Little or nothing is accomplished by a strong religious argument. It is nearly impossible to argue a person into a living relationship with God. Instead, arguments can hurt friendships and make those who are involved very uncomfortable. Strong arguments have even divided congregations. Does that mean it is best to be apathetic and say nothing? No, but we should instead state what the Scriptures say in love and leave the rest to the Holy Spirit.
This is what Jesus is demonstrating to us in the text today. The Pharisees wanted to argue with Jesus about why His disciples broke ceremonial law by eating without washing their hands. They wanted to know why his disciples did not live according to the traditions of their people.
Jesus did not argue this question with them. Rather He challenged them to turn their attention to a more important topic for discussion: the nature of man. “What comes out of a man is what makes him Ôunclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man Ôunclean'” (Mark 7:20-23).
Jesus did not paint a pretty picture of the human being. However, he also has good news. Paul tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Our lives can be cleaned up. Why argue some traditional practice in the Church with an unbelieving world? Instead, tell them the Gospel.
These words should be taken seriously by the church in any generation. Tell the story of Jesus. Invite people to ask Christ into their hearts, and let your words and life bear witness to the power of God making important changes in your life.
What are some of these changes for the new Christian?
It is Sunday morning. Your family once pitied your neighbors for having to attend church; now you join them. In that church you experience the fellowship of a different crowd. Joy is in your hearts and you feel a union binding you together.
One of the best times of the day is when you are alone for awhile and have a conversation with God. It has been a tough day. At times you slipped back into the old way of thinking and acting. Your arrogant spirit was very offensive to those around you, and your ability to pepper your conversation with lies, profanity, and slander still came naturally.
Now, alone with God, you place the day and all its sins before Him, and hear him say, “If you confess your sins and trust me, you will be forgiven.” What a load off your soul! Your prayers have an earnestness knowing that the God who has forgiven your sins will also give you power to change your spirit and attitude. You look back on your life and see God at work. You see the change that has taken place in the last year.
Tough times come that you never thought would happen to you, and you are devastated. Perhaps a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. As the illness progresses, it becomes more difficult. If only he could communicate with you! Instead he asks the same question ten times a day and your patience is wearing thin. People are quick to give counsel. They mean well. Is it time to place him in a nursing home? Can you afford it? Didn’t you promise to be with him in sickness and health?
But then comes your quiet time as you have your conversation with God. Prayer is not a monologue where you do all the talking. While you do place all your feelings before your Father, your prayer time is also His time to speak. You open your Bible, through which He speaks. You look at a concordance and are directed to passages that deal with care, lonesomeness, and helplessness, and hear his voice speak.
The next day you recall some passages you have committed to memory. One is, “. . . as your days, so shall your strength be” (Deut. 33:25); and another, “ÔMy grace is sufficient for you . . .'” (2 Corinthians 12:9). You sit quietly and listen. A picture of Christ on the wall makes the conversation more personal. Time passes and other things are left to be done. The problems and hard questions are still there, but you have gained new strength and insights through God’s promises.
I have just finished reading a book called Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Boose. It is about his time as a student at Brown University. Students at Brown are encouraged to spend a semester in another culture giving them the opportunity to expand their world. Most of the students go to a foreign land for this experience; Boose, however, chose not to leave the United States but to attend Liberty University. Liberty, like Brown, is highly academic. However, it is different from Brown in that the Ivy League school is secular, while Liberty is centered on a very legalistic type of Christianity. When Boose enrolled, he was given a 43-page book in which the lifestyle for students at Liberty was clearly stated.
Boose was an undercover student. He did not reveal his true reason for attending the university, and the fact that he was not a Christian, until the last days of the semester. He then thanked the university for the semester and what he had learned of another culture, which had been completely foreign to him.
When he returned to Brown, little had changed in his life. He had not received Christ as his Savior and Lord. However, his experience showed him what a difference Christ could make in a life.
If it ever happens that Boose becomes a Christian, it will not be because of all the arguments the students at Liberty University had about tradition. Instead, it will be because, in the midst of traditions and legalism, the Lord Jesus Ð Savior, true God and true man Ð was standing there. He is the world’s only Savior.
Arguing religion can be very divisive and unpleasant, but sharing Christ can be exciting and joyful. This is how we should minister.