Mark 7:17–23 ESV
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.”
Scripture uses the term “heart” some eight hundred times yet never to refer to the physical organ that pumps blood through the body. The point is to demonstrate the essential, volitional, willful core of a human person. It’s what matters most. This is what is broken about our human condition. This is the focus of the Holy Spirit in the work of restoring us to the image of God. Recall Paul’s prayer in his letter to the Ephesians:
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Eph. 1:18–19)
Jesus brings laser-like focus to the heart. Remember in the Sermon on the Mount (a.k.a. the Kingdom Manifesto) when he said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matt. 5:8)? He spoke of murder as beginning with nursing anger in one’s heart and adultery as harboring lust in one’s heart.
In today’s text, he cuts to the heart of the matter of human brokenness when he says: “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts.” It’s why the Proverbs speak so often of the heart with words like, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Prov. 4:23).
Back in the days of John and Charles Wesley, the classic question of those in fellowship with each other was, How is it with your soul? Today we might more commonly hear, How’s your heart?
Remember the words of the psalmist, who put it so succinctly, “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god” (Ps. 24:3–4).
By the pen of Jeremiah, the Holy Spirit issues this stern warning,
The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?
“I the Lord search the heart
and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.” (17:9–10)
I’ll close with one of the great prayers from the Book of Common Prayer. It’s called the “Collect for Purity.” I’d encourage you to commit this one to memory and pray it regularly.
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known and from you no secrets are hid. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Note the prayer’s honesty with respect to sin. Even more so, look at the sheer audacity of the request’to perfectly love God. Wow!
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts, Lord. Yes, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
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