The Problem with the Rules. . . or the Possibilities.


daily text logoJuly 6, 2015

Mark 7:9-15

9 And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” [16] 



103. I’m away from my library owing to the holiday and unable to research this passage as I would like. I don’t have a grasp on this particular situation Jesus raises with the Pharisees concerning the command to honor one’s parents and how they may have been skirting around it.

I would like to go back to yesterday’s text and a passage which sheds light on today’s text as well as the larger principle at work.

In response to the “hand-washing” complaint, Jesus offered this.

6 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.
7 They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.’

Sometimes you can get the A and still fail the course.

104. There’s the letter of the law and then there’s the spirit of the law. The law will lead in one of two directions and it depends on who is handling the law. The law will move according to the dictates of the letter or in keeping with the spirit behind it.  The Pharisees are clearly moving in the legalistic direction. They are trying to catch Jesus in some kind of breach of the law. They are “gotcha” people, and people who are “gotcha” people also believe in a “gotcha” God.

Take it out a religious context and put it into a work context. Have you ever had a “gotcha” boss? When employees have a “gotcha” boss, they stick exceedingly close to the policy manual. They play the CYA game. Maybe you have a “gotcha” spouse. In the game of gotcha it’s all about the rules and keeping the letter of the law and covering your rear and being ready to justify your actions. It’s a horrible way to live. No one thinks about the mission anymore; only appeasing the boss or the spouse or the god. This is how legalism works. The law is wielded as a sword.


The outcome of legalism is “honoring me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.”

So what would it mean to honor God and the law of God with our hearts? It would mean seeing a different kind of God—not a “gotcha” God but a “for-you” God. God is not out to get us. God is out to help us. God is for us, not against us. Behind every precept of God is the Spirit of Love. Far from a sword in God’s hands against us, the law becomes his shield of protection for us.

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this.  Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

The way to life is not external conformity to the letter but deep internal transformation by the Spirit.

So are you a “gotcha” person? Is it all about conformity to the policy manual? Or are you a “for others” person? It’s not a matter of law or no law. It’s a matter of law as a sword or a shield? What you believe about God will determine the direction you go with this.

He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant–not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Corinthians 3:6. 


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J.D. Walt writes daily for Seedbed’s Daily Text. He serves as Seedbed’s Sower in Chief. Follow him @jdwalt on Twitter or email him at Get the Daily Text delivered to your inbox fresh every morning. Subscribe HERE.

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