He replied,Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.Mark 7:6-7
Those are insightful words. With our Lord's keen perceptiveness, He plunges right to the heart of the issue. When the Pharisees ask Him.
Why do your disciples not observe the traditions? He points out to them, first of all, the effect that the observance of tradition has upon our lives. It produces hypocrites.
You hypocrites, He says. I am sometimes amazed as I read through the gospels at the bluntness of Jesus' language! In fact, Matthew's account tells us that the disciples said to Him afterward,
Do you realize that you offended those Pharisees?
But notice what He is doing here. He is pointing out the result of traditional
worship. And He utilizes the word of the prophet Isaiah to show us what it is like. According to Isaiah, there is that which consists of right words but wrong attitudes. Everything outward is right, but inwardly the mind and heart are wrong. That, Jesus says, is hypocrisy--to look as if you are doing something religious and worshipful and God-related, but inside to have an entirely different attitude.
A few years ago, many of us were puzzled and offended when young people would say to us, in one way or another,
We don't want to come to church because churches are filled with hypocrites. Some of us could not understand what they meant. We knew there might be some churches that were filled with hypocrites, but not ours! We had honest difficulty with this. We could not see where there was any hypocrisy in a thoroughly Bible-centered, evangelical church such as ours. But what they were saying was this:
You use great words--wonderful words--but you don't really mean them. You talk about love, but you don't love. You talk about forgiveness, but you don't forgive. You talk about acceptance, but you don't accept. And they were right.
That is what tradition can do to us. It externalizes religion, makes it outward instead of inward. As long as we are fulfilling the prescribed outward form, we think we are acceptable before God. That is the terrible danger of tradition. This particular form that Isaiah mentions here--right words and wrong attitudes-is widespread among Christians. We all suffer from it at times, and we ought to recognize it and admit it. And it has resulted in what is probably the most deadly danger to the evangelistic message of the church--the self-righteousness of Christians--thinking that because we do things in the
right way, and say the
right words, and believe the
right doctrines, we are thus pleasing to God.
Father, I confess the many, many times I have done the outward things with the inward heart far removed. Thank You that You know me, and You have already made provision for my forgiveness. Teach me to worship You in spirit and in truth.
Hypocrisy is a routine accusation made against professing Christians. Are we taking this critique seriously? What is a major obstacle that deters us from authenticity?