These are my notes from a sermon series. It has not been proofed for spelling or grammatical errors. I present it to you as-is.
It’s a problem that goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Adam said, “I sinned because of that woman you gave me.” Eve said, “I sinned because of that talking serpent.” All of us are guilty at times of convincing ourselves that our sin is the result of something or someone outside of us. We say things like: I yelled at him because he cut me off or I lost my temper because I’m under a lot of stress. Whether we recognize it or not we are often tempted to see the source of our sin as something outside of us instead of something within us (James 4:1-2).
But not only do we fail to recognize the true source of our sin, we are also prone to turning to the wrong solutions for dealing with our sin. Our nature is to try and justify ourselves. We either try to down play our sin or make up for our sin by being good. We do something outwardly in an attempt atone for our sins and to earn the favor of God. That’s not how it works.
The issue and problem is our heart. It is broken. It is evil. It is extremely deceptive. One of the effects of this wicked heart of ours is to deny the authority of God by rejecting the Word of God (Mark 7:9-13) and thereby rejecting God’s prescription and remedy for spiritually cleaning this heart of ours. Instead of placing our faith in Christ, we place our faith in religious traditions, being good and spiritual routines to save and cleanse us.
Thankfully we have the Word of God to help us properly understand both the source and the solution for our sins. In Mark 7:14-23 Jesus makes it clear that the source of our sin is the corruption of our hearts and there’s nothing that we can do to make our ourselves clean, but there is hope. Beginning in verse 14, Jesus dives into what our real problem truly is. He wants us to deeply understand this, so He mentions it four times in nine verses.
Mark 7:14-23 says, “Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “All of you listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 15 It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.” 17 Then Jesus went into a house to get away from the crowd, and his disciples asked him what he meant by the parable he had just used. 18 “Don’t you understand either?” he asked. “Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? 19 Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.” (By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.) 20 And then he added, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. 21 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” (NLT)
Jesus uses this encounter to unpack important truth about the depth of corruption and sin our hearts truly are. It’s our heart that produces both the ungodly attempt to be good enough through religious traditions and legalism and the uncensored and unbridled acts of sin that we find ourselves so often trapped in.
Every one of us is not merely tainted with this pollution of sin – we are saturated with it, to the degree each of us are terminal. There is nothing you can do on your own to fix your heart. You cannot escape the sin that hides deep inside of you. Trying to escape the world will not work. Trying to be good will not work. Just like Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (NLT).
Today, Jesus wants us to understand something about our hearts before we are saved. Every one of us is born with an evil heart and the only hope we have is a spiritual heart transplant that only Jesus can give.
Let’s go through this verse by verse.
Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “All of you listen,” he said, “and try to understand.
Vere 14 begins with Jesus calling the “crowd to come and hear” what He is about to say. Jesus begins by saying, “All of you listen and try to understand.”
- First of all, what Jesus is about to say is for everyone. Jesus says, “All of you.” This is for you, for me, everyone in this room and everyone listening online. This is for “all of you.” The young, the old, those who care about this and those who don’t. Every person needs to know what Jesus is about to say.
- Then Jesus says He wants us to “listen” and “understand.” This was a common statement meaning listen carefully and pay close attention to what I’m about to say. What is about to be spoken is a message of great importance and has divine authority.
- When Jesus says, “try to understand,” it’s not because what He will be saying is complicated or difficult to understand, but because the truth will be hard to accept.
15 It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.”
Then in verse 15, Jesus states the truth: “It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.” Jesus says two things here.
- First, Jesus says, “It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you.” The Pharisees believed that if you ate certain foods that were classified as unclean you would be defiled spiritually and would need to go through a cleansing ceremony to be made right with God again. They believed that if you touched a dead body, ate food that had been offered to idols, touched a leper, or entered a Gentiles home you would be defiled and would need to go through various cleansing rituals and traditions to be made clean before God. To them, sin came from the outside and from around them. To the Pharisees, sin was out there somewhere and they needed to protect themselves and their families from the sin that surrounded them.
- Second, then Jesus comes along and says, “you are defiled by what comes from your heart.” Instead of the problem of sin being out there, the problem of sin is in here (pointing to the heart). It doesn’t matter if you are in a bar, a church, at work, your home, in public, in private, at school, hotel room, or a hospital you will never get away from sin because sin is not out there, but in here (pointing to the heart).
- Jesus says clearly that we are defiled by what “comes from [the] heart.” The “heart” refers to the depths of the inner you, your command center, the part of you that thinks, wills, has affections and feelings, plans, desires, and the like. This “heart” includes your soul, spirit, mind, and will. It is who you really are and where you make decisions. That part of you, your “heart,” needs to be radically transformed and renewed by the free grace and love of God. You cannot fix this problem on your own. You cannot get away from this corrupted heart of yours, you need a new heart. That is the problem.
- Listen carefully, because of this you are your own worst enemy. Some of you are really pretty and handsome on the outside. But, apart from Christ, you are all ugly on the inside. And cleaning up your life, being super religious, keeping the rules, being nice, giving, showing compassion, caring for the hurting, showing generosity, attending church, studying the Bible, even praying regularly – none of it will wash your heart from the pollution that has contaminated it. You need a spiritual heart transplant.
17 Then Jesus went into a house to get away from the crowd, and his disciples asked him what he meant by the parable he had just used. 18 “Don’t you understand either?” he asked. “Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? 19 Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.” (By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.)
This takes us to verse 17 where we are told, “Then Jesus went into a house to get away from the crowd, and his disciples asked him what he meant by the parable he had just used” (NLT). The disciples are very confused about Jesus’ statements about the unclean food and His statement, “It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart,” as a “parable.” A “parable” was a puzzle, a mystery, something that used a physical example to illustrate a spiritual truth.
Keep in mind, the Bible at the time was only the Old Testament. The resurrection of Jesus has not happened yet. In the Old Testament there were certain foods they shouldn’t eat. They were considered unclean. But the Pharisees and His disciples both missed the purpose of the unclean foods. They served as reminders and pointed to the separation between us and God and pointed toward the need for a savior. Just as the Old Testament feasts, festivals, and sacrifices all illustrated and pointed to Jesus the clean and unclean foods were also object lessons with a deeper meaning. The unclean food didn’t make a person unclean, it simply reminded the people they were already unclean.
So in verse 18 Jesus asked, “Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? 19 Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.” If you haven’t got this yet, listen carefully. Jesus is using the object of unclean “food” as an illustration of everything outside of us. Jesus is saying unclean food does not make you unclean. In the same way, stealing does not make you a thief. Being deceitful does not make you a liar. You steal because you are already a thief. You deceive because you are a liar. What you do on the outside does not make you a sinner, you are already a sinner. You don’t become a sinner when you sin. You sin because you are already a sinner. This was a heart issue.
The Pharisees and His disciples didn’t get this, but Jesus expected them to pick up this simple truth but instead you hear Jesus say, “Don’t you understand either?” The Pharisees and His disciples thought God was concerned about all the religious externals: the religious routines, making sure your hair is a certain length, making sure you are checking off the spiritual box “to do list.” But God is and has always been concerned about the heart. Let me show you.
- Look at 1 Samuel 16:7, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (NLT)
- Look at Deuteronomy 10, “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the Lord your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love him and serve him with all your heart and soul. 13 And you must always obey the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good…. 16 Therefore, change your hearts and stop being stubborn” (vs. 12-13, 16; NLT).
- Then in Joshua 24:23 we read, “Destroy the idols among you, and turn your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel” (NLT).
God is not concerned about the outside, He is concerned about the inside. Jesus knows if you get a new heart, you get a new life. If the inside changes, the outside will change with it.
20 And then he added, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you.
To drive home His point, in verse 20, Jesus says, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you.” Every one of us is born with a sin nature. We all come equipped with sin built in. As children, when we are given an opportunity to express that built in sin, we will express it. That selfishness comes out quickly and early in our lives. “It is what comes from inside that defiles you.”
On another day Jesus was having a similar conversation with some other Pharisees in Matthew 23 and Jesus said, “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! 26 You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too” (Matthew 23:25-26, NLT). When your heart is cleansed the rest of your life will follow. You need a cleansed heart, a new heart that only Christ can give.
Instead of getting a new heart, we try to clean the outside of the cup. We try to stop using bad language, we try to stop getting drunk, we try to get off drugs, we quit going to certain places or hanging out with certain people. We try to listen to different music or watching different shows. We start going to church, reading the Bible, try out a Life Group. We give money to the church or to a good organization. We start volunteering. We might even change the way we dress. We start cleaning up the outside of the cup regarding whatever we think is dirty and whatever makes us feel clean on the outside. We are “so careful to clean the outside of the cup… but inside [we] are filthy” full of all kinds of sin waiting to get out. We need a new heart that is clean. If the inside of us will get cleaned up, the outside of us will follow.
One more thought before we move on. The Pharisees believed that sin and wickedness were outside of them, not inside of them. So they thought if they could just “separate themselves” far enough from any sinful or unclean people they would be good before God. They believed if they could stay away from Samaritans and Gentiles, wear this and not that, eat this and not eat that, go here but not there, observe all the religious holidays and sacrifices and practice the additional 600 religious rules they attached to the Ten Commandments they would be clean before God. For them separating themselves from the world was the path to holiness and righteousness. But Jesus said, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you.” The problem is if I think my sin problem is outside of me then I can make external changes and think I’m alright with God, when in reality I’m simply a cleaned up sinner headed to hell.
Let me give you one implication and application regarding this. As parents, you are not to prepare your children to battle against the world. You are actually preparing them to battle their own sinful hearts as they live in the world. Are we to protect them from the world? Absolutely! But we must learn how to train our children to protect themselves from themselves. Your child’s worse enemy is not out there, but in here (pointing to the heart).[i] Your worse enemy is not out there, but in here (pointing to the heart).
21 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.”
To drive this truth even deeper Jesus goes on to say in verse 21, “For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.”
- All these horrible things are stored up inside of every human being. We are all born with the capability of performing all of these in some form.
- Look at this list and which one do you find you struggle with the most? To get you started let’s look at the first three.
- Sexual immorality – this includes multiple partners, pornography, and anything outside of God’s idea of marriage.
- Theft – this includes robbery, fraud, taking of undue advantage in business, the building of debts knowing you will not be able to repay and the like.
- Murder – physically taking the life of someone unlawfully or hating them enough you wished they would die.
You get the idea. Go through the list and which one seems to grab your attention because you see it to often in your life. Jesus said, “All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.”
We are born with these hearts, shaped by our environments and our choices result in unique expressions of sin. And we cannot save ourselves from this. The heart needs to be changed for the life to change.
So, what can be done about this? How do we get a clean new heart?
- Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (NLT). Jesus has been trying to help us understand that our hearts are messed up, broken, and full of poison wanting to get out and express itself.
- Then in Jeremiah 24:7 God says, “I will give them hearts that recognize me as the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me wholeheartedly” (NLT). You cannot create a new heart, only God can give you a new heart. It comes from Him.
- In Psalm 51:9-10 we see the kind of prayer we need to cry out to God, “Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me” (NLT). I need you to take this old heart of mine and give me a new one. I need a clean heart that longs for you.
- Then in Romans 10:9 we read, “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (NLT). God can save you from that old heart of yours.
- After you have that new heart from God then you can begin to experience Psalm 37:4 where we are told to, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires” (CSB). This does not mean God will give you what you want. It means He will give you the desires you need. You will your desires changing. Your values and priorities beginning to shift to align up with His will and His kingdom and for His glory.
[i] The movie “The Village” was about this very concept of trying to create a community system where crime did not exist.