Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean (Matt 23:25-26).
While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you (Luke 11:37-41).
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom 12:2).
For a long time, I’ve been curious as to just what Jesus was saying in Matt 23 and Luke 11. It’s always been very clear to me that he’s calling the Pharisees hypocrites (I mean, he says it straight out), but I’ve always felt like I was missing something about the illustration of the cup and dish.
The other day, the Spirit brought it again to mind in a new context. This is something God does from time to time. After all, Jesus even said the Spirit would do it in John 14:26: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” So be ready for—and expect!—the Spirit to teach you new things about the teachings of Jesus, because that’s part of the reason God sent Him to you in the first place.
Anyway, the Spirit showed me that Jesus is really describing what following him is like. The Pharisees try so hard to make their outsides clean: they tithe rigorously, they do everything the Law commands and they do nothing the Law tells them not to do. They even “built a hedge around the Law”—that is, they created stricter rules so you won’t accidentally slip up and disobey.
For example, God commanded in Deut 14:21, “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.” Now, God had a reason for forbidding that specific practice: boiling a kid in its mother’s milk was a pagan sacrificial practice. So this law isn’t even really a dietary restriction, but an explicit commandment against a specific idolatrous practice. But then people asked, “How do we make sure we never accidentally do this?” And the answer was: Don’t ever have any meat with any dairy product. The odds are extremely low that the milk in the dairy product is from the mother of the meat—especially since, with beef, milk cattle and meat cattle come from different breeds, not to mention the law specifically mentions a young goat and has nothing to do with bovines—but nevertheless, cheeseburgers will never be kosher. Just in case.
This is how huge of an extent the Pharisees went to make sure they never transgressed any commandment. Their outsides were sparkling clean.
But they failed to fulfill the interior Law in Deut 6:6: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Because remember, as God expressed through Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
No matter how hard you work to clean your outside, your interior remains filthy.
What is needed is someone who will cleanse that inside. A sacrifice of perfect blood to wipe away the imperfection that is a part of us on the deepest, most internal levels, even deeper than DNA.
We need a savior who will change our inside.
And having given yourself to Christ, having been regenerated through Him, having died with Him on the cross and raised with Him into new life, you find yourself in the same corrupt body with the same corrupt DNA.
And so you set about “working out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
You set about, with the guidance of the Spirit, making the outside match your inside.
That was the thing the Spirit showed me: that Jesus is describing the life of those who follow Him. You accept His sacrifice, and He cleans the inside of the cup that is you. And for the rest of your life on this earth, until you repose in the rest of the Lord, you work to make the outside of your cup match the inside.
It is a daily cleaning. Sometimes the Spirit is a scouring pad, roughly and painfully scraping off that which is impure. Other times, He is a soft microfiber polishing cloth, buffing out the last few spots on a part of you.
Embrace the process. Don’t fight the Spirit as He makes you grow. Work with the Spirit to make the salvation you have on the inside in Christ show up on your outer life!