And he [Jesus] said, "That which comes out of the man, that defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts: adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile the man." Mark 7:20-23 (Read v. 14-23)
It is not enough to be cleansed on the outside. And, certainly, cleansing one's hands before eating will not make a person clean before God. Our real problem is not the dirt on the outside but the uncleanness and sinfulness on the inside -- in our hearts.
Jesus explains in Matthew 15:17-20: "Do you not yet understand, that whatever enters in at the mouth goes into the belly and is cast out into the latrine? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart, and they defile the man. For out of the heart evil thoughts proceed: murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, and blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man."
Our sinful nature, inherited from Adam, is the cause of our uncleanness before God and it moves us to commit all sorts of sinful acts.
St. Paul, quoting the Old Testament Scriptures, further explains man's sinfulness in Romans 3:10ff.: "As it is written, 'There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. They have all gone out of the way. They have together become unprofitable. There is no one who does good, not even one. Their throat is an open sepulcher. With their tongues they have used deceit. The poison of asps is under their lips, whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their ways. And the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.'"
In Jeremiah 17:9, God's Word says: "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?" Or, as David wrote in Psalm 51:5, "Behold, I was shaped in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me."
That is why we need to be cleansed by the blood of Jesus which was shed on the cross to atone for the sins of the world (cf. Hebrews 9:22). Because of our sin-infected hearts, we cannot be clean of ourselves and we cannot cleanse ourselves. The only way to be counted clean before God is to have our sins washed away in Jesus' blood.
Again, God's Word says in 1 John 1:8-9: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." And how can this be? How can a just and holy God pardon us and forgive our sins? God's Word provides the answer in 1 John 2:1-2: "If any man sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."
It truly is as the 1876 hymn of Robert Lowry states in its opening verse, "What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus; What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus."
O dearest Jesus, grant that I not attempt to be clean by my own outward works but rather acknowledge the sinfulness of my heart and trust in You and Your shed blood for pardon, forgiveness and cleansing. Amen.
[Devotion by Randy Moll. Scripture is quoted from the Revised Common Version. More of Moll's devotional writings may be freely read at goodshepherdonline.org.]