True Religion — More Inward than Outward
“And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable. And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.”
In All aspects of worship, faith, and obedience to God, the most important thing is the attitude of our hearts. I do not suggest that outward obedience is insignificant. We must never become negligent in matters of worship and obedience to our God. Public worship, the ordinances of divine service, the reading of Holy Scripture, and prayer are matters of great importance, and must be meticulously observed in strict accordance with divine Revelation. However, if we observe all things outwardly, but fail to approach God with grace, and faith, and love to Christ, the most careful and strict observance of outward duties is an abomination to God (Isa. 66:3; Pro. 15:8; 21:27).
Our Savior turned from the Pharisees and called the multitudes, saying, “Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man”(vv.10-11). The Pharisees, by their tradition, taught that spiritual cleansing came from observing religious traditions and ceremonies, such as ceremonially washing their hands before they ate in public. Those who did not observe their traditions were considered unclean and unholy.
Our Lord Jesus had reproved them for their hypocrisy (vv. 1-9). Here he declares plainly that we do not defile ourselves by what we eat. All that we are and do is defiled by the corruption of our depraved hearts. He was not speaking to the Pharisees, but to the multitude. Yet, knowing that the Pharisees were listening, hoping to catch a word or phrase they could use against him, he gave them exactly what they wanted. — “Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.” They now had a direct quote from the Master’s own lips they could twist and use against him, to accuse him of teaching against the law.
In a word, he threw the goats a can to chew on. But that which is to goats a sharp can, is sweet food for the Lord’s sheep. Sheep are not offended by having their inward depravity exposed. Sheep find in their depravity reason to look to Christ for mercy. Sheep are never offended by being told that their religious works are, at best, filthy rags. Knowing that to be true, they trust Christ alone for righteousness.
But the Pharisees were (and still are) offended by the Master’s doctrine. — “Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying?” (v. 12). The disciples were far more concerned about offending lost religionist than the Lord Jesus was. It is obvious that our Lord deliberately offended the Pharisees. Let that be a lesson to us. We should never be fearful of offending those whose religion is an offense to our God. Spurgeon wrote, “They had come to him in a fawning manner, desiring to catch him in his speech: he was disgusted with their hypocrisy, and by this staggering statement he unmasked them, and they came out in their true colors. They could not further conceal their hate: henceforth they could not entrap the disciples by their professions of friendliness.”
The Lord Jesus told the Pharisees, and told them plainly, that they transgressed the law of God, which they pretended to honor by their religious customs (v. 3), making the commandment of God “of none effect” (v. 6). He told them that they were nothing but hypocrites (v. 7). And he pointedly told them that Isaiah’s damning words were specifically intended to describe them (vv. 8-9). Then, when the Savior publicly declared the depravity of their hearts (vv. 9-10), that band of lost religious legalists was obviously offended and provoked to anger. The disciples were disturbed by that fact, but not the Master. Rather than retracting, or even qualifying his words, the Lord Jesus declared their condemnation even more forcefully.
We read in verses 13-14, “But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.” With those words, the Son of God declares that it is the duty of God’s servants to oppose every doctrine that sets itself in opposition to Christ. The destruction of heresy is a matter of certainty. God’s truth shall prevail (Matt. 16:18). All who teach that which is in opposition to Christ, his gospel, and his glory are to be forsaken by us! His standing command is, “Come out from among them!”
Without question, these stern words may be applied to individuals, to all who profess faith in Christ and are numbered with his people in this world. If our religion is not wholly of God, if our faith is not a God given faith, if our salvation is not a God wrought salvation, it shall be rooted up! It will come to an end. And that end will be everlasting destruction! “No matter how fair the flower, if the Father hath not planted it, its doom is sealed: It shall not be pruned, but ‘rooted up.’” (C.H. Spurgeon). It will be rooted up by the trials of providence (Matt. 13:21), by the temptations of Satan (Matt. 13:22), and by the preaching of the truth (John 6:66).
But, primarily, our Lord was talking about those who teach and preach another gospel. The disciples were shocked that the Lord had spoken bluntly to the Pharisees, and had offended them. But the Master shows us that he intended to offend them. He shows us that those who teach “for doctrines the commandments of men” are people to whom we are to show no mercy or kindness. It mattered nothing to him that they were planted in high office, if his Father had not planted them. It mattered nothing to him how highly esteemed they were in their own eyes or in the eyes of men.
Those who are the enemies of the cross are the enemies of men’s souls (Phil. 3:18-19). And those who are the enemies of our God must be accounted by us as our enemies. God commands us to love our enemies and pray for those who despitefully use us; but we are not to love and pray for his enemies (2 Chron. 19:2; Psa. 139:21-22). God’s servants must expose, denounce, and condemn them and their doctrine. God’s people must forsake them (Rev. 18:4; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1). The Master’s word is, “Let them alone.” If we submit ourselves and our families to the counsel of the ungodly and the doctrines of antichrist, our blood and the blood of our children, and of all who are influenced by us will be upon our own heads. It is never right to follow the blind into a ditch!
God will overthrow that doctrine that opposes him, and those who preach it. Babylon must and shall fall: the sooner, the better (Rev. 18:1, 2, 20). By Babylon, I mean the religion of this world, Arminian, freewill, works religion. The weapons of our warfare, by which we must oppose Babylon, are spiritual, not carnal. We fight the forces of evil in this world, as our Lord did here, not with the sword, or even the ballot box, but with the gospel (2 Cor. 10:4-5).
The Lord Jesus said, “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.” God’s elect are a people loved with an everlasting and unchangeable love, a people planted in Christ by sovereign, distinguishing grace. It is impossible for those who are thus planted by the Lord to fall from his grace and be rooted up. And everyone who is not planted in Christ is sure to be rooted up and fall into everlasting ruin. “Oh! the blessedness of distinguishing grace. Lord! sweetly give grace to the improvement of thy people, that we may know where we are, and to whom we belong. And avert from thy redeemed, false teachers and false guides: that we may not be in danger of being led by the blind, and both fall into condemnation.” (Robert Hawker)
Source of Defilement
Our Master teaches us that the source of all sin and defilement is the heart of man. — “Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable. And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man” (vv. 15-20).
The Pharisees of old, like the religionists of our day, taught that holiness, righteousness, and godliness depended upon abstaining from certain meats and drinks and carefully observing religious ceremonies of washing and purification. Our Savior overthrows this doctrine by declaring three things.
1. It is not what you put in your body that defiles you, but what comes out of your mouth (Rom. 14:17). Material things cannot defile your soul by using them. And material ceremonies cannot cleanse your soul by enduring them. Carnal things can neither corrupt nor cleanse the soul. If we would worship and serve God, we must have something more than a separated life and a form of godliness. We must have a heart that is clean and upright before God, a clean heart and a right spirit. Such a heart is the gift of God’s grace, the work of his Spirit in the new birth.
2. All sin and defilement originates in and springs from the heart. It is not our environment that corrupts us, or our company, or our education, but our hearts.
“For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” What a list! What must that heart be out of which so many evils pour forth! If these are the bees, what must the hive be! “Evil thoughts,” evil devisings such as the Pharisees displayed, come from the heart. “Murders” begin not with the dagger, but with malice in the soul. “Adulteries” and “fornications” are committed in the heart before they are performed by the body. The heart is the cage from which every unclean bird flies forth into the world. “Thefts” are born in the covetousness of the heart. No man steals what he does not first covet. “False witness,” lying and slander, is venom in the heart that is spewed out of the mouth. “Blasphemies” are the enmity of the heart expressed by the vile speech of the tongue. All these, and all other evils, ooze from the vile cesspool inside fallen man called, “the heart.”
“These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.” It is the corruption of the heart that makes fallen man unfit for communion with God, not failure to pour water on your hands before you eat, or failure to observe religious duties. The heart of man is abominable before God. The evils gushing from the heart makes fallen man loathsome and revolting before God and expose all to shame and ruin. It is only the blood of Christ that can cleanse us from the pollution and guilt of our corrupt hearts and save us from the wrath of God, which we so fully deserve. Yet, those who know nothing of the corruption of their hearts, know nothing of God’s saving grace, know nothing of repentance and faith in Christ, are horrified when they see one who worships God in Spirit and in truth neglecting the religious traditions by which their blind leaders lead them into hell.
3. God looks on the heart. But we prefer outward things, because we are able to perform them and they call attention to us.
Few are able to grasp such elementary, but vital truths, because they are turned away from the simplicity that is in Christ by self-righteous, works religion. There is a vast difference between physical and spiritual defilement. What we eat and drink does not touch the soul. It passes through the body; but it does not reach our hearts. Material things cannot defile a person. That which is eaten is material substance, and cannot make anyone spiritually, or morally unclean. That fact is so obvious that no one would ever imagine otherwise, were it not for the man made dogmas of false religion.
Our Lord’s doctrine in this passage, and throughout Holy Scripture, is this: – True religion is more inward than outward. The state of our hearts before God is the main thing. Do not be content with church attendance, religious duties, and outward behavior. Make certain that your heart is right in the sight of God (Psa. 51:10; Pro. 4:23; Acts 8:21; Rom. 10:10). The Lord God receives the broken, contrite, believing heart (Psa. 51:17; Rom. 10:9-10). Let us never forget that our greatest enemy is our own heart. The world and the devil combined are not so dangerous as our hearts. So let us keep our hearts with all diligence! The only way to keep your heart is to keep it full of Christ (Phil. 4:1-8). May God graciously keep us so that we may keep our hearts for him. Remember, “He that trusteth in his heart is a fool” (Pro. 28:26).