Blessed are the Pure in Heart
It doesn’t take you to be born again before anyone can and would desire for social and moral reforms. But it takes one before anyone would ever desire to be pure in heart, that is, clean from within, and to make it about God rather than us. John Piper once said, “The aim of Jesus Christ is not to reform the manners of society, but to change the hearts of sinners like you and me.” And the ultimate aim of a transformed heart is to behold God. He cannot but want to see God. So for Jesus what matters most in all the good that we would ever do is the heart. For example, Jesus would not be satisfied with a society in which there were no acts of adultery or murder alone. “You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28)” Or, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). From the heart are all the issues of life. “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart . . . For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man. (Matthew 15:18-19)” And, “Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit . . . For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (Matthew 12:33-34)” Jesus did not come into the world just because we have some bad habits that need to be dealt with. He came into the world because we have impure hearts that need to be purified. Now don’t fall into making a very sharp distinction between the mind and the heart here, thinking that if you have a right mind, then what happens in the heart doesn’t matter. But in Scripture the heart is not just the organ for affections but also the center of one’s being, including the mind, will, and emotions. Therefore if you have an impure heart, then you will have an impure mind, will and emotions.
So we come now to the sixth beatitude in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” My aim is to answer this three questions: What does it mean to have a pure heart? What does it mean to see God? How does the two relate to each other?
What does Pure in Heart Means?
So the first question we have to address is what does it mean to have a pure heart? Theologians are divided as to what it means. Some take it to mean as inner moral purity as opposed to merely external show of righteousness or ceremonial cleanness. Others take it to mean singlemindedness, a heart “free from the tyranny of a divided self”. Of course this is a false dichotomy, for it is impossible to have one without the other.
Let’s look at the closest parallel of this passage in Psalm 24:3-4 and see if that is the case. We are told that those who will ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in His holy place, that is, to see God, they are those who have clean hands and pure hearts. Then the following verse explains the meaning of clean hands and pure hearts. They are those who does not lift their souls to falsehood and does not swear deceitfully. This implies that having a pure heart is in fact not double-minded. For when you swear one thing yet does another thing, that’s not having a single mind, you’re lying and therefore morally impure. Deceit is what you do when you will two things, not one thing. You will to do one thing and you will that people think you are doing another. You will to feel one thing and you will that people think you are feeling another. That is impurity of heart. Purity of heart on the other hand is to will one thing, namely, to “seek the face of the Lord” just as in Psalm 24:6.Meaning, you have God as your portion or persons who does not lift their souls to another.
Then in James 4:8 we can explicitly see the same idea of purity of heart and its meaning: “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind.” Notice that just like Psalm 24 there is a reference to a pure heart as preparation for drawing near to God, or “ascending the hill of the Lord.” But also notice how James described the people who needed cleansing. He called them double-minded. Now look at the prior verses in James 4:4. It says, “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.” So the double-minded man of James 4:8 has his heart divided between the world and God, like a wife who makes a cuckold out of God. Purity of heart on the other hand is to will one thing, namely, full and total allegiance and faithfulness to God. I want you to notice that both James 4:8 and Psalm 24:3-4 have a reference to clean hands. Clean hands seems to be the external acts of righteousness that are flowing from a pure heart within. In other words you can’t have truly clean hands if you have an impure heart. Or just like the Pharisees, they are double minded people. They worship God with their lips, but their hearts are far from him. They are clean on the outside but rotten inside. So the dichotomy is false. When Jesus said that blessed are the pure in heart, he meant the people who are single-minded, that is, whose entire being is so sold to God that their outward piety becomes morally pure and clean because it is flowing from a God-centered heart. Or as Jesus put it in Matthew 22:37, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.” Not with part of your heart. Not with a double or divided heart. You cannot have two masters at the same time. You cannot worship God and at the same time serve your belly or money or self. If there’s any part of your being, your heart, that is reserved for another then you don’t have a pure heart.
What does it mean to see God?
Now the next question that we need to answer is what does seeing God means? To see God means that they will behold the beauty and majesty and the manifold perfection of God and not die. God alone has that kind of beauty. A deadly beauty. Those whose heart are divided will die if they see God. They will literally be bored to death, because in the age to come, that’s what we will ever do. Behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus forever and ever.
The more we behold Christ in the gospel, the more we will be purified by the word, and the more we’re purified, the more we will be able to see clearly.
If your heart is divided, you will not be satisfied by the sight of beauty. Instead, you will die. Therefore to behold God’s glory now in part, but clearly in the age to come is the same way as saying that you will be saved if you have a pure heart. It means admission to heaven and comfort of grace now. Or as in Proverbs 22:11, “He who loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king for his friend” (cf. Psalm 73:1). The pure in heart will see God–now with the eyes of faith and finally in the dazzling brilliance of the beatific vision in whose light no deceit can exist(Rev 21:22-27).
How does the two relate to each other?
Lastly how does the two relate to each other logically? The answer is quite obvious at a first glance. The means by which we will enter heaven and behold the glory of God and not die is by having a pure heart. Hebrews 12:14 says that we are to strive for holiness without which no one will see the Lord. But in 1 John 3:2-3 it seems that the means by which we will be pure like Jesus is by beholding him. It says, “Dear friends, we are Godʼs children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that whenever it is revealed we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is. And everyone who has this hope focused on him purifies himself, just as Jesus is pure).” Again we should not take this as either or but both and. The more we behold Christ in the gospel, the more we will be purified by the word, and the more we’re purified, the more we will be able to see clearly. And the culmination of this purifying and beholding is when we see Jesus face to face in his second coming, and at that very moment we will be perfected. Our blessed hope is not just a escape from hell, but being with our Saviour and Lord to behold Him.
Therefore let me ask you this, do you long for the appearing of Jesus. Do you want to see God more than just simply escape hell. Let it be that the sight of God be our greatest motivation for doing good. That is having a pure heart, to be motivated by one and one thing only, namely the sight of the beauty and majesty of God.