What Defiles a Man – Mark 7

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Grace Bible Church

December 30th, 2012

David Scott Harris

What Defiles a Man

Mark 7:15-23 and Romans 8



Good morning everyone, turn in your Bibles if you would to the Gospel of Mark to chapter 7 verses 14-23. We just went over this passage in our Thursday night Bible Study at SUNY New Paltz and its importance really struck me. I think it’s immensely critical to understand because at the heart of it lies the difference in the truly Christian belief system and all others. Please follow along as I read: 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 (ESV) In light of this passage, I’d like to ask you a question. Do you believe that man is inherently evil? Ask most Christians this and they would probably say: “yes, or course man is sinful and in need of God’s grace; that’s what the Bible says.” Indeed, we see it plainly put that way in this passage. In light of the Sandy Hook massacre on the 14th we definitely have a heightened awareness of the presence of evil in our world, and even in our local communities. All of us have experienced varying degrees of pain and suffering due to either our own evil or the consequences of the evil of others. But do YOU really believe that. Do you really believe that is man inherently corrupt and wicked? Because if we really believe this passage then our entire world view will be affected by this belief to a profound level. Not only will our personal lives be affected, but our entire social structure: everything. Government, economics, education, parenting, etc. A proper understanding of exactly what Jesus means here will mean the difference between doing things man’s way and doing things God’s way.

This passage is one very often misapplied or underappreciated when it is studied. I can think of many times that I’ve heard it used to justify a particular, usually sinful action. The idea that frequently comes out of a quick look at this passage is that Jesus is essentially saying we can do whatever we want in regards to our consumption of material things. We can watch whatever entertainment we desire (whether it’s honoring to God or not), eat however much we want, drink however much we want, listen to whatever gives our ears enjoyment, and essentially TAKE IN whatever we want as long as nothing evil comes out of us. As long as we don’t gossip or curse. As long as no wrong deeds come from us then whatever we take in is ok. Because of this common application, the importance and revolutionary nature of this text is overlooked.


To make sure we fully understand the significance of what Jesus is saying here, let’s go back a few verses and set the context of Jesus’ remarks. At this stage of Jesus’ ministry He is still in the area of the Sea of Galilee. He preached and taught in several gentile regions following His ministry in this town on the north-western shore of Galilee. Some scribes and pharisees that had come from all the way from Jerusalem then “gathered around” Jesus to confront Him. Specifically they confront Jesus about the way his disciples are eating without washing their hands in the correct tradition. This way of washing hands before eating was very specific, but could not be found in the Torah- it was simply an extra biblical tradition. Jesus responds with Isaiah 29:13- And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men. His point was to demonstrate that the pharisees cared not about God’s law, but man’s. They had substituted a system of extra biblical laws for God’s law as given in Leviticus. Jesus goes a step further in showing this error by bringing up another example common to the time. Let’s read further. 9-13 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban” (that is, given to God) then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” Corban was an account of money or goods that was set aside to God and was only supposed to be used for sacred purposes. What the Jews of the time had done was use this system to have an account they could do whatever they wanted with, but if someone (in this case someone’s parents) needed the money, they could just say “oh, well that’s corban, that’s for God, I can’t give you any of that”. In so doing they used a tradition to get around God’s command to honor their parents. You see, the religious Jews did something that many Christians still do today: they believed that it was only the outward that counted. As long as the law was not violated in an outward sense, then everything was ok. However, there are a host of verses in the Hebrew scriptures that attest to the fact that God values not the outward only, but more importantly the inward- He wants His people to honor Him with their hearts. If that wasn’t enough Jesus goes on to challenge their entire worldview. The way that they understood the nature of evil was basically the way every false worldview still does: that the corrupting influence of evil is environmental. That was their understanding of the purpose of the Levitical law. It was designed to remedy the corrupting influence of evil from without. However, we know from the book of Romans that the law only proved in itself that it could not be kept by fallen man. What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Romans 7:7-8 The law is what shows us that we cannot keep the commandments of God and are therefore in need of His grace. They should have understood from verses in the Hebrew scriptures like Jeremiah 17:9 and Psalms 51:5 that man is naturally evil.

What Defiles a Man

Jesus uses the opportunity the pharisees and scribes have brought about to relay a spiritual truth to everyone. It says He “called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them: Listen to Me, all of you, and understand. Everything Jesus says is important, but when He calls everyone together to tell them something, you can be sure that it’s REALLY important. You can be sure He’s about to say something very key. “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can de
file him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”
Jesus’ point is that the physical doesn’t corrupt the spiritual. In the immediate context, He’s also saying that the ceremony of washing hands won’t cleanse the heart. In hindsight, Mark (written under the authority of Peter) attests to the fact that foods previously outlawed in the Levitical covenant are now being declared clean and ok to eat. This wasn’t realized till Peter’s vision in Acts chapter 10, but Mark recognizes that the precedent was set here.

Like the pharisees, the disciples have some trouble understanding this principle, and so when they leave the crowds they ask him about what He meant- they also would have understood defilement as something that comes from the outside. Jesus points out that food doesn’t go to the heart, but to the stomach where it is digested and then expelled. He is again driving the point home that what is outside doesn’t defile what is inside. All the evil deeds committed by people- all their evil words and actions are committed because they start in the heart and then come out. Jesus goes through a list of some of the evils similar to the list of the deeds of the flesh in Galatians chapter 5.

What Proceeds Out of a Man

Evil thoughts. This is from the Greek words kakos and dialogismos and could be defined as an evil calculation or a plotting. Next is porneiai; this is sexual immorality of any kind, any deviance from what God has decreed as proper. Phonos- murdering. Mochieia- adultery. Plenonexia- desiring or lusting after material things. It’s actually literally desiring “numerically more”. Dolos is deceit. Aselgia is lewdness. Aphthalmos is literally “the eye”. This is envy. Blasphemia could be translated as slander but also includes blasphemy and any other improper speech. Uperephania is an unrighteous pride that sees others as lower than oneself. And finally, aphrosune, which could be translated as “senselessness”. These are the things that come out of us. We do not exercise these evils because of surrounding influences, we exercise these because they are already in our hearts. “All these things proceed from within and defile a man“. In the defiling of individuals, we also experience the defiling of a society. This is evident in our own society in the fact that we would be arguing with many people whether or not everything in this list is even wrong. Or for that matter, whether there is such a thing as wrong.

Does this mean that what we take in- what we allow our senses to consume is morally neutral? Does it matter what we watch, listen to, touch, or consume? Indeed! What you willingly partake of gives a testimony of what is in your heart. For example, “entertainment” that contains pornography, blasphemy, or simply glorifies what God has command as wrong does not directly defile you. In fact, it should cause you a great amount of disgust. However, as Jesus is pointing out in this passage, evil comes from within the heart and so through the ungodly entertainment we are given an opportunity to manifest that evil. That’s why Paul charges the Phillipians to dwell on whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise.” Instead of being amused by things that gratify our flesh, we dwell on THESE things. Galatians 5:13 says: “do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” We are free from the condemnation of the law, but we are not to use our freedom to gratify our lusts, but in Christian service toward each other. Do the things you put before your senses inspire fleshly desires within you, or do they help to sanctify you? I’ve often heard Christians say when justifying a certain questionable action or choice that they “can handle it”. “No, I can watch this film filled with blasphemy, I hear it all the time anyway, it doesn’t bother me” “I just listen to the song cause I like the beat, I can ignore the lyrics.” That’s a dangerous attitude. Many Christians seem to trust themselves too much. Instead the believer is supposed “walk in the Spirit” so that he doesn’t “gratify the desires of the flesh”. Nothing should distract from this end.

Example of David

One good example of this comes from the life of David. David committed several infamous sins throughout his kingship, but most pale in comparison to his sin with BathshebaTo review the story: David walked out on his roof and surveyed his kingdom. He saw Bathsheba and lusted after her. He coveted her and took her to commit adultery. He had Uriah, her husband murdered to cover his tracks. He ended basically breaking all the ten commandments in some way or another. What was David’s first problem? The key is found in 2 Samuel 11:1: In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. Where was David supposed to be? David shirked his responsibility and in so doing gave opportunity for the flesh and manifested the immorality already present in his heart.

An Opposite Worldview

As I said earlier, the Pharisees would have understood evil to be an issue of environment. In other words, what corrupts a man is what he is influenced by outside of himself. If you get this part of your worldview wrong then everything that follows will be wrong. There have been plenty of philosophers that have believed that man is inherently good. Many of these philosophers have influenced Christian theology. The reason why our country was set up the way it was, was due to the idea that man was evil, but the reason why it’s strayed so far from where it began is due to the belief that man is basically good. Two very important philosophers in regard to these ideas were John Locke and Jacques Rousseau. John Locke, who lived in the 17th century propagated the idea that children are born a “blank-slate”, and society either corrupts or redeems their morality. Rousseau believed similarly, though he said that man was basically good, society just corrupts him. These men were two of the most important contributors to what has shaped educational philosophy not only in our nation, but most nations around the world. In the early 1900s a man who was greatly influenced by Locke and Rousseau named John Dewey became very active in the molding of the public school system here in the US. Dewey was a secular humanist and devout Darwinist. The theory of evolution greatly motivates these ideas because then not only are we inherently good, but we are evolving and getting better and better. Surely we can create a perfect society here on earth! His most impacting idea in our society is the idea that education should be child-centered. In other words, if children are basically good, then schooling should be all about them! This is one of the reasons we have this idea of the critical importance of self-esteem. That the child knows and understands that they are good- no matter what they do. Everything is acceptable. However, we now have a problem. Children who are constantly told they are good and all their actions are acceptable become teenagers and then are expected to grow up. The solution? The creation of the idea of adolescence. Freud was very instrumental in the creation of this idea. Now whatever the adolescent does is ok because their “brain is still developing”. It’s only natural that they are going to experiment with sex, drugs, and alcohol because they are trying to “find themselves”. This idea of adolescence isn’t in your history books. It’s just not. It’s a recent creation. Most all cultures, even pagan ones had some sort of rite of passage that signified that a boy was now a man or a girl was now a woman. There was no 10 year stage of “becoming an adult
“. Now what happens when the teens reach what’s considered adulthood and still haven’t grown up? We continue to make excuses them. We extend their adolescence as long as possible through their college years, and with many, we establish a dependancy upon the government through the welfare system. So now we can remain children forever. What did Paul say? When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man- I gave up childish ways. What happens when an adolescent goes into a school like Sandy Hook and starts shooting children? There’s no doubt that you’ll hear a variety of explanations as to the mental state of Adam Lanza and the aspects of his upbringing that drove him to take 26 lives in Newtown, but why did he really do it? If man is basically good, then some sort of excuse must be created, but we know the biblical explanation. The evil within his heart gave birth to sin, and many have had to pay the consequences. The influences that may have contributed to his evil actions should not be discounted, but Adam Lanza alone bears responsibility for what he did. Today either the sin is excused because of some mental condition, or behavior is accepted as normal, natural, and even encouraged. We’re seeing this increasingly more in regards to drugs, alcohol, and sexual perversion. What people would have been arrested or put in a mental institution for 50 years ago is now flaunted and celebrated as good.

What about the institution of government? Where do we even begin in establishing a government if all men are evil? Ideally we would have a system where biblical principles are applied and followed. Many of our founding fathers understood this. Their attempt was to set up a government based on the idea that man was corrupt and needed as much accountability as possible. This is where the principle of checks and balances: the federal government, the states, and the people are supposed to keep each other in check. Unfortunately, because man is still corrupt, even a system such as what we’ve set up eventually drifts toward tyranny. Woodrow Wilson said just before the first world war that “the world must be made safe for democracy”. What has occurred over the last 150 years is the idea that the only ideal form of government is a democracy, but this too is founded on the idea that man is good; that as a group we will choose a virtuous leader. Both communism and anarchy rest on this principle as well. If men are good then we can create a utopia here on earth where everyone will share and get along. Or the reverse: that man doesn’t need a government to administer justice because man is good and he can be left to his own devices.

The Noble Savage

It’s been fascinating for me in studying early to mid American literature this last semester to see through the lens of literature how much things have changed since the beginning of this nation. The Puritans understood the natural evil of the human heart. They’re now absolutely disparaged in modern academia as being oppressive hypocrites. Your children will be given a picture of them that is a total distortion of who they really were. Within a hundred years of the height of the Puritan presence in New England, the idea of the nature of man had completely shifted. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman all propagated the idea of the noble savage. This stems from Rousseau’s idea that the man is corrupted by society. Leave him alone in nature, and he will virtuous! Therefore the ideal situation is that of tribal natives. We need to get back to our evolutionary roots, get back to nature and there will be good and virtuous. From these ideas has come the modern environmental movement that values nature as the highest good. It’s a short step here to actually worshiping nature in the way that groups like the modern resurgence of Druids do. Do you see how getting one theological truth wrong effects and impacts every belief? Study some of the lives of pioneer missionaries: you will find quite the opposite. Those living in tribal conditions were always discovered living in complete and utter spiritual bondage.

In Christendom

Let’s take as step away from those who don’t claim to be Christians and examine what we find in the sphere of Christendom. What implications are there in regard to the gospel? If man is basically evil, not good, then he cannot save himself from his sin. In the Hebrew Scriptures we see the picture of the Messiah in the atoning for sin by sacrifice. Christ was the final and perfect sacrifice because He lived a life without sin. He was the only person who ever lived who was not inherently evil. While Eve may have sinned first in the garden of Eden, Romans 5:12 tells us that it’s through Adam that sin spread to all the world- this is why Jesus had to be conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin. Paul quotes from Psalm 14 when he’s explaining the need for a savior in Romans chapter 3: They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. Later, in Romans chapter 8 Paul says: the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. There is no capacity in the unbelieving heart to choose to follow Christ. Nevertheless, there resides in the modern evangelical church an idea that somehow man can choose God. Billy Graham is quoted as saying: “You will determine Christ’s success or failure in your decision.” Christ’s failure?! This is not biblical. Jesus says in John 6: All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Christ will be victorious whether you reject Him or not. If you are basing your salvation on a decision that you made then you need to do what 2 Peter 1:10 says: be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure. One of the greatest lies in the modern evangelical church is that you are saved by a decision. Then what happens when you change your mind? What happens when you make another decision? You are saved by Christ! It’s Christ that died for you, the Holy Spirit that opens your eyes, and the Father that secures you.


One question remains: if we are all utterly helpless before God because of our depravity, then where is there hope? The answer is a few verses earlier in Romans chapter 8: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, behold all things have become new. If you have turned from your sins and trusted in Christ for your salvation, then God sees sinless Christ instead of sinful you! The Holy spirit indwells you and gives you the strength to fight your sin. When I was younger- in age and in the faith, I use to think as I grew in Christ and eliminated more and more sin from my life that things would become easier and I would feel less guilty for sinning against God. Nope. That’s not how it works. If you haven’t read the diary of David Brainerd, the Puritan missionary to the Indians on the Delaware River, I would highly suggest reading it. Brainerd was a man that seemed to care about almost nothing other than Christ and the spreading of the Gospel. He is looked up to by many Christians, (me included) for his incredible persistence through terrible physical, emotional, and mental affliction as he slowly died of Tuberculosis during his few
years as a missionary. In my mind and minds of many he is spiritual giant- but he didn’t see himself that way at all. I’d like to read one entry from his diary. This is three days after one occasion of preaching to the Indians: “My heart was overwhelmed within me: I verily thought I was the meanest, vilest, most helpless, guilty, ignorant, benighted creature living And yet I knew what God had done for my soul, at the same time: though sometimes I was assaulted with damping doubts and fears, whether it was possible for a such a wretch as I to be in a state of grace.” This is how a man like Brainerd saw himself. We can hear the very same train of thought in Romans 7:15-16 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. And a few verses later: Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Why did these men have such a low view of themselves? This is foolishness to the world! This is foolishness to the self-esteem movement and the 7 steps to a better you! Why did they see themselves like this? Because the more you lower yourself, the more you raise Christ. Paul says I count everything as skybala, as rubbish or excrement because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. The eternal hope found in Christ is worth more than anything this world has to offer. It’s worth admitting that you’re not good. If you’re here this morning and you don’t have that hope, then don’t leave without talking to someone about how you too can be seen as sinless before God. You may have been born in sin, but if you cry out to God, He will save you. He will give you a new heart with a desire to serve Him instead of yourself.

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