“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."
Jesus knows where the big battles are fought. And they aren’t so much a matter of legislation or public debate. They are at the individual level at the most difficult place on the planet: the human heart. The Pharisees placed all their emphasis on external rules and regulations. Jesus wryly and correctly pointed out that this legalism produced hearts of sin. They found ways of circumventing the real needs and the real appeal to the heart by leaving the commandment of God for the tradition of men (Mark 7:8).
The result of merely external religion is two-fold. 1) It rejects God’s Word for human tradition. This is what the Pharisees had done when questioning why the disciples did not wash their hands in the “traditional” way. When higher value is placed on an application or a tradition than the scripture itself, something is wrong. Human pride has replaced God’s revelation at that point. But there is more. 2) Legalism eventually voids God’s Word by human manipulation (Mark 7:13). When we really on our own power, we rob God’s truth and authority of His power (at least at an effective level) and show ourselves to be selfish and in no need of God. It takes humility of the heart to bend to the authority of scripture. The Pharisees would really have none of that.
Jesus taught that the human heart operates at a natural deficit. It cannot do what is right without God’s intervention. Even in the practice of religion, it will promote a sinful, selfish agenda. That is what Jesus was driving at. It was not an external conformance issue that would determine a person’s righteousness before God. It was going to be what sprang from the heart. And because the heart is naturally ruined by sin, out of it will come what is unholy. That is what Jesus has come to change. And that is why salvation is a change from within.
When that occurs through the new birth, and a new nature is given, with the Holy Spirit’s residence now established within, and the Word of God providing new direction, the human heart has a chance to establish real righteousness in Christ. And from within a new nature comes the life that can please God: Life in Christ. Our physical heart gives life to our body. From it pumps the life blood that sustains us day to day. From within the spiritual heart we have life. And Jesus is that life. He gives life to us now (Romans 8:11) and will be our life forever when we see Him face to face (Colossians 3:4).
The only hope for change I have is that God has changed me. The only chance at being right is that I have the righteousness of God in Christ. I was dead in sin, but now I am alive in Christ. My heart was filled with all the deceit of sin. but is made new in Christ. And I do nothing without it coming from the heart. Jesus knows this, and did everything to let me know it and change it in me.