"No religious ritual or tradition of any sort, done as perfectly and consistently as possible, can make you acceptable before God. Only Jesus can. His blood, as shed on the cross, has the only power to cleanse and give you peace with God."
On one such occasion, they observed His disciples were not following their tradition of hand washing. A form of religious cleansing. And there were other such traditions Jesus and His disciples did not observe, which drew strong criticism from the leaders.
Jesus publicly rebuked them by quoting the Old Testament Scriptures against them, which they probably had memorized, “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)
What was Jesus saying? He was pointing out how they put so much effort into following their outward traditions, they neglected the inward condition of their heart. Jesus called this hypocrisy, which means – acting. He accused them of simply being religious actors, focusing on their outward acts, and that of others, but overlooking what is most important.
Are we any different? It is easy for us to do the same and strictly focus on the outward by engaging in various religious activities or good deeds. There have been entire religious systems built on this. They have gathered large followings since they tie-in spiritual rewards like the forgiveness of sins, the assurance of heaven in the after-life, physical healings or financial provision. And conversely, they keep the crowds by declaring curses or disciplines if they do not adhere.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day, preached how outward physical washings provided inward spiritual cleansing. Some religions in our day preach similar rewards for followers who minister to the poor, attend religious services, pray several times a day, observe specific moral standards, are baptized or give to the church. Can engaging in outward religious rituals, as good and innocent as they are, forgive sins and make us acceptable to God?
Read what Jesus said to His own followers in clarifying where the religious leaders got it wrong, “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.” (Mk. 7:20-23)
Jesus stated the problem with the human condition is within. It is a problem of the heart. This is what makes you unclean and unacceptable before God. But mistakenly, you engage in outward religious acts believing they can inwardly cleanse. In other words, you believe you can save yourself.
The things in your heart that defile you, is what leaves you condemned before God. No religious ritual or tradition of any sort, done as perfectly and consistently as possible, can cleanse. God has told us what it takes, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1) Justified by faith means you can obtain cleansing and good standing with God by faith in His only Son. You cannot save yourself, only Jesus can. If you will turn from trusting in yourself, your religion, your good works, and trust wholly in Christ, then you can be cleansed and have peace with God. Christ came to suffer, die and rise again for you. Only His blood that was shed on the cross can cleanse you from within.
A prayer for you – “Lord God, I confess my efforts at focusing on the outward, believing that through those efforts, I can cleanse myself. I turn from that belief, and place my trust in Christ alone. I am not good enough, but Jesus is. Only He can save. In His name, Amen."