“And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” Mark 7:14-15
Recently I was at a restaurant, casually looking over the menu when I noticed little hearts next to some items. I glanced down to the bottom of the menu and realized that these were “heart healthy” items. Honestly my first thought was, “Well, thanks… I’ll be sure to avoid these!” But then I thought about my friend’s dad.
Not long ago, he came into the house after doing some yard work, sat down in his chair with some iced tea, and his heart just stopped. You can look great on the outside and everything can seem perfectly fine, but your heart is defective, then you simply aren’t healthy. You could probably go so far as to say that there is NO health apart from your heart.
That’s really the point that Jesus is making in this passage. The Jews at this time made a really big deal about outward cleanliness. They had rules about how you should clean your pots and pans, and when you should wash your hands. Jesus was always making them angry because he and his disciples rarely followed their rules.
But listen to how he responds to them in one passage: “These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me, in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”
You see, it is entirely possible to be religious and yet be far from God. It is possible to be moral, pretty, well dressed, from a good family and possessing impeccable manners yet be far away from God. Why? Because there is no health apart from your heart. It is always religion’s impulse to clean us from the outside-in, but Jesus is saying that we must be cleaned from the inside-out.
Efforts to clean ourselves up only make things worse. One of my friends told me a story that illustrated this well: “One time we found our daughter attempting to change her own diaper, and there was poop everywhere. She had wiped it on the floor, on the wall. And the more she tried to get herself clean, the dirtier she got. I finally had to say STOP, stop, let me clean you!”
This is exactly what Jesus says to us: “Stop! You’re only making it worse! You think that you look better, but you can’t see what I see. All of your religious posturing is only making your heart more sick. You have to let me clean you!”
You see, Jesus is saying that he hasn’t simply come to give you another law, or more ways of avoiding outward corruption. He’s offering to clean you from the inside out - to give you a new heart. And here’s the thing - if the corruption is on the inside, if it goes that deep, then it really is foolish to think that it can be fixed from the outside.
What Jesus is offering you is grace. It is free. You can’t pay him back with religion. His love is not merited - it is given to you. That’s hard for us to understand, isn’t it?
It’s when we see how much we need the grace of Jesus that we truly begin to love him. It’s when we experience the grace of Jesus, that we truly begin to be transformed, from the inside-out.