This post is the 7th in the series of posts on the Beatitudes—a section that spans from Matthew 5:3-12. In this section, the Lord Jesus describes 8 attitudes that should be present in the life of everyone who claims to be his follower. In this post, we will be looking at the sixth attitude—the attitude of mercy as described in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
Suppose you were to take a random poll of non-Christians and ask them if they would like to see one thing—I mean crave to see it; I don’t believe many people would say, “I want to see God. I want to experience his presence.” The world wants nothing to do with God and his presence. The genuine Christian, on the other hand, when asked that same question, would say, “I want to see God in the face of Christ. I want to experience his presence.” Completely contrasting desire to that of the world!
However, it’s one thing to have the desire to see God and be with him. It’s another thing to be sure this will happen. So, how can we be sure we will be in heaven and see God? The Lord Jesus answers that in Matthew 5:8, when he said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” This verse could also be rendered in this way: Only those who are pure in heart are blessed or approved by God and will have the joy of eventually seeing him in heaven.
God is spirit. So, he is invisible. We can only see his glory. However, the Bible states that Jesus is the “radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” [Heb 1:3]. 1 John 3:2 says in the future that when Jesus returns, “we shall see [Jesus] as he is.” So, seeing God is a reference to seeing the resurrected Jesus in all his glory. Jesus himself said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” [John 14:9].
Pure in Heart.
It’s essential to understand the phrase “pure in heart.” The word “pure” is the Greek word from which we get the English word, “Catharsis,” which means purging or cleansing. It refers to getting rid of something that is not good.
Typically, the phrase “pure in heart” is interpreted as the heart being free from wrongful sexual desires—free from lust. Now, the heart should be free from lustful thoughts. In this same chapter, Jesus later talked about the dangers of lusting in the heart in areas of sex [Matt 5:27-30]. However, pure in heart has a broader meaning than just a reference to sexual purity. It refers to a heart free from all kinds of impurities and is sincerely devoted to God—a heart with no divided loyalties and mixed motives.
This understanding is evident from Jesus’s own words later in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” In this verse, what Jesus is saying is this: The heart that is the center of everything must be free from all impurities. No divided loyalties. No other allegiances. Complete devotion to God. A single-minded desire to wholly dedicate oneself to God and his glory. And that’s the heart that Jesus says God considers pure.
Pursuing purity on the inside was the exact opposite of what the people of Jesus’s day sought—especially the religious leaders. They didn’t care about inward purity. All they cared about was outward purity and conformity to human traditions that supposedly made one clean.
On the other hand, Jesus was calling for an inner purity—a purity of the heart because it is the heart that is the source of evil. Notice his own words from Matthew 15:19-20, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person, but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”
The story is told of a pious Jewish leader who was arrested and put in prison. While in prison, he was given a piece of bread and a cup of water. Instead of drinking that water, the Jew used it to wash his hands according to the Jewish tradition and then touched the bread. That picture shows how focused the religious people of Jesus’s day were on external traditions.
The issue is not about going to church and doing some Christian activities. It’s about putting God at the center of our hearts. In Matthew 6:33, Jesus said, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.” The word “first” has the idea of giving full-fledged priority to God and his righteous standards. Jesus described some of those standards in the Sermon on the Mount.
For example, those who are pure in heart will want to:
Put anger away and instead seek reconciliation [Matt 5:21-26]
Put lust away and seek to honor their marriage covenant [Matt 5:27-32]
Put away deceitful words, but seek always to speak the truth [Matt 5:33-37]
Put away a retaliatory “eye-for-an-eye” attitude, but seek to go the extra mile by loving, praying, and doing good even for their enemies [Matt 5:38-48]
Give money, pray, and fast—not for external applause, but solely for God’s pleasure [Matt 6:1-18]
Use their money for God’s glory, and not store up treasures on earth [Matt 6:19-34]
Judge others with a compassionate heart and not in a harsh manner [Matt 7:1-12]
Walk on the narrow road rather than enjoy the pleasures that come on the broad road [Matt 7:13-27]
In other words, theirs is truly a life that seeks conformity to God’s standards from the inside out. They are not focused on an outward show of religion. They genuinely love God and genuinely long to please him with a pure heart.
Maintaining a pure heart.
So, how do we do it? How can we keep our hearts pure? 4 principles to consider.
Principle # 1: Be saved.
The starting point of the pursuit of this purity in the heart means we must cleanse our hearts from sin in a saving sense. Another way of saying this is that we must experience forgiveness from the pollution of our sins. Acts 15:9 calls for the purification of the heart “by faith” in Jesus. According to one commentator, “To have a clean heart is to be clean inwardly by faith in Christ, which was in contrast to the ceremonial, external cleansing being promoted by Israel’s religionists” [Ed Glasscock, Moody Gospel Commentary on Matthew, p. 108].
However, since Jesus is primarily addressing believers in this sermon, i.e., those who have placed their faith in Christ, this purity of heart must refer to more than the positional sense of being pure in heart. It must refer to the ongoing purity of heart throughout the Christian life—a heart free from all pollution!
Principle # 2: Continually ask God to give us a pure heart.
It is impossible to maintain a pure heart on our own. Left to our own, all we are prone to do is defile our hearts continuously. That’s why like David, we too must constantly cry out as he did in Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” It was a cry for a pure heart—a heart free from all pollution. A heart that keeps God as the center and ruthlessly removes all competing forces. Only God, through the Holy Spirit, can accomplish that in our hearts. That’s why we have to keep asking him.
Here’s a question to consider: When was the last time we pleaded with God to give us a pure heart? We plead with God for so many other things. But pleading for a pure heart is not a constant cry of our hearts. The reason? Our hearts are divided between our loyalty to Christ and our love for the world. Our hearts are polluted, and as a result, our motives are contaminated as well!
Living in an entertainment-saturated culture has caused us to be numb to the things that matter. Our entertainment choices, the places we want to visit, the things we want to buy, and the careers we want to have all reveal our hearts’ condition.
Theologian D.A. Carson poses questions that I think get to the heart of this soul searching.
What do you think about when no one is watching and when your mind slips into neutral?
How tolerant are you to deception, shady humor, no matter how funny?
To what do you pay consistent allegiance?
What do you want more than anything else? What and whom do you love?
To what extent are your actions and words an accurate reflection of what is in your heart?
To what extent do your actions and words constitute a cover-up for what is in your heart?
I think questions such as these regularly will reveal if our hearts are pure or filthy. And if we are honest, the answers most often may not be what we would like them to be. And that reality will force us to recognize how we lack the spiritual resources to live a God-pleasing life. It will help us see how spiritually poor we are [Matt 5:3]. And that realization will drive us to go to God in confession, believing that the “blood of Jesus…purifies us from all sin” [1 John 1:7].
Principle # 3: Diligently study God’s Word.
Jesus says in John 15:3, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” It’s God’s word that brings initial cleansing at the time of our salvation. But it’s also the same God’s Word that brings forth continual cleansing. Two chapters later in the same gospel, Jesus prayed this prayer, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” [John 17:17]. The word “sanctify” means being set apart from sin to God, from sin to holiness, to purity.
So, no purity of heart unless we are willing to spend time in God’s word and allow the Spirit to use it to cleanse our hearts.
Principle # 4: Watch what our eyes see, where our feet go, and the company we keep.
David, in Psalm 101:3-4, said, “I will not look with approval on anything that is vile. I hate what faithless people do; I will have no part in it. The perverse of heart shall be far from me; I will have nothing to do with what is evil.” This type of commitment must be the resolve of one who seeks a pure heart.
The more we expose ourselves to things that defile the heart—either through our eyes or ears, the more difficult it becomes to maintain a pure heart. Our hearts are not something that we can easily turn off and on. The eyes and ears are a gateway to the heart. What we see, what we hear, and the company we keep do influence our hearts. Paul clearly says in 1 Corinthians 15:33 that we are not to “be misled” because “bad company corrupts good character.” We need to be ruthless in cutting out anything that can cause the heart to be defiled.
So, there we go. 4 principles to consider in our pursuit of a pure heart.
Be saved. That’s the starting point.
Continually ask God to give us a pure heart.
Diligently study God’s Word.
Watch what our eyes see, where our feet go, and the company we keep.
Purity of heart is not an option. Jesus is clear. Only those who are pure in heart will see God [Heb 12:14]. It’s not merely holy words that will get us into heaven. Words need to be backed up by a pure life—that comes from a pure heart.
2 Corinthians 7:1 calls us to “purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” Purity on the inside [“spirit”] results in purity on the outside [“body”]. May the Lord help us to pursue this kind of purity all the days of our lives.
Blessed indeed are the pure in heart, for they and they alone will see God.
- CLICK here for a sermon associated with this beatitude.