Another title for this blog post could easily have been “Rules & Fools Like Me.”
I’m a rule-follower. When I cook, I like to start with a recipe. When I buy something, I like to know the return policy. When I sign a contract, I focus on two things—what I’m expected to do and the cancellation terms.
Come to think of it, maybe this is why I was drawn to the practice of law.
As a lawyer, knowing and following rules is a good thing. As a Christian, it can be a cop-out.
Jesus addressed this with the good church folks (or, more accurately, the synagogue and Temple folks) of his day (Mark 7). Some of the leaders asked Jesus why his disciples didn’t “live according to the tradition of the elders” (Mark 7:5). Apparently, some disciples were a bit slack when it came to personal hygiene, including handwashing.
Given that this is a common criticism of Christians today, I feel compelled to sit up and pay attention. We are seen as both judgmental and hypocritical. In fact, this describes how I felt about Christians for a season and why I avoided reading or studying the Bible.
What is Jesus telling the religious folks?
Jesus tells them that following the rules might make them look good on the outside, but what really matters is what’s on the inside. It’s the ultimate application of “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Jesus says, “don’t judge yourself by the cover you’ve put on.”
It reminds me of these real estate signs I’ve seen popping up all over my town. The sign says the house is gorgeous inside.
Jesus says we should each be able to hold one of these signs. Jesus says it’s what’s inside that matters.
How do I know if I’m gorgeous where it matters?
Jesus says we can tell by what comes out of us. In fact, he says we can be defiled by what comes out of us. We like to think we can stay “clean” or “pure” by following rules, but actually, that’s not it at all (Mark 7:17-22).
If our heart is in the right place (if we are gorgeous inside), it will be obvious from how we treat our neighbor. When we need an interior remodel, we engage in “fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, [and] folly” (Mark 7:21-22).
This list is a litany of the second half of the Ten Commandments.
- Fornication, licentiousness, and adultery? Number 7
- Murder? Number 6
- Theft? Number 8
- Deceit and slander? Number 9
- Envy and pride? Number 10
The first five Commandments tell us how to live in relationship with God. The second five tell us how to live in relationship with our neighbor.
When we aren’t gorgeous inside, our neighbor suffers.
The good news is that we don’t have to rely on church rules (or pastors or any human thing) to change us. The ability to love God and neighbor is first and foremost a gift from God: “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).
What about you? Are you gorgeous inside? Would you rather follow the rules than follow your heart? Which one would result in a better life for your neighbor? Tell me about it in the comments, in an e-mail, or on Facebook.
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