Through the Bible in One Year

Day 23

Matthew 15:1-20

Then Jesus was approached by Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem, who asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they don’t wash their hands when they eat.”

He answered them, “Why do you break God’s commandment because of your tradition? For God said: Honor your father and your mother; and, Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must be put to death. But you say, ‘Whoever tells his father or mother, “Whatever benefit you might have received from me is a gift committed to the temple,” he does not have to honor his father.’ In this way, you have nullified the word of God because of your tradition. Hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied correctly about you when he said:

This people honors me with their lips,

but their heart is far from me.

They worship me in vain,

teaching as doctrines human commands.”

Summoning the crowd, he told them, “Listen and understand: It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth—this defiles a person.”

Then the disciples came up and told him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?”

He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father didn’t plant will be uprooted. Leave them alone! They are blind guides. And if the blind guide the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

Then Peter said, “Explain this parable to us.”

“Do you still lack understanding?” he asked. “Don’t you realize that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is eliminated? But what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this defiles a person. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, false testimonies, slander. These are the things that defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile a person.”

Jesus here is teaching about legalism, because the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were guilty of the sin of legalism, which substitutes outward acts or words for true Godly attitudes that come from a holy relationship with God.  Legalist seem to know God with their words, but their hearts (their emotions and their affection) are far from him and his purposes.  This means that they might appear outwardly to live right and seek what pleases God, but inwardly they have no real love for him.  Legalism is not simply living by the law or standards of God’s Word because such standards are good and proper if based on God’s commands and principles.  Rather, legalism has to do with the person’s motive for following God and his purposes.  Any motive that does not flow out of a true and active faith in Christ and the desire to obey and please him is legalism.  Legalism often involves man-made regulations that have little or nothing to do with God’s original commands.  The fault of legalism is depending on these laws and standards for spiritual worth or salvation, which is not possible apart from faith in Christ.

In this age of grace, we are spiritually saved through faith in Christ and not our own efforts.  This is not to say that Christians should neglect the instruction, discipline and duties of Christ’s law and God’s Word.  The Bible teaches us to show our love for Christ by being faithful in all three areas.  The New Testament speaks of the “perfect law that gives freedom” (James 1:25), “the royal law” (James 2:8), the “law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2) and the “law of the Spirit” (Romans 8:2).  In God’s word we find positive commands, which are things we should do and practice; negative commands, which are things we should avoid or refrain from doing; basic principles, which are ethical truths that reflect God’s character and form the basis of his laws; and words spoken by spiritual leaders with God-given authority in spiritual matters.

The bottom line is that Jesus is teaching a very important principle here and that principle is the principle of salvation by grace through faith.  Jesus here was telling the Pharisees and those who were in the crowd listening to this confrontation that nothing they did outwardly or on the outside could save them.  And more importantly everything you are told by those who are in authority over you needs to be tested.  And the ultimate test is this: is what that person in authority is telling you in agreement with God’s Word, the Bible.  We must remember that legalism seeks to add our own human rules and standards to God’s already perfect rules and standards and we will spend more time discussing this when we get to the book of Galatians.

Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:

Genesis 48-49, Matthew 15:29-16:12, Psalm 20:1-9 and Proverbs 4:20-27

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