by Mike Ratliff
14 After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man. Mark 7:14-15 (NASB)
One very interesting character in John Bunyan’s The 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?
1 The Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered around Him when they had come from Jerusalem, 2 and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; 4 and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.) 5 The Pharisees and the scribes *asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?” Mark 7:1-5 (NASB)
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.
6 And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:
‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS,
BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.
7 ‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME,
TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’
8 Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” Mark 7:6-8 (NASB)
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.
9 He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. 10 For Moses said, ‘HONOR YOUR FATHER AND YOUR MOTHER’; and, ‘HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER, IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH’; 11 but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given to God),’ 12 you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; 13 thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.” Mark 7:9-13 (NASB)
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.
14 After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man. 16 [If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”]
17 When he had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable. 18 And He *said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, 19 because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) 20 And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. 23 All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” Mark 7:14-23 (NASB)
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!