It’s ALL About the Heart
From The Leather Journal of Dr. Phil Newton of the South Woods Baptist Church Memphis, Tn.
It's About the Heart, Matthew 15:17–20
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“Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man” (Matthew 15:17–20).
Jesus had just responded to the Pharisees and scribes acting totally perplexed (bumfuzzled might be a better term) that Jesus’ disciples would eat without ceremonially washing their hands (Matt. 15:1–2). They questioned the integrity of any who would not live by the “tradition of the elders.” Jesus called their hand. He explained their practices that broke God’s law while permitting them to wash their hands of obedience. Jesus reminded them of Isaiah’s prophecy, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (15:7–9). These “precepts of men” comprised the many legalistic actions of the religious leaders, who in turn, passed these along as acceptable for the common people counting on their teaching. Then Jesus threw down the gauntlet: “It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man” (15:11). The disciples didn’t quite catch what Jesus said in semi-parabolic language.
The Lord rebukes the disciples for not thinking. “Are you still lacking in understanding also?” (15:16) The trap of legalism so prominent in Israel neglected the heart to focus on externals only. But it is not just ancient Israel that suffers under the problem of legalism. It’s the default mode of the heart. ‘If I can just not do this or that, go here or there, engage in this thing or that thing, then I will be holy.’ All the external rites that make one appear to conform to some perceived (by self or religious body) standards gives a false spirituality and security. All the while the idol factory of the heart, as John Calvin called it, pumps out attitudes and dispositions that enter into sinful practice. Refraining from particular words or rituals or man-made shiboleths do nothing for the heart, as it continues to rage with sin. Unwashed hands and eating certain foods deemed unclean or failure to ritually wash pots and pans, as Jesus called out, cannot defile. The heart needs no help to pursue sin. It’s leaning is to rebellion against God, seating itself on the throne of the universe, and pursuing its every desire, which Jesus shockingly stated. How do we respond?
Might we pray, “O Lord, transform our hearts! They need to be filled with Your holy life by the Spirit. By the powerful work of the cross applied, shut down the sin-factory, kill the impulses to sin against You. We need the cross before our eyes; we need its power uprooting and overturning the sinful bent of our hearts. We desperately need to see and live in consciousness of Jesus as our sin-bearer and our life. Help us, by your grace, to guard our hearts and minds. Give grace that we might starve the heart from anything that would feed our tendencies toward sin. Grant strength that we might quench the fire of the flesh by watering our lives in the Word. Feed us on Christ. Fill us with righteousness, not just in our standing with You, but in our practice. Let us, by Your power, keep putting off the old self and continually be renewed in the spirit of our minds to be shaped and formed in the image of Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.”
Legalism quenches the love, joy, and peace of Jesus, and glad dependency upon Him alone that needs to characterize His followers. It’s about the heart. And that heart belongs to Jesus.
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