Series: Matthew: We Need a King

Discerning Legalism, Pt. 2

November 13, 2022 | Jeff Crotts

Passage: Matthew 15:15-20

Intro: Preacher’s quote, relevant considering theme, Legalism.

“The common arguments against ‘public schools’ education appear to me to be based on forgetfulness of our Lord’s teaching about heart. Unquestionably there are many evils in ‘public school,’ however carefully conducted…We must expect it. But it is not less true that there are great dangers in private education, and dangers in their kind quite as formidable as many which beset a boy at public school. Of course, no universal rule can be laid down…but to suppose…that boys educated at public schools must turn out ill, and boys educated at home must turn out well, is surely not wise. It is forgetting our Lord’s doctrine, that the heart is the principal source of evil. Without a change of heart, a boy may be kept at home, and yet learn all manner of sin.”

[Question] “When do you think this was written?”

  • Written by J.C. Ryle, bishop of Liverpool, in 1857.
  • Our concern for our kids, their hearts, their life choices drive what, who, and how we allow them to engage the world.
  • This is a relevant concern and has been for a long time.
  • C. Ryle’s candor makes what he says very relevant.

“We ought to remember…in training and education of children. In all our management we much never forget, that the seeds of all mischief and wickedness are in their hearts. If is not enough to keep boys and girls at home, and shut out every outward temptation. They carry within them a heart ready for any sin, until that heart is changed they are not safe, whatever we do.”

“When children do wrong, it is a common practice to lay all the blame on bad companions. But it is mere ignorance, blindness, and foolishness to do so. Bad companions are a great evil no doubt…But no companion teaches a boy or girl half as much as their own hearts will suggest to them, unless they are renewed by the Spirit. The beginning of all wickedness is within.”

“If parents were half as diligent praying for their children’s conversion, as they are in keeping them from bad company, their children would turn out far better than they do.”

[KEY] Ryle is reading our mail.

  • What we need is to now turn to the Lord’s diagnostic of everyone’s human heart and human condition.
  • The source of all that is wrong with us.
  • What legalism tries to cover up and temps us to ignore!

ESV  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." (1Sa 16:7 ESV)


[Prop] “Do you understand?”

You are either living outside/in or inside/out


  1. Living outside/in (vv. 10-14)


  • These verses are prologue for Jesus’ point.
    • The heart is the source of sin.
    • Their coverup is legalism.
      • Jesus says, “Let them alone.”
      • They are “Blind leading the blind.”
        • Severe judgment of God’s reprobation!
          • For blaming disobeying the Law as problem.
          • Instead of someone’s sinful heart.


[TRANS] Enter Peter giving a directive to Jesus for an explanation (v. 15).


“Explain Jesus’ analogy from verse 11.” 



  1. Or, living inside/out (vv. 15-20)


  1. Debunking the wrong problem (vv. 15-17)


“Jesus, explain (interpret) the parable” (cf. v. 15).

  • Jesus’ response to Peter is incredulous.

“Are you also still without understanding?” (v. 16).

  • Mark 7:17 says they entered a house, making this private and for good reason.
    • Jesus exasperated, after two full years without things clicking.
    • Philip would still cross this line even later.

ESV  John 14:9 Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? (Joh 14:9 ESV)


  • Jesus calling his disciples to examine their spiritual condition.
    • “Still vulnerable to these con artists?”
      • Susceptible to false teaching.
      • Naturally minded, blind to see own sinfulness.


  • Disciples struggled with Jesus turning over dietary and civil laws of Leviticus 11; Deut. 14:4-21.
    • Felt safe and clean.
    • Statistics: Jews, lowest percentage of cervical cancer bc/ of circumcision.

[KEY] Verse 17, Jesus explains spiritual side of what he just said.

  • Takes openness to embrace as conviction.
    • Understanding by illumination of Holy Spirit.
    • Having “Still without understanding!”


  • Perhaps less hard to understand and more difficult to accept!

[KEY] Verse 17 Jesus, pressing whether eyes to see natural from spiritual.

  • “Do you not see…” (v. 17).
    • Jesus gives an anatomy lesson defining physical food as neutral/material.
      • Functional eating.
      • A less than attractive process.

“…whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach” (v. 17).

[Question] “What is the first stop for food?” The mouth.

  • Does not stay there: “…passes into the stomach” (v. 17)
    • Satisfying and nourishing body as food, then “…is expelled” (v. 17).
    • Moved out as waste.

[KEY] Jesus his point.

  • Food does not defile someone.
    • Whether clean hands or not.
    • Whether clean or unclean animals.


  • After it has done its thing, it “…is expelled” (v. 17).
    • “Expelled out into a latrine” [εἰς ἀφεδρῶνα] (v. 17).
    • Ancient septic systems unlike today.
    • Not clean but graphic.
      • Think, outhouse.
        • Paul’s religious achievements, “dung” (cf. Phil. 3).
        • Our role as Christians, “clay pots” earthenware.


  • Excrement compared, w/what’s expelled from hearts.
    • It again, is morally neutral, substance.
    • Food has nothing to do with our mental or spiritual state.


  1. Diagnosing the right problem (vv. 18-20)

Verse 18 shifts Jesus’ point to what does defile.

  • Not food, because food, when fully digested, is expelled through the bowels not the mouth.


  • Food goes down through the mouth and out through the bowels and this does not defile.

[TRANS] Something does come back through the mouth!

  • Reversing direction of food coming down to what comes up from the heart.
    • Shift from physical to spiritual here.
    • What is it that “…comes out of the mouth” (v. 18)? What “…proceeds from the heart” (v. 18)?


  • This “…defiles a person” (v. 18).
    • Source of corruption, not food.
    • Not washing eating, not from stomach.


  • The source of corruption always one thing, “…the heart” (v. 18).

[KEY] Jesus is not talking about the “heart” in terms of a physical organ.

  • Our blood pump.
    • Heart is seat of mind, will, and emotions.
    • Mission control center.


  • Major problem is born corrupt, behind every sin you ever commit.

ESV  Genesis 6:5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Gen 6:5 ESV)

ESV  Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Psa 51:5 ESV)

ESV  Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jer 17:9 ESV)

ESV  Romans 3:10-18 as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; (Rom 3:10 ESV)

11 no one understands; no one seeks for God.

12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one."

13 "Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive." "The venom of asps is under their lips."

14 "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness."

15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood;

16 in their paths are ruin and misery,

17 and the way of peace they have not known."

18 "There is no fear of God before their eyes." (Rom 3:10-18 ESV)


ESV  Ephesians 2:1-3 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins

2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience--

3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Eph 2:1-3 ESV)


ESV  James 1:13-15 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. (Jam 1:13 ESV)

14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.

15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

(Jam 1:14-15 ESV)


ESV  James 4:1-4 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?

2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.

3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (Jam 4:1-4 ESV)


[TRANS] Verse 19 lists categories of the heart.

  • No room to say man is morally good or neutral.
    • What comes out of the mouth is sourced in the heart.
    • Talking in terms of legalism.


  • Coverup led by blind leaders.
    • Blind people to what is truly wrong.
    • Religious washing away source of corruption.


  • What comes “…out of the heart” are as follows: “…evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (v. 19).

[TRANS] Society teaches man are born morally good/neutral.

  • Start from there.
    • Blame everything other than yourself for what’s going wrong.
    • Why fixing by self-reform is path.

[Prop] Seven deadly sins come out of everyone’s heart.

[KEY] Sins you can be saved from. (cf. Proverbs 6:16).

ESV  Proverbs 6:16 There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: (Pro 6:16 ESV)

[Note] Sins are plural making sins “many and active.”  

  • “evil thoughts” is apropos, everything comes to mind.


  • Sin is three dimensional in someone’s thinking.


  • “murder, adultery, and sexual immorality” born in the heart (cf. Matt. 5-7).

[Appl] Sin always begins in the imaginations.

  • See yourself in sin before acting it out.
    • “If culpable sinning in my mind, then I am hopeless!”
    • Hope in that you kill sin before it goes public.


[Appl] Gauge when to confront based on sin spreading in the church.

  • A person commits sin whether they act on it or not.


  • When contained (localized “cancer”), time to still observe it.
    • Still fight it on their own.
    • Sins, division, or immoral influence spreading, time to act.

[Note] Second, deadly sin is “murder.”

  • Homicide is real.
    • Beginning with Cain.
      • Saul/Paul?


  • Killing beings with hate.


  • When someone hates someone else, they murder that person in their heart.

ESV  James 1:20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (Jam 1:20 ESV)

  • Without love in your heart, most natural coping mechanism is “hate” (cf. Jas. 4:1-2).
  • You say, “I am not a hateful person!”


  • Hating your brother signals lack in saving faith (cf. 1 John 2:9).

ESV  1 John 2:9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. (1Jo 2:9 ESV)

  • Ask, “Am I angry with someone?” “Anyone?”
    • Harboring a grudge.
    • What’s unforgivable to you?


  • This is the sin of Cain (cf. Gen. 4, “sin is crouching at the door).

ESV  Genesis 4:7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it." (Gen 4:7 ESV)

  • David’s guilt and desperation, calling troops back from Uriah.
    • David’s passive hatred.
    • Passion against people when sinned.

[Note] Third, “adultery” like murder is a physical sin.

  • Marital unfaithfulness, but important to recognize it rises from the heart.
    • Where adultery has been for a long time.

“When someone falls into adultery, it was not a very far fall.”

  • Proverbs 6 and 7 is common and pervasive.
    • The man making himself vulnerable, “looking through the lattice” at the “strange woman” who is boisterous, where “all at once” he follows her as an “Ox to the slaughter.”


  • People blind to their own habits, are sliding unawares, blind to how close they are to losing themselves in sin.

[Note] Fourth, “sexual immorality” [πορνεῖαι] is where we derive the word “porn.”

  • Pornography is ubiquitous (forgotten) because it is a social norm.
    • Sin is what paralyzes the soul.
    • Easy to be blinded by what is happening in heart.


  • Committing “sexual immorality” in your heart is a drain for believers sinning against the temple of the Holy Spirit.
    • Sin cripples’ marriage.
    • Not isolated only to the man in the marriage.


  • Worldliness, and unfaithfulness go hand in hand with women.
    • Allure men feeling inadequate, allowing to be duped with flattery.
    • Conditions set by what willing to feed on.

[Note] Fifth, “…theft” [κλοπαί] kleptomaniac being habituated thief.

  • Not relegated to common criminals.


  • White collar crime and scam artists are pervasive.


  • People steal within their own businesses or even within their households.
    • Often sin comes from discontentedness, greed, and the love of money.


  • People compromise within their conscience and become willing to do what they never imagined themselves as being capable of doing.
    • All these sins are part of a slippery slope.
    • When people are caught in a money scandal, this like other sins comes out of a series of bad decisions.


[App] When someone is willing to be confronted, they can come out of the tailspin they have fallen inside of and can be pulled back center. When people double down and are unwilling to be confronted or held accountable then they fall into a hardened state.  

[Note] Sixth, is someone who gives a “false witness” [ψευδομαρτυρίαι] to say you witnessed something that you did not witness.

  • To tell a falsehood or to lie out and out.


  • The Bible teaches that when you lie you lie to three persons at once.
    • You could say, you are lying in three directions.
      • First, you lie to yourself.
        • Remember the verse in Jeremiah 17:9, “…the heart is deceitful…” meaning it lies to you.


  • When you tell someone something that is not true, you are hardening your conscience and I would argue, lying to yourself.


  • Second, we lie the others is a straightforward breech of trust and outright sin against our neighbor.


  • Third, like Ananias and Saphira, we lie to the Holy Spirit.



  • The Lord is truly the final judge over what we are doing or not doing.


  • He knows our hearts in a way that we cannot.


[Note] Seventh, to “slander” [βλασφημίαι].

  • To tear someone down by speaking against someone.


  • Galatians 5:15; Ephesians 4:31; James 3:1-8 (cf. Rom. 3 “poison of asps”).

ESV  Galatians 5:15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. (Gal 5:15 ESV)

ESV  Ephesians 4:31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. (Eph 4:31 ESV)

ESV  James 3:1-8 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.

3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well.

4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.

5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!

6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.

7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind,

8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (Jam 3:1-8 ESV)


  • Gossip is a respectable sin where it should not be.


  • People rationalize talking about others in the name of helping them.


  • They go under the cover of offering a prayer request.


  • The gut check is to ask whether your motive is to truly build them up.

[KEY] “For out of the heart come…” these issues.

  • These choices. These sins.
    • These are not mere habits or societal ills.
    • No, these are sins.


  • These sins are categories of what everyone’s heart can do.
    • Everyone is not as sinful in every category.
      • Still the seeds of all these sins are inside.
      • Left to themselves will manifest.


  • What people are blind to seeing.


  • What rise out from a person’s sinful condition.
    • An unregenerate, unrepentant heart, left to itself will automatically, commit all of these sins in unbridled fashion.
    • All of it, all of the time.

[Point] The lie of legalism says, your heart is uncontaminated, not contaminated by these sins.

  • “Not you at all, if you do the stuff!”
    • Fulfill your religious obligation, you are not responsible for whatever your heart is doing.
    • Given to a depraved conscience will deny their own depravity.


  • Suppressing need for intervening grace!
    • Ignore their sin problem or relabel it, it makes no difference.
    • It is there.

[Illus] Paul writes a similar list for the church.

  • This is virtually restating Jesus’ same list as the list of sins.
    • If not repented of.
    • What keeps someone from entering the kingdom of heaven.

ESV  1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,

10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1Co 6:9-10 ESV)


[Illus] Similar close in Revelation. 

ESV  Revelation 21:8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death." (Rev 21:8 ESV)


Verse 20 Jesus’ summarizes the source for sin.

  • “These are what defile a person” (v. 20).
    • As if to say, “all these sins are from the heart and this heart is the defiler!”


  • Once you begin to face your sin and the responsibility for your sin, you begin to see how ludicrous “eating with unwashed hands” being the problem.


  • Jesus is saying, the problem is neither, neglecting ceremony or tradition but your heart of sin.
    • “Which is it?”
      • The façade of legalism is the easy out!
      • Lying to yourself, that you are just fine, when you are not.


  • Forgetting to wash your hands really means nothing.

Conclusion: If legalism is living outside/in then how are you supposed to live inside out?

  • To live inside/out, is not only calling the bluff of the façade, but also facing the sinfulness of your own sin.
    • Call it out for what it truly is.
    • Look in the mirror and be honest with yourself.


  • Repent, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

[KEY] Jesus is challenging disciples, whether they “understand” what he is teaching them.

  • Move away from religious, binding, legalism.
    • It rises and falls on knowing you are as bad as the Bible describes.
    • Transformation stems from this basic acknowledgement.
      • You “understand” the root cause of your sin.
      • Able to rebuild and be restored.


  • Why Jesus ends this section abruptly.


  • Sin on this scale leaves no other solution than grace, then Christ.


  • This is exactly where God wants you to be.



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