Alive on the Inside
versus Decorated but Dead

Why have externals become the focus of much of the church today? Appearance has become the all important test of who is a believer. If they look good, if they act religious, this seems to be what matters most. In fact, many churches and believer seem to be more interested in making non-believers (unregenerate people) act appropriately that they have forgotten what is important. An unregenerate person is still dead on the inside, no matter what you make them look like! The ministry of "propping up" dead people does more damage than good, as many are deceived into thinking that they are really alive. On a larger scale, but with similar effect, an ornate or lavish church full of spiritually dead people is still just a dressed up tomb.

hyp·o·crite [hip-uh-krit] —noun

1. A person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions contradict stated beliefs.

2. A person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved way of behaving, especially one whose private life, opinions, or statements belie his or her public statements.

The religious rulers of Jesus' day are prime examples of the "externals only" crowd...

Matthew 23:27-28 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (NIV)

Terms such as hypocrite and hypocrisy are expected, but it was Jesus' associating them with "whitewashed tombs" that would have painted a vivid visual for all ancient visitors to Jerusalem. Accommodations in the city were quite limited, so the Mount of Olives presented a nearby opportunity for impromptu camping, to the hordes of visitors coming to Jerusalem for the major festivals. Unfortunately this close-at-hand Mount had also long been an active burial ground, with its view of the temple mount and a location not far outside the city. Jews coming to the festivals were very concerned about graves, as Mosaic Law forbid contact with them, intentional or otherwise.

Numbers 19:16 "Anyone out in the open who touches someone who has been killed with a sword or someone who has died a natural death, or anyone who touches a human bone or a grave, will be unclean for seven days. (NIV)

When the festival you came for typically lasted a week, becoming ceremonially unclean was to take yourself completely out of the festivities. This was certainly a big deal to the Pharisees. Their solution? Have all the tombs whitewashed so they would stand out even in faint moonlight. The result was tombs that looked amazingly good on the outside, but they were still tombs. You can adorn it anyway you like, but a structure being used to hold the dead is still just a grave. A few quick inquires would have revealed this fact to any first time visitor coming to Jerusalem, even as looking into the beliefs of individuals and churches will reveal what they are today. God's focus is on the internals, which truly only He knows. Yet, for the believer, He's given us the standard by which to judge dead or alive - His Word! If they worship a God of their own making, add their own works to that of Jesus, or deny God's word, all their good works, nice appearances, Sunday pew sitting, and professions of being "a Christian" are just whitewash on their spiritual tomb.

1 Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (NIV)

Hebrews 4:12-13 For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (NIV)

Ephesians 6:17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (NIV) [See Ephesians 5:8-13 for background]

Have you noticed that when someone is alive on the inside it's pretty hard to not see this on the outside? The external can be pretty run down, showing effects of the past and time, but a living being has to almost try and hide the fact that he or she is alive. Spiritually, if the focus has been on rebirth through the grace and power of Jesus Christ, evidence of this life will assuredly start to show up on the outside, in the individual believer and (by extension) in the local church. On the other hand, all the whitewash or cosmetics in the world can't make something dead, alive. Who are we trying to fool?

Article by Brent MacDonald, Lion Tracks Ministries (c) 2006