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February 29th: Outward Sign of an Inward Grace




Scripture: Mark 7:1-23


Outward Sign of an Inward Grace

“An outward sign of an inward grace” is a phrase used a lot in Methodist circles. Why be baptized? Why be a church member? Why do this or don’t do that? Why do we have many of the traditions that we have?  In the best of times, they are an outward sign of an inward grace.  In the worst of times, they are used for comparisons and to prove that someone is holier than another.


In today’s passage, we witness a confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders of His time regarding the observance of traditions. The Pharisees were quick to criticize Jesus' disciples for not adhering to the ritual washing of hands before eating, a practice deeply ingrained in Jewish tradition. Essentially asking the question, “What kind of Rabbi are you if your disciples can’t follow these simple traditions?” Today these traditions still exist in the church.  Are you wearing the right clothes, doing baptism the right way, playing the right music, sharing communion with the right food at the right time, and the list could go on and on. However, Jesus seized this moment to teach a profound lesson about the condition of the heart or authenticity.


Jesus, in His response, exposes the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who focused more on outward appearances and adherence to man-made rules rather than the true matters of the heart. He quotes the prophet Isaiah, accusing them of honoring God with their lips, while their hearts remained distant from Him. Jesus makes it clear that it's not external rituals or traditions that defile a person but the condition of their heart.


This truth remains relevant today. It's easy for us to get caught up in religious practices, rituals, and traditions while neglecting the inward transformation that God desires. We may go to church, participate in religious activities, and follow certain customs, yet harbor bitterness, pride, greed, or other sinful tendencies in our hearts.  We don’t rejoice in the fact that people are simply at church.  Instead, once again we ask if we should wear a suit or jeans or play the organ or guitars.


Jesus emphasizes that true defilement comes from within. He lists a catalog of sins that originate from the heart—sins that damage relationships, dishonor God, and hinder our spiritual growth. These sins, if left unchecked, can poison our souls, and separate us from God.


The call for us today is to examine our hearts. Are we, like the Pharisees, more concerned with outward appearances than with the condition of our hearts? Are we allowing God to cleanse us from within, purifying our thoughts, attitudes, and motivations?


Jesus offers us hope and redemption. He came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it, ushering in a new covenant based on grace, love, and inner transformation. Through His sacrifice on the cross, we can find forgiveness for our sins and receive the Holy Spirit to renew our hearts.


Questions:

1.     What traditions do we have that may be good but don’t impact or effect true worship or relationship with God? (i.e. dress clothes in worship)

2.     How do any of these traditions keep people away from a relationship with God?

3.     I love traditions. Personally, they can enhance the relationship I have with God.  But when we force our tradition to work for others, it stops being authentic.  So, where do you need God’s help to cleanse your heart?  We all have something. For example, you may be pro-traditional music or pro-contemporary music.  Guess what…they are both great ways to worship God.


Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your word that exposes the condition of our hearts. Forgive us for our hypocrisy, pride, and disobedience. Cleanse us from within, O God, and create in us a pure heart. Help us to prioritize inner transformation over external rituals. May our lives reflect Your grace and truth. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.


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