Sanitizing vs. Made New
This winter a city sewer lift station next to our home failed causing a backup into our basement. The problem was not severe, but it did get our basement floors wet. A cleanup crew sucked out the water, disinfected the floors and installed fans for a week.
When we met with the insurance adjuster, he recommended that we replace the vinyl in the bathroom and the laminate in my wife’s sewing room. It was easy to see the visible effects on the carpet, and maybe a slight swelling in the laminate, but I was surprised by the vinyl. He said that while the vinyl was glued to the floor, it could trap bacteria and result in molding. We followed his advice and ordered replacement flooring for all the affected rooms.
Now, two months later, with the new flooring in hand I began tearing out the old flooring and I found mold under the vinyl in the bathroom and a musty odor under the laminate. The problems were not visible (or smelly) until it was disturbed.
While our lives do not grow mold, it illustrates how problems can escape our notice until disturbed. It’s not until we encounter a difficulty and blow a fuse that we wonder, “Where did that came from?” Jesus answers, “For whatever is in your heart determines what you say.” (Matthew 12:24b) Ouch! It’s easy to be a spinmeister on our behavior, yet we know that we’re only fooling ourselves.
Jesus faced this when he spoke against the religious people of his day. Once he spoke of them as being “whitewashed tombs”. Listen to the graphic imagery, "How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look fine on the outside but are full of bones and decaying corpses on the inside. (Matthew 23:27) The life of the religious is all about looking “fine on the outside” while those around them can smell the corruption like the mold hiding under our vinyl.
Maybe you realize the problem but wonder, “What can I do?” You might desire for a quick fix. A quick fix for us would have been to disinfect the carpet and put it back in. It would be clean, sort of; good enough, right? We are tempted at times to be satisfied with lives that are mostly clean. Why? Because having to make them new is costly. However, we are wise to recognize that shortcuts don’t solve problems.
The same is true spiritually. Maybe we’ve been told that the solution to our trials is to steep ourselves in more religious activity. But again, Jesus warns that this does not really treat the problem. “It's not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth--this defiles a person." (Matthew 15:11)
If we wonder what this means we are not alone –Jesus’s followers asked the same question. “Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked. “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you.” (Matthew 15:16-18) If we long to be clean, we need something more than just knowing the right words or doing the right things; we need a heart that has been cleansed.
Our sin is like mold; to become clean we need something greater than a whitewashed heart. To simply sanitize our behavior, to clean up the mess in our lives without bringing about any real change does little good. When Jesus encounters the religious Jew named Nicodemus he tells him that the answer he is searching for won’t be found, “unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”” (John 3:3b)
To solve our mold problems we needed to tear out and replace all the flooring. We needed to remove all the filth in order for the new, clean, to be put in. The same is true for us. Until sin is put to death in us through accepting the new life purchased for us in Christ, nothing will change. Paul describes this in Romans, “We know that our old life died with Christ on the cross. This was so that our sinful selves would have no power over us, and we would not be slaves to sin.” (6:6)
What’s the answer? To be cleansed and made new in Christ, “If anyone belongs to Christ, then he is made new. The old things have gone; everything is made new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)