In today’s passage we see that the Pharisees and teachers of the law lived by the law and still were not right with God because their “righteousness” was external only. They kept many rules, prayed, praised, fasted, read God’s Word and attended worship services. However, they substituted the outward actions for the correct inner attitudes and true devotion to God. We must have both. Jesus said that in order to truly be right with God, one’s heart and spirit—not just outward actions—must conform to God’s standards and purposes because we love and trust him.
The Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him. They observed that some of his disciples were eating bread with unclean—that is, unwashed—hands. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, keeping the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they have washed. And there are many other customs they have received and keep, like the washing of cups, pitchers, kettles, and dining couches. ) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders, instead of eating bread with ceremonially unclean hands?”
He answered them, “Isaiah prophesied correctly about you hypocrites, as it is written:
This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me.
They worship me in vain,
teaching as doctrines human commands.
Abandoning the command of God, you hold on to human tradition.” He also said to them, “You have a fine way of invalidating God’s command in order to set up your tradition! For Moses said: Honor your father and your mother; and Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must be put to death. But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or mother: Whatever benefit you might have received from me is corban’” (that is, an offering devoted to God), “you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. You nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many other similar things.”—Mark 7:1-13
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were guilty of the sin of legalism, which substitutes outward acts or words for true Godly attitudes that come from a holy relationship with God. Legalists seem to honor God with their words, but their hearts, or motives and affections, are far from him and his purposes. This means that they might appear outwardly to live right and seek what pleases God, but inwardly they have no real love for him. And there are two things about legalism that we need to understand.
- Legalism is not simply living by the laws or standards of God’s Word because such standards are good and proper if based on God’s commands and principles. Rather, legalism has to do with the person’s motive and for following God and his purposes. Any motive that does not flow out of a true and active faith in Christ and the desire to obey and please him is legalism.
- In this age of grace, we are spiritually saved through faith in Christ and not our own efforts. This is not to say that Christians should neglect the instructions, disciplines and duties of Christ’s law and God’s Word. The Bible teaches us to show our love for Christ by being faithful in all these areas. The New Testament speaks of the “perfect law that gives freedom” (James 1:25), “the royal law” (James 2:8), the “law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2) and the “law of the Spirit” (Romans 8:2). In God’s Word we find:
- Positive Commands, which are things we should do and practice
- Negative Commands, which are things we should avoid or refrain from doing
- Basic Principles, which are ethical truths that reflect God’s character and form the basis of his laws
- Words spoken by spiritual leaders with God-given authority in spiritual matters
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were, also, guilty of placing human tradition above God’s direct revelation. They followed their own laws and regulations even when those things were not consistent with the standards of God’s Word. Jesus is not condemning all traditions here, but only those that contradict or conflict with the commands and principles of God’s Word. Traditions or rules must be based on, and remain consistent with, truths found in the Bible. Churches must resist the tendency to promote their own rules, traditions, ideas and preferences above the Bible. God’s written Word as revealed in the Bible is the only infallible, which means unfailing, flawless or perfectly reliable, rule for faith and living; human ideas must never become more important than God’s Word.
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.”
When he went into the house away from the crowd, his disciples asked him about the parable. He said to them, “Are you also as lacking in understanding? Don’t you realize that nothing going into a person from the outside can defile him? For it doesn’t go into his heart but into the stomach and is eliminated” (thus he declared all foods clean ). And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, self-indulgence, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a person.”—Mark 7:14-23
Jesus here is speaking of being “unclean” or corrupted spiritually. He is referring to foods that enter a person’s body but do not affect the heart. This verse cannot be used to justify using harmful substances like drugs or alcohol, since using those things often results in evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, self-indulgence, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. Also, notice that when Jesus says that “Nothing that goes into a person from outside can defile him but the things that come out of a person are what defile him” he is definitely talking about food; he is not referring to things that enter our minds and affect our thoughts in immoral ways. The principle in this passage must not be used to justify ungodly activities and behaviors such as, sexually suggestive entertainment, immodest attire and/or materialism, that affect what goes into our minds and eventually “comes out” in the form of the sins that are listed in this passage.
In this passage “makes…’unclean’” means being spiritually corrupted in a way that separates a person from the life and purposes of God and ruins his or her relationship with Christ. Throughout God’s Word, the “heart” represents a person’s entire inner being, including the intellect, emotions, motives, desires and will. An impure heart will corrupt one’s thoughts, feelings, words and actions. Those of us who follow Christ must live in a way that reflects a heart that is new and transformed—different from what is natural in the world—a heart that is becoming more and more like Jesus. And the heart is what we are going to spend the rest of our time talking about.
Proverbs 4:23 says this about the heart, “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.” People generally consider the head—with its brain—to be the center and director of individual human thought and activity. However, the Bible refers to the heart as the center of our being. When the Bible speaks of the “heart,” it is not referring to our physical organ that pumps blood throughout the body. It is referring to the whole of one’s intellect, emotion and will.
- The heart is the center of the intellect. The Bible describes people knowing, praying and meditating in their hearts. They are also able to hide God’s Word in their heart, devise plans and retain God’s Word there. Individuals are able to think, doubt, ponder, believe and sing in their hearts. All of these abilities of the heart involve the mind.
- The heart is the center of the emotions. The Bible speaks about the glad heart, the loving heart, the fearful heart, the courageous heart, the repentant heart, the anxious heart, the angry heart, the revived heart, the anguished heart, the delighted heart, the grieving heart, the humble heart, the excited or burning heart and the troubled heart. All of these actions of the heart are basically emotional in nature.
- The heart is the center of the human will. The will could be defined as one’s desire, motivation, purpose, determination or ability to choose. We read in God’s Word about the hardened heart that resists God and refuses to do what he commands, the heart that is yielding, or submitted, to God, the heart that intends to do something, the heart that is devoted to pursuing a deeper relationship with God, the heart that decides, the heart that desires to receive from God, the heart that is turned toward God’s laws and the heart that wants to do something. All of these are acts of the human will.
When Adam and Eve chose to defy and disobey God’s command and follow the serpent’s temptation to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, their decision was most destructive to the human heart. Because of their choice, the human heart became open to and filled with evil influences and selfish desires. That is why the words “follow your heart” are literally not good advice, though the speaker may mean well. The Bible shows us the real, naturally dark and sobering condition of the heart apart from God. In the God inspired words of the prophet Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Jesus explained this truth another way when he said that spiritually impurity (being unlike God) is not the failure to follow some ritual or ceremonial law; it is the willingness to follow the pull of wickedness to follow the pull of wickedness that is written deep within the heart of humankind. He meant such things as “evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly” (Mark 7:21-22). Jesus taught about the seriousness of holding tight to sin in the heart when he explained that the sin of anger is equal to murder (Matthew 5:21-22), and the sin of lust is the same as taking part in adultery (Matthew 5:27-28).
Hearts that are stubbornly turned toward evil are on a path that will make them hardened, which is totally resistant, toward God. Those who keep refusing to accept God’s Word and to obey what he commands put themselves in a most dangerous situation. They may not even realize it when God finally allows them to go their own way. Then they will lose all sensitivity to his Word and to the Holy Spirit. The perfect example of this in the Bible is Pharaoh’s heart at the time of the exodus. Paul saw the same hardened condition at work in the hearts of many who tried to influence the New Testament believers in Rome. The apostle predicted that this condition of the heart would also occur in the end times during the days of the antichrist. The writer of Hebrews filled his letter with warnings to believers not to harden their hearts. Anyone who continues to reject God’s Word will finally come to have a hardened heart.
God’s answer to the sinfulness of the human heart is regeneration, which happens in individuals who truly repent, turn to God by faith and accept Jesus as the Forgiver of their sins and Leader of their lives. Regeneration refers to a heart that has been spiritually reborn, renewed, revitalized, reformed and redeveloped (all being necessary processes of the newness) to where it is right with God.
- Regeneration refers to the heart being “born again”. Those who repent from their heart of all sin and confess in their heart that Jesus is Lord are “born again” spiritually and receive a new spiritually heart from God.
- For those who experience this spiritual, God creates within them a desire to love him and to obey him. Repeatedly God makes it clear to his people the necessity of expressing a love that comes from the heart. This type of love for God and devotion to him cannot be separated from obedience to his Word. True love for God and faithful obedience to God are like two sides of the same coin. Jesus said the way to fulfill all the law of God is to love God wholeheartedly and love others unselfishly.
- Love from the heart is the necessary part of obedience to God. But it is often the part that is lacking. Too often God’s people try to substitute a practice of religious rituals and regulations, such as sacred feast days, offerings and sacrifices, for a genuine love from the heart. Outward activity without an inner desire to serve God is not true love and devotion. In fact, it is being boastful and false, and it is greatly condemned by Jesus.
- Many other spiritual activities take place in the hearts of those who are spiritually transformed. They praise God with all their heart, meditate on God’s Word in their heart, cry out to God from the heart, seek God with all their heart, hide God’s Word in their heart, trust in the Lord with all their heart, forgive others from their heart, experience God’s love poured into their heart, give to God from their heart, sing to God in their heart and love other Christians from their heart. Above all, they love with all their heart.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
Leviticus 16:29-18:30, Mark 7:24-8:10, Psalm 41:1-13 and Proverbs 10:15-16