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Defilement Part 2: The Heart of the Matter

November 22, 2020 Speaker: Brian Wilbur Series: The Gospel of Mark

Topic: Christian Life Basics Passage: Mark 7:14–7:23

DEFILEMENT PART 2: THE HEART OF THE MATTER

An Exposition of Mark 7:14-23

By Pastor Brian Wilbur

Date: November 22, 2020

Series: Mark: Knowing and Following God’s Son

Note: Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

INTRODUCTION

We have come to the second of two sermons that address the issue of defilement. In last week’s sermon, which was titled “Defilement Part 1: By What Standard?”, we emphasized the critical importance of authority. In Mark 7:1-13, we once again encountered the scribes and Pharisees, who were preoccupied with external purity in accordance with their own human traditions. Therefore they engaged in many ritual washings: hand-washing, dish-washing, and furniture-washing. And when they saw that Jesus’ disciples didn’t keep the same rules, they questioned why His disciples would have the audacity to eat with unclean hands (see Mark 7:5).

But Jesus had an altogether different concern. Jesus was concerned that the scribes and Pharisees would dare to live with unclean hearts. In verses 6-13, Jesus made it clear that the form of purity that really matters is the purity of a heart that is obedient to God’s commandments. The scribes and Pharisees had rejected God’s Word and replaced it with their own traditions. So their standard for purity was a man-made system of ideas that emphasized outward purity. But the true standard for purity is God’s perfect Word which emphasizes inward purity. In verses 6-13, Jesus taught us that what really matters is having a heart that is near God, having a heart that is attentive to God’s Word, and then actually walking in obedience. False purity is putting on a good show, whereas true purity is obeying God from the heart. False defilement is falling short of man-made standards, whereas true defilement is falling short of God’s standards.

Now in verses 14-23 Jesus goes into greater detail on the nature of true versus false defilement. His instruction here is of great importance for our individual spiritual health, for our fellowship as a church community, and for our God-given mission to make new disciples.    

THE SCRIPTURAL TEXT

Holy Scripture says:

14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 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.” 17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 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, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:14-23)

JESUS WANTS YOU TO UNDERSTAND

As we start to unpack this passage, I want you to appreciate the fact that Jesus wants you to understand what He is saying. In verse 14 “he called the people to him” and he told them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand.” As it turns out, His own disciples are slow to understand, and they “asked him” (v. 17) to explain what He meant. This prompted Jesus to say, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see…?” (v. 18) So before we go any further, let this reality sink in: no matter who you are, no matter how old you are, no matter how much of the Bible you know or don’t know, no matter your level of spiritual maturity or immaturity, Jesus wants you to understand His teaching. He wants you to see the truth and weightiness of His words, so that you might be transformed by His words.

WHAT DOES AND DOES NOT DEFILE A PERSON?

In verse 15, Jesus tells us what does defile a person and what doesn’t defile a person. To be defiled is to be made dirty and impure, and to be rendered unclean.

What Doesn’t Defile a Person

In the first half of verse 15, Jesus identifies what doesn’t defile a person: “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him.” The Pharisees were concerned about washing their hands before they ate, and washing their “cups and pots and copper vessels” (Mark 7:4), but Jesus teaches us that nothing that we ingest can make us unclean. Of course, we are talking about spiritual uncleanness. Too much food, or the wrong kind of food, or food poisoning, can wreak havoc on our bodies. But with respect to purity in God’s sight, food and drink don’t defile us.

Of course, we can understand their concern for outward purity. God really did give them a cleanliness code that involved certain foods, diseases, blights, and discharges. There may have been several reasons why God, in perfect wisdom, chose to do this: 1) God wanted Israel, a distinct political nation, to be visibly set apart from all the other nations; 2) God wanted to Israel to be conscious of holiness in every facet of their lives; and 3) God wanted His people to understand that they were in continual need of cleansing (in other words, outward uncleanness could function as a parable of inward uncleanness). This God-given cleanliness code could have been obeyed in an attitude of humility, faith, and love, but the scribes and Pharisees disconnected these instructions from the heart of the law, which was to walk in love, and then they added their own traditions on top of the instructions that God had given them. They were preoccupied with external purity and neglectful of internal purity. But the days of preparation are now over, and Jesus is here – and He takes us into the heart of God’s will for humanity.

What Does Defile a Person

In the second half of verse 15, Jesus tells us what does defile a person: “but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” So it’s not what goes into you, but what comes out of you, that is the real issue. But what does that really mean? It is a parable, a riddle, an enigmatic saying that needs clarification (v. 17). Of course, if the disciples were more mature in their thinking, they might have understood verse 15. But they weren’t, and they didn’t. They were afraid and lacking in faith back in Mark 4:40. They lacked understanding and had hard hearts in Mark 6:52. And now in Mark 7:18 they are again “without understanding”.

So in verses 18-23 Jesus explains the parable of verse 15. The basic clarification is this: it’s not what goes into your body, but what comes out of your heart, that is the real cause for concern.

Why Food Doesn’t Defile Us

In verses 18-19 Jesus explains that the food we eat doesn’t defile us: “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?” The reason that the food and drink which go into our stomach don’t defile us, is because they don’t enter our heart. In other words, the moral and spiritual ‘control center’ of each person is his or her heart. The heart is the seat of our character. The heart is the source of our affections, motivations, attitudes, and thoughts. If the heart is pure, then the heart will generate purity of life – and the person is undefiled. If the heart is impure, then the heart will pump its poison into every facet of our personhood – and the person is defiled. But since physical food cannot enter into your spiritual heart, it cannot defile you.

Therefore, All Foods Are Clean

At this point in our passage, the Holy Spirit led Mark to make an editorial comment. Mark wanted us to know that Jesus’ teaching that food cannot make us spiritually unclean, has a very significant implication: “Thus he declared all foods clean.” (v. 19) What this means, practically, is that pork and lobster are back on the menu. In the Old Testament, God wanted to teach the Israelites about the concept of holiness versus unholiness, and clean versus unclean. So God made certain foods like pig-meat and crustaceans unclean and off-limits for the Israelites. If an Israelite violated the cleanliness code, then he would be unclean – not because he ate shrimp scampi but because he had disobeyed the Lord’s instruction. The shrimp didn’t go into the Israelite’s heart and defile him, but the careless disobedience came out of the Israelites’ heart and defiled him. That said, Mark wants us to know that with the coming of Christ, there is no food that has unclean status any more. If you can stomach escargot, you are free to enjoy it with a clear conscience. It will not defile you.

So the things that cannot enter into your heart cannot defile you, but the things that are able to come out of your heart can defile you. It’s not your physical intake, but your spiritual outflow, that measures the health of your soul. Your heart is the wellspring of your life – and the question is whether your wellspring is clean and pure, or toxic and cruddy.

When the Heart is a Toxic Spring

Jesus explains this in verses 20-23: “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.” Although people like to take refuge in their fleshly efforts to keep up appearances and look good on the outside, Jesus is concerned about what is happening on the inside. Our heart is a constant producer of thoughts, desires, and motivations. The question is: What is the quality of your thoughts, desires, and motivations?

In verses 20-23 Jesus is teaching us that what defiles a person is any internal deviation from the path of obedience that is set forth in Scripture. Remember that back in verses 6-13 Jesus made it clear that the only safe path is heartfelt obedience to God’s Word. By contrast, heartfelt disobedience is the path of defilement and ruin. When your heart produces thoughts or affections or desires or attitudes or motivations or actions that are contrary to God’s will as revealed in Scripture, those things defile you and you are unclean in God’s sight.

Twelve Common Evils that Arise from an Unclean Heart

Now there is a lot of detail in these verses, and we should take some time to walk through it. The structure of the passage is enlightening. The open and closing statements are very similar. The opening statement is: “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts” (v. 20-21) This opening statement is reiterated in the shorter, closing statement: “All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (v. 23) The picture is clear: the heart is the heart of the matter; the heart is the source of “evil thoughts” (v. 21) or “evil things” (v. 23); and these “evil thoughts” or “evil things”, which are flowing out of the person’s heart, defile the person. Then sandwiched in between these opening and closing statement you have twelve common examples of these “evil thoughts” or “evil things” that flow out of a sinful heart. The evil thought or evil attitude may or may not be acted out, but as Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount, indulging in evil thoughts and evil attitudes is enough to defile and condemn us, even if they don’t translate into actions.

As we walk through these twelve evils that arise from an unclean heart, notice that each evil is a deviation from what God has taught us in holy Scripture. Always remember: God’s Word is the standard!

1) Sexual Immorality

Out of man’s sinful heart comes “sexual immorality” (v. 21). Genesis 2 teaches us that God’s design for sexual expression is that it take place within the framework of the covenantal marriage union between one man and one woman. Sexual lust and sexual activity that take place outside of the marriage covenant constitutes sexual immorality and defiles us.

2) Theft

Out of man’s sinful heart comes “theft” (v. 21). Exodus 20:15 commands us, “You shall not steal.” That is the eighth commandment. As we work diligently, we should trust the Lord to supply our needs and be content with what He provides. To steal what the Lord has given to someone else, or to seize what the Lord has not given you, is a profound act of distrust and defiles us.

3) Murder

Out of man’s sinful heart comes “murder” (v. 21). Exodus 20:13 commands us, “You shall not murder.” That is the sixth commandment. Our heart attitude should always be to appreciate, preserve, and protect the life of other human beings. Any heart attitude that devalues another’s life or relishes the thought of another person’s destruction, breaks the sixth commandment and defiles us.

4) Adultery

Out of man’s sinful heart comes “adultery” (v. 21). Exodus 20:14 commands us, “You shall not commit adultery.” That is the seventh commandment. Whereas sexual immorality is a general category, adultery is very specific: it is a breach of the marriage covenant. Our heart attitude should always be to honor, strengthen, and uphold the marriage covenant. If you are married, then you should strive to be absolutely faithful to your spouse. Further, whether you are married or not, you should do absolutely nothing that would compromise or weaken someone else’s marriage. As Hebrews 13 tells us, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” (Hebrews 13:4) Playing loose with your marriage or another’s marriage defiles us in God’s sight.

5) Coveting

Out of man’s sinful heart comes “coveting” (v. 22). Exodus 20:17 commands us, “You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.” That is the tenth commandment. To covet means that your heart is discontent and that you are always craving for more. Coveting demonstrates that we not yet found the joy and peace of the Lord. Coveting is actually a form of idolatry, for it puts things in the place of God, and it renders us unfit for God’s kingdom (see Ephesians 5:5).

6) Wickedness

Out of man’s sinful heart comes “wickedness” (v. 22). Wickedness is a general concept that encompasses many sins. Wickedness includes being heartless (Romans 1:31), malicious (Romans 1:29), divisive (Romans 1:29), ruthless (Romans 1:31), and defiant (Romans 1:30) – and these things defile us.

7) Deceit

Out of man’s sinful heart comes “deceit” (v. 22). The sinful heart operates in un-truth, deception, and lies. Romans 1 also tells us that the standard operating procedure of sinners is to “suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). Sinful hearts are easily deceived, and in turn they easily become deceivers and manipulators of others. Political operatives, shrewd marketing agents, business and religious fraudsters, false teachers, and sinners generally, are in the habit of lying, misleading, and hiding the truth for the sake of their agenda. Deceit is, in fact, the currency of hypocrites who pretend to be something other than what they actually are. “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Mark 7:6) – which means that they are talking a big game. But their big worship game is a cover for their ungodly hearts. Deceit is what makes hypocrisy possible, and it always defiles.

8) Sensuality

Out of man’s sinful heart comes “sensuality” (v. 22). The Greek word translated “sensuality” conveys the idea of reckless disregard for what is right. Here human beings debase themselves as if they are mere animals who must satisfy their animal cravings.

9) Envy

Out of man’s sinful heart comes “envy” (v. 22). The two Greek words that are translated “envy” literally mean an evil eye. The idea is that you look out your eyes with evil intent, with lustful intent, with greedy intent. Practically speaking, an evil eye is often a spirit of envy in which you begrudge others for having a property or possession or position or privilege that you don’t have. Instead of rejoicing with those who rejoice, you are bitter when others are blessed. You’re stuck on yourself. And that defiles you.

10) Slander

Out of man’s sinful heart comes “slander” (v. 22). The idea here is blasphemous or abusive speech toward God or toward other human beings. Instead of praising God and blessing other people, you tear them down. When people engage in such defamation and character assassination, they are verbal assassins who are filthy in God’s sight.

11) Pride

Out of man’s sinful heart comes “pride” (v. 22). C. S. Lewis put it this way: “Pride is the complete anti-god state of mind.” As we saw in Mark 7:6, our hearts ought to be near to God. And if we are near God with any sensible awareness of His majesty and glory – that He is the infinite Creator and we are such small and feeble creatures – then we will walk in humility before Him and show gentleness toward others. To walk in pride shows that we don’t know God, and it makes us spiritually distasteful. 

12) Foolishness

Out of man’s sinful heart comes “foolishness” (v. 22). Since the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10), it is safe to say that pride is the beginning of foolishness. The wise person doesn’t lean on his own understanding, and is always trusting the Lord (Proverbs 3:5). By contrast, the foolish person is wise in his own estimation and thinks that he can get on just fine without God. But Jesus thought otherwise, and told us that people who refuse to walk in God’s wisdom are like fools who build their houses on sand – and when the storm comes, they are ruined.

After identifying these twelve sins, Jesus says: “All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (v. 23)

So let me ask you a question: In light of Jesus’ instruction about true defilement, do you think that you have a defilement problem? At the beginning of Chapter 7, we learned that the Pharisees critiqued Jesus’ disciples for having unwashed hands (Mark 7:1-2). But now in Mark 7:14-23 Jesus is critiquing anyone who has an unwashed heart. Is your heart a toxic spring that defiles you or a pure spring that dignifies you?

PRACTICAL LESSONS FOR A HEALTHY SPIRITUAL LIFE   

Now at this point I’d like to share four very important lessons from this passage for a healthy spiritual life.

Lesson 1: A Healthy Spiritual Life Prioritizes the Heart

Here is the first lesson: A healthy spiritual life prioritizes the heart and measures it according to the truth of God’s Word. There is a great temptation to avoid heart issues, because it is a cesspool in there. Managing a cesspool isn’t easy, and the cesspool doesn’t make us feel good, either. Frankly, we’d rather ignore it, and focus on things that are more directly under our control. It is much more doable to perform ritual washings on our hands, our pots and pans, and our furniture – if that’s your thing. It is much more doable to abide by an external code of conduct, such as the old rhyme: Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew; and don’t go with women who do. It is much more doable to follow whatever our man-made rulebook says about clothing, dancing, movie-watching, and other forms of entertainment. It is much more doable to avoid certain places (like the tavern), avoid certain people (the ones with a bad reputation), and avoid certain words. It is much more doable to check off some ‘religious duty’ boxes: attend church, put my offering in the plate, read the Bible, say a few prayers, support the right moral and social causes, and avoid any big scandals. The problem, of course, is that you could do all that in your own strength – you could do all that with a heart that is far from God; you could do all that with a filthy, unwashed heart; you could do all that with a heart that is steeped in bitterness and feels no compassion for other people; you could do all that even though you defile yourself with that stash of pornography down in your basement or by streaming it through your phone.

Brothers and sisters, God really cares about what is going on in your heart – and He wants to work in your life at the level of your heart, your mind, and your will. God doesn’t want your life to be a begrudging or robotic performance of certain right actions. Instead, God wants your inner person to be full of light and inclined toward all that He says is good and right and lovely. In Psalm 51:6 David prays to God, “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being.” In 1 Corinthians 13:3, Paul reflects on how outwardly sacrificial acts have no value if they aren’t motivated by love: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Jesus teaches us that we must forgive one another from the heart (Matthew 18:35). Peter teaches us that we must “love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22), that we must have “a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8), and that we must “[show] hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9) – which means that the outward act of hospitality should be flowing out of a heart that is not reluctant but that instead has a freeing disposition to welcome and serve others. Scripture tells us that the Lord God examines us, not on the basis of outward appearances, but as the One “who sees the heart and the mind” (Jeremiah 20:12).

Now as I have given the above examples, perhaps you noticed that focusing on the heart and measuring its health by the standard of God’s Word, necessarily brings a focus on right and healthy relationships.[1] It cannot be otherwise. The whole point of Scripture is to teach us how to have a right and healthy relationship with the Lord and with each other. So purity of heart really means relating rightly to God and to other people from the heart. The twelve sins of Mark 7:21-22 are all anti-God and anti-neighbor. Consider very briefly the opposite of these twelve sins.

  1. Contrary to sexual immorality, I ought to honor my neighbor’s sexual purity.
  1. Contrary to theft, I ought to honor my neighbor’s property.
  1. Contrary to murder, I ought to honor my neighbor’s life.
  1. Contrary to adultery, I ought to honor my neighbor’s marriage.
  1. Contrary to coveting, I ought to be content in the Lord and in His provision.

   6-9. Contrary to wickedness, deceit, sensuality, and envy, I ought to be kind, honest,    unselfish, and generous in my dealings with other people.

  1. Contrary to slander, I ought to use my lips to express heartfelt worship to the Lord and to edify other people.
  1. Contrary to pride, I ought to walk humbly with God.
  1. And contrary to foolishness, I ought to be wise by trusting the Lord and obeying His words.

It all sounds so very simple, doesn’t it? And yet, God’s simple way is routinely violated by everyone, and that’s why the world is in such a mess.

Where is your focus? Keeping a bunch of external rules in your own strength? Or measuring your heart for its capacity to love God and love others in all the ways that Scripture sets forth?

Where is your family’s focus? The narrowness of dos and don’ts? Or the largeness of learning to love each other from the heart?

Where is this church’s focus? The ability to talk a good game and put on a good show? Or the capacity to talk transparently and graciously about the dysfunction of our hearts?

2: Everyone is Defiled

Here is the second lesson: Everyone is defiled. Actually, the more precise way to say this is: Apart from God’s redeeming grace, everyone is defiled. I’ll get to the redeeming grace part in a moment. But first, we need the reminder that in and of ourselves, we are a stinking mess! You’re not supposed to read Mark 7:20-23 and conclude, ‘Good on me for not being like that!’ Instead, you’re supposed to hear what Jesus says and conclude, ‘I’m in hot water!’ Every evil, impure, greedy, malicious, and proud thought that you’ve had in the past week, to say nothing about the rest of your life, has defiled you, has made you spiritually unclean, has made you less fit for faithful participation in God’s kingdom.

The apostle Paul looked out upon our broken world and said, “None is righteous…. All have turned aside…. no one does good…. all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10, 12, 23). When God’s grace meets us, it truly does change our hearts, but even then there are imperfections that remain. The apostle John said to Christians who had been genuinely transformed by God’s grace: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8) In other words, part of being a healthy Christian is understanding and owning the fact that you still sin – that you’ve still got some unflattering junk coming out of your heart.

If we understand the depth of our sin and the depth of God’s grace to us sinners, then we will have an increasing ability to be honest with each other about the unflattering junk, and to reflect God’s grace to each other. But if we prefer to appear squeaky clean on the outside, then we will encourage each other to play the game, and some poor soul will have to venture down to the bar – or to some online chat room – in order to have an honest conversation. And that would be a tragedy. The church should be the most gracious place on earth for honest conversations about the muck and grime in our hearts. You know that in and of myself, I’m a stinking mess – because Scripture says so. And I know that you’re not so lovely either – because I’ve read the Bible, too. So we can quit with the pretense, and speak truthfully to each other from the heart. But it will only happen if we have a strong sense of God’s grace.

3: There is One Cure for Defilement

Here is the third lesson: there is one cure for defilement – and only one cure. Once you recognize that you really should be focusing on the heart and measuring it by God’s standards, and then recognize that the outflow of your heart is in violation of those standards and therefore you are defiled in God’s sight, at that point you should want to know if there is a way to get your heart washed. And that is the whole point of the gospel: to get filthy hearts cleansed; to get hearts that are far from God, near to God; to take defiled people and transform them into a holy people who reflect the beauty of God’s character.  

What is the cure? Well first, let’s be clear on what the cure isn’t. The cure isn’t behavioral modification. Behavior isn’t the problem, the corrupt heart is. Further, the cure isn’t cognitive therapy or the modification of your thoughts. The core of your problem, according to verse 21, is not “evil thoughts” or evil attitudes or evil motives, but the “heart” out of which they come. So the solution isn’t willpower to fix your thought life.

The cure needs to be applied at the root – beneath the behavior and speech, and even beneath the thoughts and attitudes, to the very center of our character and personhood, which is our heart. The heart needs to be washed and cleaned, and only One can get in there to do that.

Can you get in there and change your own heart? Can you cleanse your heart with soap and water? Can you give yourself a new heart and a new spirit? Can you wash away the guilt of the past and purify yourself for the future? We cannot! But God is determined to give His people a fresh start: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.” (Ezekiel 36:25-26) And in order to accomplish this miracle, God sent His Son in order to take the guilt and shame of our defilement upon Himself, so that He might confer the honor and privilege of His Sonship upon us. It is “the blood of Christ” which “[purifies] our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” (Hebrews 9:14) Which means we don’t have to spend our life trying to address or manage or un-do or deny our defilement – we don’t have to try to rescue ourselves – because Jesus has rescued us and by His sacrifice He makes us clean. Therefore we can get on with the wonderful business of following the Lord today with a clear conscience, because yesterday’s defilement has been removed by His grace. And the next time we mess up, we don’t need to despair: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)  

This wonderful gift of cleansing grace belongs to those who believe in Jesus. There is nothing for us to do in this matter, except to look upon Jesus and trust Him to clean us up. As Peter says in Acts 15, we receive God’s cleansing grace by faith (Acts 15:9). Which goes right along with what Jesus told the hemorrhaging woman in Mark 5: “your faith has made you well, go in peace” (Mark 5:34). Take your defiled self to the bloody cross, and look upon the One Man who never had an evil thought come out of His heart, and believe that He was broken for you. As it says in a wonderful hymn:

“There is a fountain filled with blood,

Drawn from Immanuel’s veins,

And sinners plunged beneath that flood,

Lose all their guilty stains.

“The dying thief rejoiced to see

That fountain in his day,

And there may I though vile as he

Wash all my sins away.”[2]

Therefore pray: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)

4: What This Means for Our Mission

Finally, a fourth lesson: knowing that defilement is a matter of the heart, and knowing that every human being on the planet is by nature defiled (including you!), and knowing that Christ alone brings cleansing to defiled sinners, has huge implications for our God-given mission to make new disciples. Here is the huge implication: you can take the gospel anywhere, to any person from any background.

Why is this the huge implication? Because if you’re hung up on an external man-made purity code, you’re going to make one or two errors. The first error is to stay away from people and places that don’t conform to your purity code. We stay away from the losers. But if you ever do make contact with these second-rate people, your second error will be to preach moralism to them – ‘you’ve got to clean yourself up and adopt our rules, then maybe we can talk about how you might possibly get on God’s good side’. External man-made purity codes either kill mission or corrupt mission.

But we know better. Measured against God’s standards, we’re all losers. And what does Jesus do? He loves on these people. A leper is unclean, but Jesus touches the leper and cleanses him (Mark 1:40-42). Tax collectors and other obvious sinners were unclean, but Jesus breaks bread with them and invites them into His kingdom (Mark 2:13-17). A demon-possessed man who lives in a cemetery and runs around naked is unclean, but Jesus delivers the man and restores the man’s dignity (Mark 5:1-20). A hemorrhaging woman is unclean, but Jesus is not ashamed to rub shoulders with this woman – and His power makes her well (Mark 5:25-34). A corpse is unclean, but Jesus takes the dead girl’s hand and raises her to life (Mark 5:41). There are no external purity barriers in Jesus’ ministry to all kinds of sinners. Are there any external purity barriers in your ministry to other people? Brothers and sisters, we must learn to follow Jesus in the gracious example that He set for us.

There is nothing outside of us that by going into us can defile us. Therefore, with a heart that is being renewed by God’s grace, and if love is flowing out of our hearts, we can go to any place, and we can break bread with any person, and we can tell them the Good News about the Savior who wants to transform their hearts, too. 

Let us pray.

 

ENDNOTES

[1] James W. Voelz, Mark 1:1–8:26 (Concordia Commentary). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2013: p. 469. In his concluding comments on Mark 7:1-23, Voelz writes (p. 469): “Of primary consideration is this truth: Jesus takes the focus away from regulations and puts it firmly onto relationships by his analysis and assertions.”

[2] From the hymn “There Is a Fountain” by William Cowper.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark (The Pillar New Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark (The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974.

Eckhard J. Schnabel, Mark (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Vol. 2). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017.

James W. Voelz, Mark 1:1–8:26 (Concordia Commentary). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2013.

Ben Witherington III, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001.

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