”There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man.” Mark 7:16
For centuries the people of Israel had had an up and down relationship with God. For a while they would faithfully follow after God. During these times they would experience great blessings and would prosper as a nation. But these times didn’t last. They just couldn’t seem to resist the pull to worship other gods. And when this happened prosperity would end and the blessings would disappear. After several times through this cycle God finally let a powerful, heathen nation carry them away captive for 70 years.
And it seems that they almost learned their lesson. They realized that it was their disobedience that was the cause of their difficulties. But they also concluded that the foundational problem was the temptation and defilement all around them. So they began to eliminate the sources of temptation and the opportunity to contact anything that would defile them. This, of course, spun completely out of control because they failed to account for the greatest sources of the temptation, self and Satan.
Jesus, in our focus text, is attempting to fix this pharisaical misunderstanding when he told them that nothing coming in from the outside could defile a man only something coming out from the inside.
Jesus is not here setting aside the rules about clean and unclean food. Those are God given health laws and he was consistent in teaching that he had not come to change God’s laws. In Mark seven, Jesus is addressing the Pharisees belief that if we avoid contact with unclean things and people we would be able to keep ourselves pure.
Jesus’ teaching tells us that purity is maintained not by keeping defiling things away but by not saying and doing things that are sinful. These words and actions are coming from a sinful heart and this internal source of sinful action is what defiles us.
Mark seven doesn’t reveal how we’re to get clean hearts but other places in scripture do. One of my favorites is in Psalm 51. This passage would have been available to the Pharisees and in it David is asking God to “Create in me a clean heart.” Only God can clean a sin stained heart and in Jesus he shows us that he’s ready and willing to do that if we’ll ask.