This verse spoke to me afresh a while ago (Mark 7.20):
And he [Jesus] said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him.
I’ve always taken this to mean the direction of that which defiles us, and also the fact that it is not primarily the physical that defiles us but the non-physical, i.e. our thoughts or our words (but also our actions which are physical).
But on a deeper level Jesus is pointing to the origin of evil. He is not primarily pointing at the direction of evil coming out of us or to the non-physical nature of what defiles.
I might say: “Jesus is right; what comes out of me defiles me: my words my thoughts”. Having said that I go away rationalizing about how this evil got into me in the first place so it could later defile me when it came out.
By thinking this I’m effectively saying that the evil that comes out of me and defiles me does not originate in me but external to me. That is; I would be saying that the cause of me being evil is external influence: bad childhood, bad family, bad friends, bad colleagues, bad work, bad marriage, bad children, bad teachers, and so on – we make the list endless.
Jesus points to our hearts. We have bad hearts. The cause of defiling things coming out of us is ultimately an internal matter of each individual’s heart. Therefore we cannot blame circumstances but instead we are in a desperate need of a new heart.
Therefore is God’s promise as in the book of the prophet Ezekiel 36:26 (also 11:19) so awesome:
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
This is what happened on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit was given to believers.
Through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit we can grow more Christ-like as Christians. This is not ni order to earn salvation – no one can do anything towards his salvation – but to honour and glorify the living God by becoming more like him in obedience to him.
Only then can we fulfil the command of Leviticus 11:45:
You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”
This is accomplished, external to us by God putting a new heart in us. Then His goodness can flow out.