In Mark 7 Jesus confronts the religious scholars of his day over an issue of changing God’s commands due to a technical loophole. Rather than caring for one’s parents, as God commands, a tradition had developed where sons would give what money they would have used to care for their parents to the Temple. This was called corban, and since it was given to God, it released the son from his God-given responsibility.
Jesus quotes the Law as evidence against them, using Exodus 21:17, Leviticus 20:9 and Deuteronomy 27:16. He judges them as having made “void the word of God” through their traditions.
Jesus thought things like Leviticus 20:9 were the words of God.
In the same way Leviticus (and Deuteronomy) go on to name certain practices which make a person unclean, Jesus does the same thing in Mark 7. After making it clear that God’s words are timeless, and that His commands should not be set aside, He immediately begins to teach them about what makes a person unclean. He can do this because He is the author of the words in Leviticus and elsewhere. What does he teach?
He teaches them that nothing outside a person makes a person unclean, but only those things inside which come out (Mark 7:15). This was hard for the people to grasp, as even his closest disciples needed further explanation. Jesus then teaches them that things they eat do not make them unclean (and in one word he declares all foods clean) but rather, it is what’s in the heart. He says,
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 things come from within, and they defile a person.
If you were to look at the list of sins which come in Exodus 21, Leviticus 20 and Deuteronomy 27, things which Jesus called the “words of God,” you would find that they in some way fit into these broader categories, which Jesus calls “evil” and names their genesis: the heart.
In one word he turned the perception so many had of the Law upside down, insisting that it is not the stuff outside us (like food) that makes us unholy, but the things inside us (like pride) that do. The Law was always meant to point us to the sinfulness of our own hearts, for which only Jesus could offer a lasting and sufficient sacrifice.
But by pointing to these sins which come from within us Jesus does something I think is necessary for us to hear today. He says to any of us who would say, “I was born this way,” as an excuse to deviate from God’s commands or to live according to our natural bent,
Yes you were born this way! Every one of us have been born in sin, with our hearts bent towards doing the opposite of what God commands. As Augustine put it, we all have disordered loves. The great work of salvation which the Holy Spirit brings about in us is our sanctification, by where our loves are reordered to be God-honoring rather than self-honoring.
To say “I was born this way” in order to justify our sexual immorality (which includes sex outside the God-given design of one man and one woman in marriage), our gossip, our pride in self-accomplishment, our envy of our neighbor’s house, the ways we hold grudges, our penchant for giving our opinion in all things, our anger towards both neighbor and enemy, our thrill-seeking ways, our craving for food or porn or love or affirmation or money or toys and any host of other things is to make void the word of God.
If Jesus were to simply point to our hearts as the root of all evil and then leave us we would be doomed to be sure. But thanks be to God, he does not leave us condemned. He offers us life. “You must be born again,” he says, and because He is God, He has the power and authority to make all things new. The heart that is full of evil can become a heart transformed by the Holy Spirit. The mind that is bent on thinking evil thoughts can be renewed. The body which was once used for evil in God’s sight can be used for righteousness. We who were dead in sin and slaves to self can become alive in Christ and slaves to God. Those who believe in Him he gives the right to become children of God (John 1:12).
Are you a child of God? You were not born that way, but the other way. But because of Jesus, you can become one. Thanks be to God.