I am working through the Gospel of Mark during my time off from work over the Christmas holiday season. I have been teaching through Mark with my preschool teachers. It has been amazing to experience Christ’s loving touch through His mighty Word. After Christmas break, we will jump in and study Mark 6. After that, we will dive in and study Mark 7, the source of this article. If you have not been following the teaching series, you can access the previous teachings by clicking on the article titles that follow:
- Jesus: Experiencing His Life and Ministry
- Jesus the Rescuing Teacher
- The unpardonable sin
- The parable of the sower and the seed
- Failing Faith needs a Faithful Friend
- Jesus serves individuals
- Discipleship according to Jesus
This is the 8th teaching/article from this series. We will learn about genuine faith vs. the faith that most people tend to have. As James teaches in his epistle, of all of the thousands of “faiths” in the world, there are really only two faiths that God recognizes; genuine, saving, life-transforming faith vs. dead, useless faith. The faith that God reveals in the Bible is living, life-transforming faith. All other “faiths” that do not line up with Biblical faith are dead and useless. I have an entire series on James that you can read:
- Living faith vs. Dead faith
- Living faith vs. Dead faith part II
- Trials and Temptations; what’s the difference?
- Genuine faith in action
- Two spiritual births; death and life
- Living faith in action
- Living faith revealed
- Living faith produces good works
- Living faith tames the tongue with wisdom from above
- Teach heavenly wisdom
- Living faith resolves conflict
- James 4, worldliness, enmity, and judging
- James 4, Living faith and how you invest your time
Let’s take a look at genuine faith vs. pseudo faith from the teachings of Christ in Mark 7.
I. Pseudo faith honors Tradition over Scripture
Jesus dealt with people who claimed to be very religious, eagerly seeking after spiritual things, yet they were not ready to humble themselves and receive God’s provision for salvation so they made up a list of all the things a person must do in life to attain salvation. God was removed from the picture and man was placed in the center of attention. In Mark 7:1-13 Jesus reveals this truth to the world. The word that is translated “traditions” in English is the Greek word “paradosis” and it means “precept, teaching, ordinance”. Notice that they do not say according to the “teachings of the Word of God” but instead they specify “the traditions of the elders (men)”. What these people were doing was taking the revealed Word of God (the Old Testament) and setting it aside for the traditions that they made up. In other words, their interpretations of what they think God meant when He gave the teachings of the Bible. Interestingly enough, the “book of traditions” was much larger than the actual Old Testament. They could not keep the clear commands of the Word of God so they made up their own laws that they could keep, kept them, and then bragged about how good they were and how proud God was of them. At the same time, they were living lives very displeasing to God (not obeying the clear teachings of the Bible). In other words, “traditions” say “we do not need the Bible or the Bible is not enough, we need to help God out” or if you like “we know better than God does”. Sounds quite bad when you peel back all of the “fluff” the covers up the essence of the teachings of men or the “religions” of the world (other than Biblical Christianity, of course).
This lifestyle of claiming to please God with your mouth yet being far from Him in your actions was nothing new during the days of Jesus Christ, just like it is nothing new today. During the days of the prophet Isaiah, the people were the same way. Here is what God has to say about “religious” people who are hypocritical, disconnecting their actions and words from the clear teachings of the Bible.
And the Lord said, Because this people draw near Me with their mouth, and with their lips honor Me, but have removed their heart far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the command of men; (Isa 29:13)
They were doing the same thing even then. They set aside the Word of God for the traditions of men and as a result, they became very hypocritical. They claimed to worship and serve God with their words but their actions were very far from pleasing to God. What about you dear friend, maybe you belong to an Evangelical church so you feel that you are safe from the “traditions of men”? So, do you hold to the doctrine of your denomination above the Word of God? If the two come into conflict, which do you favor with? None of us are exempt from falling victims to the “traditions of men” unless we are good students of the Word of God so that we can discern what is good and what is not.
II. Pseudo faith allows selfish people to justify their selfishness
Jesus explains this with a practical example in Mark 7:1-13. He shows the Pharisee and scribes how they sin against God and break His Law by their own traditions. They contradict themselves and God and prove this by the way that they take advantage of others in their selfishness. How were they dishonoring God, His Word, and others? The Word of God teaches to honor your father and mother, to serve them as you have the ability because they served you by raising you, giving you food, shelter, and clothing, education etc. How do you repay them once you are old enough to care for yourself? Do you forget about them? Do you avoid them? Do you excuse yourself from helping your parents, claiming to be poor yourself, or claiming to be too busy for them? This is what the people who followed the traditions of men were doing. Their parents were coming to them in need of help. The Pharisees and scribes were people of power and position but because of their greed and selfishness, they never had “enough” money and they were very stingy with what they had. So, when their parents came to ask for help they would say, “oh, I would love to help you but the money that I have now, I have dedicated it to God so if I give it to you then I would be stealing from God.” Then, once their parents were gone, they would selfishly spend the money on themselves. But, in order to calm their conscious, they would follow their traditions of men and claim to be okay with God even though they were breaking God’s commands by not honoring (helping/serving) their parents. Are you in any way like this? Are you guilty of not helping others, not because you cannot do it, but because you do not want to do it, then calming your conscious by saying that you “may” need the money later anyway etc.? Those who are led by the traditions of men are compared to a blind man leading another blind man. Neither of them knows where they are going and they fall. Those who live by the traditions of men and claim to be obedient to God are blind because the traditions of men are blind. If you follow them, then you will be blind too and fall.
III. Genuine faith trusts in Christ, not traditions
Jesus used the example of a pagan mixed woman to contrast genuine faith and pseudo faith. The Pharisees, scribes, and people of Israel claimed to have faith. In fact, they did have faith but it was not genuine faith. Jesus knew this and was trying to expose it to the people of Israel. Either, they did not get it, or, worse, they chose to ignore what Jesus was teaching. We saw His own people do this in His hometown in Mark 6. They could not tolerate what Jesus was teaching but they could not contradict Him so they attacked Him and His family heritage instead of what He was teaching. This was their excuse to ignore what He taught. On the other hand, we learn of the Syrophoenician woman. She is a Gentile. She is a pagan. She is not bogged down with the traditions of pseudo faith. She is open to the Gospel. She trusts Jesus and His teachings. She is humble. She never claims to be worthy of the Gospel. She knows who she really is, unlike the people of Israel. Jesus meets her where she is, dialogues with her, and we see her genuine faith in contrast to the people of Israel. After Jesus taught about what defiles a person, no one understood what He taught, not even His disciples. The Pharisees and scribes did not ask Him questions. The crowds of Israelites did not bother to ask for explanation. The disciples were the only ones who humbled themselves and admitted that they did not understand. In the case of the Gentile woman, she dialogued with Jesus. She was willing to learn from Him. She valued His Word over traditions of men. According to tradition, Jesus was not supposed to talk to her or do anything for her. According to the Scriptures, He was to love His neighbor as Himself. He chose to obey the Scriptures. The Gentile woman chose to trust Jesus and His teachings over the traditions of the day. Her genuine faith was life transforming. The pseudo faith of the Pharisees and scribes, along with the people of Israel, left them as they were. They had eternal life in their midst and they chose pseudo faith and traditions over the Truth. They were able to live as they pleased and justify themselves with their fake faith.
My dear friend, if you follow the Scriptures, then you will be led to God through the Lord Jesus Christ. If you follow the traditions of men then you will never reach God. You will be blind. You will break God’s commands. You will sin against others. Finally, you will fall. Which way are you going? Who is leading you? Is your faith genuine or pseudo? Which is more important to you, the Bible or commentaries about the Bible? The answer to this question will determine who is leading you.