The Expository Files

What Man-made Rules Cannot Do

Mark 7:14-23

"When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, 'Hear Me, everyone, and understand: There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!' When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. So He said to them, 'Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?' And He said, 'What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.'"

Consider what our Lord was not doing when He said this: (1) He was not expressing any disapproval of what was actually said about clean/unclean meats in the Levitical Law. Jesus never said a word against anything in the Old Testament or any statute of God given to the Jews through Moses. He came not to destroy the law but to fulfill it {see Matt. 5:17}. Jesus maintained - in practice and teaching - the highest allegiance for God's law. So, whatever construction the student places on this text in Mark, it cannot mean that He showed no regard for Levitical distinctions. (2) This passage cannot be pressed into the service of recreational or social intoxication. The phrase "whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him," should not be lifted from the context and cited as authority for the use of tobacco, alcohol or recreational drugs. These behaviors are prompted by selfish and ungodly motives from the heart and result in conduct not pleasing to God.

The text in Mark 7:14-23 cannot be wisely studied without reference to the scene and the subjects of this pronouncement. The scene was - the leaders of the opposition condemning the Lord's disciples because they did not practice "the tradition of the elders," (verse 3). The subjects of this pronouncement are those men, the scribes and Pharisees who came from Jerusalem to watch and judge. Jesus called them "hypocrites" and used the Word of God (Isaiah 29) to expose their attitude and agenda. They did not respect and uphold the divine statues of the Levitical system (the law of Moses). They laid aside the commandments of God to write their own creed. When they saw the Lord's disciples disregarding their creed (human religious legislation), they "found fault," (verse 2). This is the scene and the subjects of the passage.

According to the tradition upheld by these men - the religious police of Judea - Jews were required to wash and eat in their prescribed manner. Their "test of fellowship" could be expressed this way: If you eat the food we legislate, in the way we legislate, washing your hands the way we legislate, you will be considered worthy of fellowship (sound, orthodox).

Now the heart of this scene is - Jesus didn't conform to that, nor demand that His men conform. Jesus said: What defiles is the sin that comes from your heart, not the food you put into your stomach or the way you wash your hands!

Jesus is not telling anybody that it doesn't matter what you eat or drink. And He is not teaching against washing your hands. He is answering the external, carnal legalism of the scribes and Pharisees, who wrote their own creed and used it to judge, condemn and exclude.

The point is, purity in life is not about following the religious traditions of men. You do not become pure and right by making yourself a slave to the doctrines and commandments of God. Purity in life and fellowship with God depends upon the presence of God in your heart, and the resulting obedience to Him. These religious legislators would talk about God and do "religious" things to be seen of men, but Jesus used the word of the Isaiah to expose them: "...their heart is far from me." Purity in your life and fellowship with God depends upon having God in your heart, and responding with the allegiance of your life - seeing the forgiveness offered in Christ, then living under His rule. The creeds and rituals written and enforced by men offer "no value against the indulgence of the flesh," (see Col. 2:20-23).

The scribes and Pharisees had developed all these lists, rules, regulations and rituals. In time, their creed received more honor than the actual words of God. They made the Word of God of no effect through their tradition (verse 13). Jesus said, if you want to be concerned about things that defile - look into your hearts for the cause of real impurity: adultery, fornication, murder, stealing, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride and foolishness. "All these things come from within and defile a man." It is man's heart that needs washing.

What does this mean to you? It means, man-made rules may put you into fellowship with men - but not God. Man-made rules may protect you from the condemnation of "religious police," but cannot protect you from the evils that come from the heart. Do not be intimidated by the doctrines and commandments of men. We must honor God with heart, lips and life.

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 8.12; December 2001