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What Defiles a Person?

July 19, 2021

What Defiles a Person?

“And he called the people to him again and said to them, ‘Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.’ And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, ‘Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?’ (Thus, he declared all foods clean.) And he said, ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’” - Mark 7:14-23

In today’s reading, Jesus continued challenging the Pharisees’ teachings about what was clean and unclean. For thousands of years, the nation of Israel had observed purification rituals and ceremonies. While God was concerned with purity of heart and worship, however, religious leaders were fixated on the external appearance of purity. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus refers to the Pharisees as hypocrites for adhering to man’s laws rather than the Lord’s commands. And throughout his ministry, he continued to challenge their emphasis on outward displays.

Apparently, the Pharisees had tired of the conversation and moved on, but Jesus took the opportunity to explain to the crowd what truly defiles a person. He told them it was not the dirt on their hands or the food they put in their mouths that made them unclean. Instead, it was the words they spoke, the thoughts they entertained, and the sinful acts they committed. Jesus called the people to discern between outward religious practices and the condition of their hearts. It seemed like a simple concept, and so Jesus took his leave and entered the house.

It was not so simple to the disciples, however, and they asked Jesus to explain his parable. You can almost picture Jesus sighing – they still didn’t get it. To help them understand, he used food as an example. Jews followed a strict diet and considered many foods unclean; anyone who consumed those items also became unclean. But Jesus explained that food, which goes in and out of the body, is not a source of impurity. Instead, contamination comes from within, from a person’s evil thoughts, words, and deeds. Jesus was far more concerned with the contents of one’s heart than his stomach.

It is easy to see why the nation of Israel was confused. Jesus’ teachings turned everything they had believed and practiced for centuries inside out. Suddenly people and things long considered unclean were deemed pure. The law said contamination originated outside the body; Jesus said it sprang from within. Religion emphasized external purity; Jesus focused on internal sanctification. What’s more, he taught that sanctification could not be achieved through works or rituals. No matter what a person did, they could never become holy and righteous on their own. This was a radical concept!

Throughout history, religions have defined the dos and don’ts that make one worthy of a relationship with the divine. As we have seen, the Pharisees took this concept to a whole new level. Jesus, on the other hand, made it clear that we can never be worthy. We are all broken sinners and there is nothing we can ever do to earn our salvation. It is only through the blood of Christ that we are invited to enter fellowship with a holy God. That truth, though humbling and sobering, is also the most liberating message we can ever receive. We can stop trying to perform and simply accept the grace of Jesus Christ. Only then will we be made holy and righteous.

Reflect and Respond:
Are you still trying to earn your salvation or have you accepted Christ’s gracious offer with gratitude and humility? Jesus has made you worthy. May you rejoice in that amazing gift! We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Related Resource:

Walking in Light

In our new six-week Bible study on the book of 1 John, you are invited to live and celebrate true life in Christ. Throughout his first letter, John wrestles with the assurance of salvation. How do we know that we are genuine Christians, and how can we recognize authentic faith in others? The Apostle John taught that you can enjoy full assurance through believing in the incarnate Son of God, walking in the light of obedience, and loving God and his children. Embark on this study with us today!

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