The covenant promise in First John 1:9 says: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Our holy and righteous God will cleanse each and every stain from our soul when we confess; for purity comes from following His Living Word. He also promises that the pure in heart will see Him, as Jesus confirms explicitly in Matthew 5:8 saying in His own words: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
During my prayers, God is always faithful in His Word as He is constantly equipping and strengthening us; preparing us for His glorious return. It was then, that the Holy Spirit led me to consider the state of the heart of man: how, He asked, are God’s people defiled?
In Mark 7:5, the Pharisees and the scribes asked Jesus: “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” The charge was not that the disciples were guilty of poor hygiene, but that they did not observe the ritual of cleansing prescribed by the Pharisees; for the Pharisees believed that such religious acts, which lead to defilement, could be spread by touch.
Jesus answered the Pharisees in Mark 7:6-15 saying: “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”‘ (that is, given to God) then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”
God looks at our hearts; for the heart of man yields every kind of impurity, iniquity and violence which defiles us. In Mark 7:20-23, Jesus clarifies: “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.”
As born-again Christian, we need to be sensitive to our conscience, for it is a powerful force which carries impulses to obey the right and to pass judgements on conformity, or non conformity. The judgements of the conscience are relative and vary between individuals. A man’s course, therefore, is not to be regulated by mere knowledge, but the vital principle is “love to God and love to man”. Love edifies; love promotes happiness; love will prompt to what is right; and love will secure the favour of God. The obligations of love are the determining factor in questions of moral insignificance and places limitations on one’s liberty of conscience.
One ritual in particular, raised pangs of conscience in the early Church. The practice of eating food sacrificed to the gods. This was a routine pagan ritual in Paul’s day, but it brought much confusion and division in the church, as they argued among themselves: is it right – or is it wrong?
Paul made his position, and that of the Church very clear in First Corinthians 8:5-9 saying: “For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth – as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords” – yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”
In other words, what Paul was saying is that eating one kind of food, or abstaining from another, has nothing to do with bringing a person to God; the types of food we eat, do not speak well of us to God. But even so, Paul cautions against putting stumbling-blocks in the way of the weak Christian, for the weak in Christ, although perhaps bold enough to eat food which has been offered to idols, are not yet strong enough in faith to eat it as “common food.” Instead, they eat it as a sacrifice, and thereby are guilty of idolatry. Being a “stumbling block” is a serious deliberate offense which wounds and weakens another’s conscience and ruins their relationship with Christ. Sin against a brother is sin against Christ. Christian liberty must always be exercised in love, with a view to strengthening others.
Our souls are filters through which we perceive goodness or evil. Those who have Christ in control of their lives learn to see goodness and purity even in this evil world. But corrupt and unbelieving people find evil in everything, because their evil minds and hearts blind them and deafen them from the good they see and hear around them. For as Titus 1:15 says: “to the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.”
Rules and rituals have never cleansed our hearts either. It is the blood of Jesus Christ alone, which cleanses us and keeps our conscience pure. It is the saving grace of Jesus and His blood alone, which set us free from the power of sin, and from our slavery to sin. Then, when we are free from both the power of sin and slavery to sin, we are free to live for the purposes of God and to serve Him in His kingdom.
If you find yourself carrying a load of guilt, or finds yourself certain that that you are not good enough for God, just stop and take another look at Jesus’s death and what it means for you. Christ can heal your conscience and deliver you from the frustration of trying to earn God’s favour! His grace is a free gift from our Father-in-heaven through our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. His love is always faithful and never fails.
Let us be encouraged and remain hopeful, as we bring our guilt-ridden lives to Christ. The blood of Jesus, can make a breakthrough in our lives and His grace will grant us peace, just as Hebrews 9:13-14 promises: “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”
In our world today there are bound to be conflicts in our everyday life, and as Christians, we need to seek peace; but not at the expense of sacrificing our holiness. For true Christians, peace is never found separated, or apart from holiness. We must not, under the pretence of living peaceably with men, leave the ways of holiness; but must cultivate peace in the ways of holiness. We need to watch over one another with living care, such that no one leaves the faith as a result of our actions, or our inactions. The root of bitterness in a life, inevitably leads to a deliberate turning away from God, as exemplified by the disobedience of Israel in the wilderness. Such sin, can very easily contaminate an entire Christian community. The fate of Esau, should serve as a solemn warning of the long-term dangers of instant fleshly gratification. Once such a choice is made or acted upon, its consequences cannot be reversed; and the blessings which might have been realised, are lost forever. This is in accordance to the Word of God, found in Hebrews 12:14-17 which says: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.”
Holiness will not rub off on others, but contamination, most certainly will. Activities in the Temple could not clean up sin; only repentance and obedience could. Ritual sacrifice, could ordinarily sanctify outwardly only as far as it reached, as the “holy flesh” sanctified the “garment” (Haggai 2:12). It could not make the people and all their works, acceptable to God, while they lacked obedience and neglected, in this case, to build the Lord’s house. Yes, humble, sincere, and conscientious obedience to the will of God, are indeed more pleasing and acceptable to Him than all burnt-offering and sacrifices. But the impurity of the hearts and lives of the people, made the works of their hands, and all their offerings, unclean before God.
The situation is the same with us. God will curse the blessings of the wicked, and make bitter the prosperity of the careless; but He will sweeten the cup of affliction to those who diligently serve him. This is supported by the Word of God in Haggai 2:12-14“If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy?” The priests answered and said, ‘No’. Then Haggai said, “If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered and said, “It does become unclean.” Then Haggai answered and said, “So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, declares the LORD, and so with every work of their hands. And what they offer there is unclean.”
All praise and thanks to our faithful and glorious God who continues to renew us by the power of the Holy Spirit and His Living Word! May we be encouraged and strengthened by His promise in Psalm 1:1-3 which says: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. “
Amen and Amen!