Search for “unclean” in the Old Testament. Hundreds of references.
New International Version (NIV)
That Which Defiles
7 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.[a])
5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”
TRADITIONS AND OUTWARD RITUAL WERE PARAMOUNT.
Unfortunately, some of our traditions aren’t so different.
We sometimes focus on external behavior first – change your habits, your, culture, your friends, your look. Become part of Christian culture. That makes you a Christian.
EXAMPLE: Praying over meals. It’s not commanded in Scripture. It’s a tradition – not a bad one, and one we practice. But I’ve heard Christian people react with shock and derision when it is not practiced.
We’re well known for what we’re against. Makes it hard for anyone to think they could measure up and be a part of our family.
We also debate what external actions a Christian should be involved in.
There is a large debate about what Christians should eat – what is the proper Biblical diet?
Many are pious this time of the year about the way they celebrate the holidays. You’ll see lots of posts decrying the commercialization of Christmas and self-righteous screeds about how WE don’t celebrate Christmas that way.
That is all good – if it’s more than an external piety. With the judgmental tones, I sometimes wonder…
6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’
8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
9 And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
The command given in this case was to allow more to be given to the religious leaders through the temple system. Simply put – greed.
14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”  [f]
17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)
20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
Jesus sets aside thousands of years of debate, tradition, and piety in a single statement: NOTHING from the outside can make you unclean.
You are already unclean. In your heart.
This cuts to the core – it sends us to our knees in repentance and humility. No amount of external action can fix it – the evil is already inside me. It’s in my heart. What I say comes out of my heart. What I do domes out of my heart. I’m in trouble.
25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
COFFEE CUP EXAMPLE.
ONE MORE THING
We need a new heart.
24 “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
Jesus lives in you – He desires to replace your heart with his. But you have to submit to that surgery.