The admissions committee of a private Christian college was interviewing candidates. The committee asked all the candidates a certain set of questions, and the replies were much the same. “What will you do after you gain admission into this college?” “I will endeavor to gain the best education I can.” “What will you do after you have earned your degree?” “I will secure a good job.” “After that?” “Well, I will earn a good deal of money and have a happy life.” “After that?” “Enjoy my retirement.” “And what’s after that?” No response! Usually this was the end of the conversation.
That expresses the typical mentality of college students today. That is what the majority of the people in the world are living for – getting a good education, having a good job, and living happily ever after! They have no thought of anything after that. Their idea of long-term planning ends with their 401K and other retirement savings.
But forget about the college students and their goals in life. Forget about the people out there, those who live for the here-and-now, “… their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things” (Philippians 3:19).161
Let us think about ourselves, those of us who claim to have believed in Jesus Christ and have dedicated our lives to God. Are our long-term plans and goals any different than those of college students today? What do we desire the most? What are we living for? That is the most significant question of the Christian life, of any life. That is the question this beatitude we are studying in Matthew 5:8 answers in the most explicit terms.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). That’s it! That’s the goal of the Christian life! That’s what we are living for – that we may live our life in such a way that we see God. If we see God, that will open up the treasure trove of all the blessings, not only for eternity, but also for life here and now. And the key to open that treasure trove is a pure heart!
This is the most central and the most significant of all the beatitudes mentioned in this fifth chapter of Matthew. You cannot be poor in spirit without having a pure heart. You cannot mourn for the things that displease God without having a pure heart. You cannot be meek, you cannot hunger and thirst for righteousness, you cannot be merciful, you cannot be a peacemaker or be prepared to stand persecution for the name of Christ without having a pure heart. Actually, this is one of the most central principles of the Christian life that we see in the whole Bible. The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.
1. Living by the rule of God, living a life that is pleasing to God.
2. Living for the purpose of God, having a single-minded devotion to God.
Having a pure heart first of all means living by the rules of God that bring moral purity. The initial use of the word “pure” in the Bible was in the sense of “clean” as opposed to “unclean” – clean or unclean animals, clean or unclean foods, the clean or unclean condition of a person. What do you think the basis was for determining what (or who) was “clean” or “unclean”? It was God’s arbitrary decision. In some instance, we may be able to see a logical reason. For example, crows are unclean because they eat dead, rotten flesh. A person with leprosy is unclean because leprosy is an infectious disease. However, there is not always a logical reason why the flesh of some animals was considered clean and others unclean. If man was commanded to be fruitful and multiply and if sex was a gift from God, we do not know why semen discharge made a person unclean. If childbirth is an occasion of great joy, we do not know why it made the mother unclean. And if there was something medically bad in eating pork, the United States Department of Agriculture would have long ago prohibited raising pigs for food, and the Food and Drug Administration would have banned the sale of this meat.
That this was God’s arbitrary decision is also seen from the fact that what was at one time considered unclean, God can declare clean at another time, as He does in Peter’s vision (Acts 10), where Peter is asked to eat some of the things that were considered unclean. “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15). Paul also declared, “As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food [or thing] is unclean in itself” (Romans 14:14).
If so, why do you think God made these distinctions of “clean” and “unclean”? What was His purpose behind that? God wanted His people to know that He is a holy God, and He expects His people to live life according to the standard He has set for them.
“For this will be a sign between me and you for generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord who makes you holy” (Exodus 31:13b).
“‘Among those who approach me
I will show myself holy;
in the sight of all the people
I will be honored’” (Leviticus 10:3).
That is why it is repeatedly said, “Be holy, because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44, 45).
Also, by making the arbitrary distinction between clean and unclean, God wanted His people to know that He was God; He made the rules, and they were to live by these rules. “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4, NAS), by the rules that He has set for us. It is not for us to understand everything God does, but it is for us to obey. Moses, while reiterating the law, makes a very significant comment:
The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law (Deuteronomy 29:29).
You see, from the very beginning, it has not been the matter of outward observance of some rules and regulations; it has been the attitude of the heart toward God that was in focus. In the law, Moses said, “Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer” (Deuteronomy 10:16). Samuel asked Saul:
“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice and to heed is better than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22).
It is easier to follow rules and forget the matter of the heart. We are more careful to keep everything clean that is seen by others and forget about the things that only God can see. If my hands are muddy, nobody would want to shake hands with me, so I better keep them clean. If I were wearing a dirty shirt this morning, you would give more attention to my shirt and not hear what I am saying. We want to keep up appearances before man, but we forget about keeping straight before God.
That is why Jesus’ harshest and most scathing rebuke was reserved for the scribes and Pharisees, who thought themselves the purest of all people. They were extremely careful to keep their outward appearance clean before men, but they did not worry about their relationship with God. Jesus told them:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:25-28).
“You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).
Quoting Isaiah, Jesus said,
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men’” (Matthew 15:8-9).
Explaining to the disciples, He said,
“Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’…” (Matthew 15:19-20).
This is the impure heart.
To have a pure heart means to have a heart that is committed to living a life that is totally pleasing to God, because “… the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts” (1 Chronicles 28:9). That is why David’s prayer was:
Search me, O 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 (Psalm 139:23-24).
So a pure heart means living by the rules of God, living a life that is pleasing to God. There are certain physical or natural laws that man cannot break without consequences, but God can. For example, you cannot put your hand in the fire and not get burned. That is the law of thermodynamics. Also, you have to have lots of food to feed five thousand people. But God can break these laws. He can let people walk through fire and not even get their clothes singed. He can feed five thousand people with just a couple of loaves of bread. We call these miracles. The word “miracle” means something happens that cannot be explained by natural laws.
Then there are moral laws that man can break but God cannot. Do you know there are certain things I can do that God cannot? I can lie. I can commit adultery. I can cheat. I can steal. But God cannot break the moral laws, nor can He ignore them when they are broken. We are extremely careful to observe the natural laws because they have immediate consequences, but many times, we ignore the moral laws that have far more serious consequences. Having a pure heart means keeping God’s moral laws.
So, first, having a pure heart means living by the rule of God, living a life that is pleasing to God. Secondly, having a pure heart means living for the sole purpose of God, to have a heart that is fully devoted to God. It means single-minded devotion and commitment to God, doing anything and everything in our life for the sole purpose of glorifying God (1 Corinthians 10:31). “Pure” in this sense means unadulterated.
Let me ask you, what is adultery? When we think of adultery, we think of it in the physical sense, having a sexual relation outside the marriage bonds. The Bible does talk about this kind of adultery and certainly prohibits that. However, the Bible talks about spiritual adultery far more than physical adultery. There is a whole book written to deal with the issue of the spiritual adultery of the people of God, the Book of Hosea. There are many chapters in the Old Testament that deal with the spiritual adultery of the people of God, for example, Ezekiel 16 and 22.
In the New Testament, Jesus said you cannot worship God and mammon. When we devote our hearts to anything that is other than the cause of God, we commit spiritual adultery. As James said:
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God … . Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded (James 4:4, 8).
Both the Old and New Testaments say,
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’. This is the first and the greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38; also Deuteronomy 6:5).
This is a pure heart in the spiritual sense.
Now the question is how can we have a pure heart, a heart that is morally clean? A heart that is fully devoted to God?
First of all, we have to realize that we, in and of ourselves, cannot attain a heart that is morally pure and fully devoted to God. As the Bible repeatedly tells us, “The Lord saw … that every inclination of the thoughts of his [man’s] heart was evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5). As the prophet Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9). And,
Can the Ethiopian change his skin or leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil (Jeremiah 13:23).
In his book, The Sermon on the Mount, Kent Hughes quotes a nineteenth-century Russian novelist, Ivan Turgenev:
“I do not know what the heart of a bad man is like. But I do know what the heart of a good man is like. And it is terrible.”162
Although it is impossible for us to have a pure heart in and of ourselves, we can have a pure heart by the grace of God. What is impossible for man is possible for God. A pure heart is a gift from God, and it comes by a new birth, by a new creation, and by the Spirit living in us.
God had promised in the Old Testament through the prophet Jeremiah, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33), and “I will give them singleness of heart and action” (Jeremiah 32:39). This was finally fulfilled in and through Jesus Christ, Who makes us a new creation with a new heart (2 Corinthians 5:17).
There are ways we can maintain the purity of our heart, and one of the most primary is our time in the Word of God. As the psalmist said, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word” (Psalm 119:9), and, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).
A second way to maintain the purity of our heart is through fellowship with the people of God. It helps to be accountable to one another. Solomon said:
Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their work:
If one falls down,
his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls
and has no one to help him up! (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
That is why the author of the Book of Hebrews exhorts us, “Let us consider how we can spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).
Thirdly, we can train our heart for pure living by doing the works of God. As we are involved in His service and as God uses us for the blessing of others, we are encouraged towards our devotion to God and to keeping our hearts morally pure.
How do we know if someone has a pure heart? The pure heart is evidenced by the way we live. As Peter says, a person devoted to the Lord “does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:2).
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” is without a doubt the most comprehensive of all the blessings, just as being pure in heart is the most comprehensive requirement of a believer’s life. Nothing but the sight of God will satisfy the longings of the disciple’s heart.
Of course, it means seeing Him literally when we will be with Him for eternity, as John the Apostle says, “We know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
… .The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads (Revelation 22:3-4).
That is what we are looking forward to – beyond college degrees, beyond good jobs and the happy life here on earth, beyond secured retirement.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you (1 Peter 1:3-4).
The last words in the beatitude passage, “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven,” summarize all of the beatitudes.
The only way anyone can see God in this sense and be with Him for eternity is to have established a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
The Christian life is not just “pie in the sky.” It is pie in my hand right now. If we live with a pure heart, a life that is morally pleasing to God and fully devoted to Him, we will enjoy God’s presence in our life right here, right now. Peter says:
Though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an expressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:8).
Job saw God. “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5). David experienced God’s presence in his life.
How priceless is your unfailing love!
Both high and low among men
find refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light (Psalm 36:7-9).
The greatest blessing and the noblest goal of the Christian life is to know God, to experience His presence in our daily life, and to live for His glory. Paul made this the goal for his life, as he said:
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him … I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming like him in his death (Philippians 3:7-10).
If we have this goal for our life, the outcome will be a daily walk with God that delights God, blesses us, and fills our life with joy until the time we go to be with Him forever. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
160 Copyright 2003 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 15 in the Studies in the Gospel of Matthew series prepared by Imanuel Christian on June 1, 2003.
161 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by The International Bible Society. Used by permission.
162 R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2001), p. 56.