What Defiles?

“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… 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.” – Jesus, Mark 7:15, 21-23 (CSB)

The Pharisees and Scribes were religious leaders who over the course of years sought to interpret and apply the Mosaic Law and developed various traditions. Some of these may have been sensible applications, though should not have been binding as infallible, while others were inconsistent in comparison to God’s actual word.

When they criticized Jesus’ disciples for not properly washing their hands before a meal (a ceremonial ritual, not a health issue in the leaders’ minds), Jesus replied by quoting from Isaiah about giving God false honor and then attacked another one of their traditions. God had commanded that the people were to honor their father and mother. The Pharisees and Scribes, however, said devoting things to God (i.e. to the temple and the religious leaders themselves, in this case) took a higher priority, even if it left father and mother in the cold.

Jesus, rightly, described the leaders as hypocrites. Then he spoke of what truly defiled a person: Not what we put into our mouths, but what comes out in words and deeds. True defilement is an internal thing, a matter of the heart.

Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable—who can understand it?” This is why, when spiritually blind in our sin, we refuse to see our defilement as defilement. We ignore it. We justify it. We call evil good. So what is the answer? How do we clean what is on the inside?

We trust the one who knows us inside and out. The one who can change us.

God made a promise to his people through the prophet Ezekiel: “I will cleanse you from all your impurities and all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances” (36:25-27). This is the description of what the New Testament calls being “born again” (such as in John 3).

Part of the beauty of the gospel hope we have through Jesus is new life. He doesn’t wash the outside but leave the inside dirty; no, Jesus makes us fully clean. With a new heart, we begin to love God supremely and love others deeply. With a new heart, we are able to flee from the acts of defilement and instead produce acts of grace: purity, faithfulness, selflessness, kindness, and the like. Let us, then, entrust our hearts to Jesus and be truly clean.

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