“You can't legislate the human heart” – Matt Chandler
It was the moment all college football fans had been waiting for. Who would get to be in the third annual college football playoff? Who would obtain the right to play for a national championship? The debate had raged for weeks on end, and one thing was very clear: there were more deserving teams than there were spots.
How do we determine the spots? Conference Championship? Record against top 25 teams? Overall record? Strength of schedule? The irony of it all was that, depending on who you rooted for, you could make a stellar case for your team, while poking holes in every other team's argument...except Alabama. As everything unfolded, I found myself realizing one of the struggles of all the arguments: they were too simplistic. You couldn't just argue for conference champions, because the system was designed to all ready leave one of them out. You couldn't just argue for overall record, because not everyone had a great schedule. And yet, most arguments included only pieces of the whole picture, which presented a problem because it was trying to bring simple objectivity to a system, and sport, that has been relegated to subjectivism. It's the only sport in which wins and losses aren't necessarily counted as simply wins and losses.
In some ways, it's a helpful picture of the laws we employ to reign in the human heart. A system is put in place to help us know what is the right thing to do. “Put the best four teams in!” Or, in the case of our laws, “Do what is right and good! Let people live in freedom!” And yet, we find ourselves often scrambling. In the case of the college football playoff, three years in and we still haven't escaped controversy. In the case of our government, we find ourselves constantly at war with one another about how to perfect the system. Why?
It's because legislating the human heart, while essential in our current world, is an ineffective way of changing it. And according to Jesus, we all need change. In fact, in Jesus' view, we need a complete overhaul.
And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “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 7:14-23)
We often look to the law to see how not to be bad. And as we look at the world around us, it occurs to us that something isn't right. “People are breaking the rules! People are dying! People are hurting! Maybe we need new rules!” Jesus says, “Listen, the rules don't tell us what not to do, they expose that what's in us is an innate desire of what not to do!” In this passage, they are concerned about food making them unclean. But Jesus is saying, “Look, the problem is not what you put inside you, but what is all ready residing in you. When you look at the law and find that you are breaking it, it's not what you have done that shows your evil, the law is merely proving that we have been evil the whole time."
It's not to say that we should do away with the law, Jesus doesn't. Rather he helps us see why we need it. It shows us our need for a savior, not a need for a law to show how good we are. The law was never intended to be a proving ground, but a mirror. When we use it as such, we make the law into a broken system that it was never meant to be.
College football's playoff system may never be perfect. However, the human heart can be. But not by the law. The heart can be healed and transformed by the God who sent Himself to die for His people. May we not give into the broken system of a saving law, but rather give ourselves to the saving one, Jesus Christ.