It’s What’s on the Inside that Counts

Text: Mark 7:14-23

“It’s what’s on the inside that counts.” You may have heard these words before or had them pass through your own mouth. With these words we express that the measure of a person is what’s inside them. The measure of a man is not his clothes, job, possessions or income; it’s not the color of his skin. It’s what’s on the inside that counts. Sometimes this idea is helpful, especially this time near the start of the school year, where children are beginning to make or re-make friends. Sometimes, though, this phrase isn’t so helpful. Because, if it’s what’s inside that is the measure of a man, then – according to our text – we’re all in trouble. 

Our Lord taught in the text, “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” This is Jesus continuing the discussion from last week’s Gospel. The Pharisees were overly concerned with outward purity and set aside God’s Word for their traditions. In contrast, Jesus said, what makes a man pure or not is not what’s outside, but what’s inside. What comes from inside a person is what makes him unclean, unfit to be in God’s presence. It’s what’s on the inside that counts, and what’s inside us by nature is not good. Jesus teaches that our hearts are evil and separate us from God, therefore He gives us new ones in Baptism.


As we said, the Gospel text this week is connected to the appointed Gospel for last week. Last week we heard about the Pharisees and scribes who had come up from Jerusalem to test Jesus. Their test for Him was a question: why did His disciples eat with unwashed hands? By eating without washing their hands, the Pharisees believed that the Disciples were distancing themselves from God. They held that a person’s standing before God could be measured externally, by one’s actions. In order to insulate themselves from breaking a Commandment, rabbinical Judaism set up all sorts of additional laws as safeguards around the Commandments. The problem was, those safeguards – those manmade laws – became more important than God’s Law. The Pharisees should’ve known that God was not chiefly concerned without outward purity, but inward. It’s what’s on the inside that counts.

This is what Jesus taught the crowd after He dismissed the Pharisees and scribes. He said, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” To be defiled means to be unclean. To be unclean is to be unfit for being in God’s presence or to receive His blessing. According to Jesus, what makes a man unclean is not whether he washes his hands or what he eats or wears but what comes out of him, out of his heart. And what comes out of man’s heart? Jesus lists some things. He says, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 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.” 

Lest we think that these come from some peoples’ hearts but not my heart, let’s hear from other portions of Scripture. In Genesis 6, before the Flood it says, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Man’s evil heart continued even after the Flood. King David sang in the words we know so well (Psalm 51), “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians that, apart from faith, they were “dead in trespasses and sins,” and by nature, “werechildren of wrath.” These words are true of us. Deep down in our hearts, there is nothing but corruption and evil. All who have been born of flesh and blood have inherited the corruption of original sin and are, by nature, unclean and unfit to be near God. In different ways and combinations, out of all human hearts – and our hearts – comes sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, envy, pride, and so on. Our standing before God isn’t based on who we are or how we look, whether we feel like good people or not. It’s what’s on the inside that counts. And what’s inside all mankind by nature is bad.


Last week we sang, “Lord Help Us Ever to Retain.” The second stanza said, “Help us Your holy law to learn, to mourn our sin and from it turn in faith toward You and to Your Son and Holy Spirit, three in one.” We are reminded by those words that God’s Law (His Ten Commandments) shows us what’s in our hearts. Even if Jesus didn’t teach in our text what comes out of man’s heart, we’ve all learned it from our failures to keep the Commandments. It says in the Gospel that Jesus knows what’s in man’s heart. He knows what’s in our hearts. He knows what evil and darkness is in there, what jealousy and pride and laziness. He knows the human heart is so corrupt and evil, that there’s nothing to be done to fix it. It must be gotten rid of and a new heart take its place.

That’s why Jesus took on our flesh. He knew that the thoughts and mind of human beings is continually sinful, therefore He took on our flesh to fulfill God’s Law in our place. He became like us in every respect, He suffered every temptation we do – yet without sin. From His heart came nothing but peace, mercy, and love for God and man. Though there was no evil coming out of His heart, He gave Himself up to death to pay the price for our evil deeds. Though He had a clean heart and clean hands, they were pierced for our transgressions. And by His wounds, by faith in His stripes, we are healed.

The Lord once spoke through the prophet Ezekiel,

I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 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.

Here the Lord speaks prophetically about what happens in Baptism. In Baptism, God puts to death the old sinful nature we inherit from our first parents. Like the Flood washed away sinful man, the Baptismal flood washes away the guilt of our sin. Though we were born subject to sin and wrath and under the influence of the devil, in Baptism he is chased out to make way for the Holy Spirit. And, the Holy Spirit makes our hard hearts, hearts of flesh.

Though by nature nothing good dwells within us, in Baptism we receive a new heart and spirit. In Baptism we are united to Christ’s death and resurrection, and by faith in the same our sins are forgiven. In Baptism, our will is renewed to do God’s will. Then, and only by the work of the Holy Spirit, what pours out of our hearts is love and forgiveness for our neighbor in Christ. What comes out of our hearts by nature is all the stuff Jesus listed in our text, and probably more, and that is what makes us unclean. In Baptism, Christ gives us a new heart. It’s what’s on the inside that counts.

It’s what’s on the inside that counts. That’s what Jesus teaches us today. Normally, we mean by the phrase that people are valuable because, what’s on the inside is good. But, from our Lord’s mouth, we hear that what’s inside of all of us is not good. It’s evil, sinful. Therefore, Jesus atoned for our sin by His perfect life and sacrificial death, and, by Baptism, gives us a new and clean heart to do His will. The Lord grant that we, who have been cleansed by the washing of Holy Baptism, would continue to be kept in the true faith, that our words and actions would come not from our sinful hearts, but the new hearts we receive from Him. Amen.

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