…the problem with being clean…

Matthew12:43-45

“When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, seeking rest but finding none. Then it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds its former home empty, swept, and in order. Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before. That will be the experience of this evil generation.”

Jesus points out pretty explicitly here to the Pharisees something legitimately shocking about the cleanliness, or human purity, they were so proud of having obtained. Jesus doesn’t tell them that their self-cleaned hearts are no better than the sinner’s hearts, He actually says that the lives they have worked so hard to cultivate with their rituals and intense disciplines is actually worse than a typical sinner’s heart.
A heart that is filled with obvious sin and evil is bad, but at the same time there is no real confusion as to the condition of it. A man who steals things for financial gain is evil, but typically he lives under no delusion that he is good. The thief knows he is a theif, and in quiet moments he likely has fleeting images and glimpses of a life lived without ujust gain.

A heart that has been emptied of all obvious sin is still evil, but because of the appearance the evil is both more subtle and more dastardly. When the goal of a man is to elimnate all wrong doing from his life the key question is not, “should he?” but “why is he?”. The man who would discipline himself to remove any overt moral infractions from his life, without his primary motivation being the love of Christ, is not working toward personal purity but toward personal sovereignty. Pride, apparently, doesn’t show up in the heart like dust or garbage or refuse, Jesus is clear that the heart He is talking about is clean, swept, neat, and in order. Pride functions like Carbon Monoxide in a home: silent, unscented, invisible, and incredible lethal.

The danger Jesus is talking about here is subtle because we tend to think that the goal of our lives is to be morally pure. However, while moral purity is a wonderful goal, Jesus’ primary message was not, “come to Me all you who labor and I will help you clean up your sin problem”. The message of Jesus was radically different than a self-help program. His ministry was rooted in the proclamation, “come follow Me…leave your life of sweeping your own heart, commit yourself to Me, and I won’t give you a better broom I’ll let you live in My palace with Me and My Father.”

Striving for purity is good and commanded to those who have been redeemed by Christ, but striving for purity apart from a relationship with Him is not only not good, but it is worse than merely living for the debased motivations of our sinful flesh. As far as the Bible is concerned pride is far more deadly and venomous to a soul than simple hedonism.

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