These small group studies of the gospel of Mark 7:14-23 contain  commentary, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications to encourage life change.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more practical studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

Mark 7:14-23 Bible Study Guide – Focus On The Heart


I. Internal is more important than external (14-23)

I. Internal is more important than external (14-23)

Discussion Questions

• How does this passage relate to the las?
• What does Jesus mean in verse 15?
• Why did Jesus share this with the people?
• What are some external things that cannot defile a person?
• How was Jesus’ perspective different than the religious leaders of His day?
• What does this passage teach us about religious rituals?
• How can we better understand and keep watch over our hearts?
• Is there value for us today in following the Old Testament cleanliness laws? Why or why not?
• What does the statement, “what comes out of a person is what defiles him,” mean?
• If a person is conscientious, can he disguise what is in his heart? How long do you think a person can keep up the act?
• How can we be cleansed and renewed from the inside out?


Psalms 51:10 – Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

1 Samuel 16:7 – But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Proverbs 4:23 – Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.

Romans 14:14 – I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.

Romans 14:20 – Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats.

1 Timothy 4:4 – For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. The things that come out of a person are what defile him – Jesus is telling the people that following God is not about any external ritual. That includes ritual washings or eating kosher.

Throughout history, people have gravitated toward religious rituals as a way to draw close to God. Many in the church still perform rituals as a way to seek salvation.

In the monastery, Martin Luther was driven to find acceptance with God through his works. He wrote: “I tortured myself with prayer, fasting, vigils, and freezing; the frost alone might have killed me.”

“When I was a monk, I wearied myself greatly for almost fifteen years with the daily sacrifice, tortured myself with fastings, vigils, prayers, and other very rigorous works. I earnestly thought to acquire righteousness by my works.”

Later Luther would travel to Rome and ascended the Scala Sancta, supposedly the same steps Jesus climbed when he appeared before Pontius Pilate. Luther crawled up on his knees and kissed each step, saying the Lord’s Prayer at every step. When he arrived at the top, he said, “Who knows whether this is true?” It didn’t make him feel any closer to God.

Religion does not bring us to God.

Food laws were essential to the Jews. But you cannot become a good person or please God by avoiding certain foods. A person’s actions, not the food he eats, show what kind of person he is. The Pharisees demonstrated their corrupt heart through hateful actions toward Jesus, His disciples, and the social outcasts of their day. While they religiously followed the Old Testament rituals, their hearts were hard. They did not show the compassion or love that should typify followers of the Lord.

2. Salvation is not about rules and rituals – We are reminded throughout the New Testament that salvation comes via a relationship with Christ, not rules.

Colossians 2:16 – Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.

Colossians 2:21 – Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch.

The problem of legalism continued in the church even in the absence of Pharisees. In Colossians, Paul speaks against the same thing Jesus did here in Mark.

Most likely, some in the Colossian church were trying to impose the Old Testament law and everything that comes with that. The law required them to eat kosher food only. They should celebrate the Old Testament festivals. They should keep the Sabbath according to the law.

Paul spent much of his ministry countering this works-based salvation.

Romans 6:14 – You are not under law but under grace.

Many wanted to bring the early New Testament church back under the law and have a hybrid faith + rules salvation.

But a rules-based approach to religion is not just a thing during the time of Christ. It is still common today. It is popular for several reasons:

• Satan pushes this agenda to keep people from having a real relationship with Christ.
• It makes sense to people. We like checklists. We like to-do lists. We like achieving things. We want to have a simple and easy-to-understand list of what a good Christian should do. It somehow makes sense to us.
• It appeals to our fallen nature. Some part of our nature thinks that we can make up for our sins and somehow earn salvation. That is pride. We want to rely on ourselves instead of others. Telling people there is nothing you can do to earn salvation turns many away.

Every religion in the world, except for what we learn in the Bible, is about rules. When people make up a religion, they make up many rules because it seems to make sense.

This mentality often creeps into the church. Many unwritten or sometimes written rules are added to Scripture.

Here are some:

• Christians must tithe 10%.
• When the church doors are open, you should be there.
• Men should wear suits and ties to church (we have a rule that speakers should wear ties).
• Women should always wear dresses.
• King James Version is the only version Christians should use.
• Christians should not drink any alcohol.
• Real wine should be used for communion.
• Real wine should not be used for communion.
• Christians should not watch movies.
• You should not dance.
• Christmas is sacred. We should religiously celebrate it.
• Christmas is pagan. We should religiously avoid it.
• Christians should celebrate the Old Testament festivals like Passover, Feast of Trumpets, Feast of Booths, etc.

Our faith is about a relationship with Jesus, not rituals or rules. Celebrating an Old Testament festival can be very helpful for drawing close to Jesus and seeing Him foreshadowed in those Old Testament events. But we should not be legalistic about it or require others to make the same choice we do.

One believes that Christmas is an excellent way to share the good news with the lost, have a wonderful family time, and remember Christ’s birth. Another person says that it has pagan roots or has become too secular and is better avoided.

Romans 14:4-5 – Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.

The heart of our faith is not about these things. It is not about rules or rituals. Some of these things have their purpose, but they are a means to an end and not an end unto themselves.

The Pharisees were very strict in their external behavior. They were very religious, but for them, it was a performance to demonstrate to those watching how righteous they were when they were far from God.

Jesus, not rules, brings us to God. He is the mediator.

Religious rituals should point us to Christ. But they are not the main course. They are a means to an end. The end goal is a closer relationship with the Lord.

Our faith is not about rules. It is not about commands. It is not about rituals or festivals. It is not about food. It is not about going to church. It is not about wearing symbols like a cross or a dove. It is not about baptism or communion. It is not even about heaven or reading the Bible. What is it then?

It is about having a relationship with Christ. If you do all of the rest but have no relationship with Christ, you are missing the whole point and have created your own religion.

The Bible is a way to let us become closer to Christ. Heaven is a place where we can see Christ face to face. Communion is a ritual to remember what Christ has done for us. Christian symbols are reminders of what Christ has done for us. All of these things are a
a means to an end.

We need a relationship, not a ritual.

Application – Cultivate your relationship with Christ. Consider your motivation for going to church, reading the Bible, and praying. Spend some time in prayer and ask God to reveal any wrong motives to you. Ask Him to create in you a clean heart that loves Jesus.

3. Whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him – It is another way to say that God looks at the heart. Food does not make one unclean before God. It is not food that keeps people from a relationship with God. It is sin. Sin resides in the heart.

The Pharisees were attacking the wrong problem.

Reflect – Why did the Lord establish the Old Testament laws about food if the heart is what is important?

All of the laws together were a mirror that showed people their sin and their need for a Savior.

Part of the reason for food laws was health and safety. Disease, viruses, and food poisoning that came from unclean foods would be less problematic. At the same time, these rules acted as a physical barrier between the Jews and other nationalities. This helped keep the Jews from associating closely with other peoples, which could lead to idolatry and assimilation.

4. He declared all foods clean – Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament law. It served its purpose.

Now Jesus wanted His people to focus on the heart, not rules. Believers today are not obligated to eat kosher according to the Old Testament law. However, those who choose to can. We are free.

5. Out of the heart of man come evil thoughts –

Jeremiah 17:9-10 – The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of his deeds.”

Our problem is a heart problem. Some think that babies are born with a clean slate. Their sin is caused by the environment. This idea doesn’t explain why children tell lies on their own, even when parents tell them not to.

We could be put alone in a dark room, and still we would sin. Sin comes from within us. It is the result of Adam’s choice to rebel against God at the fall.

What we need is not a system of rules but a new heart. The good news is God promises to give us just that.

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

Jesus came to give us a new heart. Because we cannot obey God’s rules on our own, He gives us a helper (John 17). The Holy Spirit convicts, strengthens, and guides us so that we can obey the Lord from a heart of love.

Application – Spend time in prayer and ask the Lord to renew your heart. Ask Him to take away the dirt and make you clean from within.