Jesus gives us a pretty heavy dose of reality in these verses. The religious leaders had been telling everyone to perform religious traditions, such as ceremonial hand washing, and condemning those who didn’t. But, as Jesus pointed out, these religious leaders didn’t really love God, they only loved looking better than other people. They worked hard at keeping up the appearance of being godly, but, ironically, their hearts were far from God.
So Jesus called his followers to himself and said, “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” (Mark 7:15). In other words, they had to realize that performing religious rituals would not help their relationship with God, because the source of all their problems was within them.
Recently, we had one rotten potato in our cupboard, making the whole kitchen stink! It didn’t matter if we scrubbed every countertop, washed every pot and pan, and sterilized every appliance, so long as the black potato sat undisturbed in the back of the cupboard.
Religiously speaking, you can eat all the right things, wash all the right ways, perform all the right tasks, and you wouldn’t have touched the true problem. The problem is not ‘out there,’ but it’s inside. You can keep all the rules, be a good person, go to church, and pray five hours a day, and you wouldn’t be any closer to God (or closer to your true self, for that matter!).
Don’t believe me? Well, consider what Jesus says next.
Jesus went on to teach, “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 7:20-23).
Did you notice the sort of things that come out of the human heart? Evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, deceit, and so forth… Notice these are the broken Ten Commandments. The broken Ten Commandments live inside your heart, all the time.
The Pharisees and religious leaders thought they could keep all the commandments and all would be well. Since keeping the Ten Commandments seemed so difficult to everyone, they broke them down into doable chunks, baby steps, if you will, like washing your hands and giving your money, so that practically anyone could be successful at keeping the law.
While the religious leaders looked to an external law to keep, Jesus taught, “It’s a little late for that! For every broken commandment is constantly gushing from every human heart!” As soon as we fell into sin in the Garden of Eden, we became manufacturers and septic tanks of broken laws. Our hearts are constantly producing broken laws; the problem is not ‘out there,’ but the problem is in here. Trying to keep the law in order to be undefiled is like trying to stay dry when you’re already sunk two miles beneath the Pacific Ocean.
There are two things I want to point out from this passage of Scripture. First, be careful you don’t become out of touch with yourself. The Pharisees thought everything and everyone else was the problem, failing to realize they carried around the problem with them at all times in their hearts. Imagine being paranoid about bugs. I mean, they seriously freak you out. So you’re constantly checking every where you go, terrified you might find a bug. All the while, you have live grenades strapped to your chest and you don’t even realize it.
We have to own ourselves and our dirt; we can’t pretend we’re fine. We can’t pretend like we don’t struggle with sin, have issues, are weak, doubt, and hate God. If I pretend like I don’t have some of these problems, then not only am I out of touch with myself, but I am a danger to everyone else! I walk around thinking the problem is out there, so I become careless with the grenades on my chest. We see this all too often today, as everyone’s pointing their fingers at everyone but themselves. We’re champions at blaming others, blaming the system, blaming politicians, blaming parents, blaming circumstances, etc.; but we fail to take ownership of the lion’s share of evil gushing out from our own hearts into this world.
You are never more dangerous to society and yourself than when you are not conscious of the evil within. In fact, as Jesus is saying, the more you notice evil ‘out there,’ the more you’re probably hiding the same evil (or worse!) in your own life.
Here is the second thing I’d like to point out: we cannot fix ourselves, but desperately need a Savior. Jesus teaches this parable not so we’ll try even harder! He doesn’t want us to become aware of the evil within ourselves, just so we can figure out how to fix it. Rather, he wants us to know about our evil hearts so we realize we’re trapped, doomed, and can do nothing to save ourselves. Then we will cry out to him to save us.
We are not saved by our good works, by keeping the law, or even by being enlightened; rather, we are saved by Christ on the cross. This frees us to come out of hiding, be honest with ourselves, and stop pretending to be better than we really are. This frees us to embrace ourselves and others, rather than condemn.
- How is God speaking to you through the Bible today?
- Have you been quick to point out the sins of others, but have failed to see the same sins in yourself? Take an inventory of yourself, ask God to help you see the broken commandments that live within you.
- Why is someone who is out of touch with themselves so dangerous? Where do you see this today?