In Mark 7 the Pharisees and scribes came to interrogate Jesus about His disciples’ failure to follow the proper eating liturgy. They asked, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” (v.5) Jesus answered their question with a quotation (Isaiah 29:13).
Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“This nation honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”
Jesus summarized the problem in verse 8: “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” In other words, “You all are following the wrong liturgy, not My disciples.”
There are at least two Pharisaical failures. First, men don’t set the standard, God does. Second, men set low standards; God’s standards always aim high, at the heart. The standards of men fail to address the issue.
After the rebuke, Jesus called the people to Him again and said,
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. (vv.14-15)
Our problem isn’t simply that we want to replace God’s standard, it’s that we don’t like the conviction of dealing with what comes out of us, what is in our hearts. It’s easier to wash our hands or tell someone else to wash their hands. It’s easier to look good by donating money to missions than to be good by supporting our parents (vv.9-13).
Lust, coveting, deceit, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness come from within (vv.21-23). If we want to honor God, not only with our lips but also with our hearts, we must start by addressing the issue in our own hearts and confessing our sins.