“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8)
“To be pure, to remain pure, can only come at a price, the price of knowing God and loving him enough to do his will. He will always give us the strength we need to keep purity as something beautiful for him” (Mother Teresa)
For me, this is potentially one of the most challenging of the beatitudes. I mean, they are all pretty challenging, but this one seems to pack a bit more of a punch. Our hearts are at the very centre of our being, not just physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. The Greek word used in this verse for ‘heart’ is ‘kardeeah’, which refers, yes to the physical heart, but also to the spiritual centre of life where thoughts, desires, sense of purpose, will, understanding and character live. Unsurprisingly, then, Jesus is not talking about a surface level thing here. He is appealing to the very core of who we are.
With regards to the word ‘pure’, Jesus isn’t just referring to our popular definition of purity as the opposite of sexual immorality. Obviously, it includes that, but, again, it is to do with our attitude and emotion towards all things. The Greek word for pure here is ‘katharos’, which means to be clean, blameless, unstained from guilt. As one theologian put it “the pursuit of purity is not about the suppression of lust, but about the re-orientation of one’s life to a larger goal”. As followers of Jesus, our greatest goal is to see God, and we can only do that if our hearts are in the right place. Psalm 24:3-4 says: “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god.”
So, how do we go about obtaining and maintaining a pure heart?
- Make sure we are saved. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “Who is pure of heart? Only those who have surrendered their hearts completely to Jesus that he may reign in them alone. Only those whose hearts are undefiled by their own evil and by their own virtues too”. This is sort of what the previous beatitudes are setting us up for, particularly the first and second. If we truly recognise the fact that we are nothing without Christ and are honest in our repentance, then that leads us to a life with Christ, one in which we enter into the salvation He gave us through the cross. Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross, not because we’ve a few bad habits that we need to break, but because our hearts are so dirty they need to be thoroughly cleaned. It’s not enough to clean up our act on the outside, we’ve got to address our attitude and our character.
James 4:4 says “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God”. We cannot maintain our old lifestyle that serves our selfish nature and serve a selfless God at the same time. We must say goodbye to our old way of life and look forward to living in line with God’s guidance. As 1 John 2:15 says “Stop loving this evil world and all that it offers you, for when you love these things you show that you do not really love God;”.
- Keep confessing anything unpleasing to God. Like the second beatitudes suggests, to gain a pure heart, we have to put our life in order with God and people, and ask for forgiveness whenever necessary. Psalm 139:23 – 24 says “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting”. To hold on to ungodly attitudes is to hinder our relationship with God and our ability to see him. We are promised forgiveness when we ask for it. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). All we have to do is to turn to Him. As we are reminded in 1 Samuel 16:7: “…The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”. God is interested in our hearts, our internal monologue, not what we say or do on the outside.
- Guard our hearts. There are many verses in the bible that warn us about guarding our hearts, and about how our whole being flows from the condition which our heart is in. Proverbs 4:23 says: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it”. And it’s so very true. Even in the simplest of forms, we notice that a child’s behaviour changes depending on what they watch on TV or play on their console. Surrounding ourselves with anger and violence is more likely to bread that behaviour. But so is the opposite!
We also read in Matthew 15:18-19: “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts – murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander”. Like the Jews and Pharisees in Jesus’ time, we might be inclined to think “well, I’ve not killed anyone, so I’ve kept the law against murder”. But Jesus said that to be angry is to commit murder in our hearts. To lust, is to commit adultery in our hearts. Being pure of heart isn’t just adhering to a set of rules, it’s an attitude that strives to keep our minds and motives pure.
- Pray for it. This one is pretty straight forward and I don’t think it needs much expansion other than to say that Psalm 51:10 says “Create in me a new, clean heart, O God, filled with clean thoughts and right desires”. This should be our prayer, always!
- Saturate ourselves with God’s word. Psalm 119:9 says “How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word”. In His word (the bible) we find everything we need to help us live a life with a pure heart. God is love, so he can only been seen by loving hearts, by those whose intentions are pure and selfless. The more we read the bible, the more engrained it will become, and the more His goodness is likely to seep out of our pores, a bit like a heavily buttered crumpet, that just oozes buttery-goodness when you squeeze it.
There is so much more I could write on this subject, the bible is just full of direction and advice. I haven’t even touched on what it means to “see God”. But ultimately, we could probably sum this up with Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things”. A pure heart has no hypocrisy, no guile, no hidden motives. We need to consider our motives. Are we acting out of selfish intentions or selfless love?
Matthew 6:21 says “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”. What do you treasure? What are you making the most important thing in your life? What do you need to say goodbye to?