Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Attitude Over Action - Jesus and the condition of the heart

Long-time Press readers know how I've tried to read the Bible as if I've never read it before. It helps me to notice new things in the text without sliding through all the familiar passages. Throughout the last few months, I've noticed something as I read through Luke's gospel. Much of Jesus's teaching focuses on people who think of themselves as religious. He tells them to focus on the condition of their heart rather than keep score of how well they obey the rules.

Before I continue, I want to say how I understand religious people. It doesn't make sense to assume they know how much they suck. I doubt a single Pharisee thought to himself, "I'm going to be a hypocritical, judgmental, A-hole." The Pharisees as a sect came into being because they wanted to pursue holiness, they just developed the wrong idea for the source of holiness.

They upheld the law as God's standard of holiness. They also knew how easily they could break the law, so they decided to set up additional rules to "build a fence" around the law. This phrase came from a particular law where a home-owner accepted liability if someone fell off the roof of his house and died. So they would build a fence around the roof to prevent accidental deaths. Over time, these "fences" around the law became equal in importance to the Pharisees, and so people were expected to perfectly uphold hundreds and hundreds of rules in addition to Torah.

To this, Jesus told the teachers of the law, "Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers."

My friend Tim recently shared something about this during our Sunday night meeting. He said ranchers can't always build fences around their giant spaces of land. So they'll dig deep, deep wells because the cattle will stay close to sources of fresh water. There are some people concerned with defining their faith in terms of boundaries like those mentioned in Colossians 2:20-23. "If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations - 'Do not taste, Do not touch' (referring to things that all perish as they are used) - according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh."

Where this describes a Boundary-Defined Faith, Tim encouraged us to pursue a Transforming Faith. Like the deep wells on those ranches, we seek the source of life like a well of fresh water and find our place there. Jesus told a Samaritan woman about this well and the transforming life it brought. In John 4:13-14, "Jesus said to her, 'Everyone who drinks of this water (referring to the well by which they sat) will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.'"

If you read on from there, you see that this woman had some real problems in her faith and lifestyle. But Jesus doesn't tell her to wake up and get her life straight. He tells her, "I'm offering to change your heart," and knew the change of heart would lead to a change in her life.

What do you think? Does attitude matter more than action? Is the condition of the heart more important than having a religious life?

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