Experiencing the Word: The Vice List, Mark 7:20-23

He went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.'” Mark 7:20-23 (NIV)

Take a shower, clean up, put on cologne or perfume and you certainly do look and smell better, but you’re still not “clean.”  In this revolutionary and radical passage, Jesus emphasizes an important spiritual truth:  the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart—sin!  Yes, our surroundings can influence us, but our inside is already stained.

In this passage, Mark lists “vices” or sins that result from an unclean heart.  Similar lists can be found in other places  (cf. Rom. 1:29-31; I Cor. 5:11; 6:9; II Cor. 12:20; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 4:31; 5:3-4; Col. 3:5-9; II Tim. 3:2-5), and in most cases are contrasted with lists of virtues.  The list here reveals some interesting insights about our heart problem:

Our problem resides in our heart and leads to evil thoughts both of which contribute to the vices.  The “heart” was understood to be the center of human personality that determines our actions and inactions…where the true issues of life reside.  From here, an unclean heart, come evil thoughts which have a special place at the head of the list.  No wonder the Scripture encourages us to address matters of the heart and the mind.

For example, in my devotional reading this last week, I read the following verses particularly appropriate for Sunday’s message:

9 “The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out. 10 But I, GOD, search the heart and examine the mind. I get to the heart of the human. I get to the root of things. I treat them as they really are, not as they pretend to be.” Jeremiah 17:9-10 (MSG)

It’s in our hearts and minds that the problem begins, and from there it is expressed in our attitudes and actions.  The vice list includes both inward attitudes – greed, malice, envy, arrogance, etc. – and outward actions – sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, etc.  Our whole being is possessed and becomes the means of expressing our lack of cleanliness…our sinfulness.

Our desperate condition requires desperate measures!  Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ he has taken desperate measures to rescue us from our heart problem.  In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ he has done his part; now it’s time for you and for me to do our part.  In response to God’s grace we respond in faith to do two things:

Strive against sin — Through continual repentance and submission to God in faithful dependence upon the power of God’s grace we resist the pull of sin.  Sin our unclean heart has been put to death, crucified with Christ, we now have a new heart that is not obligated to sin; so, we turn our back on anything that keeps us from living the Christ life that God has given us through the indwelling, resurrected Christ.  What’s more is we…

Follow after Christ – Through faith-filled obedience we pursue a life of Christlikeness especially through the renewal of our minds according to God’s Word.  If striving against sin is putting off the old life, then following after Christ is putting on the new life of embodying the thoughts (truth) and virtues (character qualities) in our everyday living (actions).  It’s the process of working out our salvation in the power of God’s Holy Spirit.  After all, the indwelling, resurrected Christ resides in us!

I got cleaned up to go into the office this morning—showered and shaved, even put on some good smelling stuff.  However, it wasn’t until I got into the Scripture and was confronted by God’s truth that my heart was melted in repentance and submission and my mind was renewed and committed to following after Jesus.  Join me, will you in…

Striving against sin and following after Jesus.


Scott Corwin, Pastor

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