Matthew Lesson #087
August 2, 2015
“Father, we’re so thankful that we have time to come to study Your Word that we might come to think about the issues of life the way You would have us to think about these things, that we come to understand who we are as creatures created in Your image, yet corrupted by sin, and that once saved we have nevertheless the process of spiritual growth, sanctification to go to through—that we can learn to walk by God the Holy Spirit in order to please You and to serve You and to see the outworking of Your plan in our lives.
Now Father, we understand that the great challenge throughout history has been the challenge of religion vs. the relationship that a person has with You on the basis of grace, and that’s at the heart of the controversy and the conflict that Jesus has with the Pharisees.
We pray that You would help us to understand the significance of grace and the significance of our moment-by-moment walk and dependency upon You. We pray this is Christ’s name. Amen.”
Open your Bibles with me to Matthew 15. And what we’re going to look at today is the basic teaching that we learn from Jesus here—that we are born with deceitful hearts, but that there is a divine solution, and that that divine solution begins with regeneration.
We’re going to look at the second part of this episode. We started this a couple of weeks ago. Then last week I shifted over to look at some Old Testament passages in Jeremiah 2 related to the fact that this is not a unique problem to Israel. It’s not a unique problem to this particular generation, and it’s certainly not a unique problem to Jews.
This is a problem that every human being faces. And that problem is substituting something else for the worship of God, seeking life, seeking happiness, seeking meaning in life from somewhere else and something else other than the Word of God and an ongoing relationship with Him.
So we come to this particular episode, and just to bring everybody up to date with what goes on in the first nine verses, let me review this a little bit.
The basic issue that we see in these first nine verses is an issue related to authority. The scribes and Pharisees come up from Jerusalem to challenge Jesus, and they’re going use His disciples as leverage against Him.
As disciples who have not been observed to be washing their hands according to the Pharisaical ritual laws of cleansing, the scribes and Pharisees assume that they are in violation of God’s Law.
It’s an example of how man often substitutes his own standards, his own ideas, his own concepts of righteousness and religion for what God says.
The focal point of those first nine verses is this conflict between the revelation of God and the tradition of the elders, or the traditions of man.
We have that conflict between religion. And religion always seeks to gain God’s blessing on the basis of the works of righteousness that man does. The relationship with God that Jesus is talking about is based upon God’s grace—that God is the One who provides us with the righteousness necessary for salvation.
This goes back to the Old Testament. The foundational example comes from Abraham in Genesis 15:6. God said Abraham believed Him, and it was accounted to him as righteousness. That’s a foundational verse.
Now what’s happened in this episode previous to this is that Jesus had fed the 5,000. If we put a map up here on the screen, Jesus and the disciples had gone from their hometown in Capernaum, and they had gone across the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee in the area of Bethsaida over here. This is where the episode occurred with the feeding of the 5,000.
If you recall, there were the 5,000 men plus there were women and children there, and it became late in the evening. They didn’t have any food. The disciples are getting ready to push the panic button that all of these people are here, and they don’t have any food. And they collected five loaves of bread and a couple of fish, and it’s not quite enough. Yet Jesus is able to feed the 5,000.
So He’s training them in one sense to come to understand that He is the One who provides the nourishment and feeding; and as they will eventually be going out to serve Him and to proclaim the gospel throughout the world, they need to understand that the sufficiency isn’t in them. The sufficiency is in Christ. He’s the One who will provide the feeding.
But at a more practical level, as they’re passing out the food, what happens? They’re not washing their hands! So word of this would have gotten back to the Pharisees, and they bring this as a charge against Jesus.
The next event that happened was as they come back, they’re crossing the Sea of Galilee, and the storm came up at night.
Jesus isn’t with them. Then He walks to them on the water, and we have the little episode with Peter. All of these are little training episodes.
Now we’re going to have another teaching moment and training episode here with the scribes and Pharisees. This time they came up from Jerusalem. They’re coming from headquarters. They’re coming from the ultimate seat of their authority to challenge Jesus with that disobedience, and they think they have Him over a barrel.
This is the route they would have taken because they were in their self-righteousness. They were completely opposed to crossing through the area of Samaria, which is dominated by a sort of a mixed-breed group of people, mixed ethnicity.
Some had come back [from exile]—some were Jewish who had been resettled there after the return from Babylon. Others were of other ethnic backgrounds that had been settled after the time of the conquest with the Assyrians.
They had their own religious tradition. They rejected everything from the Old Testament other than the first five books of Moses. They had their own system of ritual, and they were completely at odds in their religious approach with the Pharisees in Jerusalem.
They were looked down upon by the Jews from Judea. So they would have taken the long route, going across to the east side of the Jordan River, and then going north, for their confrontation with Jesus.
The issue had to do with the fact that they are challenging the disciples, that they haven’t washed their hands. What the Pharisees have done is to construct a system of additional laws beyond the 613 commandments of the Mosaic Law.
That was the point of the violation that caused their divine discipline when they were removed from Judah in 586 BC.
So in order to prevent the Jews from ever violating those 613 commandments, they constructed additional commandments that were not based upon the Law of Moses.
The idea was that if they could build this fence around the Law—which is a term they used—then that would protect the Law itself from being broken. So that became their tradition.
But that elevated itself above the level of the authority of Scripture.
As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago when we first studied this, is that the only washing that’s mentioned in the Torah is the washing of the priest’s hands and feet when he would come in to serve in the tabernacle and later the temple. He’d come to the laver, and he’d wash his hands, and he would wash his feet.
They’ve added all of these extensive mandates on top of that in order to make sure that the people are cleansed.
All of these additional laws became quite burdensome. Not only that, they have additional laws that are traditions that they set up that would really enable people to avoid having to do what the Torah said to do.
That’s what Jesus pins them on. His response to them when they challenged Him over the fact that His disciples aren’t washing their hands, is He turns around and says, “Well, why are you transgressing the commandment of God?”
Notice how both here and in Mark 7, the emphasis is on the commandment of God vs. their tradition. Jesus makes the issue clear, “You’re transgressing what God said to do, and you’re putting in its place what man has said to do. The Law is given for a purpose, and it’s not on the same level of authority as your traditions.”
Then in verse 7 He will call them hypocrites—HUPOKRITES in the Greek, which is a term that comes out of Greek drama where an actor would put a mask on.
They are putting on the mask of being heavily devoted to God, but in reality what they are doing is turning against God and doing their own thing.
So the problem here first of all is the problem of authority, and second, it’s a misunderstanding of righteousness.
A couple of passages that come out of the Old Testament:
Isaiah 64:6, where Isaiah says that it’s all of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. He’s not saying our bad deeds, all of our unrighteousness, but our righteousness.
Notice he says “we are all like an unclean thing… all our righteousness,” and then “we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind…”
Four times he emphasizes that he’s part of the group, and it includes everyone—that no one does that which is right.
Ecclesiastes, which is written by Solomon after he’s trying to find happiness everywhere he can apart from God, makes the observation in Ecclesiastes 7:20 that “there is not a just man on earth.”
He uses the Hebrew term tzaddiq. If you’re familiar with Judaism, this is a dominant concept in Judaism, and it’s the idea that not only of righteousness, but of doing good deeds.
In Reformed Judaism, the term that governs everything is the idea of what they call tikkun olam.
Tikkun olam is the idea that they are to repair the world. This really dominates in Reformed Judaism, and it’s really a basis for a lot of their actions, their social action. There’s a certain affinity between Judaism and Socialism.
People often say, “Well, why are Jews liberal?” That’s part of the answer.
In their view of man, there’s no concept of original sin or total depravity. Man is inherently improvable, fixable, and repairable. So especially in Reformed Judaism, the idea is to repair the world.
Well that just has a certain affinity with leftist ideas, social action, social justice, Marxism. Of course, many of the Jews in America have their roots in the various migrations from eastern Europe to the United States, starting in late 19th century and through the early part of the 20th century.
When they came over and were involved in a lot of the basic common labor employment, working in the garment district in New York, things of that nature, they were part of the rise of labor unions.
So there was this certain affinity there, and this goes back to this concept that man can do good, man can improve themselves, man can be righteous, man can be just.
Solomon says, “There’s not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin.”
So there’s this emphasis on the universality of sin.
In the New Testament, Paul writes to Titus and says, “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.”
So as Jesus confronts them, He called them hypocrites. This is not a concept that is going to endear Him to them anymore than what He’s already taught and said.
He says, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying”—and He quotes from Isaiah 29:13—“These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.”
This introduces a major element of teaching in this section, and that is the problem with the heart.
“Their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me”—their worship is empty.
A lot of people today think that if you come with a sincere heart that you can worship God, and they don’t understand the principles in the Old Testament and the New Testament related to cleansing and the importance of dealing with sin first before you can have a relationship with God.
So “their worship is in vain and they teach as doctrines the commandments of men.” That’s the authority issue.
We looked at Isaiah 29:13 which says pretty much the same thing. They give lip service to God. They honor Him with their lips. Their lips said the right thing. They went to the festival, celebrated the Feast Days, they recited the prayers, they sang the songs, they brought their sacrifices, but their heart wasn’t in it. They were not devoted to the Lord.
Deuteronomy says that we’re to worship the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. But they’re simply going through the motions. Their feet went to the right place, and their hands brought the right gifts. Their lips said the right thing, but their heart was wrong.
Jeremiah says “the heart is deceitful and wicked above all things”. The heart has to be fixed. The only way to fix the heart is through regeneration, which is what Titus talks about. Titus 3:5, “It’s not by works of righteousness we have done but according to His mercy He saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”
What we see in this, as we saw last time as we looked at Jeremiah 2 where God is indicting Israel because they have turned away from Him as the source of life, is that they have turned away from Him and turned toward cisterns that they’ve hewn out themselves.
He is the One who offers the water that springs through eternal life, but they turned to their own ability to construct their own cisterns that will hold water, and it falls apart in the long run.
What we learned from this is that God cares about what we do and why we do it. It seems like so many people get confused about this. We want to do the right thing, but we want to do it our way.
But God cares that a right thing should be done the right way. A right thing needs to be done for the right reason, and it needs to be done the right way—the way that God has said that it should be done.
So God is looking for those who will serve Him with a whole heart.
This was the indictment that Samuel, the prophet Samuel in the Old Testament in 1 Samuel 16, brought against the first God-anointed king of Israel, Saul.
Samuel said that Saul was rejected by God because God wanted a king who would serve Him with his whole heart—a king that would be after His own heart.
So Saul was replaced by David. Several times David is said to be a man after God’s own heart. He was devoted to God fully even though David failed many times as we all do.
The basic sum total of David’s life is that he served God with his whole heart—despite the fact that he committed adultery with Bathsheba, and he tried to cover it up. He conspired with Joab, the commander of his army to have Bathsheba’s husband killed.
All of these different things that happened, all the different sins that occurred in David’s life—nevertheless God’s bottom line evaluation is he’s a man after My own heart.
That gives us great encouragement because like David, we all sin. We’re all so aware of the fact that we are fallen, flawed, and corrupted because of sin. Yet if our focus is on the Lord, and we recover from sin through the use of 1 John 1:9, and we walk by the Spirit, then it demonstrates that our heart is focused on the Lord.
Many times in Scripture the emphasis is on this heart attitude that we desire to serve the Lord. 1 Samuel 16 says that God does not see as a man sees. He doesn’t look on the outside, He looks on the inside, and God judges the heart.
Now last time we looked at the passage in Jeremiah 2:13 where Gods says, “My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me”
That’s the first. They turned away from God. They rejected Him, and He’s identified as “the fountain of living waters.”
The second problem is they’ve “hewn themselves cisterns.” This is a metaphorical way to talk about the fact that they’ve constructed other religious systems. They’ve constructed other ways to find life, to find happiness, and to find meaning in life.
The problem that we run into again and again is that people define their relationship with God in terms of what they do. “I go to church. I read my Bible every day; I miss one or two times a week, but I try to read a couple of chapters a day. I go to church. I give money to the church. I try to support different things that the church is doing, but that’s how I know that I am a mature believer. It’s what I do.”
Some define their relationship with God in terms of what they know. They’ve memorized a lot of Scripture. They’ve taken a lot of notes in Bible class, and they’ve got fifteen 3-inch binders on all of their notes that they’ve taken through the years in Bible class. They can answer a lot of questions. They’ve read some theology books, and they know a lot of information.
Other people define their relationship with God in terms of how much they give and how generous they are and how much time they’ve spent volunteering to help at the church.
Other Christians try to define their relationship with God in terms of their social action, they’re social involvement and through various other activities.
But that’s not the criteria that God uses to measure our relationship to Him.
See this is again the same problem an earlier generation—earlier than Jeremiah—had: the generation with Isaiah 100 years before Jeremiah.
God said, “Bring no more futile sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.”
“Well, wait a minute Lord! Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? That’s what the Law says to do.”
Yes, but God and also in the Law it says you’re to love Me with all your heart, soul, and mind and strength. It’s not just about going through the motions and giving it lip service.
And so God provides that solution as we saw last time in Isaiah 1:18, God said, “Come now, and let us reason together. Though you sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
God is the One who can change the orientation of our heart.
So the issue for the heart as we see from the Law is that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength.
This is repeated in the gospels. It’s repeated in the New Testament. God is to occupy our thinking overwhelmingly. We’re to be saturated with the Word. That is part of what it means to walk by means of the Holy Spirit.
Now the Pharisees have rejected that. They are so focused on just learning what others have said. They are impressed with their own learning, and they’re impressed with some of their leaders who have contributed greatly to the understanding of the Law. They’ve reached that point where instead of studying the Torah itself, they’re studying what their rabbis have said about it.
That has been elevated to the same level as the authority of Scripture. I’ve pointed out that this is so typical. We’ve seen this repeated in Roman Catholicism, in Eastern Orthodox religions where they study the patriarchs, they study the church fathers, they don’t study the Word.
We see it also in evangelicalism. We study Calvin, we study Luther, we study Spurgeon, fill in the blank with whoever some dead and gone pastor is or theologian, and we study what they said and that becomes calcified into a hardened theology that elevates itself over a study of the Word.
We need to know the Word.
As I pointed out last time, I’ve been reading a book written by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield dealing with her testimony. She was a radical leftist, Marxist, feminist, lesbian professor at Syracuse University, and her conversion was the subject of the article she wrote in Christianity Today, which I mentioned last Sunday. And then on Monday and Tuesday KHCB ran an interview with her on the radio a couple of days, and there are a number of YouTube videos where she’s interviewed by different people, and it’s really fascinating to watch.
But the one thing she pointed out in one of those interviews is that she just immersed herself in the Word. Her background, her PhD was in English literature. The way she would approach the study of the Bible, reading the Bible, was to take whole chunks of it, not just a verse here or a chapter there, but she would sit down and read Genesis all the way through in one sitting.
She would read through Matthew in one sitting. She would read through these books at one time and then go back and read them over and over and over and over again. See, that’s what immerses a person into the Word.
What struck me as I read her testimony, she talks about some other people who were Christians or had become Christians and were not having the kind of success withdrawing from the whole homosexual movement and those particular sins that defeated them.
I was thinking what makes the difference? The difference is always volition, but with her, there was this recognition at the point of her salvation that this was now supposed to be her life.
Like before it was feminist theology, queer theory, Marxism, post-modernism, that was her life. Now, she had to completely get rid of all of that thinking and immerse herself in the Word.
That’s what doesn’t happen a lot of times. Christians don’t immerse themselves in the Word. So they don’t live a life that is characterized by the kind of victory over sin that the Scripture says, and they just continue in it. Maybe they fade out before long because, “The Bible just doesn’t work for me.”
Well, you never really tried it. You never really devoted yourself to learning the Word and letting it saturate your soul and completely transform your thinking.
That’s what Deuteronomy 6:5 is talking about. We have to immerse ourselves and become saturated with our relationship with God and with the Word of God.
So in Matthew 15:10, a little time has gone by from this confrontation.
If you notice at the beginning it says, “When He had called the multitude to Himself.” The confrontation with the scribes and the Pharisees took place apart with Jesus and the scribes and the Pharisees.
Now a little time has gone by, and remember, they have returned back to the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, and now the multitude is there. Sometime later, maybe an hour or two has gone by, He called the multitude to Himself and He says to them, “Listen and understand.” Pay attention.
The word there that is translated “understand” is the word SUNIEMI, which certainly has the idea of understanding, but it’s a little more than that. It has the idea of think about it. Don’t just say, “Okay, well I can tell you what the definition is for each of those words that you have used, and I can paraphrase back to you what you have said.”
The idea is to fully comprehend, think about it, analyze it, and let what Jesus has said transform the way you think.
Think about it analytically and personally in terms of the way it transforms the way you think.
So Jesus is saying listen and understand. “Listen and think about what it is that I am saying.”
Then He makes this statement in verse 11, He says, “Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.”
This is stated as a universal principle, and when we look down to verse 15, we read then, “Peter answered and said to Him, ‘Explain this parable to us.’ ”
He calls this a parable. Well, the Greek word, PARABOLE is a little bit broader of a term than our word “parable,” and it can also include concepts related to universal sayings, proverbs, things of that nature.
So Jesus says that they need to pay attention to this. What He is saying is it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man, it’s not what they eat.
What they learned in Scripture is that eating and eating that which was forbidden in terms of the dietary law in the Torah was designed to teach something about spiritual truth. Tthe foods that were prohibited, we often think about eating shell fish, oysters, and shrimp and lobster and catfish, all the good things that they couldn’t eat because that was all “trafe”—opposite of kosher—that was all trafe, and that was all forbidden, prohibited, and they couldn’t eat that.
But all of those kinds of things that were unclean in terms of the diet had to do with something that represented death. Most shellfish are scavengers. Catfish are scavengers. They’re eating that which is dead, that which is carrion, that which is at the bottom of the lake or the river. So anything that is related to death, which is the penalty for sin, renders a person unclean according to the Law.
It was teaching something. It wasn’t that there was something inherently wrong with the food, it wasn’t that the food was somehow unhealthy, because later on when God declares and reveals to Peter that it is clean, that it is okay to eat all of this food now, it wasn’t because he learned to cook pork better. It wasn’t because he learned some new way of food preparation that transformed this food into something healthy.
Now I say that because every few years there’s somebody who comes out with a new diet book, What Would Jesus Eat, and they start with this premise that, “Well, the Mosaic Law gave God’s dietary commandment to us, so we need to follow that, and that will make us healthy.”
Well, you’re not reading your Bible right or doing good theology, that’s not why it was given. It was given to teach something: that sin permeates everything in creation.
Jesus is making a point that it’s really not what you eat that defiles you, it’s what comes out of the mouth. This defiles a man. This is somewhat of a cryptic statement. It’s one verse. It’s fairly short, and that’s it.
Then He says that to the multitudes, and then His disciples came to Him in relation to this.
By the way, the word there is an interesting word, KOINOO. It is a cognate to KOINONIA. KOINONIA is the verb for fellowship.
KOINOO has to do with that which is common or profane and came to refer to that which would defile somebody because it wasn’t holy. It wasn’t set apart to God.
KOINONIA has to do with that which we have in common and comes to mean fellowship.
Well, when we are defiled, it breaks fellowship—just an interesting connection in between those words.
“His disciples came to Him and said, ‘Did You know that the Pharisees were offended?’ ” Sounds like they subscribed to political correctness. “You need to be concerned about this! They’re the rich and the powerful. They’re the ones who could really make life miserable for us. They might even kill You for it.”
SKANDALIZO, it’s a word that means to cause someone to stumble or to offend them, to offend someone—this is the idea. So the disciples come to Jesus, and they say, “You need to watch out for this. Don’t You know that they were offended when they heard this?”
Then He answered and said to them, Matthew 15:13–14, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.”
Now to understand what Jesus is saying here, we have to look at the broader context. In Matthew 13 Jesus gave seven different parables that began with the parable of the soils. In the parable of the soils you have Jesus represented as the One who is scattering seed, and the seed is the gospel, and then there are four different responses to the gospel.
The first one is the seed is taken away, snatched away by a bird, and it doesn’t take root. That’s those who do not respond to the gospel at all.
Then you have three different responses, and those three different kinds of soil that comes along after that are all positive responses to the gospel.
The rocky soil believes, but it doesn’t last long, but he’s still saved because he believed; the seed is germinated, and it sprouts a little bit, and that shows that there’s new life there. So those are representative of all being seeds.
So the first set of parables, if you will recall the parable of the soils, all focus on the response to the gospel. It’s all the same seed, and it produces those four responses.
The second parable is the interesting one. That’s the parable of the tares and the wheat. The tares were a type of plant called darnel, which looks a lot like wheat.
The enemy came and sewed a different seed in the field. It grows up at the same time and grows up with the wheat, looks like wheat, and you can’t really tell the difference. If you try to pull it out of the ground and root it out while the plants are growing, then it’s going to pull the wheat out also, and you’re going to destroy your crops.
So Jesus says you wait until the end of the age, and then there’ll be a judgment, and God will sort out the difference between the tares and the wheat. That’s what He’s talking about here.
He says, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted—that’s the tares—Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.”
“Let them alone.” In other words, they’re going to get their judgment eventually. God will take care of that. He says, just relax, “they are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.”
Just don’t worry about them. Don’t be concerned about their reactions or their hostility.
In verse 15, Peter comes along and says, “Explain this parable to us.” Help us to understand what it is You’re saying.
Mark does not mention Peter by name. He just says that the disciples asked this. It’s interesting that Mark is believed to have written this down, as he was associated with Peter at the end of his life. It is believed that he wrote down Peter’s account, so there’s no mention of Peter in this episode in the Mark account, but here Peter is clearly the leader of the disciples.
Matthew presents Peter often as the spokesperson for the disciples. So it is Peter who brings their question to the Lord, “Explain this parable to us.”
Jesus answered him in verse 16. Jesus says, “Are you still without understanding?”
Now in English that is ambiguous because we use the same word for both 2nd person singular and 2nd person plural, but this is a 2nd person plural in the Greek.
Jesus is saying, “Are y’all—talking about the disciples—are y’all still without understanding?”
He uses the noun form of the verb He used back in verse 10 “to hear and understand, to think about it.” He says, “So y’all are still without understanding? You haven’t comprehended the meaning of what I’ve said?”
He said, “Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated?”
The Greek is a little more graphic than that. The Greek says whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and goes out into the latrine. That’s cleaned up a little bit.
In other words, it’s not important. It just goes through your system. You eat it, swallow it, it gets digested and gets eliminated.
He says what’s important, verse 18, is “those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.”
What defiles us comes from that corruption that is within us.
Verse 19 we read, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” These are the things that defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.
This concept of defile comes back to that which corrupts the relationship with God, which breaks and destroys any relationship with God, but as these different sins are listed and identified, they go back to the Ten Commandments.
When we looked at the beginning of this chapter the first time, I talked about the fact that God is the authority and the first four commandments of the ten focus on God:
That you shall have no other gods before God.
That you shall not make any graven images.
You shall not take the Lord’s name in vain.
You shall observe the Sabbath.
Then we get into the list of various sins. We have the same things here: Out of the heart proceeds evil thoughts. Evil thoughts are listed here as just as much that which defiles a person as actions. Mental attitude sins often precede overt sins and are more destructive.
Murder is then mentioned. That is the sixth commandment. Then we have the mention of adultery and fornication—that’s the seventh commandment. Next we have the mention of theft—that’s the eight commandment. Then we have the mention of false witnesses and slander—that is the ninth commandment.
Where did these things come from? They come out of the heart. They come out of man’s nature because man is corrupt. What we see embedded even in the New Testament is a recognition that the Old Testament emphasizes that basic corruption of man, and that man’s problem is a heart problem.
When we look at this word “heart,” it’s used only a few times literally in the Old Testament.
It’s used in Exodus 28:30, that the breast plate of the high priest was put over his heart.
It’s used in 2 Samuel 18:14 and,
2 Kings 9:24—dealing with injuries that were fatal.
But primarily it is used to refer to something that is at the center of something.
For example, in Exodus 15:8, it talks about the heart of the sea. That’s the center of the sea.
In Deuteronomy 4:11 it speaks of the heart of Heaven. That would be a way of referring to the throne of God, the center of Heaven. It talks about the heart of the earth, meaning the middle or the inner part of the earth.
So the idea and the metaphor of heart is not related to the cardiological function, the beating function of a heart; but it’s related to something at the center of something, and so this is used to refer to human beings.
Human beings are composed of three parts. The first is that we have a body. We have a body, and then we have a soul. And then we also have a human spirit.
When Adam was created he had body, soul, and spirit. There are a few passages in Scripture that speak of the body, the soul, and the spirit.
Hebrews 4:12 says that the Word of God divides the soul from the spirit. There’s clearly a distinction, even though in other passages the term “soul and spirit” may be used synonymously, they are clearly used as referring to distinct elements at different times.
It is this that is described as the heart of man. This is the command center. This is the control center for every one of us. It’s our soul. If we’re regenerate, if we’re saved, if we trust in Christ, then we also have this human spirit.
We’re born without it, we’re spiritually dead, but we become spiritually alive. Something new is added. We’ve been studying this in 1 Peter on Thursday night—the Doctrine of Regeneration. So we are given this human spirit at the instant of our salvation.
This enables our soul to now have a relationship with God. But we still have a problem, as I’ve indicated in the diagram, and that is the problem of our sin nature, and that has corrupted us.
I just want to review a few things about the sin nature. This is our enemy. We often talk about the fact that the Christian has three enemies: The world, the flesh, and the Devil.
The world and the Devil are external. Satan is the chief angel that fell and led a third of the other angels in rebellion against God, and 1 Peter 5 says that he is going about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. He’s an external threat. He is an external enemy. He is more of an enemy to us than Iran is to Israel.
How should we treat enemies? We want to destroy the enemy. We want to remove them so they have nothing to do with us.
Well, the way Satan primarily influences us is through the various religious systems and philosophical systems in human history, and all of these different systems, whether it’s Buddhism, Hinduism, whether it has to do with Islam or some other form of Christianity that denies grace, what happens is that we become influenced by those things because they appeal to our sin nature.
They’re on the outside. They’re various philosophical systems that seek to construct reality as if it exists apart from God. These appeal to people’s sin nature.
The worst enemy that we face is our sin nature. It’s inside of us. That sin nature constantly influences us, and it’s a source of corruption and corrupts us.
The first thing we need to remember about the sin nature is that it corrupts our being, the totality of our being, and probably is seated in the flesh because it’s called that many times in the body. But it influences our soul and our thinking.
Let’s just see a few passages that emphasize this:
1 Corinthians 15:42, “So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption.”
Then in 1 Corinthians 15:53, “This corruptible,” that is, our body has been so corrupted by sin that there has to be a transformation of this body so that it can be raised and spend eternity with the Lord.
Romans 6:6 uses a distinctive term to refer to the sin nature as “the body of sin.”
Paul says that “knowing this, that our old man”—that’s not the sin nature, that’s everything we were before we were saved—“our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin”—something distinct from the old man—“that the body of sin might be done away with”—that’s talking about our sin nature—“that we should no longer be slaves of sin.”
We’re supposed to do away with that. It’s a constant battle throughout the Christian life to not yield to the sin nature.
In Romans 7:5, 7:18, and 7:25, Paul gives us more accounting of the use of the sin nature in relation to flesh.
He says, “For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members.”
So flesh is related to the sin nature.
Romans 7:18, “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells.”
That is the corruption of the sin nature.
Verse 25, “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.”
So there’s that correlation between sin and the flesh.
Then in Romans 8:1, Paul says, “We don’t walk according to the flesh”—that’s the sin nature—“but according to the spirit.”
There’s that contrast between the flesh and the sin nature again and again.
In Romans 8:8 he says, “So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
Then the marching orders for the Christian life in Galatians 5:16, we’re to walk by means of the Spirit, and we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
Galatians 5:17: “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh.”
This identifies the source of this conflict after salvation—and we’re constantly in this battle.
1. So the first thing we note is that we are in a body of corruption, and we’re always going to fight this battle even as believers. Though we are regenerative (we’ve been freed from the tyranny of the sin nature), we haven’t been freed from the presence of the sin nature.
2. Second thing we need to realize is that it’s called a sin nature because it represents the essential corruption due to sin. Some people get all “wrapped around the axle” when you talk about the word “nature.” But the word “nature” simply refers to this as the orientation, the corruption of our entire being.
It’s our capacity to rebel against God, and the sin nature itself influences our soul. It’s the source of temptation, but it’s not, as we’ll see in a couple of points, the source of sin.
3. The third point is since we’re born spiritually dead, we have no orientation to God or the things of God.
This is seen in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural man”—the Greek says the PSUCHIKOS man, the soulish man—“does not understand the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him.”
So the unbeliever can’t understand the things of God because he is spiritually dead.
4. Now the fourth thing we have to understand is that the sin nature is the source of temptation, but not the source of sin. A lot of people think it’s that way.
But remember Adam sinned—he didn’t have a sin nature.
Adam sinned, and in Adam’s sin what we see is that there’s an external source of temptation which is his lovely wife offering him that gorgeous fruit. He took it, but he didn’t have a sin nature.
His volition acted upon that temptation.
So volition is the source of our sin. Adam sinned in the garden by choosing to disobey God.
Therefore, all sin, whether it’s mental, verbal, or overt, has its source in our volition. We can’t say, “Well, I was made that way,” because we’re all made that way! Hello! Every one of us.
Whether the problem is homosexuality, heterosexuality, whether the problem is arrogance—which is the root of all sin—whether the problem is gossip or slander or maligning… the problem is we’re all born with corruption. We can’t say, “Well, God made me that way, or I was just made that way, so I’m not responsible.”
James 1:14 says, “Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed”—by his own lusts. That comes from the sin nature.
Then James 1:15 says, “Then, when desire has conceived”—when you choose to yield to that desire—“it gives birth to sin.”
It’s not a sin to be tempted. We’re tempted all kinds of ways every day.
But saying no means we don’t sin. Saying yes means we do sin.
It is not a sin to be tempted sexually. You hear that often in all the debate that goes on with homosexuals—that this is a problem because…
With heterosexuals, “Well, I feel these urges. I have this temptation.” But that’s not sin.
It’s not sin until you yield to those temptations, and that brings volition into play.
5. The fifth thing that we need to understand is that the core of the sin nature is an orientation to self vs. orientation to God.
We have to recognize that since only God can satisfy the longings of the human heart, the longings of the human soul, that when we are sinning, we are engaged in a substitution for God.
In Ecclesiastes 3:11, Solomon says in the second line, “God has put eternity in their hearts.”
Every human being has a desire for God. Some have referred to this as a “God-shaped vacuum.” But the heart, the corrupt heart, the sinful heart is set against God, and the spiritually dead person seeks to fill that vacuum with the things of life.
6. Our basic orientation is arrogance. We start with self-absorption because that’s the orientation of our sin nature. We’re full of ourselves, and this leads to self-indulgence. The more we focus on “me and what I need,” the more we’re going to be indulgent.
The more indulgent we are—the more we justify it in self-justification. And the more we’re engaged in self-justification—the more we’re engaged in deceitfulness.
What we’re doing then is elevating ourselves to the ultimate authority in our life—and that is self-deification.
Arrogance then is the basic orientation of the human heart. Because there is a “God-shaped vacuum” there, there’s a desire to fill it with something that will give our life meaning and understanding and significance.
Whenever we look to anything other than God for meaning and happiness and significance, it’s idolatry.
So this is the core of what happens in the sin nature–it is that it has these desires, these lusts, as Scripture says.
In Ephesians 4:22, we’re told we are to put off concerning our former conduct—that’s the old man of Romans 6—“the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.” So we’re driven by these lusts.
This is a familiar diagram here of our sin nature. At the core we have these lust patterns that drive us in different directions.
We have sexual lusts, such as: you may have heterosexual lusts or homosexual lusts, but they’re both lusts.
Well, what’s at the root of your lust pattern? It’s pride, arrogance. That’s the core.
You may have power lusts. For example in the Bible you have Rehoboam who was the first king of the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Due to power lusts, he refused to back off of his excessive taxation. He wanted to be in control. So that’s an example of power lusts.
But what’s the core problem? It’s arrogance, it’s self-absorption.
Other people have status lusts. They want to be somebody. That’s related to approbation lusts—their lust for recognition, for approval, for fame.
You have materialism lusts. What’s the solution to lusts problems? Our relationship with God.
The solution to homosexual lusts isn’t heterosexuality. It isn’t heterosexual lust. The solution to heterosexual lust is having a relationship with the Lord, being focused on being sanctified.
The solution to homosexual lust is the same thing. It’s a desire to be close to God, focus on God, be concerned about being sanctified in living a holy life.
That’s the solution to every lust problem, whether it’s approbation lust, whether it’s status lust, whether it’s materialism lust.
The solution is humility toward God, and that’s the problem that the Pharisees had. They have rejected the authority of God, so they’re not humble. They are focused in elevating themselves, and they are involved in self-promotion. They have created an idol out of their tradition as opposed to being submissive to God.
We learn that these lust patterns are inherently deceitful. Ephesians 4:22, which I had up there a minute ago, refers to deceitful lusts. So they deceive us into thinking they really give us pleasure, and they really provide meaning in life, whether it’s sexual, whether it’s power lusts, or approbation lusts, it convinces us that’s the path to happiness and stability.
7. A seventh point is that lust becomes the foundation for all sin.
Titus 3:3, “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasure.”
The idea is that those sins that are listed here are the result of serving our lust patterns and our pleasures.
8. And the last point is lust becomes the link between the sin nature inside each of us and the external world system.
1 John 2:16, “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.”
The lust pattern is what motivates and drives us.
Now what’s the solution? Three-point solution:
First of all we have to know the Word of God. We have to know what has been provided for us by the Lord Jesus Christ through His death, burial, and resurrection, that sin is paid for, and we also have to implement that in terms of our daily spiritual life.
Romans 6:3, “Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?”
The baptism by the Holy Spirit breaks the power of the sin nature—so yes you can now say no to temptation.
We have been freed from sin. We need to make decisions that are consistent with what we know.
In Romans 6:11 Paul says, “Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin.”
And Romans 6:12, “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body.”
In Romans 13:14, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh.”
Figure out where your areas of weakness are in terms of your sin nature and don’t go there. Don’t make yourself susceptible to temptation in those areas.
We are to then walk by the Spirit, and we’re told if we walk by the Spirit, we won’t bring to completion the lusts of the flesh. It’s possible. You can’t do it in your own power. You can only do it in the power of God the Holy Spirit.
That’s the provision that God has given us. It’s grace.
It’s not based on following some legalistic system which is what the Pharisees opted for. It’s on the basis of developing a personal, close walk with the Lord. When we’re walking closely with Him, these other options are not the temptation they are because we are saturated and focused on that relationship with Him.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to be reminded that there can be real victory over sin in our lives and that’s the goal, to walk by the Spirit, so that we do not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. When we do, there’s a solution that’s simply confession of sin, but the idea is to stay in fellowship, to walk by the Spirit, to abide with Christ, to walk in the truth, to walk in the light.
Father, challenge us as believers, that yes indeed, we can surmount and have victory over the sins that so easily beset us.
Father, but the issue for the unbeliever is not dealing with sin in terms of a daily life, but it’s dealing with the penalty of sin, being spiritually dead, being born that way. The solution to that is recognizing that Christ died for your sins. By simply believing in Him you have eternal life.
It’s very simple. Just trust that Jesus Christ died for your sins and that instant you have eternal life, you become a new creature in Christ. Old things are passed away, behold all things are new. Right where you sit, if you trust in Christ as Savior, you have eternal life.
Now Father we pray that You’d challenge us with the things that we learned today, that God the Holy Spirit will bring them back to our memory, that we may reflect upon them, think about them, and implement them in our lives. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”