Defiled Hands and Defective Hearts (Part 2)
Text: Mark 7:14-23
Main Idea: Holiness is not a matter of hand-washing, but a heart that is wholly captivated by God himself.
I. A Pithy Parable (Mark 7:14–15)
II. A Piercing Explanation (Mark 7:16–23)
What’s the greatest problem with the world today? If we could solve just one problem, what would it be? World peace? World huger? Human trafficking? Racial equality? Political reform? Education reform? Doctrinal purity?
Well, over a century ago the British journalist G.K. Chesterton allegedly responded to a local newspaper’s question, “What is wrong with the world today?” with a note that simply read:
While historians disagree if Chesterton actually wrote such a letter, there is something acutely insightful about its content. We are conditioned from our childhood to believe, or at least behave like, our greatest challenges to holiness and happiness in this life are completely outside of us. When according to Jesus himself, the greatest barrier to our happiness, relational wholeness, and especially holiness before God in this life is something that resides within each and everyone of us.
Main Idea: Holiness is not a matter of hand-washing but a heart that is wholly captivated by God himself. Deceitful hearts defile people not dirty hands.
And we see this in the text today in that Jesus begins with a pithy parable (14–15) that he then unpacks with a piercing explanation (16–23). (Mark 7:14–15)
A Pithy Parable (Mark 7:14–15)
A Public Address
Notice the change of audience in verse 14. Jesus isn’t just talking to the Scribes and Pharisees he is addressing the entire crowd! He isn’t content to expose their wholesale hypocrisy, he wants to expose the true source of their religious blindness. And he does this by utterly rejecting the proposition that anyone can be defiled by unclean hands or unclean foods.
See, Jesus doesn’t just differ with the Pharisees only over little details like hand washing; he completely rejects their whole approach to God’s law. They are concerned about surface impurities, external piety, and fastidious rule-keeping; Jesus is concerned about the kind of internal impurity that cannot be washed away by a simple hand washing; the kind of impurity that flows from the inside out.
A Problematic Interpretation
The problem in verse 15 is that—once again—Jesus does not unpack the true meaning of his parable for the public.
It almost sounds like Jesus is saying that defiled hands and unclean foods don’t matter but that bodily discharges must be avoided at every cost because “the things that come out of a person are what defile him” (Mark 7:15). But, as we are going to see, Jesus loves to use physical metaphors to describe spiritual realities. (Mark 7:17–19)
A Piercing Answer (Mark 7:17–23)
What’s Wrong with the Disciples
Did you catch the irony here? Jesus leaves the crowd outside (ochlos) and goes inside the house (oikos) to spend focused time with the ultimate insiders—his disciples. But, even though Jesus takes the disciples inside, they cannot see inside the parable.
As one commentator notes, “The disciples are like a dog looking at the pointed finger of its master rather than the object to which the finger points. They are like people looking at the stained-glass windows of a cathedral from the outside.” On account of this, their insight and their spiritual understanding is wholly dull and lifeless.
They need deeper discernment if they are ever going to understand what Jesus is saying about the human heart! But, see, their failure to understand is not merely the result of their ignorance or stupidity, but their persistent hardness. Hardness that prevents them from truly seeing and understanding what Jesus is all about.
Mark 4:13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?
Mark 6:51–52 And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
Mark 8:17–18 And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?
Jesus wants his disciples to understand that the Law was always directed toward the human heart not human performance; which is why purity is a matter of the heart not the digestive system.
What Cannot Defile
Let’s follow Jesus’ logic in verse 18–19.
Assertion: Food cannot defile a person.
Reason: Food never comes in contact with a person’s heart. Rather it enters the body passes through the stomach and is eventually expelled—in fact, the Greek literally reads, “it goes out into the latrine.”
Jesus is saying everybody is focused on the wrong organ. There is a massive difference between the heart and the stomach. And when Jesus is talking about the heart he is not talking about the muscle that pumps blood through our body. But, the very root of our innermost motivations, desires, and affections. (Mark 7:20–23)
What Can Defile
What does Jesus want us to see? Sin is not something external to us that can be cleansed with soap and water. Contrary to popular thought, humans are not naturally good people who accidentally stumble into sin. Sin is something that flows out of us. Humans sin because we are sinners at our very core and our sin is nothing less than an external manifestation of our preexisting internal dispositions. This is what Jesus means when he says, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him” (Mark 7:20a).
Even more, Jesus’ list helps us see that “If the heart is the source, then evil has upstream and downstream dimensions, in that, it is manifest in both evil deeds and evil desires;” Neither of which are imparted by physical contact.
Evil deeds: sexual immorality, theft, murder, adulteries, slander.
Evil desires: covetousness, wickedness, deceitfulness, sensuality, envy, pride, foolishness.
Upstream desires result in down stream behavior.
1. Sexual immorality and adultery reveal a heart that is overflowing with covetous sensuality, or to put it another way, no one randomly stumbles into an affair or one-night stand. They fall into sexual sin because they were presented with an opportunity to fulfill preexisting desires and fantasies.
James 1:14–15 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
Even non-Christian therapists are familiar with this pattern of preconditioning that produces unacceptable behavior, even though they would never call it sin.
2. Theft reveals a heart that is full of covetousness and envy. Deep down inside, we want to have something that does not belong to us.
3. Slander reveals a heart that is full of deceitful envy and wicked pride. Because deep down we believe that we deserve greater respect and that our opponent deserves a harsh reprimand. This is why we are perpetually driven to make interpersonal mole-hills into insurmountable relationship-destroying mountains.
James 4:1–2 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.
James wants us to see that our relational discord is not simply the result of other people’s behavior and personality but our sinful passions and desires.
Here is the key. Holiness before God is ALWAYS an issue of the heart, because the heart is like a tree that always produces matching fruit… Sinful desires produce sinful behavior. God-honoring desires produce God-honoring behavior.
Matthew 7:15–20 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
The ultimate conflict between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees isn’t tradition or legalism. It’s that their obsession with external purity was nothing more than a religious façade to conceal their sin-hardened hearts.
Application: True behavior change begins in the heart.
When I was a youth pastor back in the late 90’s, everyone was concerned about sexual purity. And for good reason! Our teenagers and young adults were getting sucked into an ever-expanding carnival of sexual promiscuity. Parents and churches alike were completely overwhelmed by a tsunami of pregnant teens and STD’s: teens that had grown up in the church, attended summer camp, and served overseas on summer missions.
But, over time a few leaders and ministries began to offer a solution to the growing problem. Ministries that encouraged teens to protect their virginity by thinking about:
- The very real danger of STD’s.
- The overwhelming responsibility of teenage parenthood.
- The thrill it would be to enjoy their wedding night without any guilt, shame, or remorse from past relationships.
- The true lasting love and fulfillment that they would experience with their future spouse if they just waited for the right person.
And I bought every book that I could so that I could protect every teen in my church.
Across the nation, boys and girls alike responded in droves, signing pledge cards and purchasing purity rings to reinforce their commitment to sexual abstinence; but, for many their new found resolve evaporated in the passionate heat of sexual opportunity. Leaving many to wonder if they had completely ruined their life because they broke their promise to God and others if they were ever saved to begin with. Children and parents alike were utterly devastated by their sexual failure.
What did these kids need? They didn’t need good advice about managing sinful desires and avoiding sexual sin.They needed the gospel!
See, some of these kids had never come to faith in Jesus Christ to begin with. They were merely following the religious rules and practices of their parents. Their biggest problem wasn’t the possibility of sexual sin, it was eternal wrath. The needed to hear:
The proclamation that God is a fearfully holy and righteous God that should punish every ounce of rebellion against him.
Yet, a loving God that sent his one and only Son to die for them when they were still active rebels who hated his every command.
A loving God that adopts wretched sinners as holy sons and daughters when they repent and believe in Jesus as their only hope of a right relationship with God.
But, the kids that were true believers needed to hear the gospel too. The needed to be anchored in the implications of the gospel. What comes to the believer as a result of their belief?
The needed to know that God not only saved them from their sin but empowers them to live a life of joy-filled—not white knuckled— obedience by the power of the Holy Spirit, because true obedience flows from a heart that loves and treasures Jesus Christ above everything else.
They needed to know that God never abandons his children when they fall into sin. Yes, his children will face the consequences of their sin. But, nothing can ever separate them from the love of God in Christ.
They needed to know that holiness is not a lifelong process of saying no to pleasure. But, that holiness is the lifelong pursuit of joy in Jesus Christ.
The fundamental problem with these well-meaning ministries and my youth ministry was that we focused on external behaviors without addressing the desires of the heart. What I mean is that we were merely teaching these kids to suppress their lustful desires through the fear of unwanted pregnancy and the hope of a perfect marriage by establishing wise boundaries instead of helping them find greater joy, satisfaction, and purpose in Jesus Christ himself.
Parents and grandparents, beware you that you do not attempt to curb your child’s or your grandchild’s behavior without addressing their heart. We don’t just want to make morally compliant hypocritical Pharisees, we want to do everything in our power to lead our children to saving faith in Jesus Christ. And after that we want to help them find greater delight in God so that their hearts will naturally overflow with the fruit of good deeds and righteousness.
What’s coming out of your life today? What do your actions and your attitudes have to say about the current condition of your heart?
How are pursuing personal holiness? Are you struggling against your sinful desires in the power of the flesh or are you cultivating a heart for Jesus Christ so that it will bear the fruit of righteousness?
David E. Garland, Mark, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 274–75.
James R Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 212.
Mark L. Strauss, Mark, vol. 2 of Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 304.“But just as ingested food does not defile the eater, so also defecated food does not defile the defecator; (Robert H. Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross[Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000], 355).
Jason Meyer, https://bethlehem.church/sermon/what-defiles-and-what-cleanses-part-two/