37 And as He spoke, a certain Pharisee asked Him to dine with him. So He went in and sat down to eat. 38 When the Pharisee saw it, he marveled that He had not first washed before dinner. 39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. 40 Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also?” (Luke 11:37–40, NKJV)
Jesus did not concern Himself with the traditional ceremonial washing of hands which the Pharisees and all the Jews held as binding (Mk. 7:1-3). Just as the Pharisees found fault with the Lord’s disciples on the matter, so this Pharisee disapproved of Jesus. Whether the man verbalized his astonishment is unclear. Still, Jesus spoke directly to him of the hypocrisy on display by demanding the washing the outside of a cup or dish while leaving the inside filthy. Of course, these are metaphors of a heart “full of greed and wickedness” (v. 39). A corrupt heart is not concealed from God by external religious rituals and displays of purity. We must first cleanse the inside of our cup – our heart – so the outside (our conduct) can be pure. Otherwise, we are hypocrites like the Pharisees, pretending to be pure yet having defiled hearts. James explained the purification God accepts, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (Jas. 4:8). Repentance produces purity of heart and life. But without heart conversion, religiosity is feeble, futile, and false (Jas. 1:26-27).
18 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, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him.” (Mark 7:18–20, ESV)
The Law of Moses contained dietary restrictions for Israel which distinguished between clean and unclean animals (Lev. 11). Jesus removed those limitations, explaining that food does not defile a person (Col. 2:14-17). Evil that comes from within our heart defiles us (Mk. 7:21-23). Demanding abstinence from certain foods as a way of holiness is apostasy (1 Tim. 4:1-3). Yet, some faiths that forbid certain foods in the name of Jesus. One example is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose Word of Wisdom (Doctrine and Covenants 89) forbids “hot drinks,” which Church leaders have explained means abstaining from coffee and tea (“Vaping, Coffee, Tea, and Marijuana,” New Era, August 2019). Seventh-day Adventists typically follow a vegetarian or vegan diet due to supposed revelations of Ellen G. White (“What Do Seventh-day Adventists Eat?,” seventhdayadventistdiet.com). By contrast, the Bible says that “food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse” (1 Cor. 8:8). When it comes to righteousness, we must be more concerned about what comes out of our hearts than what goes into our stomachs. “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).
15 “There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. 16 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Mark 7:15-16)
The heart is the spring well from which comes all things both good or evil. Israel was commanded to observe food restrictions under the Law of Moses (Lev. 11). But, what Jesus Christ taught on this occasion made all food pure (Mk. 7:19). The food that goes into a person’s body does not defile that person before God. It is the “evil things” coming out of the heart (in the form of thoughts, words and actions) that defile a person (Mk. 7:23). Jesus urges us to listen carefully to what He says. We cannot let evil things proceed from our heart and think we are pure before God: “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness” (Mk. 7:21-22). Put away evil. Cleanse your heart through Christ and His gospel (Eph. 4:20-24).