Mark 7:20-23 – 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.”
In this section of scripture, Jesus had just said something astonishing to his disciples. He declared to them that men are not defiled by what they eat, but by what is already within them. This was Jesus removing the focus on dietary laws which Israel had been under for the entire Mosaic covenant.
Besides getting rid of the dietary laws, Jesus told us something profound in this section that is still very important to us today. He let his disciples and all who read his words know that the evil which we all do is not a result of outside factors and forces, but it comes from within our own hearts. The heart, as you may remember, refers to more than simply the muscle that pumps blood in your body. Nor is the heart simply your emotional center—the place were valentines come from. Your heart, in scripture, refers to the inner you, the real person you are, the part of you that is not your body. So, Jesus tells us all that the evil and defiling things that we think and do are not things we can blame on the world around us, but they are actually growing out of our own sinful hearts.
We live in a world that is incredibly focused on victimization. Journalists, philosophers, counselors, and entertainers preach to us from a false gospel that declares us all innocent victims of society, chemical imbalances, poor parenting, or physiological factors. Our sinful hearts resonate with the notion that, if we are influenced by factors from without, we can not be held responsible for our actions by a loving and understanding God. But Jesus, the loving and understanding God, declares to us that our sinful actions are the result of sin coming from within us, not from factors outside us.
Now, it is unquestionable that our outside influences can truly influence us toward the negative. 1 Corinthians 15:33 tells us that bad company corrupts good morals, and Proverbs 13:20 tells us that he who walks with the wise grows wise while the companion of fools suffers harm. We are all influenced by the sin around us, but that fact does not make us innocent of our own thoughts and actions. This is because, regardless of how much we are negatively influenced, no one determines for us what our hearts will do other than ourselves. We are fully responsible for our own actions, because we are fully responsible for our own hearts. Let me say this as plainly as I can, no outside influences have taken your heart away from you. No amount of circumstances, even dreadful and horrible ones, is enough to determine your future. You are responsible for your own heart.
On one hand, it is fabulous news to know that we are not forced into a mold of sinful living because of the circumstances that have surrounded us all our lives. It is fabulous to think that, regardless of how evil the world has been around us, we do not have to turn out like those who have done us harm. But, the flip side of that record is that we also can not use the circumstances of our childhood, our marriage, our society to excuse our sin. When we sin against God, we do so because our very own hearts are wicked. No one caused us to sin but ourselves. We are fully guilty and fully responsible for our thoughts, attitudes, and actions, because those defiling things have come from right inside our hearts as Jesus said.
How, then, do we change? How do we get away from this horrible heart of sin? The answer is that all of us need to be renewed in our hearts. The first step of this process is to confess your sin to God and receive the grace of Jesus Christ. Becoming a Christian is the first step, because it involves God replacing your dead and sinful heart with a new and living one. But that does not complete the process. For the rest of your Christian life, you will continually be working with God to have your heart renewed. This is a daily process. It will not stop. It will never end until the day that you are finally brought into the presence of Christ.
The theological word for this process of renewing your heart is sanctification. Sanctification is the process of becoming more and more like Jesus as you live from day to day. Sanctification does not earn you your way into heaven. You go to heaven because, at the point you were saved, God declared you righteous, forgiven because of Jesus (justification). From the moment you are saved, God, in a legal sense, views you as perfectly righteous because he has applied to your record the righteousness of Christ. But, you and I both know that we do not live out that righteousness which we have credited to us. We grow from day-to-day to live out more and more of the righteousness that God has already credited to us, and that is sanctification. It is a process. Nothing will make it miraculously jump to completion until our death or the Lord’s return. We work with all our might, and we work in the power of God’s Spirit. We do not sit still and await God just snapping us perfect. Nor do we do all the work in our own strength. We work until we are in the presence of God forever, when God will complete the process—this completion is what theologians call glorification.
So, how does all this work for you today? First, you must recognize that you and I have a heart problem. While the world may influence us, we are responsible for our own sin—it comes from our hearts. We must, therefore, look to change in the process of sanctification. Sanctification is a daily struggle, and it must involve change that is more than external. If we are to grow in Christ, we must change by changing our hearts, so that we change the root cause of our sin. That change comes both as a result of our effort and ultimately the power of God’s Holy Spirit. We fight with all our might for this change, and we look forward to the final day of glorification, when God will finish the work that he started in us.
Dear Lord, it is very humbling to recognize that my sin is not the result of factors from outside my heart. I have such a desire to blame others for my sin, but I must take responsibility for it myself. I am a sinner, and that sin comes from my own wicked and sinful heart. I ask for your grace and forgiveness in Christ. I know that you have granted me forgiveness, and for that I give you great thanks. I now ask that you will continue the process of making me more like Jesus, sanctification. Teach me through your word. Help me to work with all my might. Empower my work by your Holy Spirit. Lead me along paths of righteousness for your name’s sake. Help me to grow and change until that day of glory, when you will finally finish the good work you started in me.