Like many of you, I grew up playing Little League baseball and pick-up games in the school yard. If you didn’t swing at a bad pitch, someone would you tell you a “good eye.” At some point, every kid was told “Keep your eye on the ball.”
When our girls were little and just starting to play softball, I developed a jingle that I thought would help them become better hitters.
“Too high, let it fly. Too low, let it go.”
Unfortunately, it never caught on.
What is true in baseball, is also true in life – we have a natural tendency to take our eye off the ball.
One easy mistake to make when it comes to living the spiritual life is this: we focus on our external behavior while neglecting our inner person. We take our eyes off the ball.
Which is unfortunate because a healthy spiritual life grows from the inside-out, not the outside-in.
As we continue looking at the life of Jesus, we come to a passage in Mark 7 where Jesus clashes (again) with the religious leaders. This clash is over what it meant to be obedient to God …
1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 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. 5 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?” 6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “ ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ 8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” – Mark 7:1-8
This passage shows what can happen when we confuse the commandments of God with our own traditions. In the Old Testament, this sort of ritual washing was only required of priests — and then under specific conditions. But by the time of Jesus, it had become a tradition that all devout Jews followed.
Because the Jews took the laws of God so seriously, they didn’t want to break them. As religious people, we have a tendency to take the law and build a fence around it. The fence is intended to keep us from breaking the law.
Think of it this way … when our girls were in high school, we were clear about not drinking alcohol. They were under 21 and living in our home. That was the LAW. To help them, we constructed a few fences. We encouraged them to avoid certain parties where they knew alcohol would be present. That was the fence.
If they went to a party and didn’t drink alcohol, was that the same as drinking alcohol? Of course not. Would we be disappointed? Yes. But our reactions would be different.
Jesus isn’t against good fences. After we first moved to Colorado, we drove our pathetic Mercury Villager minivan to the top of Mt. Evans (a 14’er, for those who don’t know). At some places, the shoulder is only six to twelve inches wide … with no guardrails!
While it’s unlikely any guardrail could save you at fourteen thousand feet, just seeing one does provide a little confidence.
But the Pharisees had taken it too far and had elevated their own opinions to the same level as God’s command. By the time of Jesus, however, the Jews had equated the fence with the law. To break one was the same as breaking the other.
That’s called legalism and it’s spiritually toxic. Here’s why: Legalism will cause you to be more concerned with the behavior of others than the spiritual condition of your own heart.
The greatest threat to your spiritual wellbeing is not what is happening around you but what is happening inside of you.
The Pharisees were quick to condemn the behavior of the disciples. At the same time, they were ignoring their own condition …
“Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them … Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.”(In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) 20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come — sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” – Mark 7:14-23
Jesus knows that many of us only look at the tip of the iceberg and ignore the rest. We only live on the surface.
If I’m not careful, I can begin to think like this: I go to church. I pray before meals. I pay my taxes. I must be a pretty good person. In fact, compared to that guy over there, I’m a really great person.
I can live that way and never deal with what lies below the surface … never deal with what is in my heart.
Only five chapters from the start of the Bible, we find a remarkable description of God. It’s likely not one you readily associate with him. We find God regretting his decision to create humans …
5 The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. – Genesis 6:5-6
God knew that we couldn’t fix our own problem. And the problem isn’t your behavior. The problem is your very nature. Without the transforming work of Jesus in my life, I would quickly die of heart disease. And so would you.
Once you surrender your life to Jesus, your standing before God is based on his righteousness and not your performance. It’s based on the perfect record of Christ, not your imperfect one.
No amount of will power or hard work (or hand-washing) can transform your heart.
Only the work of Jesus on the cross can do that.
Experience and Background
- Professor at Warner University
- masters in business administration (mba)
- presenter at the WFX National Conference
- former president, Church Planters of the Rockies
- helped start 2 for-profit tech companies
To get a better feel for my style and personality, you can watch past sermons on our YouTube channel.
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