When it comes to my kids’ after-school routine, I’m like a handwashing patrolman. They walk in the door. “Hi, Mom.” And I waste no time. “Hi there, nice to see you; go wash your hands.” I’m not even kidding. Conversation commences once they wash their hands, because if they start talking to me before they find a sink, all I can think about are the horde of school germs waiting to attack our household.
Germaphobe? I don’t deny it, but I like to lean more towards the I’m-just-trying-to-keep-us-from-getting-the-stomach-flu side of things. Hence I keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in my car—Thieves, if you must know—for the occasions when there’s no sink available. Hey, a mama has to do what a mama has to do.
But apparently, the Pharisees in Jesus’ day were more than a little obsessed about handwashing too. Matthew 15:1–2 says the Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus in Gennesaret (close to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee) all the way from Jerusalem (about seventy miles away) to ask Jesus a burning question: “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.”
Yes, that’s right, they traveled seventy miles to ask about handwashing. According to the tradition of the Pharisees, if the disciples weren’t washing their hands prior to eating, then they were eating defiled food. A huge problem in the Pharisees’ minds. But Jesus wasn’t concerned about the disciples’ hands; He was concerned about their hearts.
God Wants Our Holiness, Not Our Cleanliness
So Jesus called those around over to him and said, “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” (Matt. 15:10–11).
Then Jesus explained further, “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart comes 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” (Matt. 15:18–20).
You see, the Pharisees were concerned about the wrong thing. They were tied up in knots over tradition. It was something that didn’t truly matter, yet they were stuck on it. And before we go pointing the finger at them, recognize that today we have a tendency to do the same thing.
We obsess more with what’s going on around us instead of what’s going on inside us. We’re concerned more with the purity of our food than the purity of our hearts. We’re willing to put our foot down when it comes to organic or non-GMO, but when it comes to watching a television show that takes the LORD’s name in vain umpteen times? Sure, why not.
But God Is About the Heart
Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” In other words, guard your heart with a vengeance, because everything you do flows from it. God is so concerned about the heart that in Christ, He gives us a new one. Ezekiel 36:26 says, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.” The indwelling of God’s Spirit accomplishes this in every believer. That’s amazing!
Yet we still focus on the outside instead of the inside. We’re zealous for what’s going in our mouths, instead of actively guarding what’s being ingested with the heart. We’re passionate about what’s in our kitchens but passive about what’s invading our living rooms. We’re willing to say no to the food industry, but we have granted the entertainment world an open invitation to fill our minds with whatever they want—including pornography, homosexuality, marital affairs, violence, disrespect, selfishness, coarse joking, foul language, just to name a few. And then we make excuses (it’s not that bad of a show or they only said it a couple of times or it was just one sex scene), when all of these are in raging opposition to God and His Word.
It’s Time We Hit the Reset Button
The truth is, the devil has been distracting us with produce from the beginning. Getting us off track is one of his go-to tactics. And right now, the enemy has our noses penned in the pantry when the real problem is our unwillingness to turn our hearts to God. We get mad when our favorite sports team loses but fall asleep to the pornography filling our DVR. We take great care to eat organic but put few restraints on the filth invading our minds.
Like the Pharisees, we’re concerned about the wrong thing. The problem isn’t the cleanliness of our food, it’s the lack of holiness in our hearts. And I fear the same thing can be said of us that Jesus said of the Pharisees, “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” (Matt. 15:8–9).
Hear me on this friend: it’s a good thing to watch what we eat and wash our hands before doing so. (Said every mother who’s terrified of the stomach flu.) But the root of every matter is what’s going on in the heart. Though we live in a society bloated with impurity, we don’t have to partake. In Christ, we have the ability to say no and the wisdom to do what’s right.
It’s Never Too Late to Give God Your Heart
And here’s the good news, it’s never too late to turn to God. James 4:7–8 says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” God is always faithful to forgive those who seek Him in true righteousness and holiness. Pray as David did, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10).
Maybe, like me, you’ve been more concerned about what’s going on with your hands than inside your heart. Maybe you’ve also been distracted by things of this world instead of steadfastly focused on the things of God. If so, let’s commit right now, today, to be people who not only confess God with our mouths but draw near to him with our hearts, knowing full well that it’s holiness God is after. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor” (1 Thess. 4:3–4). God doesn’t just want a little bit of our hearts; He wants all of them. And our full allegiance is what He deserves.
Cleanliness is a good thing, but it’s purity of heart that counts.