Purer in heart, O God, help me to be;
May I devote my life wholly to Thee;
Watch Thou my wayward feet,
Guide me with counsel sweet;
Purer in heart, help me to be.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus encouraged those who would be following God to be “pure in heart” – “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8 NET).
But what does it mean to be “pure in heart?”
In the Old Testament there were a number of things that could make you “impure” – the wording there talks about being “unclean” or being “clean.” If you ate certain things you were unclean – you were impure so that you could not come before God. If you touched things you could be made unclean. Even if you caught a disease you could be unclean.
When Jesus was living on the earth there were a group of very religious people who were called “Pharisees.” They wanted to be sure that they were not impure before God, so they added extra rules to God’s law to make sure they were safe. But these extra rules, which God had not given, were given equal weight with God’s law (see Mark 7:1-13). They had made up an entire set of rules to even get them out of doing God’s law!
Jesus wanted the people to understand exactly what made someone impure. This is what he told the crowds:
“Listen to me, everyone, and understand. There is nothing outside of a person that can defile him by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles him” (Mark 7:14-15).
As you can imagine, that rather shocked those who were listening to him and especially his disciples. What did Jesus mean that it was what came out of a person that defiled him, and not what went into them? Jesus explained this in simple terms to his followers:
“Are you so foolish? Don’t you understand that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him? For it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and then goes out into the sewer.” (This means all foods are clean.) He said, “What comes out of a person defiles him. For from within, out of the human heart, come evil ideas, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, evil, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, pride, and folly. All these evils come from within and defile a person” (Mark 7:17-23).
What someone eats is simply food – it cannot go anywhere but into your stomach and once digestion is finished, what is leftover is expelled. Notice Mark’s comment in verse 19: “This means all foods are clean.” What we eat (or don’t eat) isn’t going to keep us from a relationship with God. The part we must watch out for is what comes out of us – the sins he listed (which are not exhaustive) are what will separate us from God and defile us, making us impure in God’s sight.
Why did God give the regulations in the Old Testament about eating and touching certain things? We now know today that most of these were either about hygiene and the spread of disease or were related to idolatry. God wanted his people to be healthy and live long in the land he was giving them.
What is more important than physical health is spiritual health. It is the evil thoughts of our hearts that lead to theft, murder, adultery, greed, deceit, envy, lander, pride, and hatred. As important as our physical health is, our spiritual health is more important. Be sure to keep our hearts pure but taking in a daily portion of God’s word.
Readings for next week
3 November – Mark 9
4 November – Mark 10:1-31
5 November – Mark 10:32-52
6 November – Mark 11
7 November – Mark 12