The heart determines your actions, not the other way around

Today’s verse is 2 Corinthians 7:1.

1 Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God.

As I was reading this, first I wanted to know what promises Paul was referring to. So I flipped back to the previous chapter. And basically, what that seems to be referring to is a section of Scripture Paul quotes from some different areas of the Old Testament: Leviticus 26:12; Ezekiel 37:27; Isaiah 52:11; and 2 Samuel 7:14.

 “I will live in them
      and walk among them.
   I will be their God,
      and they will be my people.[e]
 17 Therefore, come out from among unbelievers,
      and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord.
   Don’t touch their filthy things,
      and I will welcome you.[f]
 18 And I will be your Father,
      and you will be my sons and daughters,
      says the Lord Almighty.[g]

God is telling the people of Israel to stay away from the darkness of the world and that if they will do that, they will be His children. His people. So the promise is if we will abandon the things of the world–the things that defile our body and our spirit–God will welcome us as His children. And according to 2 Corinthians 7:1, we should do this because we fear God. (This instance of the word fear is more like reverence or awe instead of terror.)

So the next question I have is what defiles us?

I’m sure people can come up with all sorts of lists. Getting drunk. Pornography. Drugs. Sexual sin. Anything the world is into can probably be listed as something that will defile a person’s body or spirit.


Well, all of those things are bad. And in excess they’re worse. But there is no physical thing on Earth that can actually defile our spirit. Granted, those things aren’t very good for our bodies either, but if you ask me, the spirit is the part I’m most concerned about.

So what defiles a spirit if it’s not drugs or sex or alcohol? Jesus already gave us the answer in Matthew 15:11.

11 It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.”

This is another area where Christians get caught up in, I think. Religion usually is able to get a foothold in our lives in this area because we buy into the lies that doing something or saying something or taking something will defile us. But that’s not true. It’s the condition of the heart that will defile a person. I’m going to go ahead and put the whole section of this interaction up because I think it’s so revealing:

Matthew 15:1-20

1 Some Pharisees and teachers of religious law now arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. They asked him, 2“Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.”

 3 Jesus replied, “And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God? 4 For instance, God says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’[a] and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’[b] 5 But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ 6 In this way, you say they don’t need to honor their parents.[c] And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,

 8 ‘These people honor me with their lips,
      but their hearts are far from me.
    9 Their worship is a farce,
      for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’[d]

 10 Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “Listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 11It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.”

 12Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?”

 13 Jesus replied, “Every plant not planted by my heavenly Father will be uprooted, 14so ignore them. They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch.”

 15Then Peter said to Jesus, “Explain to us the parable that says people aren’t defiled by what they eat.”

 16 “Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked. 17 “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. 18 But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. 19 For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. 20 These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.”

See what I mean? The Pharisees were throwing this big fit because the Disciples hadn’t washed their hands before they ate (it was a big ceremonial deal apparently), and Jesus pointed out to them that even though they were extraordinarily strict about keeping the laws, they didn’t understand why the laws are important.

So because I fear God and because I believe in the promises He made, I want to get as far away from what will defile me as possible–namely, a proud and unyielding heart that wants its way and refuses to listen to God.

God gave me a new heart when I chose to accept Christ, but my old nature still holds on. And I struggle with it every day. I’m still a work in progress. God is still working on me, helping me get through each day, learning more about Him and His mercies, and one day I won’t have to struggle with it anymore.

But until then, I want to have a pure heart. Because if your heart is pure, your actions will be too.