Sin problem requires new heart, not outward conformity

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by Lauren Crane

Faithfulness in evangelism is contingent upon clearly understanding and presenting the problem of sin, Mark Dever said.

Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., said that without an understanding of what the problem is, believers will never be able to faithfully share the solution – Jesus Christ. In addressing Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary on March 22, he said that every generation has its own form of legalism. In Mark 7:14-23, Dever said Jesus taught the Pharisees that legalism was not the way to holiness, because nothing outside a man that goes into him makes him unclean, thus abstaining from outside elements, such as food or drink, does nothing to make him more clean.

“Take your minds out of the 21st century and into the Old Testament,” he said. “The example of uncleanness was always used to show separation between God and man because of sin. There is no aspect of life that is unreached by God’s holiness and our sin.”

Dever said in Mark 7:18-19, Jesus taught that the heart was the organ of sin –not the stomach. “Our problem isn’t in our stomachs – it’s in our hearts. The organ of real cleanness and uncleanness, Jesus is saying, is the heart, and unclean foods bypass it.”

Furthermore, Dever said the passage teaches that we can see the results of an unclean heart by what comes out of it, and that it is these things that defile a person. Looking at verses 15 and 20-23, Dever said, “All these evils come from inside. In his teaching, Jesus is radically reorienting their concern from the external to the internal.”

“What you decide the problem is plays a big part in what you think the solution is,” Dever said. Often, people think the problem is not doing enough good, being seen drinking, not being on a church roll or a myriad of other ideas. “They say it’s something we do. Jesus disagrees. He cites arrogance – as if we were God – and folly – as if there were no God – as the problem. These go all the way back to the heart.”

Dever said it is this honest portrayal of the problem of sin that is crucial in presenting the gospel. “You can’t tell people what God wants by telling them how to live their best life now or how to have a more self-sacrificing life. Your non-Christian friends don’t understand their own lives. They know something is wrong with all of us, and Christianity is honest about that.

“Do not shy away from talking about sin. If you do, you make it impossible to understand. The heart is rotten. That’s the problem.”

He said Jesus was calling the Pharisees to realize they themselves were the problem, and thus, we are the problem, though we do not like to admit it. “We like to think the problem is out there and the answer is in here (in ourselves),” Dever said, quoting Al Mohler. “The truth is, the problem is in here and the answer is out there.”

Thinking incorrectly about the problem of sin and where to find the solution will always be the problem with legalism and conformity, Dever said, as people tend to think better of themselves than Jesus thinks of them. Frequently throughout the Bible, the metaphor of sheep is used to describe humanity. However, this comparison is not an accolade but an assessment, he said. “We are dumb sheep! We’re not being complimented – we’re being accurately evaluated.”

Just as sheep stupidly do what they think is best for them, and must be rescued by the shepherd, Dever said we are depraved, acting out against God. Our hearts are full of rebellion, he said, and it is this rebellion, this sin, that separates us from God and others.

“So what should our goal be? The Pharisees wanted ritual purity. What would our equivalent be – religious respectability? Jesus said we should aspire to purity of the heart.

“We need a clean inside, not by our standards or those of the people around us, but a forgiven heart that God desires,” Dever said. The cleanness and purity of heart will not come about through rituals or fasting, as the Pharisees thought, but through frank confession of sin, true repentance and acceptance of Jesus as Messiah.

“The real message is: You can’t avoid the problem, because you are the problem. We can’t obey our way to salvation,” Dever said. “The Lord said he would give you a new heart. No other religion promises that.”

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