“Summoning the crowd again, He told them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: Nothing that goes into a person from outside can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him. If anyone has ears to hear, he should listen! ” When He went into the house away from the crowd, the disciples asked Him about the parable. And He said to them, “Are you also as lacking in understanding? Don’t you realize that nothing going into a man from the outside can defile him? For it doesn’t go into his heart but into the stomach and is eliminated.” (As a result, He made all foods clean.) Then He said, “What comes out of a person — that defiles him. For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, promiscuity, stinginess, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a person.” (Mark 7:14-23 HCSB)
I hope everyone had a great week, I know I did. My wife and I took a week off and enjoyed some time to ourselves. I want to give you a quick catch-up, two weeks ago we took a look at Mark 7:1-8 as we considered the implications of fake worship. Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees, “as Isaiah says, you people worship me with your words but your hearts are far, far from me.” So, I encouraged you to to consider how you worship. Is it all just put-on and self-centered or is it true worship?
Last week, a friend of mine preached on Mark 7:8-13 and spoke on fake obedience. While I don’t have his detailed notes, you can watch the video here (https://fb.watch/g0e_jwqDUk/) and he did share with me his outline. Just like Jesus confronted the scribes and Pharisees about their fake worship, He confronts them about their fake obedience to God’s law. They disregarded God’s law even as they sought to obey and maintain their traditions. They ignored the fifth commandment regarding honoring their parents but supported the Temple with gifts. Selective obedience is disobedience to God’s law and keeping religious traditions while failing to obey God’s greater law of love is putting their religious power, popularity and position above Him.
This week, we will consider the implications of fake righteousness. Instead of just directing these words to the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus gathers the crowd around Him and declares: “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: Nothing that goes into a person from the outside can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him. If anyone has ears to hear, he should listen!” Clearly, Jesus wants these people, and us, to pay attention to His words and to understand the implications they will have on us. This isn’t something He directs at these religious leaders, his lesson is directed to the common folks, the crowd.
What was this important lesson? True righteousness is not based on our meticulous observance of religious rituals and traditions. Real worship, true obedience and godly righteousness doesn’t flow from our religiosity and rituals but flows from a heart transformed by God’s love. In other words, real holiness is less about what we do and more about why we do it.
Now, this is going to be really hard for many of you to hear. I know it must have been hard for the scribes and Pharisees to hear and I’m pretty sure it was also hard for the crowd to hear, too. But what we need to realize is that it was also hard for Jesus’ disciples to hear, understand and fully embrace. Old habits are really, really hard to break and this was a really, really old habit. Truth is, it still is an old religious habit and still very hard for us to hear but even harder for us to break. Unfortunately, old and deeply rooted religious habits are even harder to break and this one may be the deepest.
Jesus said, “if anyone has ears to hear, he should listen!” Ears to hear. It’s an interesting phrase, isn’t it? What else would ears be used for? Why would Jesus need to remind them of such a simple thing? Because we have a tendency to let ideas like this to “come in one ear and go out the other.” Apparently, Jesus knew that His listeners had the same tendencies. So, He tells them: “If you have ears to hear, listen to My words. Don’t ignore Me. This is IMPORTANT!”
So, let me encourage you. If you have ears to hear, listen up! Pay close attention to Jesus’ words.
Notice what happens next, He went into the house away from the crowd and the disciples ask Him to explain. Well, give the disciples a little credit. They at least recognized that Jesus had said something so important they needed to make sure they clearly understood the lesson. However, Jesus does seem a bit surprised that they needed an explanation. “Don’t you realize that nothing going into a man from the outside can defile him? For it doesn’t go into his heart but into the stomach and is eliminated (as human waste, into the toilet – no joke, that’s what this phrase really means).”
Novel concept, right? Not really. Yet, we need to recognize and understand the deep spiritual implications. We need to have ears that hear, minds that understand and hearts willing to commit to this truth. Jesus was specifically addressing these same religious traditions that the scribes and Pharisees were so upset about. Remember their accusation? Your disciples don’t (ritually) wash their hands before they eat. In other words, these spiritual leaders were more concerned about obedience to their religious rites and rituals and their “protected” (Corban) gifts to the Temple than they were about living morally clean, godly lives and honoring their parents as God had specifically commanded.
Let that sink in a bit. God is less concerned with our religious rituals and more concerned with how we live out the truths He has given to us. He’s less concerned with how much we give to the Temple (or the church) and more concerned with how we obey HIs commandments and more specifically, in this instance, how we honor and care for our aging parents. Why was this important? It seems that these religious leaders were more motivated to receive personal honor and recognition for their Temple gifts than they were motivated to obey God by honoring, providing for and caring for their parents.
At this point, you might be wondering why I said we need to pay such close attention to His words. We aren’t very concerned with ritualistic washing and protected gifts to the Temple. Well, not those specific rituals, per se, but we have our own. I can remember when what you wore to church was a really big deal and still is, in some circles. I can remember when the very thought of pierced ears or a tattoo on a Christian boy or girl would have been viewed in much the same way. I even remember that the very idea of a pool table in the youth room or a game of cards among friends were “evil trends” that would corrupt our children.
Yes, most of those examples may seem a little dated now. Well, almost. I’ll bet you can still find similar examples in your world, can’t you? I know I can. What about the kid with the pierced ear, nose, lip, tongue or eyebrow? How about that full or half sleeve tattoo or the purple, spiked Mohawk? Do those get any sideways glances or raised eyebrows from folks at church? Come on, be honest. Not just raised eyebrows, but under-their-breath whispered comments, too. Am I right? Would a “real” Christian do something like that?
What was it Jesus said? “Don’t you realize that nothing going into a man from the outside can defile him? For it doesn’t go into his heart…”
Ah, there’s the key to this entire group of stories surrounding the scribes and Pharisees. Those things outside a man that go into him versus those things inside the man, the things that are in his heart. Let’s take a closer look at those words of Jesus…
A man is not defiled by what goes in but by what comes out. He’s not defiled by what he consumes but by what flows from his heart. Ah, be careful. It is easy to jump to a quick but inaccurate conclusion that Jesus doesn’t care what we do, but that would be a wrong understanding of this passage. He says we aren’t defiled by what we consume or fail to religiously observe but we are defiled by what exists in our heart. In other words, the very issue that EVERY religion faces – earning religious favor through rites, rituals and personal goodness. Still confused? Simply put, doing more good than bad so that God will accept us.
As I write these words, I’m sitting in the passenger seat of our car and my wife is driving as we head home from our vacation. In the background, we have a podcast playing on my cell phone. It is a “true crime” podcast that is relating the real story of some heinous crime, like murder. These stories all have a similar theme, the shock that such things could happen to me and my family. We always seem surprised by the bad things that happen to us. We ask, why did this happen to me, to us, to him or her? There’s that age old question that always lingers in our thoughts, why do bad things happen to good people?
Good people? Who’s really good? Jesus said that we are defiled by what comes from our heart, not our hands. The real issue of sin doesn’t come from failing to be religious enough but in failing to recognize and address the real evil in our heart. If all you try and do is wash your hands (be religious), your missing the point. If I go to church, I’ll do better. If I give more money to God, things will improve. If I commit to feeding the hungry or helping the homeless, God will bless me. If I DO the right things then God will accept me, bless me and let me into heaven.
But I want you to notice what Jesus said comes out of a man’s heart: evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, evil actions, deceit, promiscuity, stinginess, blasphemy, pride and foolishness. These things come from within and are what defile a person. The problem is that when we come face-to-face with these things in our lives we often blame their existence on some external source or influence. Evil thoughts: they provoked me. Sexual immorality or adultery: he/she ignored me or failed to satisfy me. Don’t I deserve to be happy? Murder: they hurt me and I just defended myself. Theft, deceit or greed: I needed it and deserved it. You get the idea. It is always someone else’s fault, never our own. It’s always their heart, never mine.
Ah, therein lies the issue. Until we admit our condition and need we will continue to wash our hands and ignore the real the problem, our heart. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, there’s nothing wrong with washing your hands before you eat. Especially if your hands are filthy. But washing your hands when it’s your heart that is filthy doesn’t really help. Being religious and following religious rites and rituals doesn’t help, either.
Let me get very specific here. Most people have enough religious background or knowledge to cause them to take the same approach to this issue as the scribes and Pharisees. We do something religious when the issue is much, much deeper. It might make us feel a little better, at least initially, but it doesn’t address the real problem, our heart. Many folks go to church thinking it will make them a better person. But going to church doesn’t make you a better person any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile. So, what does it take? How do you address this “heart” issue?
Well, it really starts by admitting you have an issue – a problem with your heart. Paul, quoting several of the Psalms, puts it this way: “…There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become useless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they deceive with their tongues. Vipers’ venom is under their lips. Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and wretchedness are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18 HCSB) He then finishes up with this: “For no one will be justified in His sight by the works of the law, because the knowledge of sin comes through the law.” (Romans 3:20 HCSB)
You might respond, “But I thought God wants us to obey His law?” Oh, He does, He does but we always fall short (see Rom. 3:23). So, we can’t be made right by our personal obedience or through religious rites and rituals because we always fail to be obedient and our hearts are wrong. But Jesus came to redeem us, to give us a new heart and new desires. Paul continues: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a propitiation (a sacrificial offering) through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-26 HCSB)
He [God] will “declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.” Ok, what does it mean to have faith in Jesus? It means to believe Him, trust Him, walk with Him, follow Him. It means to listen to and obey Him. Does faith change what we do? Sure, it does but it primarily changes why we do it. He changes our hearts and that results in more than just a change of action. It also results in a change in motive, a change of desire, a change in what we want and a change in who, how and in what we love. Our hearts are changed. We begin to discover that God’s incredible love for us transforms our love for Him, our love for others and even our love for ourselves.
Jesus wasn’t telling the crowd that washing their hands was evil or even wrong, it was just insufficient. Washing your hands doesn’t wash away the filth in your heart. Being religious, going to church, giving to worthy causes or being baptized doesn’t wash away the filth of an unclean heart. Only the blood of the Lamb of God and faith in Him can do that.
So, does that make a follower of Jesus perfect? Unfortunately not, we are still in the process of being made into Christ’s image on a daily and ongoing basis. We still fail to fully obey. We still fail to love God completely and to love others properly. But when we do, “If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9 HCSB)
It’s time to push aside that “fake righteousness” you’ve been showing off to others and to embrace the real righteousness of Jesus, by faith. When you do, trust me, it will change everything.