“Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life,” Proverbs 4:23.
It astounds, how little actual understanding exists among Gentile believers concerning the character of the New Covenant that they embrace. Already centuries before it is ratified, the Lord God describes, through His servant Jeremiah, the essence of this new covenant He promised to make with His people. It was to be a covenant that relates to the heart, the inside of a person:
“I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; … No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me” Jeremiah 31:33-34.
The Teacher of all teachers, Jesus emphasizes this very thing when He says:
“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. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'”
When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear Me, everyone, and understand: There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!” When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. So He said to them, “Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?” And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man,” Mark 7:6-7, 14-23.
What the Lord so clearly stresses here is not that those who embrace Him and the New Covenant will be lawless – No! – but that from that moment on the Holy Spirit will manifest His law and character in their hearts. Jesus makes this so clear in His sermon on the mount where all His sayings have to do with who we are in our hearts. More than just the commandment, ‘you shall not murder;’ to call your fellow sojourner ‘fool’ is already a sin worthy of judgment. More than just not to commit adultery, even to merely lust after a woman in your heart is forbidden by the Lord. No wonder He ends His sayings with these words:
“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect,” Matthew 5:20,48.
It is difficult to understand how some Christians can claim – in the light of all this – that they are no longer under the law but under grace, this sadly resulting in a lot of flesh-directed living. For the Lord makes the law of the Spirit of the New Covenant a matter of the heart, of the inside, not of the outside!
Thus, whereas the law of the Old Covenant was administered from the outside on tablets of stone, the law of the Spirit of the New Covenant is administered from the inside, on circumcised hearts.
It is archetypal that the two major pillars of today’s observant Judaism are the Sabbath and the dietary – kosher – laws – things the Jew can do outwardly as signs of his religious observance. Nevertheless, these things do not necessarily touch the matters of the heart that Jesus mentions here in the Gospel of Mark:
“Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?” And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” Mark 7:18-23.
This is striking as, from the Ten Commandments that deal with inward heart issues, Jesus further enlarges on these in a deeper, and more heart-centered way – except for the kosher laws or the stringent observance of the Sabbath – which in all the New Testament writings to the Gentile churches are rarely mentioned! One can keep the Sabbath and yet sin the sins of the flesh. You can keep the kosher laws and yet live in disharmony with your wife or fellow man.
Of course this does not mean that it is wrong to keep the Sabbath or to eat kosher. Jesus is absolutely clear that He wants our lives and hearts to be pure, and they can only be so when we allow the Holy Spirit to not only circumcise our hearts, but to inspire us from within to live as Jesus lived. The Bible calls these characteristics ‘the fruit of the Holy Spirit.’ These verses express this very point:
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit,” Galatians 5:1-5,16-25.
For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.
Therefore, brethren, we are debtors–not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together,” Romans 8:3-9,12-17.
As Paul teaches us here, may the Lord indeed – through the willing cooperation of the Holy Spirit on our hearts and minds – help us put to death the deeds of the body and at the same time produce in us the fruits, or characteristics, of the Holy Ghost.
~ Jan Willem van der Hoeven, Director
International Christian Zionist Center
Newsletter of December 22, 2015.
Republished with the kind permission of Author Jan Willem van der Hoeven, Director of International Christian Zionist Center.
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