MATTHEW 15:15-20: “Peter said to Him, “Explain the parable to us.” Jesus said, “Are you also still lacking in understanding? Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and those things defile the person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, acts of adultery, other immoral sexual acts, thefts, false testimonies, and slanderous statements. These are the things that defile the person; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the person.” NASB

OBSERVATION: Have I been hoodwinked by religion? Have I been a part of the church so long that I have forgotten what is important? How do I view myself? Do I see myself as superior to others? Do I take comfort in the things I do rather than honestly dealing with the reality of who I am?

Religion is a trap if we are not careful. Christianity was never meant to be a religion but in many circles that is what it has become. What is the definition of religion? It is interesting to see how this word has changed in its meaning over the years. Here are two different definitions from the same source, yet almost 100 years apart.

  • Religion: godliness or real piety in practice, consisting in the performance of all known duties to God and our fellow men, in obedience to divine command, or from love to God and his law. (Webster’s 1828 English Dictionary)
  • Religion: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices. a(1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural. (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance. (Websters 2022 English Dictionary)

The difference may seem slight to some but it is rather profound. The older definition focuses on faith in practice that is motivated by love for God and His law. The newer definition focuses on the institutional system and its practices. To put it another way, the older definition focused on the internals of faith. The newer definition focuses on the externals of faith.

Religion always leads to a focus on the externals rather than the internals of faith. This is what Judaism had become in the time of Jesus. The religious of the day were more worried about whether someone was eating with unwashed hands than they were about the true conditions of their own heart. They were judging the outside of the cup while ignoring the condition of the inside of the cup.

Jesus made it very clear. It is the inside that counts. It is not what we do but rather – who we are inside. As one wise farmer once said – you can put lipstick on a pig but it is still a pig! And, so, I need to hear the words of Jesus with an open and honest heart. Has my relationship with Jesus become mere religion? Am I focusing on what I do and what other people see more than who I really am? What is the true condition of my heart?

  • “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, acts of adultery, other immoral sexual acts, thefts, false testimonies, and slanderous statements. These are the things that defile the person; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the person.”

We all struggle with wrong thoughts. Yet, if we simply try to hide them they can become wrong actions. When I have failed in my life it wasn’t because I woke up one morning and said – “It’s time to fail today!” No! It was because I began ignoring the warning signs in my heart. I began to trust more in my outward appearance than my true inward condition. It did not happen overnight. It happened over a period of time and neglect.

Whenever I think of this I am drawn to the words of Jesus to the Church of Laodecia.

  • “Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have no need of anything,” and you do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to apply to your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.” Revelation 3:17-19 NASB

The Apostle Paul understood the pitfalls of religion. This is why he said – “Let him who thinks he stands take heed, lest he falls!” Religion is filled with spiritual pride. Relationship is marked by a heart of humility, brokenness, and repentance. The Church of Laodecia was lukewarm. Jesus calls them to be zealous (on fire). The way He calls them to do this is through repentance.

Jesus calls me to focus on the inside – the condition of my heart!

I can hide sin in my heart with the guise of religion and feigned piety. I can sing songs, quote Bible verses, and volunteer my time. Yet all these things will not change my heart. Only Jesus can change my heart. Only His blood can wash me clean from my sin. Only His righteousness can clothe me so that I can stand before the Father. Only His Word, hidden in my heart, can set me free from my sin and self and open my eyes to truly see.

Lord, forgive me for the times when I have fallen away from relationship to an outward trust in religion. Transform me from the inside out. Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. Let the words of my lips and my actions be more than an outward adorning. Let them be the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit flowing from my heart to You and others.

`In Jesus’ Name!

About Kirk's Devotional Journal

Kirk L. Zehnder is the Founder of Resurrection Christian Outreach. RCO is a ministry that promotes the growth and vitality of the local church through speaking engagements, seminars, various media tools, and written curriculum and books. This ministry was started over 35 years ago by Kirk as a means to strengthen the church that he was pastoring. It grew as Kirk began to share these tools with other churches. Today many of the materials are being used by local churches both nationally and internationally. Kirk's Devotional Journal is a result of struggling with Bible reading programs that never seemed to work. Kirk feels the Lord helped him discover an easy-to-follow program to Read, Reflect, Pray, and Journal through the Bible in one year. This program is called L.I.F.E. Unlike other programs there are no dates to follow. You can miss a day and still complete your reading. You never feel like the dates and verses you missed are chasing you. You are free to enjoy your daily Biblical journey and listen to the voice of The Lord. For more information on the L.I.F.E. plan, send an email to rcoutreach@aol.com. Kirk is also available for speaking engagements, seminars, and retreats. With over 40 years of professional business and pastoral ministry experience, Kirk brings a unique combination of practical wisdom, humor, and Biblical insight. If you would like Kirk to speak at your church, school, or ministry, please send an email to rcoutreach@aol.com and we will get back to you as soon as possible to discuss your opportunity.
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