Mark 7:20-23 [Jesus] went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean’. For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean’.”
Jesus is making a very important point here. Today we are very conscious of the need for personal hygiene because of what we have discovered about contagious and infectious diseases (although some experts are now telling us we are ‘disinfecting ourselves to death’ and many allergies today can be the result of over-cleanliness hindering our bodies’ production of effective antibodies!).
But Jesus is talking about a much more lethal ‘disease’ – sin, with which we are all contaminated from within. The Pharisees were so obsessed with outward appearances – observing outward ‘rules’ and ‘traditions’ related to ceremonial cleanliness – that they were totally oblivious of this inner poison present in them and us. The examples listed by Jesus of how sin expresses itself in our daily lives is quite condemning. Even if we think we can exonerate ourselves from many of them, we are hard pressed to do that for some of the more subtle ingrained ones like envy, arrogance and folly. In addition to this, Jesus’ comments in the Sermon on the Mount about what actually constitutes murder and adultery (Matthew 5:21-30) are fairly unsettling!
If we are honest, we realise we are none of us immune from the ‘sin’ virus, which is why God promised us through Ezekiel: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (36:26-27). It is also what Jesus meant when he told one of the Pharisees, Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (John 3:3, 7). Following Jesus isn’t about self-improvement – keeping rules and observing human traditions, keeping up appearances. It’s about a whole new start – a major operation that only the divine Surgeon himself can perform in us, to cleanse us from the inside out.
And this can only start with our realisation that this is where the problem lies and we are in desperate need of help. “Search me, O God, and know my heart today, try me, O Saviour, know my thoughts, I pray; see if there be some wicked way in me; cleanse me from every sin, and set me free” (J. Edwin Orr); “O for a heart to praise my God, a heart from sin set free, a heart that’s sprinkled with the blood so freely shed for me” (Charles Wesley).
– Bruce Christian