Blog Post 23
Blessed are the Pure in Heart
Introduction – what is purity of heart and how do we get it
For the last several weeks we have been looking at Jesus’ sermon on the mount starting with the well known “beatitudes.” If we are going to be a community centered on Jesus Christ then we should know what Jesus said about life and about what kind of life is “blessed.” What we have found is that many of the beatitudes are deeply counter intuitive. Jesus says that those who are poor in spirit are blessed and that the kingdom belongs to them. But it seems to us that the ever-cheerful, positive thinking leaders are the one with blessed lives. Jesus says “blessed are those who mourn.” We think the opposite; those who have smooth sailing, a positive self image and cheery disposition have comfort. And the meek, the gentle, certainly do not inherit the earth.
Jesus seems to be revealing to us a reality behind the reality that we see. In his kingdom the last are first, the meek inherit the earth and those hungry for righteousness are filled. But today we look at verse 8 where Jesus says “blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” This, of all the beatitudes, seems to make sense to us.
If you were to list why some people have a problem with religion, religious people, or Christians in particular, I think “hypocrisy” would be on the short list. People see Christians who say that serve God but who seem to be serving themselves; they see Christian who say they love others but are filled with self-righteousness; they see people who condemn sin in others but do not see the log in their own eyes. Hypocrisy is understandably condemned by all. But I think even the critic of faith would say that if there was someone with a pure heart, and if there is a God somewhere, well, the pure in heart person would be the most likely to see him.
Transition – we understand this one. Those who are pure in heart should be blessed but what does it mean to be pure in heart and how do we get one?
To be pure in heart is to be without hypocrisy with God and people
To be “pure in heart” is to be both undivided and untainted. It is to be focused on one thing and also to do that thing without flaw or compromise. So if an NBA announcer were to say that someone is a “pure shooter” he would probably mean that this player primarily shot the basketball and did it well. He was focused on shooting much more than on any other parts of the game and his form has no flaws. So to have a “pure heart” means that it has undivided love for God uncorrupted by sin or deception.
You see this in Psalm 24. The Psalmist asks the question “who may dwell on God’s mountain, who may approach his holy place (the temple).”
Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
4 The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol
or swear by a false god. [or swear falsely]
The psalmist defines a pure heart as one who does not lift up his soul to an idol and who does not swear by a false god, or swear falsely. Trusting in an idol creates a divided loyalty to God and swearing falsely is deceiving other people. Putting this in today’s terms we could say that a pure heart does not use devotion to God to accomplish something else — that is really worshipping our gods. If I follow God in order to be successful or rich or popular rather than because he is God my Savior, than I am really “trusting in an idol.” My heart is divided.
In the same way if I do not swear by what is false it means I do not deceive people. I do not put on a false self before others or pretend to be friendly when I am tearing them down behind their back. Someone with a pure heart faces life without fear of being “found out” or “revealed.” It is like being unafraid of a surprise audit because you know you have done everything legally.
Wouldn’t that be a nice way to live? Wouldn’t it be great to be open and honest with all people, never worrying about concealing anything or fearing anyone. You could go to any neighborhood function not worried that you will bump into someone that you “have an issue” with.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have an open relationship with God, never hiding from him, but knowing that you are walking in obedience. You would never fear that something bad was “his punishment” for some concealed or un-confessed sin. You are confident of a spontaneous relationship with your God.
It is not hard to imagine that people who live such open, honest, straightforward, pure lives would see God. Unlike many of the beatitudes, this one makes sense. But it also seems impossible. Who of us can claim a pure heart? More than that much of scriptures affirms that the heart of a person is not to be trusted. The prophet Jeremiah says this when he is addressing the sin of the people of his day:
9 The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?
Beyond that, Jesus himself tells us that most of our problems come from our hearts. In a watershed comment during his ministry Jesus revealed that the real cause of evil and disobedience is the human heart. Jesus was being criticized by the religious leaders for eating with hands that had not been ceremonially washed. This was not a question of hygiene, but of ritual uncleanness. A Jew in the first century was always aware of the things that could make one “unclean.” Touch a dead body? You are unclean. Touch non -kosher food? You are unclean . Touch an infected part of the body? You are unclean. To guard against this the religious leaders developed a complex series ceremonial washings which Jesus ignored. They challenged him and in his answer the whole nature of clean and unclean was redefined forever.
17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”
The evil that so ensnares our lives comes from the state of our hearts. If we want to change our lives we have to change our hearts. But how can that happen?
Transition – Even as some seem to live this way, who can say what is in the hidden recesses of the heart of a person? And if no heart is clean how can we have pure hearts?
A pure heart is a cleansed heart
As we look through scripture we soon find that a pure heart is a “cleansed heart.” No one has a pure heart. But God can make our hearts clean. David shows us this in Psalm 51. He acknowledges his sinful state before God and seeks a cleansed heart.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
David knew that he did not have a clean heart. He had committed all types of sin: deception, lust, adultery and murder. He knew that the only way he could have a pure heart would be if God cleansed it. What David asked of God prefigured what would become a real possibility for all of us after the cross. For us, living on this side of the crucifixion and resurrection, this cleansing is available because of what Jesus did. He died in our place and died for our sin. Because of his sacrifice we can go to him and find real forgiveness and real cleansing. God doesn’t just cover up our sin and he doesn’t just pretend it is not serious. He cleanses us. This is what the first Christians celebrated. This is what the writer of Hebrews is saying.
21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
Look at the beatitudes. They start with the declaration that the poor in Spirit are blessed. These are people who know that they have no bargaining power with God. To be poor in Spirit is to come to God empty, seeking mercy. The beatitudes say blessed are those who mourn. It is those who mourn over their sin who will be comforted. It is our poverty of spirit and sadness for sin that leads us to seek God and find in him forgiveness, blessing and cleansing.
Wouldn’t that be nice? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know that we have been truly cleansed of past sin, forgiven in God because of what God has done. But here is the thing. A clean heart only comes to those who admit their hearts are not clean. And the cleansing goes as deep as our confession. The deeper we dig the deeper he forgives and the more grateful we become.
Transition – but God does not leave us here because a pure heart is God’s desire for you and brings both great freedom and great reward.
God will reveal himself as we learn to live with a pure heart
God not only purifies our hearts he transforms it. The great truth of following Christ is that it starts with forgiveness but continues in a transforming relationship. We are not just forgiven, as wonderful as that is, we are transformed. The Bible actually uses the language of “getting a new heart.” And so by the power of the Holy Spirit we can learn to live openly not only because we know it is wrong to lie and conceal but also because God changes our needs and as we trust him.
Consider for a moment, why to we live with impure hearts? Why do we conceal and create a sham persona before other people? We want to impress. We want to conceal. We don’t trust that people will accept us for who we are if we are honest. We do not think we can be successful without cheating. So we live with divided hearts. But when God changes out hearts and forgives our old sin in Christ we are transformed. Now we do not need to impress others. God himself has accepted us. We do not need to manipulate and control. God is in control. We do not need to be divided because God is in our lives.
Not only that but when we seek to be pure – not living in revenge, not tearing people down, not making our own way we are forced to trust God. When we deal honestly with people, we are forced to trust God to provide. When we leave revenge in God’s hands we are forced to trust him with that. When we step out and seek reconciliation and God heals we see God move. In fact, in all these situations we are forced to trust God and when we do we will see God work.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.