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Jesus the Lord of the Conscience

March 14, 2021

Teacher: Daniel Baker
Scripture: Mark 7:1–23


Reading Mark 7:1–13.

This morning we’re going to talk about the conscience. What we feel bad about, what we feel good about with our behavior.

Our conscience is our internal monitor. Like those alarms some cars have when you drift in your lane—steer right, steer left. Your conscience does that for you.

But consciences aren’t simple things. We can feel bad about doing something that IS NOT BAD. We can feel good about doing something that IS BAD.

A lot of mental disorders are defined by feelings of shame or guilt that are false. Or maybe you inflict shame and guilt on to other people. But again, it’s a false guilt.

This is a big issue in our day. We live in a day of “virtue signalling.” You put up a sign in your yard, a logo on your website. You tell the world what you believe is VIRTUOUS.

You’re trying to affect the CONSCIENCE of other people.

Part of Christian growth is a conscience that more and more reflects God’s truth—it makes you feel bad about things that are wrong, helps you feel good about things that aren’t.

In our passage Mark introduces us to Jesus as the Lord of the Conscience. It’s Jesus who will help us untangle the knot of our conscience.

We’re looking at the Gospel of Mark. Likely the first gospel. Written with a co-author, the apostle Peter, from the city of Rome in the 50s AD. That means just about 20 years after Jesus was resurrected.

In this passage we can a little sense of Mark’s Roman audience, because he’ll explain a lot of the Jewish traditions he mentions.

Because the passage uses the word “DEFILE” a lot, we’ll use that to organize our sermon. But the basic ideas we’ll talk about have to do with our conscience.

The sermon:

  • WHAT DOESN’T DEFILE (7:1–13)
  • WHAT DOES DEFILE (7:20–23)

Prayer: Holy Spirit, search us. Convict us. Change us.


We don’t have a setting. Chapter 6 ends with Jesus in Gennesaret, a town right next to Capernaum on northwest shore of Sea of Galilee. Capernaum is Jesus’ base of operations at this time.

In this Jewish region, the Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem came (7:1).

These Pharisees and scribes were the religious elite.

  • Their name Pharisee means “holy one” or “separated one.” Describes their goal in life and also how they appeared to others.
  • No one was more religious, more zealous, more respected.
  • Their knowledge of the OT (Bible) was unsurpassed.
  • They had memorized centuries of reflection on the Bible.
  • They had a rule for every facet of life.
  • A whole set of complex and detailed ORAL TRADITION.
  • These oral traditions were BINDING.

Mark calls these “the traditions of the elders” (7:5).

The word Greek word for “tradition” means “something passed down, given over.” It highlights that idea of something received and then passed down. The vocabulary of “traditions” is the vocabulary of receiving and giving. We receive something from one generation. We give it to the next.

In our text, we bump into one of these traditions, WASHING.

  • Nothing to do with hygiene. Not about physical DIRT.
  • About ceremonial cleanliness.
  • It was a religious ritual.
  • Pharisees/scribes see the disciples eating without washing. They question Jesus about this.
  • Mark explains their traditions—washing all sorts of utensils (Mark 7:4), vessels, hands before eating.
  • You can hear Mark’s exasperation!

A key part of this is that NOWHERE DOES THE OT COMMAND THIS!!!

  • But the Pharisees were ADDING to the OT law.
  • Cleaning “cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches”? That’s nowhere in the OT.
  • It was “the tradition of the elders” (7:5).

Here’s what’s interesting about these traditions. They REQUIRE MORE than what God’s Word requires. How could that be bad?

  • If God’s Word requires that we give of our income to the Lord, how could it be wrong to require people to give 20%?
  • If God’s Word requires prayer, how could it be wrong to require that people pray 5 times a day at specific times?

But if you add to God’s Word, you don’t HELP it, you ruin it in people’s eyes.

  • Like a perfect statue by a master craftsman.
  • If you add to that statue, you ruin it.
  • And if you cut something away from it, you ruin it.

Jesus responds:

You hypocrites! — Mark 7:6–7. Quotes Isa 29:13 against them.

A “hypocrite” is Greek for an actor, a pretender. The Pharisees were playing the part, dressed in a costume, saying the right words. But it wasn’t real. It was an act. 

They weren’t just fooling an audience.

  • They were fooling themselves—self-deceived
  • But they weren’t fooling Jesus.
  • Jesus could see into their hearts.
  • He saw that no matter what their “lips” were saying, their “hearts” were dead as stones.
  • Their worship was emptiness, vanity, a show.

Then Jesus points out how a TRADITION CAN CONTRADICT GOD’S WORD.

  • They had a tradition of “Corban.”
  • A strange practice.
  • You would designate something you have—money or a possession—as “Corban.”
  • It meant it was dedicated to the Lord.
  • But…you could continue use the money and get some value out of it.
  • IF PARENTS NEEDED HELP? Too bad. It’s “Corban.”

It was a way to feel good about yourself because you gave so much to the Lord—but all the while you weren’t doing what the Bible clearly commands, which is to “honor your father and your mother.”

You honor them by financially helping as they need it and as you’re able.

This was entirely a “tradition that you have handed down” (Mark 7:13)—not something God himself commanded.


  • One example of tradition can have this affect is DRINKING ALCOHOL.
  • Some strong church traditions see any social drinking as sinful and wrong.
  • This can create a powerful sense of guilt when a person from that tradition even considers having a glass of wine at dinner.
  • But the Bible says DRUNKENNESS is sin, not merely a drink.
  • Being DRUNK breaks God’s law, not just a drink of alcohol.
  • But, of course, your personal drunkenness is not the only issue.
  • Drinking alcohol is one of those simple acts that gets complicated.
  • Your freedom…might lead others to sin. If so, don’t do it (Rom 14).
  • Your freedom today…might lead to slavery tomorrow. If so, be careful.


Read Mark 7:14–19.

The second part of the passage, Mark 7:14–23, the focus is still on what DEFILES us. The scene has shifted and now Jesus addresses “the people.” “Hear me, all of you, and understand” (7:14).

What actually DEFILES us? He’s going to make two really important points.

First, we’re not DEFILED by something we eat or drink. Something physical we ingest.

His words let us know Jesus was definitely a man. He was not a woman. Mark 7:18–19. The ESV has cleaned up Jesus’ language. I guess they thought it was a little too crass. Jesus says you eat it, it goes in your stomach, and then it goes in the toilet. The ESV, has said “is expelled.” Only a man would mention a toilet in his teaching. Like me, right now.

Jesus says that NO FOOD CAN DEFILE YOU since NO FOOD ENTERS YOUR HEART. It goes in your stomach, not your heart.

Your heart is where UNCLEANNESS lies, and since the food doesn’t go in your heart, the food itself can’t defile you.

To a Jewish audience, this was radical. A whole chapter in Leviticus is dedicated to what a Jew could eat and not eat. What foods were “clean” and what foods were “unclean.”

In this statement, though, Jesus is saying there’s no food that is UNCLEAN. No food that DEFILES.

And just so we don’t miss this bombshell, this change of laws, Mark adds that little comment at the end of Mark 7:19—“Thus he declared all foods clean.”

Jesus in his death, burial, and resurrection brought a change to how we read the OT.

  • Some laws are now “obsolete” for the Christian (Heb 8:13).
  • One category is the category described here, all the laws that have to do with something being “CLEAN” or “UNCLEAN.”

The reason? Jesus has permanently and perfectly “CLEANSED” us:

If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

“Cleanses us from all sin….cleanse us from all unrighteousness” — If we’re already clean because of the sacrifice of Jesus, any laws about being clean no longer bind us. Our conscience is completely free from them!


  • Read the OT through the lens of the NT
  • If you’re a young Bible reader or new to the Bible, read the NT multiple times before you dive into the NT.
  • The truth is, you can’t understand the OT without the NT, and you can’t understand the NT without the OT. But it makes sense to start with the NT.
  • Then you’ll see clearly that the whole Bible moves forward to Jesus, then talks about Jesus, and then explains the significance of Jesus.


Jesus continues this idea of what DEFILES. Food can’t defile us, because it doesn’t “ENTER” our heart.

It’s our HEARTS that are the problem. They are what DEFILE us. It’s what’s IN HERE that we need to worry about, not a particular food we eat.

What comes out of this nasty heart of mine? A whole slew of nastiness:

  • “Evil thoughts”
  • “Sexual immorality” (porneia)
  • “Theft”
  • “Murder”
  • “Adultery”
  • “Coveting”
  • “Wickedness”
  • “Deceit”
  • “Sensuality”
  • “Envy”—lit., “the evil eye.”
  • “Slander”
  • “Pride”
  • “Foolishness”

Categories of Sin:

  • Mind—Evil thoughts, Coveting, Envy, Pride
  • Speech—Slander (blasphemy)
  • Body—Sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, deceit, sensuality, foolishenss
  • But…Jesus all those ways of sinning have one source in you: YOUR HEART.

Four of these sins are one of the Ten Commandments: theft, murder, adultery, coveting: But again, sins that break the Ten Commandments have one source: YOUR HEART.

It’s your HEART that will defile you. Not eating without washing your hands. Not eating certain foods or avoiding certain foods.

An important teaching:

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45)

Solomon points to what we do about it:

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. (Prov 4:23)

How to “Keep your heart”? Keep bad things out, put good things in.


Jesus is the Lord of the Conscience. Let’s think about how to apply this. 4 things:

One, are you drinking alcohol in a holy way?

Two, remember Jesus is Lord of the conscience—not you, not your boss, not a political party, not the New York Times.

Three, continue to grow in your knowledge of the Bible. It will arm you against false guilt. But it’ll also lead you to a sense of true guilt.

  • Continue to read your OT through the lens of the NT
  • Cornerstone Readers

Four, consider whether you need a heart transplant!

  • Coming to Jesus in saving faith doesn’t just bring a slight change to your heart.
  • It brings a NEW HEART!
  • It’s Jesus and the Holy Spirit that fulfills this promise in Ezekiel:

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. 26 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. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezek 36:25–27)


  • The Holy Spirit is the revealer of hearts

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