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Holiness Unto the Lord (Mark 7:18-23)

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    Last week we talked about why it’s so important to be a part of the local church. We know that we need each other. We can’t follow Jesus alone. We weren’t meant to follow Jesus alone. We were meant to be a community, a family of believers that lifts one another up and encourages and prays for one another. We were meant to live in unity. But there’s a side to that that we often want to shirk away from in the church: accountability.
    We feel awkward holding people accountable. We have a hard time being vulnerable with one another like that. We feel strange asking a person about their struggles. Not because we don’t mean well, because we do. We have good intentions. We want to see people doing well. We want to give comfort and encouragement. We want to be the iron that sharpens iron. But many times we get so focused on finding a quick fix for the person, on providing a fast solution to their problems, that we forget what is often at the root of their issues.
    For example: a friend struggles with anger, so we find out what situations and circumstances make them angry and then try to keep the friend away from the things that provoke that anger. But the root of anger isn’t found in situations and circumstances, and ultimately, changing those circumstances isn’t going to make that friend less angry. Someday, somehow, something is going to happen that will trigger that anger in that person.
    So what do we do? What is the root of issues like this?
    Jesus dealt with something similar when He was confronted by the Pharisees. They accused Him of defiling Himself through outward circumstances, but Jesus responded to them by calling attention to the root of evil.
    I want us to turn to Mark 7:18-23 to look at His response.
    “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
    We don’t just want and need accountability from our brothers and sisters. What we really need is transformation. If you’re following along in your bulletin, you’ll see that’s the first blank: transformation. If what Jesus said is true, and we believe it is, then sin comes from a person’s heart, from what is hidden inside, and no amount of changing our external circumstances is going to fix it. We need transformation of the heart to make it happen, because the heart is where sin is rooted.
    This is exactly what God desires, as well. He knows that the root of sin lies in the heart, and that no outward changes of circumstances is going to make any difference. Consider what He told to the prophet Ezekiel, Ezekiel 36:26-27:
    “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”
    He desires to give us a new heart, to make heart transformation truly possible. He desires to have His Spirit work in us to make it possible for us to live a life that is pleasing to Him.
    The great thing is that He gives us the power to transform. He gives us the power to no longer attack sin from the outside. He gives us the power to help our brothers and sisters move from changing outward circumstances to true life change.
    Romans 8:13 says, “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”
    Paul’s letters are full of words of encouragement to walk in the Spirit, to live by the Spirit, to let the power of the Spirit change us. The Holy Spirit is the one who transforms us.  Apart from the Spirit, nothing truly changes.
    Paul talks about two different types of fruit in Galatians 5, the fruit of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the flesh are almost identical to what Jesus lists as the evil defilements that come from the heart. Paul gives the fruit of the Spirit as the opposite, but the point is that there can be no fruit of the Spirit without the Spirit. There can be no love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, or self-control unless the Spirit works those things into our hearts.
    Aside from the work of the Spirit, we see what Jesus talked about, that sin comes from within, and there’s no way to change it.
    Hebrews 4:12 also adds this, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
    The Word of God also has the power to transform, because through it, our thoughts and attitudes are shown for what they really are. Through the Word of God, we discover what sinful thoughts and actions are. The Word of God shines light on the darkness in our hearts, and once exposed, then the Spirit can do His Work of transformation.
    The Spirit often uses the Word of God to show us areas where He desires to transform us more. He uses the Word of God to convict us, and also to remind us that we are not called to use our freedom as Christians to continue to live in the flesh.
    Accountability is great. We need it. We need other brothers and sisters to walk beside us and help restore us to repentance when we sin. But we have to urge our brothers and sisters to allow heart transformation to take place through the power of the Spirit and the Word of God. Without that heart transformation, the sins and struggles that our brothers and sisters have, the sins we have, will never get any easier. We’ll never gain any ground. It will always be a struggle, always a fight against the self for control of our lives.
    It’s not enough to just encourage our brothers and sisters to change circumstances in their lives to avoid the things that lead them into sin. We have to encourage them, urge them, to allow heart transformation to take place so the sin isn’t even appealing anymore. We need holiness!
    So how do we, as the church, tasked with the responsibility of keeping one another accountable, move from just looking for a quick fix to our brothers and sisters struggles, to urging them to move toward true transformation?
    Let’s look at Galatians 5:16, “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
    We urge others to let heart transformation happen by letting ourselves let heart transformation happen. We lead others to walk in the Spirit by walking in the Spirit. We can’t ask our brothers and sisters to do something we don’t do. We must be an example.
    This is one of the best ways to lead others to walk in the Spirit, and if we ourselves are walking in the Spirit, then we can easily explain to our brothers and sisters how possible it is to live in the Spirit.
    Look at Galatians 5:13 as well, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”
    Serve another humbly in love. Don’t use your freedom to indulge in the flesh, but serve one another humbly in love.
    What Paul means by this is that He is urging us to walk in the Spirit, yes, but to serve one another by leading them to do the same. As I’ve said before, this goes deeper than trying to find the quickest solution to fix our thoughts and actions that are rooted in sin.
    It means that when we know a friend struggles with anger, rather than just suggesting they avoid situations where they feel angry, we pray with them to surrender their heart of anger to the Spirit. We pray with them to ask the Spirit to remove the root of anger, and to replace it with patience and love. We encourage the brother or sister to daily surrender an attitude of anger.
    This takes longer than the quick fix, but is more permanent. This is how we serve one another, humbly in love.
    Finally, look at James 5:16, 19, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back,”
    We have to be brave enough and vulnerable enough to confess our sins to each other, so we can have that accountability we need, and so our brothers and sisters can help lead us to heart transformation by walking in the Spirit. Then, we must pray with those who have confessed their sins. We pray for them to completely surrender their lives, their hearts, to the control of the Spirit.
    We pray, and if a brother or sister wanders, we bring them back. This is how we are meant to live as the church. This is how we are meant to care for each other. This is how we are meant to encourage one another on toward good deeds.
    
1. Why do you think we tend to focus on the external circumstances and behavior when we try to help people change?

2. Why is it so important to get to the heart of the problem rather than just addressing the circumstances and behavior of ourselves and others?

3. How should the truth of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit affect the way we approach helping people change?

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