20 And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” (Mark 7:20–23, NKJV)
Billions of people do not regard sin as sin. That word has been all but stricken from the lexicons of languages around the world. What Jesus said here reminds us that we are dual beings, made of both flesh and spirit; both mortal and immortal. The inner person – the person possessing identity, volition, conscience, intelligence and emotions – is identified as the heart, from which comes our words and actions. Jesus identified sexual immorality of all sorts (including adultery, homosexuality and premarital sex) as sin that comes from the heart. Oppression of one’s neighbor, whether by murder, thievery, covetousness or deceit, is also sinful. See how pride is considered evil along with all the rest. Sin is real, and we must define sin the way Jesus does. If not, we will likely call evil good, and good evil (Isa. 5:20). “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
Therefore hear the parable of the sower: (Matthew 13:18, NKJV)
If you are not familiar with the parable of the sower, please read it, and Jesus’ interpretation of it in Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23. Take time to “hear” the parable and learn its lessons, some of which are these: 1) The condition of one’s heart determines whether he or she will understand and accept God’s word. 2) The same word of God will be believed by some, and rejected by others. Therefore, we dare not try to change the message of truth in an attempt to entice people to accept it. 3) Satan is at work hardening hearts against the word of God. 4) Truth cannot thrive in the shallow soil of the emotion-based heart. We must have an abiding commitment to God’s word, come what may – not to how we feel about it. 5) Hearts that are distracted and filled with concerns for the things of this world do not have room for the word of God. A person cannot serve two masters with one heart (Matt. 6:24). 6) Good and honest hearts hear, understand, and follow the word of God. So, did you listen to the parable? Which heart do you have when you hear the word of God? Is your heart the hard, wayside soil? Is it the shallow, emotional heart that easily falls away when tested? Is it the overgrown heart that has no room for God’s word? Or, is it the good heart that receives truth, holds it fast, and patiently bears fruit? Make no mistake: You decide which soil describes your heart.
19 Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance. (Acts 26:19–20, NKJV)
We dare not overlook the necessity of repentance in God’s plan to save sinners. Paul was true to his commission from Christ to be His witness to the Gentiles (Acts 26:16-17). As he preached the gospel, he explained that “they should repent” in order to “turn to God” (conversion, Acts 3:19). Without a fundamental change of heart (repentance) toward God and the sin we have committed against Him, we cannot be saved (Acts 20:21; 2:37-38; 17:30). When repentance occurs, changes in one’s life necessarily follow. That is what conversion means. The Christians chooses to stop practicing sin. The Christian chooses to begin and continue living for Christ (Gal. 2:20). Obeying the command to be baptized, without first having real faith and genuine repentance, is powerless to “wash away your sins” (Acts 22:16). Neither will it wash away unholy relationships; they, too, must cease (“works befitting repentance”). Minds must change toward God and sin to be saved. Repentance is not being sorry for sin. It is the complete change of heart that occurs because of godly sorrow for sin (2 Cor. 7:10). Without it, you cannot be saved.
What is desired in a man is kindness, and a poor man is better than a liar. (Proverbs 19:22, NKJV)
God looks behind our actions, and sees our motives and intentions. God expects us to have both clean hands and pure hearts prompting what our hands find to do (Jas. 4:8). What desire of the heart are you accomplishing by your actions? Here, Solomon notes that kindness is measured and meted out by what is in the heart. A poor man who shows kindness from an empathetic heart (though he possesses little), is of greater value than the rich man who says kind things, but does little (1 Jno. 3:17-18; Jas. 2:15-16). When we say, yet fail to do, we show ourselves to be liars. Solomon acknowledges this, in order to urge us to be sure that our kind acts toward others are a genuine reflection of our heart, and not an exercise in vanity and self-promotion. If they are, then we have our reward (Matt. 6:1-4).
1 I said, “I will guard my ways, lest I sin with my tongue; I will restrain my mouth with a muzzle, while the wicked are before me.” 2 I was mute with silence, I held my peace even from good; And my sorrow was stirred up. 3 My heart was hot within me; While I was musing, the fire burned. Then I spoke with my tongue:” (Psalm 39:1–3, NKJV)
David took special care when wicked people were before him. He knew the ungodly, if given a chance, would unjustly turn their evil against him. They did so frequently throughout his life, without justification. When confronted by evil people, David chose to carefully guard his conduct and his words, lest he should fall into sin himself, and become “the reproach of the foolish” (Psa. 39:8). We may feel the impulse to lash out against the wicked, instead of speaking with the restrain of wisdom and truth. David knew the former would produce no good, and would fail to express the hope he had in the Lord and His deliverance from evil (Psa. 39:7-8). Like David, we should be “slow to speak” and “slow to wrath” when the wicked are before us. Even as he sighed with sorrow and grief of heart over the wickedness before him, David did not speak until he could do so as an expression of faith (Psa. 39:3-8). His momentary silence gave him the opportunity to guard his ways, gather his thoughts to avoid sin, and then to speak fearlessly with faith in the Lord. It is a mark of spiritual maturity to remain calm, composed and faithful when evil is before us.
3 You have tested my heart; You have visited me in the night; You have tried me and have found nothing; I have purposed that my mouth shall not transgress. 4 Concerning the works of men, by the word of Your lips, I have kept away from the paths of the destroyer. 5 Uphold my steps in Your paths, that my footsteps may not slip. (Psalm 17:3–5, NKJV)
David resisted sin when he had the purpose of heart not to sin by his words, and by carefully avoiding the sinful works of men. Our faith ought to compel us to also purpose in our hearts not to speak evil, and, to keep away from the path of sin. David’s purpose of heart not to speak sin also led him to obey God’s word (“the word of Your lips”) in order to keep away from those who would bring destruction into his life. And so, with purpose of heart, being guided by God’s word, David was sure that God would uphold his steps and keep him from slipping into sin. When David sinned, it was precisely because his purpose faltered and his trust in God’s word failed. That is what happens when we sin, too. When God examines your heart, may he see your resolve to speak what is right, and to do His words. If so, you will be walking upon the solid ground of faith.
Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles. (Proverbs 21:23, NKJV)
Our words are the expressions of our soul. The deepest recesses of the heart are exposed by the words of our mouth. Truly, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). For example, guard your mouth against speaking corrupt words. There is no place in the Christian’s life for profanity, for it exposes a profane heart. Guard your mouth against speaking lies. Half-truths, misdirection and other forms of deception are not a trait of the pure in heart. “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor” defines the followers of Jesus (Eph. 4:25). Guard your mouth against angry words. These flow out of a heart that is bitter, resentful and unforgiving. Guard your mouth against speaking false doctrine. The Spirit of truth has spoken truth to us through Christ’s apostles (Jno. 16:13). Therefore, speak “as the oracles of God,” not with the wisdom and will of men (1 Pet. 4:11; Col. 2:8). By cleansing your heart of profanity, deceit, anger and error, your soul will be protected from trouble. That’s what repentance is; changing your heart. Rather than opening wide your mouth to pour out evil things, guard your soul from the troublesome results of an uncontrolled tongue. May we recall and live what the children sing, “Be careful little mouths what you say.”