“And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand: There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear. And when he was entered into the house from the people, his disciples asked him concerning the parable. And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats? And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” (Mark 7:14-23)
All human religion, like the religion of the Pharisees, operates on the assumption that the defilement and corruption of a person’s soul comes from without, from the things we come into contact with in this world. The creed of such religion is, “Touch not, taste not, handle not” (Colossians 2:21). But in this passage the Lord Jesus shows us that the defilement and corruption of our souls arises from within us. He shows us that our hearts are polluted, defiled, corrupt, and depraved. As we go through these verses together, I want to call your attention to three things.
The Dullness of Our Minds
First, we have before us a clear demonstration of the dullness of our minds (vv. 14, 16, 18). The simple fact is fallen man has absolutely no spiritual understanding. He is not just slow to understand the things of God. He is incapable of understanding. Our Lord called for the multitudes to “Hearken unto him and understand.” Then he said to his disciples, “Are ye so without understanding also?”
The natural man is totally void of spiritual discernment. Until a person is born again by God the Holy Spirit, he cannot understand anything spiritual. The language of Holy Scripture is crystal clear: “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (John 3:3; Romans 3:11; 1 Corinthians 2:14).
The corruption of the human nature is a universal corruption. It affects every man’s heart, his will, his emotions, and his conscience; and it affects his mind as well, his reasoning, his memory, and his understanding. Those who are smart and even brilliant in other things, until they are taught of God, are without understanding in spiritual matters. Worldly men of brilliance often stumble over the simplest things revealed in the gospel. They see no beauty of revelation, spiritual wisdom, or depth of meaning in the clearest statements of gospel truth. To the worldly wise man, those things which hold the believer’s mind in rapturous wonder are foolishness. He listens, if he listens at all, to the preaching of the gospel like a man listening to someone talk in a foreign language, catching a word here and there, but missing the drift of the conversation. He hears but he does not and cannot understand the things of God. The Holy Spirit tells us that the world by wisdom knows not God (1 Corinthians 1:21).
Sovereign election, to the worldling, seems unfair. Divine predestination, to the unbeliever, appears to be fatalism. The doctrine of the Trinity appears to the brilliant infidel an impossible riddle. The incarnation and virgin birth of Christ to the worldly mind appear to be both needless and impossible. Substitutionary redemption and penal satisfaction to unbelievers are barbaric concepts. Imputed righteousness to self-righteous worldlings is utter nonsense. Salvation by grace alone to men and women who have no idea what grace is is foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18-31).
Even those who are born again and taught of God are often slow to understand the things of God. I know that Christ’s sheep hear his voice and follow him. I know that all who are born again have the mind of Christ and, being taught of God, discern all things spiritual. However, so long as we live in this world, our discernment and understanding is at best partial and tainted.
Certainly that was the case with the Lord’s earliest disciples. Looking at it from this distance, our Lord’s teaching here seems so very simple that we think — How could anyone miss that? But “his disciples asked him concerning the parable.” They said, “What did you mean by that parable?” And the Master replied, “Are ye so without understanding also?”
Let us pray continually for the teaching of God the Holy Spirit, that we might understand the Scriptures and the things of God. Without the teaching of the Spirit, the most brilliant mind is confused by the simplest of truths. In reading the Word of God, as we hear the preaching of the gospel, and as we seek to know the ways of God, the direct intervention and illumination of the Spirit is vital. We must always approach the things of God with a humble, childlike, teachable spirit, praying with David, “Teach me thy statutes” (Psalm 119:64).
The Defilement of Our Nature
Second, our Lord here sets before us the defilement of our nature.
“There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear” (vv. 15-16).
Asceticism is not Christianity. Separationism is not spirituality. Moral and spiritual purity does not depend upon or come from washing or not washing our hands, touching things or not touching them, eating things or not eating them. Moral, spiritual purity certainly cannot be obtained by the most diligent practice of religious ritualism and ceremonialism.
That which enters our bodies by the mouth, or enters our minds by the eye or the ear is not that which defiles us, but our own hearts. All evil speech springs from our evil hearts. All corrupt behavior arises from our corrupt hearts. It is the heart that defiles the body, not the body that defiles the heart. The evil of our hearts is that which defiles the mind and conscience, the faculties of the soul, and the members of the body, making fallen man abominable in the sight of God, exposing him to wrath and judgment.
Every man, woman, and child in this world carries in his inmost being a cesspool of wickedness. None of us need bad company to corrupt us. We are bad company! We have within us the root and beginning of all moral and spiritual wickedness. The beginning of all evil is within us all. We ought to always bear this in mind, especially when training and educating our children.
It is not wise, in my opinion, to shelter our children and raise them in isolation from the world. To do so is to teach them, by implication, that they are better than others, that they are not so depraved as others. When they do wrong, we should never blame their companions or their environment. Foolishness is bound up in the heart of every child; and the rod of correction must be used to drive it from him.
Do not misunderstand my meaning. Though we should not live as religious hermits, we should not keep company with evil doers, and should not allow our children to do so (Psalm 26:5; 1 Corinthians 5:11; 15:3). But it is not the company we keep that corrupts us. The corruption is within. “It is, “ John Gill wrote, “sin in the heart, and what proceeds from it; as all evil thoughts, wicked words, and impure actions; which denominate a man filthy and unclean, and expose him to the abhorrence of God.”
Let us train our sons and daughters in the way they should go, ever reminding them of their own personal depravity and need of Christ, diligently praying for them. The only hope any of us have, the only hope our children have of being made righteous and of being accepted with God is Christ. We must be washed in his blood, robed in his righteousness, and born of his Spirit.
Corrupt and sinful as we all are by nature, we are all utterly self-righteous by nature. That is the reason we are all so naturally inclined to embrace the practices of legalistic Pharisees, so quick to look upon those who do not observe ascetic religious traditions as wicked, and ourselves as righteous. Knowing this, and knowing that his doctrine would be received by none except those who are given grace to receive it, our Savior says, “If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.” If God the Holy Spirit gives us such spiritual discernment, let us ever give him thanks and praise for his grace.
The Depravity of Our Hearts
In verses 20-23, we are given a clear description of the depravity of our hearts.
“And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.”
These words describe us all. Our Lord is not here speaking only of the profligate, the base, and the disreputable, but also of the high, the mighty, and the respectable. These words describe every human being, without exception. The seeds of evil may lie hidden within us, covered by the pretense of piety and restrained by society; but they are at the very core of our beings. We are all unclean things! In our “inward part is every wickedness” (Psalm 5:9), and nothing good (Isaiah 1:2-6; Romans 3:10-18).
All “evil thoughts” concerning the triune God, his sovereignty and his salvation, and all “evil thoughts” of our fellow creatures proceed from our depraved hearts. All wicked imaginations, carnal reasonings and lusts, and malicious imaginations rise from, and are devised, and forged in the corrupt heart of man.
All “adulteries,” unlawful intercourse, in thought and deed, between married people, takes its rise from the heart of fallen men and women.
All “fornications,” sexual evil, pornography, pedophilia, incest, homosexuality, and idolatry are evils residing in every heart by nature.
All “murders,” including the hatred and malice from which murder springs, and slanders by which men assassinate one another’s name and character, are deeds of the heart, before they are committed by the hand.
All “thefts,” by force or by fraud, arise from the heart.
All “covetousness,” greed, envy and extortion, an insatiable desire after the things of the world, springs from the heart.
All “wickedness,” every act of iniquity, every transgression of God’s holy law, every sinful thought and deed, doing harm to others, every evil thing comes from the heart.
All “deceit,” guile, hypocrisy, subtlety, and craftiness are evil traits of the heart, not learned practices.
All “lasciviousness,” licentiousness, the lack of contentment, and filth of mind are the lusts of the heart of fallen man.
The “evil eye” refers to man’s rejoicing at the miseries of others. It includes sorcery and witchcraft.
All “blasphemy,” evil speech regarding God or men, comes from the heart.
All “pride,” the root of all evil, be it pride of race or pride of place, springs from the evil heart of wickedness, that resides in every human being.
All “foolishness,” senseless, rash, reckless behavior, springs from the proud, egotistical heart of man, who thinks of none but himself.
“All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” That being so, how humble we should be! — “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalms 51:5). — “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not” (Romans 7:18).
“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God…What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 19-20).
How thankful we ought to be for God’s free grace, Christ’s blood atonement and imputed righteousness. How thankful we ought to be for God’s immutable mercy! How thankful we ought to be for God’s unspeakable gift, Christ our Savior! It is by God’s grace alone that we are in Christ, “who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).
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 Let me give you an example. — Thomas Jefferson was one of America’s most brilliant and distinguished forefathers. Like most of our nation’s earliest statesmen, he was a Deist. (A Deist is one who believes in a god on purely rational grounds, without any revelation or inspired authority. Deists believe that a god created the world and established certain laws of nature, but has nothing else to do with the world he created). Jefferson seems to have been brilliant with regard to almost all things natural. But he was totally ignorant of all things spiritual. This is what Thomas Jefferson had to say about the God of the Bible…
“I can never join Calvin in addressing ‘his God.’ He was indeed an atheist, which I can never be; or rather his religion was demonism. If ever a man worshipped a false god, he did. The being described in his five points is not the God whom you and I acknowledge and adore, the Creator and benevolent Governor of the world, but a demon of malignant spirit.”
Jefferson stands as a glaring display of that which God the Holy Spirit declares. — “The natural man understandeth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, for they are spiritually discerned!”