Matt 15:1-31 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat." He answered them, "And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.' But you say, 'If anyone tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is given to God, he need not honor his father.' So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: '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.'" And he called the people to him and said to them, "Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person." Then the disciples came and said to him, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?" He answered, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit." But Peter said to him, "Explain the parable to us." And he said, "Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone."
As in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus' focus is always on the inward reality, rather than outward performance. Our outward performance might be faultless, but what is more important is the heart motivations of these religious acts. In 1 Samuel 16:7, the Lord told the prophet Samuel something that has remained true to this day: "For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." The Pharisees' mistake is to confuse righteousness with religious rituals (e.g. washing hands), and as a result focused on trivialities. They were so concerned about not defiling themselves religiously that over the centuries the scribes had developed many religious rites and rituals to protect the people from religious defilement: "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."
But Jesus goes to the root of righteousness--which is the spiritual condition of the heart. According to him, it's not what goes into our mouth that defiles us but what comes out of it. What enters into our mouth simply passes through the digestive system and then is expelled at the other end. But what comes out of our mouth "proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone."
So, the only way we can become free from defilement is to replace our defective heart with a new heart. We need a spiritual heart transplant if we want to become a righteous person that pleases God. How is this possible? Listen to what God says in Ezekiel 36:26-27, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws." This is what it means to be "born again" or regenerated. It's to get a new heart that is soft and sensitive to the Spirit of God. When a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ, he or she receives the Holy Spirit who imparts to that person a new heart and a new spirit. The transformation takes place inside the person. When that happens, new heart of love replaces the old heart of self-centredness: "And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us" (Rom 5:5).
Some reading this may object: "Hah! You have not met my boss who calls himself a Christian! His words are anything but righteous and loving!" Of course, we can dismiss this objection by simply saying that perhaps that boss is not a "real Christian." But the truth is many true believers are struggling to show love and righteousness in the homes and offices. Why is this so?
I would say that it's often a result of lack of right teaching about God's truths. A typical church sermon will often focus on outward performance, calling for behavioral repentance instead of inward heart transformation. This makes the congregation feel condemned rather than empowered. The message is: "You have failed! But try harder again this week." It's focused on self-efforts rather than Spirit's power i.e. outward behavioral reformation rather than inward heart transformation.
Christians need to be reminded that the power to change is not found in self-efforts but in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit who pours into our hearts the agape-love of God. If we could become righteous and loving by our strength, we would not need Christ. But the truth is all believers have access to an infinite power of the Spirit. But too often, Christians lives in defeat because of this failure to focus on the inward transformation through the Spirit.
It's like the story about the old lady who lived and died in the streets of London collecting trash to sell even though she was actually very rich, having inherited a fortune. But though she knew of the inheritance, she never went to the bank to draw out her money. Similarly, believers in Christ have been "blessed... in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ...the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe." (Ephesians 1:3, 18-19). So many Christians struggle to live the righteous life because they are not taught how to draw out their money from the Heavenly Bank.
The Apostle James says: "You do not have, because you do not ask" (James 4:2). Jesus himself invites us to ask: "Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full." (John 16:24). So, God has given all true believers the spiritual resources to live a righteous life. But we need to ask God daily in prayer to fill us with His Spirit so that we can walk in His power, not in our own strength.
Father, thank You for the new heart You have given us through Your Spirit. Fill us with Your Spirit daily so that we might be transformed from inside out. In Jesus' name, Amen.