September 9, 2012: Going Through the Motions Makes for Losers

Let us pray: Dear Savior, as we begin a new week and a new Fall schedule in our midst, teach us the importance of taking our faith in You seriously. Teach us the importance of not being “lip service” Christians, but active believers who practice what we hear preached. Yes, move us to reform our hearts so that our actions may always follow the grace and truth that Your Spirit has poured into us. Amen


TEXT: Mark 7: 1-8, 14,15,21-23

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

One of our young members, Judy Desmond, is a gymnast. She trains in the same gym as Allie Raisman, one of the current Olympic gold medal winners. Judy was head over heels about it all when she attended our VBS in August. And well she should be. Any gymnast knows all about the importance of training. They also know that you need to be “on” when competition begins. You cannot just “go through the motions,” mail your performance in, and expect to win the gold, or any medal for that matter. The exact same truth holds when it comes to our Christian faith. Going Through the Motions Makes for Losers.


The Pharisees were pompous, religious leaders who superficially trained very hard when it came to their “faith.” They dressed just right, talked just right, and outwardly acted as if they were the most holy people on the planet. And yet, they are excoriated, put down by Christ because their hearts were not clean. They are a classic example of this “going through the motions” mentality. As they say in Texas, “they were all hat and no cattle.” We’d call them fakes or hypocrites. In fact, Jesus does, too.

The Jews were instructed by God in the OT to engage in ceremonial washing before they ate a meal. The purpose was two-fold. One was common hygiene. The other was a reminder of the importance of inner, spiritual hygiene. And this washing was an elaborate, drawn out affair. But, of course, when you’re on the road and busy with people, sometimes it was easy to forget and just dig in when hungry and food happens to be present. This is the setting for what comes next.

“The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were “unclean,” that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers, and kettles.)
These men wanted to nit-pick. Note well the use of that word “traditions.” Most of the washing they engaged in didn’t come out of the OT. It was based on human ideas over the centuries about what would be pleasing to God and what wasn’t. In other words, their ceremonies were man-based, and man-constructed, not God-based and God constructed. And worse, they put all this on par or over and above direct commands of God.

“So the Pharisees asked Jesus, ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to the traditions of the elders instead of eating food with ‘unclean’ hands?’ He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about your hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.’”

With God the heart is always the heart of the matter. And the only way the dirty human heart is made clean is through the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. A heart that doesn’t focus on inner sinfulness and instead nit-picks about externals doesn’t care about forgiveness. It doesn’t believe it needs it! This was the Pharisees in a nutshell. They were “go through the motions” people. They had subverted the 10 commandments by externalizing them. Jesus rightly labels them hypocrites.


Every moment is a teachable moment for God’s Son. So, too, this one. “Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, ‘Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.’ ‘For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’”

Right here is one of the fundamental principles of the Christian faith. We are all born with unclean hearts. It’s called original sin. And apart from God’s forgiveness for it, we can never be clean in His sight. That’s why Jesus had to come. God’s Son came to make us clean by giving us the gift of His perfection earned in life and clearly revealed on the cross. When Jesus said: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” He was feeling the full weight of our uncleanness on the cross. He was paying the price, death, for our inner dirtiness. And in baptism the Spirit then applies His cleansing forgiveness to our dirty hearts and makes us pure in God’s sight. This is His gracious gift to each of you. It is made yours through saving faith.

The now cleansed believer realizes that going through the motions of external religiosity does nothing to cleanse the heart. Indeed, the believer realizes that every sin in this catalogue that Jesus employs here applies and describes them, personally. Who hasn’t wished some evil on that driver who cut you off on the way to work? Who hasn’t lusted after another and played sexual mind-games? Who hasn’t been envious of another’s wealth, coveted what they have, and been seduced by the modern view of some that “re-distributing the wealth”—code words for active coveting–is a good thing? Have you always focused on the truth that “Godliness with contentment is great gain”? Who doesn’t tell lies, or maybe half-truths? Who doesn’t enjoy gossip? The fact of the matter is: even if we don’t wallow in such open sins, we do toy with them. Yes, the heart is the heart of the matter.

Here is a litmus test to determine whether or not true, saving faith still resides in your tainted heart. Whenever you do actually toy with such inner temptations, does it still bother you? Do your stray thoughts make you uncomfortable? I hope so! In fact, if they do it means that saving faith still resides within you. The love of Christ is still in your heart. So, let’s keep it there! Let’s not merely be “hearers of the Word” but doers of it! Let’s not merely go through the motions of religion, but train our hearts to focus on the right stuff and let our bodies follow. And God’s “right stuff” is the truth that Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief one! Thank God for that! Amen