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What’s Wrong With Me?



Jacob Harkey walks us through an encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees about the meaning of defilement. Jesus makes it abundantly clear that there is something wrong inside of every person that we cannot fix on our own: a sinful heart. How can our hearts be made clean?

Key Takeaway

We are all defiled in some way. True defilement is what comes out of us that is not pure or of God. We have a problem, but Jesus came so that He would not only make us clean, He would give us life.

Jesus wounds us to heal us.

Read Mark 6:53-7:23.

Today, we are going to see Jesus take issue with the Pharisees. On the outside, things look great, but in the places no one can see, everything is falling apart. At this point in the text in Mark 6-7, it moves from a summary to a story. Everyone knows who Jesus is, and the Pharisees and Scribes are looking for a fight. Mark is letting us know he's writing to the Gentiles because he's putting things in parentheses to explain Jewish customs. They are questioning Jesus about why the disciples aren't following the traditions of the elders.

Mark 7:5

"Defiled" means common or ordinary. Israel was called to be set apart and holy, so their laws were meant to do that. Circumcision, the Sabbath, and the purity laws are all examples. It set them apart as different from the Gentiles that they were surrounded by in Rome. To a Jew, purity meant closeness and intimacy with God. Defilement was a moral stain that kept them from God, both literally and figuratively.

If Jesus is responsible for His disciples, do the Pharisees have a point?

No, because the disciples weren't disobeying the law; they were disobeying the tradition of the elders.

What was the tradition? There were laws that were given to Moses, it's called the Mosaic Law. In the time between Moses and Jesus, traditions formed and were passed down orally. They thought the law was too vague, so the tradition helped them follow the law better. The aim was to protect the law. For example, the priests having to wash themselves before going into the Temple turned into everyone should have to do that. As time went on, it was changed to washing before prayer, and then it was added to pray before each meal. The traditions just build and grow, but these are all man-made extensions of the law.

Jesus doesn't even address the handwashing because He knew the intentions of the Pharisees. They were part of the group that was leading people astray by enforcing these traditions.

Mark 7:6-8

Jesus calls them hypocrites. In Greek, a hypocrite was someone who played a part, an actor. The outside doesn't match the inside. The Pharisees had bright and shiny exteriors that were covering darkness. Jesus called them "white-washed tombs," meaning that they were clean on the outside but dead on the inside. They want their works to be seen. They are neglecting God's Word with their traditions and they are bringing others down with them.

Mark 7:9

Mark intensifies the matter. He points out that they're not just ignoring God's commandments; they are rejecting them.

Mark 7:10-12

Jesus contrasts God's authority and human authority. He's proving that the Pharisees have their priorities off. As an example, Jesus brings up honoring your parents. In their culture, it was an expectation to take care of your parents when they got older. However, their traditions gave them a loophole. They could vow to use their money for God, so that they didn't have to use it for their parents, but really they did whatever they wanted with it. This wasn't law, this was tradition...this is the slow creep of legalism. Traditions aren't inherently bad, but when you elevate them to be equal to God's Word and invent the standard yourself, something is wrong.

Jesus is pointing out that this is just one of the things that they are doing that is missing the heart of God.

  • We do this too. We excel at our techniques, methods, and disciplines. They aren't bad in and of themselves, but we do these things to cover something inside of us rather than glorify God. Our methods may not look like the Pharisees, but our hearts are the same. Why do we do this? Our own traditions are a symptom. In Mark 7:14-15, 17-20, Jesus explains all the exterior things don't make you "unclean", He is concerned with your heart. Defilement comes out of the heart. Food does not make you unclean; your heart does.
  • Jesus agrees with the Pharisees that there is a problem. The solutions are different. The Pharisees thought they could manage their sin. They would say, "At least I'm not like that person." "I'm not as bad as..." etc. They just kept washing and washing, trying to cover up the filth inside of them.
  • What are you washing your hands with? What do you think will make you clean before God if you do it? Small group, praying, agreeing with a certain ideology, posting about certain issues? What makes you think you're not as bad or better than someone else?

Mark 7:21-23

What is in us will come out...and that's why defiles you. It all starts with our thoughts and leads to actions and attitudes.

  • Actions:
  • Sexual Immorality- sexual practices outside of God's design
  • Theft- stealing and manipulating for your own gain
  • Murder- violence, taking a life
  • Adultery- anything sexual outside the confines of a marriage
  • Coveting- unquenchable need for more
  • Wickedness- perversion of good for evil purposes
  • Attitudes:
  • Deceit- dishonesty to get your way
  • Sensuality- making light of sexuality
  • Envy- dissatisfaction and desire to have what others have
  • Slander- mocking, insulting, being mean to people
  • Pride- no one gets in your way
  • Foolishness- spiritual and moral insensitivity, making light of heavy things

Jesus is making it clear there is no escaping what's inside of us. We have sinful hearts that choose to have sinful thoughts which choose sinful actions. We try to rationalize, "I'm not that bad". But Romans 3:10 tells us that there is no one righteous. Yet, we keep making excuse after excuse. The truth is that we were made in the beautiful image of God; sin has carved a gap between you and God. We can't fix it.

And just like that, Mark moves on. It's abrupt. He is forcing us to confront what Jesus said, that we can't fix ourselves. Roman 7:17 says that we do what we don't want to do and don't do what we want. It's good that we are aware of that!

So what can make us clean?

Mark put it in plain sight in 7:19. Jesus declared all food clean, and Jesus changed the law. In Matthew 5:17, Jesus tells us He came to fulfill the law. The law cannot save us, but Jesus can. The One that can fulfill the law has the authority to change it. He can make all foods clean, so He can make you clean as well.

Do not strive for righteousness so hard that you miss the Righteous One. See Titus 3:4-7.

The option is to either keep struggling or give it to Jesus at the Cross. Give your life to Him. Trust Him.


"Though our joy lie in the knowledge of our graces, there is some benefit in the knowledge of our corruptions."

Thomas Watson

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Scripture References

  • Mark 6:53-7:23
  • Romans 3:10
  • Romans 7:17
  • Matthew 5:17
  • Titus 3:4-7
Jacob Harkey Spiritual Formation Director at Passion City Church, Washington D.C.