I’m sure you’ve had the experience of suddenly smelling an ugly stench, only to realize that it was coming from your shoe! It’s not pleasant to discover that you’ve stepped in something, if you know what I mean. Peering down at the sole of your shoe and seeing mashed-in bits of dog excrement is no way to be the life of the party. Especially when you’re in a car and the sticky odor gets trapped in an enclosed area.
Jesus had some profound insights along these lines in his commentary on the human heart. His diagnoses of the human condition was not just counter intuitive, but revolutionary. Those days, like ours, religious people believed (and taught) that humans became defiled because of what they did or touched. They thought the source of evil, in other words, was outside. This understanding drastically affected their teaching. They taught that in order to be good enough for God, then you had to keep yourself from things that might get you dirty. You had to follow certain religious ceremonies; you had to keep away from the defiling things of this world; you had to eat only certain foods; you had to keep away from certain kinds of people; and so forth. Their approach was to hunker down beneath a religious shield, so that the evil arrows of this world could not penetrate their lives and infect their hearts with the poison of sin.
Our belief today is not much different than the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. We honestly think that if we just reform the outside, then the inside will follow in due course. We think that if we had more education, gun control, better communities, better food, increased technology, or a different political party in office, then things would turn out alright. We think that if we went to church, followed the rules, and tried our best to obey, then life would smell like roses again.
But while we’re constantly striving to reform the outside, Jesus says that it’s the inside that’s deformed. Listen to these revolutionary words from Jesus:
“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth that defiles a person…What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:11, 18).
Arguing against the idea that holiness comes from avoiding certain foods, Jesus identifies the real source of the stink. The evil of this world does not come from outside of us, but from inside of us. As Jesus says, it “proceeds from the heart.” Ouch. Let the weight of that statement crush your pride right now, as it has crushed mine. The defilement and evil we see in this world, which infects our lives with lethal poison, is coming from our hearts. Right now. It’s not coming from a lack of education, etc., it’s coming from us.
We stepped in something and our souls are dirty.
The stench is coming from us; we’re carrying it around wherever we go. Our hearts are like a smokestack in a factory, barfing out hideous evils and dissipating them throughout the world. All of the evil we see in this world, has its origins about twelve inches beneath our brains. Just to clarify, Jesus adds:
“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 15:19)
Do you recognize any of those evils in our world right now? Any guesses where they came from? Where is the smell coming from? We had better check our souls, for that evil smell is coming from us.
It’s like dressing up a corpse: no matter how much you beautify the outside, it’s still just death wrapped in silk and Mary Kay. No matter how much we try to solve the world’s problems on the outside, if we don’t solve the problem of our hearts on the inside, then nothing is going to change. Life will still stink.
In the amazing grace of God, we are given a solution. Jesus came in order to give us new hearts, not hearts of stone, but living hearts of flesh. His mission was twofold: to absorb the punishment that we deserve for the evil that we have done; and to cleanse our hearts in order to fit them for heaven. He wasn’t afraid to offend our sensibilities, either, because until we’re offended, we won’t be able to make this world a better place; in fact, we’ll continue to make it worse.
“God, here’s my heart. Crush it, cleanse it, and cause it to desire you.”
© Samuel Kee, 2012