Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us a life changing truth in Mark 7. This chapter begins with the Pharisees and scribes complaining about Jesus’ disciples eating without washing their hands. The Pharisees and scribes had numerous rules about washing hands, plates, cups etc. They were deeply offended that Jesus and his disciples did not observe their religious rules. Jesus responds to them by quoting Isaiah 29:13. Mark 7:6-7 (NASB) 6 And He said to them, "Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 'THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. 7 'BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.'
Sadly, the last line of Jesus’ quote describes a huge problem in the church today. Too many Christians bring man-made theology to the Scriptures, rather than getting their theology from the Scriptures. However, that’s an issue for another day. I want to focus on what Jesus says about the heart.
In verses 14-16 Jesus said to the crowd: "Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man. ["If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear."]
Afterwards, the disciples ask Jesus to explain what his words mean. Mark 7:18-23 (NASB) 18 And He *said to them, "Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, 19 because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?" (Thus He declared all foods clean.) 20 And He was saying, "That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. 21 "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. 23 "All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man."
In Jesus explanation, he teaches us that sinful behavior flows from our hearts. Think about the implications of this truth. We are responsible. We cannot blame others or our circumstances or so-called spirits (demons) of anger, lust and deceit. We have a heart problem.
Do you struggle with evil thoughts? What about lust? Do you struggle with anger or pride? If you do it’s because you have a heart problem.
Many of us want to blame others or our circumstances for our sinful behavior. For example, have you ever said to someone, “You make me so angry!” The truth is no one can make you angry, but his or her actions can bring the anger to the surface that resides in your heart. Usually, when we get angry it’s because we are not getting something we want. In any case, what the other person did or didn’t do surfaced what was already in our hearts. I will address anger in detail in a future post.
Perhaps, this is a better illustration. Suppose you are walking down the street and you spot an attractive, scantily dressed woman. At first you stare and then you begin to entertain immoral thoughts. From where did these thoughts come? They came from the lust that resides in your heart. Certainly, it would be better if the woman was dressed modestly. Nevertheless, she is not at fault for the lust that proceeds from your heart. She simply revealed what resides there.
James 1:14-15 (NASB) 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. According to James, the reason we experience temptation is because of our own lust or desires. From where do these desires come? That’s right, our hearts. If immoral desires did not reside in our hearts then the attractive, scantily dressed woman would not be a temptation.
What can we do? It will take more than one post to answer this question. Obviously, if our hearts are the problem this is where we must focus. Sadly, many focus on the fruit (behavior) rather than the root (heart). Behavior modification techniques will not help us. Sooner or later, what is in our hearts will come out!
Again, what can we do? The answer is not much. We cannot change our hearts. We are helpless but thankfully not hopeless. Romans 5:6-8 (NASB) 6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Jesus died for our sins, the fruit of our evil hearts. He doesn’t stop here. Jesus gives new hearts.
Ezekiel 36:26-27 (NASB) 26 "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 "I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.
Do you need a new heart? Only the Lord Jesus Christ can give you one. How? Begin by reading the gospel of John in the Bible. Why the gospel John? John 20:31 (NASB) 31 but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.