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Good news for people who don't tick all the boxes

posted 11 Jun 2014, 08:38 by Stephen Childs   [ updated 11 Jun 2014, 08:46 ]

checkist by rawich (freedigitalphotos)

I like ticking boxes and crossing things off lists. It gives me a warm glow inside. I feel like I’m achieving something. Take my list of Saturday jobs for example: cut the lawn – tick; paint the shed – tick; fix my bike – tick. (I wish my Saturdays were really that productive!) Sometimes I feel that way about God too. I feel like I can only relate to him well when I’ve ticked the boxes. Read my bible in the morning – tick; be kind to my family – tick; talk to someone about Jesus – tick. But is that really the way it works?

what many people think: tick the boxes, be friends with God

In Mark 7, Jesus met some people who were really good at ticking religious boxes. They looked down on his followers because they left boxes unticked. In particular, Jesus’ friends were eating with unwashed hands. The problem here wasn’t hygiene, but religion. You see those religious people weren’t content with the laws that God had given, and they had made up laws of their own. They had ceremonial rituals for washing your hands of any and every possible defilement. They were trying to please God by ticking as many boxes as possible. And Jesus and his followers were letting the side down. They didn’t seem interested in ticking the boxes. How could they possibly be good people? They thought what many people still think today: before you can be friends with God you need to tick all the boxes.

what Jesus says: we can't tick the boxes

Jesus tells them some bad news: none of us tick all the boxes. None of us can ever tick all the boxes that God requires. In fact Jesus says that much as we scrub ourselves up on the outside, our real problem is on the inside. He says in Mark 7:20-22“What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come.” He goes on to list some of the disgusting things that result: “sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly”. Our problem goes deep, right to the core of who we are. Our problem is what the Bible calls “sin” . Hand-washing can’t deal with it, no matter how hard we scrub. Ticking religious boxes is never going to get to our heart.

what Jesus does: the good news

That’s the bad news. But what Jesus does next is very good news. Mark 8 describes him moving from a region that is Jewish, “clean”, and ticks all the boxes to a region that is non-Jewish, “unclean”, and doesn’t tick the boxes. He talks to a woman whose daughter is in a desperate situation. The women admits that she deserves almost nothing, yet pleads for “crumbs” of help from him. He grants her request and helps her daughter. Well at least we get crumbs. But what Jesus does next is even better. 

He works an incredible miracle to feed 4000 people with just 7 loaves of bread (and a bit of fish). That’s 4000 non-Jewish, “unclean”, non-box-ticking people. It’s as if he’s saying “people who don’t tick all the boxes don’t even deserve crumbs, but if they trust me, I’ll give them a feast”. That’s the good news. We can never tick all the boxes God wants. Not by going to church. Not by praying. Not by visiting holy places. Yet if we are willing to rely on Jesus and his work, we’re invited to join a feast that lasts forever. We get to spend the rest of eternity enjoying life with God.

Image credits: "Checklist" by Rawich from