To them (even for some of us), sin was an external defilement such as contact with something or someone unclean. Jesus said, “Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them” (Mark 7:15). Sin is the opposite of holiness. Both is basically an attitude of the heart. Holiness springs from an attitude of Christ-centeredness and results in loving God and people. Sin, however, springs from an attitude of self-centeredness and results in selfishness which hurts and takes advantage of people.

It’s surprising how many Christians today read of the errors the Pharisees made regarding holiness and sin, shake their heads in disgust and then fall into the very same trap. We seem to get side-tracked keeping our own “holy traditions” while ignoring the lifestyle of love for God and people that is to be the basis of all commandments. Here are some of obvious “holy traditions” today: kissing the Pope’s feet and Jesus’ statues, Holy Water and pray for the Saints, Rosary prayer and bow down to the Cross, fasting on Friday and the Mass, lighting candles and singing hymns only, the use of olive oil to anoint ministers, father’s special sit, priests began to dress differently from the laity, Luther’s and Calvin’s doctrines become the standard to interpret the Scriptures, etc. (Type ‘amen’ on Facebook also have becoming people’s tradition today). There are also the not-so-obvious traditions that we unconsciously follow today. By the way, Jesus did not mean that all traditions, rules and regulations are to be tossed out. For example, the traditions of praise & worship before sermon and reading the Bible three chapters a day can be very beneficial. These and many more are not necessarily bad or sinful. But if the traditions become for us a substitute for the holiness which God produces in our lives, then they have become too important and we could correctly be labelled as “Pharisee.”

If God has made you holy from the inside out,
then let your holy obedience-action to God’s Word show it.

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