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The Traitor Within

September 02, 2018
By Rev. David French


In 1977, George Lucas released the first Star Wars movie. In the Star War series, one of the plot devices was something called “The Force.” People who were strong in “The Force” were basically wizards. They could anticipate other people’s actions, move objects with their minds, control other people’s thoughts, and so on. Using “The Force” required a great deal of training and skill.

Proper control of “The Force” depended a lot on feelings. The trainers were constantly telling the learners to search their feelings … trust their feelings … feel, don’t think … trust your instincts etc. Eventually, the main character learned to trust his feelings … control “The Force” … win the day … and become a hero.

Now all this trusting in instincts and feelings certainly makes for popular movies. Unfortunately, there are people who believe that trusting your feelings and instincts can work in real life; that if you just listen to your heart, it will lead you in the way you should go.

Jesus, however, teaches the exact opposite. He says, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20–23).

It’s in the book of Judges that we find accounts of some of the darkest, most immoral days of Israel. Cruelty, obscenity, and hardness of heart all reach their deepest depths in this book. The book of Judges ends with these words of judgment, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Some of the ugliest, most horrible things described in the Bible were considered “right” at that time because people judged by what was right in their own eyes. And that is just another way of saying that they were following their hearts.

If we take a few moments to think about it, common sense will tell you it really is dangerous to trust our feelings as a guide to ultimate truth in this life. I mean, do you feel the same way about everything every day? If your feelings can change on any given day, does that mean that truth changes as quickly?

What about other peoples’ feelings? If you interview a hundred people on any given topic, the odds are better than pretty good that you’ll get at least four or five different opinions. If you interview those same hundred people a year later, many of them won’t agree with the answer they gave the year before. If that’s true, and I believe you know it is, do you really want to stake your eternal life on a feeling that you have … a feeling that more than likely will change over time?

This idea is a real problem, not just in the world today, but also in the church. Many in the church base their ideas of right and wrong on God’s Word looked at through a lens of human feelings we think of as wisdom. They don’t ask, “Is this the right thing to do?” Instead, they ask, “Is this right for me?” “Does this make me happy?” Hey, we all know God wants you to be happy, so you should focus on what makes you feel good … at least today.

On the other hand, never looking to be popular, Jesus says, “… evil things come from within ….” In the book of Genesis, we read, “… For the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth,” and in Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). And yet, human wisdom would have you believe that there’s a little good in everyone, or people are basically good. Perhaps that is true when we compare ourselves with each other, but the Scriptures teach and life confirms that mankind is evil to the core. This is one of those teaching that frightens me, because I also have to fight against it every day, and I’d be lying if I said I won every battle.

The truth is, while we live in this sin-filled world, we carry around inside of us a traitor that is the old Adam, our sinful nature. As long as we breathe, Jesus says that deep down in our hearts there is nothing good, only the source of all the evil we still find in our lives. Jesus, who loved you and me enough to die for us, says that we can’t trust our hearts for truth or justice or even good, that our hearts have been corrupted by the traitor within.

But the worst thing about the rot of sin within us is that we can’t do anything about it. Every righteous deed we try to do … every pure thought we try to have is polluted by the evil that is within us. We simply cannot help ourselves because our own heart betrays us and works tirelessly to separate us from the love of God in Christ. As Paul says, and I know can only echo, “What a wretched man I am.” What hope do we have against such a traitor? We would be lost forever unless delivered from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation by a salvation that comes from outside of us. And so, we pray: God have mercy on us, your sinful children.

But, my friends, take heart for God in His grace and mercy has already answered our prayer by sending His Son Jesus into the world to take on our human flesh. Jesus, the Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary was without the sin of Adam, that is He was born with a clean heart. He experienced all the temptations we experience, yet He never sinned. In fact, what He did was add to His perfect life all the sin of all our hearts and He carried them to the cross. Hanging on the cross, Jesus paid the price that God’s justice demanded for all sin, that is the blood of one without sin. And we know that He paid the price in full because the grave could not hold Him. His resurrection from the dead proves that God is now ready to create, as we pray in Divine worship 3, a clean heart within each of us.

But to create a clean heart God must first put our old sinful hearts to death. As the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to ask, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” And, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). And again, “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him” (Romans 6:8). The Holy Spirit puts to death our hearts of sin and creates a new and clean heart within us; that is, a heart of faith that trusts God’s Word of Forgiveness.

And yet we still live in a sinful world. We still have a sinful nature. Temptations still attack us from inside and out. We still often lend a hand to satan in our own defeats. That’s when our new hearts convict us with the Law, just like they should, and drive us back to the cross for mercy and forgiveness.

There we again and again confess our sins, and confidently, through God’s Word of absolution, receive forgiveness for them all. This is how God keeps our new hearts clean until He brings us out of this world of sin to be with Him in the joys of paradise forever.

Each and every one of us was born with a heart that loved sin and hated God, a heart that could not be trusted to guide us in the truth. Mercifully through our baptisms, God has given us new hearts – hearts that, even when battling the traitor within, hold to Christ and through Him are credited with fearing, loving and trusting our gracious and merciful God above all things.

In Jesus’s Name, Amen.

Tags: Mark 7:14-23