Beyond Sin Management

Advent 2017

December 18

Mark 7:1-23

“Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?  What comes out of a person is what defiles him.  For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil tings come from within, and they defile a person.” Mark 7:18-19, 21-23

Jesus was addressing the issue of ritual defilement, being in the state of being unclean, as a result of eating unclean foods.  The Pharisees were scrupulous in avoiding foods that were unclean, and it was indicative of their whole approach to spirituality.  Theirs was a religion of maintaining outward appearances, of looking good on the outside.  They thought that by avoiding certain foods and behaviors, they would be acceptable to God, all the while harboring all sorts of evil and hatred in their hearts.

Jesus, though, tells us that if you want to behave properly, you not only need to watch what you do, you need to attend to your heart.

Many people engage in what some refer to as sin management.  It’s a lot like weight management – you don’t eat what you really want.  If you’ve ever tried that kind of weight management, you know that it rarely produces lasting change.  Why?  Because you still want to eat all the food that has caused the problem.  To enjoy lasting change, you have to change your desires, and that means attending to the loves of the heart.

There are three things that strike me here.

First, on this side of eternity, we will never fully cleanse our hearts.  It is only the Holy Spirit who is able to cleanse our false loves and cultivate within us a true love for God, and that process (called sanctification) takes a lifetime.  The heart is filled with beauty, but it is also a place of mysterious darkness, and we would do well to remember that this process of cleansing our hearts will take a lifetime of patience and hard work.

Second, we need to look beyond sin management to cooperate with the Spirit’s work in our hearts.  How do we do that?  At its simplest, we engage in spiritual disciplines that keep our hearts open and connected to Jesus: Bible reading, prayer, fellowship, mission, and ministry.  We engage in these activities not in a rote manner or trying to earn God’s approval, but as a means to foster our relationship with the Living Lord.  As we do, we open ourselves more fully to the Holy Spirit’s cleansing work in our hearts.

Third, we need to be mindful of what we are putting in our hearts.  True, Jesus did say that food doesn’t go into the heart, but into the stomach, but because of the way God made us, what we do with our bodies and minds does impact our hearts.  What we watch and look at on TV and the internet, what we listen to on the radio and in conversation, where we allow our mind to linger, the activities we involve our bodies in – these all impact our hearts.  There is a vital connection between the heart, the mind, and the body.

Sin management doesn’t get us very far as we seek to be ready for Jesus.  Cardiac care does.  How are you tending your heart?

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