Can you control your thoughts? Don’t think about a red door. Can you do that? How about things you really wish you didn’t think? How can you control those? Not by willpower, right? You can’t tell yourself, “I won’t think that…”
Bruce Cockburn had a great line about that: “When thoughts you tried to leave behind keep sniping from the dark…” (from “Southland of the Heart”). You’ve probably seen things you can’t “un-see.” Thought things you wish you didn’t. How can we get rid of those? It’s not by telling ourselves to be nice, to follow the rules. You can’t do it from the “outside in.” It has to happen from the “inside out.”
“Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’ ”” (Matthew 15:10-11)
““Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’ ”” (Matthew 15:17-20)
In that culture, part of how you became righteous was by strictly following the rules of what and what not to eat. Jesus said eating pork doesn’t show you to be morally defiled, your words do, since they reflect the condition of your heart. How about you; how is your heart? Have you ever entertained or expressed any of the thoughts in Jesus’ short list of examples? Me too. We cannot control our hearts and thoughts. We cannot cleanse ourselves from the inside out.
But Jesus offers to do just that:
“On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive…” (John 7:37-39a)
He was making good on this promise from God:
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27)
If you open up a spring into a muddy pond, eventually the water in that pond will become pure. When Jesus gives a believer His Spirit, He changes that person’s heart, from the inside out. We become “transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2).