What goes in and comes out of your life?
How do you know what you really believe? For that matter, how do you know what anyone believes? Our beliefs are made visible by what comes out of our lives. You can see what I believe demonstrated by my attitude and actions. The sincerity of my beliefs will be demonstrated by the outward fruit of my life.
I was recently listening to an interview between a journalist and a powerful foreign leader. The journalist asked the leader a variety of questions including a few questions about his faith. In some circles, this particular leader has a reputation for brutality, but he told the journalist he was a Christian. The journalist pushed back and wondered how the leader could call himself a Christian when it didn’t appear that he was following the teachings of Jesus in the ways he dealt with other people. The leader’s reply indicated that he didn’t really see a connection between the beliefs a person holds in their heart and the actions they take on the world stage.
Anyone who has ever taken a serious look at what we’re taught in Scripture can plainly see that the Lord desires integrity in our lives. He wants what we demonstrate on the outside to match with what is taking place within us. Likewise, He wants the changes He is fostering within us to match with the way we conduct ourselves privately and publicly. During the time of Christ’s earthly ministry, these concepts of spiritual integrity were not being embraced by those who were often believed to be the most spiritual people. Jesus took time to address this issue.
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.” (Mark 7:14-15)
Prior to speaking these words, Pharisees and scribes had come to observe Jesus and His disciples with the desire to pick apart His ministry. They were jealous of the attention He was getting so they came with a critical spirit. One of the primary areas of critique they addressed was the fact that the disciples of Jesus didn’t follow ceremonial hand washing regulations, even though these regulations weren’t required in Scripture.
The Pharisees believed that a person could defile themself if they ingested something that might be considered ritually or ceremonially unclean. They took the Old Testament regulations regarding foods that were acceptable and unacceptable to eat to a new level. Their words and actions demonstrated that they cared more about the ceremonial defilement of the body more than they concerned themselves with the spiritual defilement of the heart.
When Jesus address this issue, I get the impression He surprised not only the crowd that was listening to Him but also His disciples because the disciples asked Him to elaborate further on this teaching once they were in a private place.
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.) (Mark 7:17-19)
When reading the law the Lord gave to Moses, you will find various dietary regulations. In Leviticus 11, in particular, you will find a listing of various foods that were considered clean and unclean during the days of the Old Covenant. These were temporary regulations that didn’t exist in the era before the Old Covenant was inaugurated, and were not meant to continue into the era of the New Covenant that we now live under.
And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, These are the living things that you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth. 3 Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat. 4 Nevertheless, among those that chew the cud or part the hoof, you shall not eat these:” (Lev. 11:1-4a)
Have you ever wondered what point the Lord was trying to illustrate through the Old Testament dietary restrictions? The major point of these temporary restrictions was not to convince people they could be made spiritually healthy by what they ate or didn’t eat. The bigger point was to help people understand something about the holiness of God that He wanted to see demonstrated among the people He called His own. These were ceremonial laws that illustrated the line that is drawn between holiness and evil, between being cleansed of sin or remaining under the wrath of God because of the presence of sin in our lives.
When Jesus came, He fulfilled the spiritual, legal, and ceremonial regulations of the Old Covenant. Through faith in Jesus, we are made holy and blameless in the eyes of God. The defilement of sin is removed from us and replaced with the gift of Christ’s righteousness. The presence of ceremonially clean and unclean animals demonstrated the reality of the human condition. Either we believe in Jesus and are forgiven of sin through the application of the atonement Jesus accomplished for us on the cross, or we persist in our unbelief and remain condemned and unclean.
After many generations of practicing dietary regulations regarding clean and unclean animals, it took a while for people to understand the point of what that ceremonial regulation was trying to illustrate, but eventually the followers of Christ accepted it. Even Peter who was present for this explanation given by Jesus, (specifically that the food we eat isn’t what defiles us, rather the sin that is present within us and comes out in our lives does the defiling), took a while to understand what Christ meant.
The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” (Acts 10:9-15)
And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.” (Acts 10:28)
What a blessing and relief it is to know that through Jesus, we who were once alienated from God, living for ourselves, embracing the things of this world, can be made clean. We are made completely new in Christ.
A couple of years ago, I was asked by the Christian Author’s Network to help judge a speaking competition. It involved speakers from various places in the country, and many of them incorporated their personal testimonies into their speeches.
One particular speaker had a very difficult and dark past. In her speech, she shared about her experience with sex trafficking. She ran away from home when she was young and was trafficked for several years before receiving help to get out of that situation. But soon afterward, she drifted back toward a life in the “adult entertainment industry” because it was the kind of life she was most familiar with. At the time, it also seemed like this was where she was being shown the most value or appreciation.
In the midst of all of this, she thought quite poorly of herself. She thought of herself as disgusting, dirty, and defiled. She started using drugs and alcohol to mask her pain and temporarily forget how terrible she felt. But in the midst of her darkest and lowest moments, the gospel was shared with her and she trusted in Jesus.
One of the greatest comforts she has experienced since coming to know Jesus has been the reassurance of how she is truly seen in His eyes. Through the blood of Jesus that was shed on her behalf, she has been made clean. Now she knows she isn’t distant from God or unclean any longer. She is a new creation in Christ, and the Lord continues to reassure her daily of His desire to welcome her into His presence.
What God has made clean, don’t call common or unclean. No matter what your story may have been up to this point, understand that Jesus delights to forgive you, cleanse you, and give you a right standing before the throne of God.
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 7:20-23)
If the spiritual condition of your heart was closely examined by someone else, what would they actually find? Are you good at putting on an outward act while your heart is far from Christ and in desperate need of redemption?
Jesus made it clear to His disciples that it’s what comes out of a person’s heart that defiles them, not the food they ingest. That which comes from our hearts reveals what’s in our hearts to begin with. If our hearts are consumed with evil thoughts and intentions, that’s what will eventually come out of our lives. If we’re filled with lust, we’ll embrace sexual immorality. If we’re filled with greed, we’ll gravitate toward theft or overconsumption. If we’re filled with pride, we’ll elevate ourselves above others and consider serving others beneath us.
Ask the Lord to reveal to you what your heart is really drawn to. Seek His powerful intervention and ask Him to point your wandering heart to Jesus who forgives every sin and meets every unmet need.
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)
In a comical, but still poignant way, the great author C.S. Lewis once commented, “He that but looketh at a plate of ham and eggs to lust after it hath already committed breakfast with it in his heart.”
What’s the point? The point is that the intentions of the heart matter, and Christ is inviting us to have hearts that are not resistant to His loving direction, but fully devoted to Him with complete sincerity.
In Christ, we are made new. Our hearts of stone have been softened and prepared to trust the guidance of our Savior. Submit your heart, without reservation, to His lordship today.
© John Stange, 2024