At the end of most Bible studies, we try and work out what we should do in response. The phrase “read your Bible, say your prayers” becomes very familiar! But a short look at Mark 7:1-23 shows us that Jesus pulled the rug from under our feet this week when it came to application.

Jesus told us that just 'doing things' won't help. In fact, it makes things worse. The Pharisees had lots of religious behaviour to try and deal with sin, but Jesus showed that they were so keen on outward matters that they started teaching things that went against what God has said. Religion doesn't fix the problem.

Why not? Surely with enough hard work we can “make good”?

The devastating conclusion of the passage is that defilement – everything we do wrong, every evil thing – comes “from within” (Mark 7:23). There is nothing we can do to solve the problem of a broken heart.

Mark is deliberately presenting us with a crushing low point. We've seen much of how great Jesus is, but we can't understand how massive is His rescue until we've seen how great is our need. The verdict from Mark 7 is that the need is inexpressibly great. Indeed, our hearts are spouting filth, our defilement before God comes from within, so there's nothing we can do.

We've seen lots about Jesus' rescue in Mark already, and we'll see more next week. Mark is giving us a message of good news (“gospel”, Mark 1:1), and we know that the problem is solved for us if we trust in Jesus. But the problem isn't fully solved for us yet; we still experience a heart problem until the new creation. So for the moment, let's apply what Mark is telling us here.

Some questions to ponder

  • A non-Christian friend admits that he keeps getting drunk even though he knows it is wrong. What advice do you give him? How quick are we to try to come up with “practical solutions” to fight against sin? What should we do instead?
  • When David Cameron commemorated the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, he encouraged us to “stand up for our [Christian] values” to “confront the slow-motion moral collapse that has taken place in parts of our country these past few generations”. How does he describe the problem? How would Jesus respond?
  • How can we be in danger of putting religious practices in the way of what God wants us to do? For example, are there ways we put “Christian service” before service to our parents (Mark 7:11-12)?