He 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.'” (Mark 7:20-23)
Jesus is still addressing the subject of rules as they relate to righteousness, or self-righteousness, as the case may be. Just to be clear, self-righteousness is what we exhibit when we believe our good works make us clean before God. In reality, it isn’t our works, but our heart that makes us clean.
This doesn’t mean God isn’t pleased with our good works. In fact, He commands us to do them. James once said true religion is to care for widows and orphans in their distress.
Yet, if we hope to be spiritually clean in God’s presence, we can’t get there by doing good works. We can only do so by having the right attitude toward Him, and allowing Him to cleanse us within with saving grace.
Unfortunately, our human tendency is to focus heavily on works, and on what others see. What people see is tangible.
But what they don’t see is where our spiritual nature is revealed. The things within…the things that come out of us are the things that define our righteousness, or lack thereof.
We won’t spend time explaining each of the “unclean” things. I think they are pretty self-evident. I should make note of one often overlooked point, however: “slander” is in the same list as murder and adultery. So if we think spreading stories about people (gossip) is one of those things everyone does, and is not all that serious, we should think again.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with trying to keep our outward person clean. As we have already said in our study, it is good to clean our hands before we eat, and carry out a number of other healthy practices. It is also respectful to “clean-up” for worship. But if we obsess about the outside that people see, and neglect the inside that people can’t see, we are like tombs full of dead men’s bones, or cups that are polished on the outside, but full of grime on the inside (somewhat of a paraphrase of Jesus’ words).
The truth is, sometimes the unclean things on the inside do become visible on the outside, but not because we have neglected what people see. No, our inner thoughts have a way of sneaking out of our hearts and into the public eye. Rarely do people commit serious sins in a vacuum. Normally, they have been harboring and nurturing unclean things for some time inside, and they leaked out when they least expected.
Our ideal is to be the same inside and out…for us to be the people others see, for others to see who we are, and for it all to be pleasing to God.
An old children’s song says, “I’m inright, outright, upright, downright, happy all the time…since Jesus Christ came in, and cleansed my heart from sin…I’m inright, outright, upright, downright, happy all the time.” How are your insides?
Dear God, make me the same, inside and out. In Jesus’ name, Amen.