What Defiles a Person?

by Mike Ratliff

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 7:15 ESV)

One very interesting character in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is a fellow named ‘Ignorance.’ ‘Christian’ and ‘Hopeful’ encounter him after they depart the company of the ‘Shepherds’ as they continue their journey to the Celestial City.  The path on which they traveled became crooked and it lay next to a country called ‘Conceit.’ ‘Ignorance’ came from there. Bunyan described him as ‘a very brisk lad.’ After ‘Christian’ learned  that ‘Ignorance’ claimed to be on the same journey as he and ‘Hopeful’ he also deduced that this fellow had not begun it at the Narrow Gate nor had he encountered Christ Crucified.

‘Christian’ said to him, “But how do you think to get in at the Gate? For you may find some difficulty there.” Christian was referring to the gate at the Celestial City.  ‘Ignorance’ replied, “As other good people do!” ‘Christian’ then asked, “But what have you to shew at that Gate, that the Gate should be opened to you?” ‘Ignorance’ replied, “I know my Lord’s Will, and have been a good liver; I pay every man his own; I Pray, Fast, pay Tithes, and give Alms, and have left my country, for whither I am going.  ‘Christian’ replied, “But thou camest not in the Wicket-Gate that is at the Head of this Way; thou camest in hither through that same crooked lane, and therefore I fear, however thou mayest think of thyself, when the reckoning-day shall come, thou wilt have laid to thy charge, that thou art a Thief and Robber, instead of getting admittance into the City.”

‘Christian’ and ‘Hopeful ‘ continue reasoning with ‘Ignorance,’ but it does no good. This ‘very brisk lad’ is convinced that his works according to the commandments of men remove all defilement from him as long as he does not violate them, which would cause defilement. Defilement is that condition of Man that comes from being guilty of sin. Are people defiled by not keeping religious rules or by some other way?

Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” (Mark 7:1-5 ESV)

These scribes and Pharisees believed that their man-made religion, the tradition of the elders, determined whether a person was defiled or not. If we study the Mosaic Law we will not find anywhere in it which refers to the ‘washing’ these hypocrites were referring to. No, these traditions were add-ons to the Law. While there is nothing wrong with the washing of hands and furniture and cups and pots and copper vessels, when it becomes the focus of one’s religion and then the determining standard of one’s right standing before God then there is a huge problem, which our Lord dealt with as only He could.

And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” (Mark 7:6-8 ESV)

The Pharisees and scribes are hypocrites for two reasons. Their religiosity is merely external and does not come from their hearts, which are far from God. Their teachings are not from God, but reflect the tradition of men. What does this tell us, 21st Century Christians, about how we are to deal with God’s Law and our religiosity? No one can keep God’s Law perfectly except one and that is our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the fulfillment of God’s Law. Anyone who teaches that the only true believers are those who keep the Mosaic Law is completely wrong. Those who are truly in Christ can obey God’s moral Law as Christ works in and through them in their sanctification. Their obedience to God’s Law comes from their hearts and is the product of their abiding in Christ, being living sacrifices, and being spirit-filled. They are not justified in God’s eyes by the keeping of rules and the traditions of men and that includes those things which ‘Ignorance’ was placing his hope. No, true believers are justified by faith alone and as a result of God working in them, they are obedient.

We also see another application here that is relevant in our time. The visible Church in the 21st Century has become largely compromised. Its leaders teach and preach false gospels and have created a form of Christianity that is not biblical and, in fact, teaches that people can ‘have Jesus’ on their own terms. This is a product of the madness in our society, which states that everything is relative and there are no absolutes. This disease is cured only through spiritual regeneration and true discipleship. This combination wipes away the hypocrisy of external religion.

And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban’ (that is, given to God)– then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7:9-13 ESV)

In our day we see this sort of thing being used to justify church leaders making their churches appealing to the ‘world’ by secularizing their music and focusing on entertainment of goats rather than the feeding and shepherding of sheep. They void the word of God by this ‘new tradition’ of becoming seeker-sensitive rather than biblical and obedient to God’s Word and the genuine Gospel.

And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 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.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 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, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:14-23 ESV)

Defilement before God is the product of sin. All people are guilty and defiled in God’s eyes. This defilement is not increased by failure in the keeping of the traditions of men nor is it removed through adhering to them. No, the only thing that will cleanse a person in God’s eyes is for him or her to be justified by faith as He imputes Christ’s perfect righteousness to their account as they repent and believe by the gift of faith from God. God must cleanse a person or there is no cleansing.

Those today that have become compromised with man-focused religiosity are no different than the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day that insisted on having their religion on their own terms. This is rebellion and saves no one. Sin is what defiles a person and the only thing that will remove that defilement is salvation from God on His terms alone.

Soli Deo Gloria!

8 thoughts on “What Defiles a Person?

  1. Pingback: What Defiles a Person? - Reformata

  2. Amen, Mike. When we think that we can make the rules, pride has taken root in our hearts. We become like Satan. Scary thought. I’m happy to follow the rules by the One who wrote the rules….


  3. Thanks again, Mike….another weeping after reading this….may our hearts be cleansed continually as we humbly walk before the Lord. So many times I look around at the church in America and think…are any of us truly on the narrow road….I am at times….but then something comes out of my mouth (heart) and I see I’ve fallen in the ditch….Thank you Jesus for extending your hand once again to lift me up out of this miry clay.


  4. It is hard to believe that todays ‘churches’ are the way they are. Never thought we’d see it in our time. Things are being wrapped up quickly. We watch and pray.

    Hope all is going all right with the family situation, and glad to see you both made it back alright.


  5. Paul and Luann,

    Yes, It is truly amazing to see how outward religiosity has replaced genuine devotion in the visible church. I know the “processes” that has brought this about have been working for quite some time, but, as you said, things are being wrapped up quickly. Our Lord’s return will be sudden and totally unexpected by most professing Christians. They will be shocked that what they thought marked them as genuine is only window dressing for an unregenerate religious heart.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  6. Posts like these are not very popular these days among evangelicals, because the truth hurts. The entertainment world has truly taken over the church and defiled it. Apostasy is everywhere because of Biblical illiteracy.

    I have a related sermon “In the Wilderness: Who’s Out, Who’s In” based on Numbers 5:1-31:

    “The one who had no blemish or defilement, who was perfectly obedient, and who was eternally faithful became our defilement, our rebellion, and our unfaithfulness to be offered as a sacrifice for our sake on the cross.”

    Read more here:


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