(Tonight, we add Matt Welborn (one of my closest friends from OBU) into the mix of writers. Our blog has almost 250 followers and I’m excited to see it continue to grow with your help!)
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about sin and righteousness. The more I read about God’s righteousness, the more I realize the depth of my own sin.
I was reading in Mark 7 recently, and I came across the passage in which Jesus and His disciples go about eating without washing their hands. The Pharisees were upset. Jesus wasn’t following the rules! How can someone be righteous if they don’t obey their elders? At first glance, maybe Jesus is in a bind here.
Yet Jesus responds to the upset Pharisees:
And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ – Mark 7:6-7
Their hearts were far from God, thus their worship was in vain.
The Pharisees were supposed to be the most righteous of all of God’s people. If I was sitting around, observing this conversation nearly two-thousand years ago, I’d be worried. The people I saw as most righteous were the same people Jesus was saying were far away from God.
I don’t want to be far away from God. At the same time, I’m not very righteous. I’m terribly unrighteous. Jesus spits a list of sins shortly thereafter:
And he said, “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 things come from within, and they defile a person.” – Mark 7:20-23
Yikes. I’ve definitely had evil thoughts. Sexual immorality — yeah. Theft? Well, I envy often. And I’ve stolen for sure. Murder? I’ve hated another person. Jesus says that counts. Adultery? I’ve lusted after another person. Jesus says that counts too.
I don’t really want to keep going in this list. It’s hard to look inside and see how evil my heart is and has been.
The beautiful thing, though, is Jesus knows already. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I want that. I want a clean heart. I want a right spirit.
When Jesus came to earth and lived among us, He knew our unrighteousness. He knows it more deeply and intimately than we probably will ever know. We are born into sin, far away from God. But God came to us.
Jesus came to us when we were far away.
By dying on the cross and raising from the grave, Jesus conquered sin and death and all unrighteousness. He came to exchange our hearts of stone for hearts of flesh. He desires for each and every one of us to be alive in Him. To be actually, fully, completely human. Jesus wants us to walk with Him in the same way Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden. Jesus invites us into relationship — even in our state of unrighteousness.
Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
In our state of unrighteousness, Jesus died for us. He defeated death and is now offering the free gift of righteousness to all who believe. What does that righteousness look like? Phillipians 4:8 tells us. This is what we get to think about and be about:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:8-9
The God of peace will be with us. Jesus gives us the Spirit of God to practice the very things above. This is a list I’d much rather embody.
Whatever is true — seeking the truth in all things. Whatever is honorable — thinking about the words that lift people up and serve the Kingdom of God. Whatever is just — the Bible is pretty clear about God’s desire for justice (and our place as seekers of justice). Whatever is pure — Jesus says during the sermon on the mount, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” To see God!
The list continues. Whatever is lovely — is it not pleasant to see beauty? The loveliness of the Grand Canyon, the wonder of wildflowers, the patience of your parents, the face of God. Whatever is commendable — the great acts of service: loving God, loving others, and laying aside your selfishness to serve another person. Anything excellent and worthy of praise — anything!
This is a much better list of things to think about and be about. I pray that the Spirit of God would reveal the depth of your sin, the great need you have for a Savior, and the wonderful reality of your new life in Christ. Think about the loveliness of Jesus Christ. Think about these things. Practice these things. And the God of peace will be with you.
The peace of Christ be with you,