Defilement Under the New Covenant

Robert Wurtz II

“When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear Me, everyone, and understand: 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. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!”

When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. So He said to them, “Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?”

And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. 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. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” (Mark 7:14–23 NKJV)

It is interesting to note that the Pharisees were concerned with the ceremonial aspects of the Law while at the same time always resisting the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51). The very reason for the ceremonial laws was to teach people the difference between the holy and the profane — the clean and the unclean — so that they could come near to God. These teachings were given so that the children of Israel could learn how to conduct themselves before Jehovah (Yahweh). If a person had no intention of being close to God in the Old Testament — then the ceremonial laws were meaningless. In other words, why would they concern themselves with pure and impure — clean and unclean — if they were resisting the Holy Spirit? Clearly, it was because they did not understand the purpose of the laws they were teaching. In stea, they used them as a means of controlling the people and exalting themselves. The laws became a vehicle by which they could feign piety. 

It is tragic that the religious leaders had turned Judaism into a dead religion. It has been said that religion is worship in the absence of God. During the second temple period, God’s glory had long been gone from the Temple. In fact, the Ark of the Covenant was even missing. The sacred fire was long extinguished. The priesthood (who were charged with teaching the people the ways of God) had shirked that responsibility and passed it off to the scribes and Pharisees (Perushim). The Pharisees always resisted the Holy Spirit, but the Sadducees didn’t even believe in the Holy Spirit. This is how far from God the leaders in Israel had drifted and yet they considered themselves to be guides to the blind and teachers of the laws of God.

Jesus characterized the condition of many of the scribes and Pharisees as being people who “drew near to God with their mouth and honored Him with their lips, but their heart was far from Him.” (Mark 7:6)  They emphasized washing hands, cups, pots, copper vessels, and dining couches — as if those things would help a person maintain their holiness. Again, the very reason why a person would want to maintain purity and sanctification to begin with is so that God’s unique presence would remain. This truth is spelled out all through the Old Testament. Yet these religious leaders completely missed the point, and rather, were always resisting the Holy Spirit. They simply did not want God near. 

Jesus challenged their teachings and behavior. He demonstrated that in reality nothing that a person eats can defile them in the sense that the Pharisees were suggesting. Defilement in the New Covenant is not a matter of externals such as washing hands, cups, pots, copper vessels, and dining couches. It is a matter of personal holiness in which a person can destroy their capacity for fellowship with God because of personal sin (TDNT III:809). This was not a new concept because Israel was forever destroying their capacity for fellowship with God by their sin. Many times God departed from them as a consequence of compromise. No amount of sacrifice and ceremonialism could compensate for their flagrant sin. Why? Isaiah 1:10-21 spells it out. God had had enough of the religious exercise to the point that He was weary of it. They were going through the motions and completely ignoring what God cared about. He was offended by their actions and would eventually depart from their midst. He was not at home in Israel because they entertained sin. Isaiah 66:1-2 spells out what is necessary for God to be “at home” or “at rest” — not in a building — but in people. 

What Truly Defiles a Person? 

There are other things that we could speak to along this line but the list that the Lord Jesus gives us in Mark 7 and the cognate passage in Matthew 15 reveals the heart issues that offend God. They are what “defile” us in His eyes. Here is the list:

1. evil thoughts, 

2. adulteries, (marital infidelity)

3. fornications, (sexual immorality of all kinds)

4. murders, (arises from hatred)

5. thefts, (stealing)

6. covetousness, (craze for more and more)

7. wickedness, (working wickednesses — plural)

8. deceit, (luring and snaring with bait)

9. lewdness, (unrestrained sexual instinct)

10. an evil eye, (a greedy and stingy person)

11. blasphemy, (hurtful and slanderous speech)

12. pride, (exalting onesself above others)

13. foolishness. (lack of sense)

The late great Greek scholar A.T. Robertson declared concerning this verse that it reads like a list in a police court. Jesus has removed the ambiguity and brought into focus what God is concerned about. These thirteen things are the types of behaviors that proceed from the heart and defile a person. That is to say — they can destroy our capacity for fellowship with God. He is not “at home” or “at rest” in the hearts and lives of people who practice these type of sins. They defile the person before God. The evidence of this is found in the fact that the person lacks a unique sense of the presence of God in their lives. 

Sadly, we live in an age when people have the presence of God by proof texts. Multitudes see no need whatsoever to do what Paul said in 2 Cor. 7:1 — t“cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1 NKJV) They will argue from a theological position that they “have” the Holy Spirit, etc. and will be utterly offended if you challenge them. However, where is the real evidence? Is it sufficient to prove from proof texts that we, as the children of God, have the manifest presence of God in our lives and our churches? Is that what happened in the book of Acts? No. They turned the world upside down! How? because God was working in them. They were full of the Holy Spirit. They made God welcome on the inside and made sure that they cleansed themselves of the things that offend God (defile them).

The world doesn’t need believers who have the “proof text presence” of God. The scribes and Pharisees had that. We have had it for too long. What use is it? We need God to be manifest in the lives of believers like we read about in the book of Acts. We are a kingdom of priests unto God. We are living temples of the Holy Spirit. If we are ever going to see change in our lands it will not come at the voting booth but will begin when believers cultivate in themselves an environment where God can be at rest — free from the thoughts and attitudes that are offensive to Him (Isaiah 66:1-2). Free from defilement. Free from the behaviors and attitudes listed in Mark 7 and Matthew 15. A place where God can rest and uniquely manifest Himself in a verifiable way. 

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