Before you judge me, remember I grew up in a very “redneck” area of central Florida back in the 80’s and 90’s;
listening to country music, driving big trucks, huntin’ and muddin’, and all the games that rednecks play. In my younger days I was pretty rough and rowdy, not that I am particularly proud of it, but it is a part of my journey. During that time in my life one of my favorite songs was, Family Tradition. Now, I don’t recommend this song to anyone, as Hanks Williams Jr’s family traditions were not very good or helpful for anyone, at least not according to his song.
But there are plenty of traditions that are great and that are helpful. For example, when our kids were younger, one of our traditions around Thanksgiving and Christmas was to go and serve others in need before we celebrated the holiday. That is a great tradition that taught our kids to put others first, at least I hope it did.
But traditions, even the best ones, can’t stand up to the word of God which stands the test of time.
“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”
Traditions come and traditions go and sometimes they are good, sometimes they are bad, and sometimes they are great. But they are usually for a season.
Jesus had an encounter with the scribes and pharisees about tradition, one that you might think is a pretty good tradition. Do you find it a good practice to wash your hands before you eat? You’ll probably think I am gross, but I must admit that I do not always wash before I eat, unless I am really dirty and even then, it’s 50/50.
“Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, ‘Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.’ He answered them, Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?”
Jesus challenges those who are more focused on outward appearances and rituals than on their true devotion to God. He reminds us that genuine worship is not measured by our external acts alone but it is rooted in the alignment of our hearts with the heart of God. Our devotion to God is measured by our true heart change. Yes, that will reflect outwardly, of course, but the outward stuff is the product of, not the goal itself. The goal is for our hearts to be more in line with Christ.
This is why Jesus quotes Isaiah, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” Matthew 15:8-9
What we must realize, is that God is far more concerned with the our hearts. That is why Jesus’ teachings often countered the outward religious rules with the inward condition of the heart: hating someone is committing murder, lusting after someone is committing adultery…
Jesus continues to teach,
“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” … “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”
Matthew 15:11 & 17-20
Jesus points out that it’s not what goes into the body that defiles a person, but what comes out of the heart. He reveals that defilement originates from sinful intentions, attitudes, and actions rather than from external practices. This teaches us that our focus should be on cultivating a heart that reflects the love, purity, and righteousness of God.
In Matthew 9:13, Jesus quotes from the prophet Hosea, saying, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” God values acts of love and compassion above empty rituals and traditions. He deserves our true worship, and in this pursuit, we must prioritize living out God’s love in our daily lives. We are to live lives that are deeply rooted in compassion, humility, and service to others. When our hearts are aligned with God’s heart, our actions will naturally flow from a place of love and unity. Jesus urges us to seek righteousness from within, allowing the Holy Spirit to transform our motives and desires.
True worship is not about outward displays of religious traditions, but a heart transformed by God’s grace. While traditions can have their place, they should never overshadow our pursuit of an authentic, transformative relationship with Christ. I encourage you to live out your lives as a testament to the truth that it is our hearts set on God that truly worships Him, impacting the world around us in ways that mere traditions can never achieve.