“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also” (Mt. 23:25-26).
Jesus is saying that truth goes with goodness and beauty. In fact, in a fallen world, He is teaching us to build our lives with these virtues in this order. In God, all the virtues hold together perfectly, but in a fallen world, we have to build from the ground up, from the inside out, beginning with truth, adding goodness, all while pursuing beauty.
But we have a tendency to want to rush to the end, we want the fruit of all the labor without the sweat. We want happy kids without the spanking and teaching and loving. We want easy marriages without the hard work of actually leading or submitting or confessing of sin or forgiving. We want respect and leadership without the humility of service.
So one of the ways we do that is by latching on to forms without really cultivating the substance. We latch on to slogans and buzzwords. We watch carefully how other people who seem to know what they are doing seem to be doing it or saying it and start copy furiously.
But the Christian life is like a garden. The Christian life is like building a house. The Christian life is like baking bread or making wine. You can’t really fake it. You can try, but beauty only flows from truth and goodness. It takes the right ingredients and time. You can only get beauty, order, joy, cleanliness from truth and goodness in the inward parts. If you aim for the appearance, you will end up with an empty shell. But if you cultivate a true heart, a clean heart, a good heart, it will be a lot harder and take a lot longer, but that’s the soil that God grows glory in.
There’s a little Pharisee lurking in every human heart – the temptation to just keep cleansing the outside of the cup and hoping that will be good enough. But this really is evil because it lies about God and what it means to be a Christian. Being Christian means that God has made your heart clean by the blood of Jesus and miraculously something good has begun to grow inside of you. First cleanse the inside, so that the outside will be clean also.