What is the Heart of the Spiritual Life with God?: Jesus’ guidance about what truly defiles

Jesus takes us beyond outward observation into the very heart of our lives. In Matthew 15, a special envoy of Pharisees from Jerusalem arrives to interrogate Jesus. But it is Jesus who confronts them about their confusion over what defiles and what the heart of true spirituality with God is all about.

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” (Matthew 15:10b-11)

Jesus wants to take His hearers, and us, deeper than mere outward observance. While there is so much more to Jesus’ ministry, there are at least three things we gather that Jesus intends to do through His teaching and ministry here:

  1. to bring us to the end of ourselves and our power where we know we need an intervention from God
  2. to transform us from the inside out through His saving intervention on the Cross 
  3. to grow us in the abundant life with God through obedience as we walk by faith under the influence of the indwelling Holy Spirit

The Pharisees missed the point about what defiles human life. For something to be defiled meant that it was not holy and could not be in God’s presence or that it was displeasing to God. The Pharisees had become so enamored with ritual purity that they thought ritual purity was primarily about what came into a person as the source of defilement. They knew it was not merely food that could defile someone. Skin diseases, bodily fluids, or contact with someone who was unclean also could be sources of defilement. But the principle behind the Pharisees’ approach to living with God was that the external was what defiled. As Jesus says, they are blind guides who will lead others astray into further blindness.

Jesus, however, brings the discussion about defilement to a deeper level. He says it is not what comes into us but what comes out of us that defiles. Our words are one aspect of that, but more deeply it is what comes from our hearts, or our inner life. Look at Jesus’ words again:

But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. (Matthew 15:18-19)

We must turn to our hearts. Again and again, Jesus drives toward the human heart. In Matthew 12, He says:

The mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. (Matthew 12:34b-35)

Jesus is a spiritual cardiologist of sorts, a spiritual heart doctor, and He is trying to get us back to that place with the living God. So how would Jesus diagnose our hearts? What soul-surgery would He recommend? How might we invite Him to do what’s necessary in the deep places of our lives?

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