We avoid the truth. We all do it. We are only prepared to acknowledge what fits in with our own predisposition and preconceptions. What suits us we welcome; what we don’t like we reject, usually without any consideration of the merits of the case.
Personally I see that as evidence of our fallen nature, of sin.
In our progress through the Gospel of Mark, we arrive at chapter 7. There we read about Jesus condemning the traditions of the Pharisees: by means of their traditions they had nullified the word of God.
Don’t eat without washing your hands. Well that is a basic rule of hygiene, not a spiritual rule or maxim. But men manage to make something significant out of the ordinary and in so doing lose sight of what actually matters.
The Pharisees had built up a religion around the physical and in doing so lost sight of the reason. Jesus had to bring them back to first principles.
The physical is not what is important. The spiritual is important. Talk of washing your hands is irrelevant; it is the state of your heart before God filthy with sin which is the issue. You cannot wash away your sins by washing your hands. Wrong dimension; wrong solution.
The problem is not what is physically placed in your body, but what comes out of the soul which inhabits that body. The filth of the fallen human nature steeped in sin. Jesus enumerates, verses 21-23:
FOR FROM WITHIN, OUT OF THE HEART OF MEN, PROCEED EVIL THOUGHTS, ADULTERIES, FORNICATIONS, MURDERS, THEFTS, COVETOUSNESS, WICKEDNESS, DECEIT, LASCIVIOUSNESS, AN EVIL EYE, BLASPHEMY, PRIDE, FOOLISHNESS: ALL THESE EVILS COME FROM WITHIN AND DEFILE THE MAN
Washing hands and performing all sorts of religious rituals cannot solve this problem. Only Jesus Christ can solve that problem – and he did so at the cross.
Now, there is indeed a washing associated with this. BAPTISM.
Full immersion in water baptism concerns the washing away of sin. It is symbolic, yet spiritually effective.
The water in baptism does not wash away your sins. Jesus Christ alone can wash away sin, and that is done by his sacrifice on the cross when he shed his blood to assuage God’s anger with our sin.
It is the blood of Christ which can cleanse us from sin. But the act of baptism is necessary and effective as we by faith in what Jesus did at the cross and in the message about that, and thence by obedience to Christ’s command to be baptised, then actually undergo baptism.
It is the belief in Christ’s death and resurrection; it is the consequent obedience to his command to be baptised which gains for us the merits of Christ’s sacrifice. Baptism is a spiritually effective exercise – a sacrament – because it requires us to act on our faith in what Jesus taught and what Jesus did for us. In that God given belief, and in a response of obedience to a God given command, we then gain the God given blessing associated with baptism. Incorporation into the body of Christ. Membership of the true but unseen church.
But simply going through the act of baptism with some vague idea that the water washes away sins in some way, is useless and meaningless – except to a religious mind which places its confidence in outward actions, and not in the very person and teaching of Jesus Christ.
Going into a special building, gilded with ornaments and even crucifixes and then going through various rituals like kneeling and crossing yourself, and saying certain words by rote – all that is useless and means nothing to God. It may mean something to you, and it may make you feel better. But in and of itself it is useless, if that is how you think you should worship God.
God ordains how he may be worshipped.
And it is by faith in the Person, the Work, and the Word of Jesus Christ. Once faith in that Person and that Work and in his Word is established in a person’s heart, then that is what counts. And to go into a special building with ornamentation etc and to go through certain prayers and forms may then have meaning – both to yourself and to God.
But beware. Like the Pharisees, if your trust and your belief is in those outward forms, you are very much mistaken. You will very easily be misled into the wrong thinking.
Which is why we must observe God’s ordained ways, only.