When it comes to (physical) navel-gazing, about 90% of us have an “innie” rather than an “outie.”
In Jesus’ day, the majority of religious leaders were really into external righteousness in a big way. They created whole lists of rules and traditions piled up on top of God-given commandments, to such an extent that true righteousness was often buried under a bewildering array of nitpicky, external-focused religious “best practices.”
Except they weren’t best practices in God’s eyes, because they neglected the heart, and focused on what man could see.
In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 15, Jesus encounters yet another example of religious sniping by the Pharisees and scribes of his time, who questioned why Jesus’ disciples ate with unwashed hands. Because, you know, that’s against the rules. The outward cleanness standards (if these folks had hand sanitizers available, there’s no telling how far this ceremonial cleanness would have gone!)
Jesus blew their “outie” focus apart by proclaiming, “It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth…do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”
Bottom line: whatever your belly-button configuration, it’s the heart configuration that matters. Jesus labeled “outie” religious guides as the blind leading the blind. Jesus is not interested in hypocritical rule-keeping; His focus is on a Spirit-given righteousness residing in the soul. The inward leads to the outward, not vice-versa.
Defilement comes from within, and external religious actions cannot cure it. Sincere, faith-filled obedience also comes from within, and religious observances cannot create it.
My evil heart will never be fixed by washing hands, or bowing down 5 times, or making public prayers, or giving tithes. My defilement cannot be cured by multiplying rituals.
But the man or woman who abides in the righteousness of Christ is a new creature, with a new heart. That’s the only cure for the futility of outie-righteousness.
(Summary from Adult SS Class Lesson 3 – Jesus: Relentlessly Heart-focused)