DUNCAN/Out of the heart comes evil

DUNCAN/Out of the heart comes evil

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Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew 15:15-20. Christ takes the matter of the heart with the utmost seriousness and so should we. In this passage He shows us the origin of sin in our own experience. He diagnoses that situation and He sets forth Himself as the only remedy. As we look at His Word, we see that dictum that He spoke in verse 11, “It is not what enters in the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.”  We see that Christians ought to seek their remedy for spiritual ignorance from the Lord and from His Word. But there’s more in this passage for us. In verses 17-18 we see a contrast between Jesus’ teaching on the internal defilement of the heart and the Pharisees’ teaching on the external defilement of the body. In this passage Jesus makes it clear to Christians that holiness is first and foremost a matter of the heart. Look at His words in verses 17-18: “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.”  Jesus is teaching us at least three things in those short sentences.

I. Food Defilement is Temporary

Jesus is first of all showing us that food defilement is temporary and superficial by the very nature of our physiological process. Jesus is indicating that food can’t touch your heart. Food goes into the stomach and it’s eliminated. It can’t touch your soul, your mind, your will, your conscience, your affections. It is superficial as opposed to being permanent and profound. Food defilement is of a different nature than soul defilement and hence Jesus is saying the scribes and the Pharisees have perpetrated a colossal blunder in their interpretation of the law, because they have tended to stress ceremonial holiness more than they have an appropriate moral holiness. So they misunderstand the whole purpose of the ritual law. He says you can look and see how your bodies work and you can tell just from nature itself that food defilement is not as important as moral defilement.

II. The Ceremonial Code Does Not Replace God’s Moral Commands 

The second thing that He teaches us in this sentence is that the ceremonial code was never designed to function in place of God’s moral commands. Over and over Jesus expounds passages like Micah 6 and Deuteronomy 6 which speak of our obligation to ‘love mercy and to do justice and walk humbly before the Lord.’ The Pharisees, Jesus says, have misunderstood and thus they have misused the ceremonial law given in the time of Moses. And because they have misunderstood and misused that ceremonial law, they have unwittingly caused the people to think of sin in superficial terms. Rather than sin and holiness being profound things that permeate the whole of life from the heart out, they have encouraged people to think in terms of sin as being merely external actions. Jesus makes it clear here that that is a misunderstanding of the purpose of the ceremonial code.

III. The Ceremonial Code Has No Place in the Kingdom of Heaven

The last thing, and perhaps the most controversial thing that Jesus teaches in these words, is that the ceremonial code itself was not going to have a place in the holiness of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is indicating, albeit it in a subtle way, that the ceremonial code would come to an end in the kingdom of heaven. It would no longer be followed by true followers of the Lord. 

Christians do not have to keep the ceremonial law of the Old Testament. Does that mean that that law was not given by God? No. It was given by God. But what Jesus is indicating here is that it was something that was temporarily given by the Lord and is no longer for the kingdom of heaven. It is no longer for the believers in God under the new covenant. Why? It is because this ultimate principle is not that what goes into you that makes you unholy; it's what comes out of you that evidences a moral issue of holiness. 

IV. Jesus Teaches Heart-Holiness 

Now over against the Pharisees’ preoccupation with ceremonial ritual forms, Jesus stresses the heart because the kingdom ethic is a heart ethic. The heart here refers to that seat of our mind, our conscience, our will, our desires, our affections. Our mouth, which Jesus speaks of here, is simply an indicator of what is in the heart. What comes out of the mouth is an indicator of what is there, buried deep in our mind, our conscience, our will and our affections. Jesus is not using the word “heart” here to refer to feelings. Sometimes in our modern parlance we say “head” to refer to our mind and to our reasoning processes and we say heart to refer to our feeling or our emotion and sometimes to our wills. But this sort of bifurcation is not there in Hebrew thought. The heart is the mind, the will, the affections, the conscience, the desires. It is the seat of the soul. The heart is also the seat of the conscience. It is naturally wicked, and it hence contaminates the whole of life and character. Therefore, the heart must be changed and regenerated before a person can willingly obey God. Salvation begins in the heart by its believing reception of the testimony of God. 

Now Jesus goes on to teach us one more thing here in verses 19 and 20 because He speaks about the source of evil in our experience in the heart. And He stresses here again that sin is not something that is superficial. It’s profound. Sin isn’t just about individual, isolated, outward actions that can be taken off or taken on, done or not done very easily. Sin is something that is deep. It’s rooted into the very nature of our souls and our character. And therefore holiness, if it is going to be profound, is going to have to deal with sin profoundly.

What is He doing there? It’s a brilliant illustration about how moral holiness cannot result from ceremonial obedience. The kind of ceremonial obedience searched for by God in the Old Testament was a ceremonial obedience which flowed from moral obedience. God was after the heart even in the Old Testament. That’s what the Lord Jesus wants us to seek after: a heart which is right before Him. We’ll only obtain that by the grace of the Holy Spirit. If we never think about it and we never desire it, it will never be there in our experience. May God enable you by His grace to seek after a clean heart before Him and may you find it. 

The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary.  He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at jhyde@rts.edu.





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