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PURE RELIGION: Wrestling with Scripture #18

This week we come to “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Although we may serve in our churches, give generously, and do our best to help those in need, who can truly say that they are pure in heart? Our fallen nature makes even our best intentions suspect. We can act “religious” out of habit, to look good to others, or to feel better about ourselves, so it’s important to examine our motives for serving, giving, and doing. Scripture clearly teaches that God does not look at the outward appearance but sees what’s in our hearts (1 Sam 16:7). So, what does it mean to have a pure heart?

The words translated “pure” in both the OT and the NT can mean clean or clear like the water in a mountain stream or pure and unadulterated like the finest gold. Just as pure gold is not mixed with other metals, so too purity of heart suggests that our faith is sincere with nothing diluting, polluting, or dividing our single-minded devotion to God. Purity is not an outward righteousness but an inner holiness.

In the same way, the words used in Scripture for the heart convey the idea of our innermost core. The “heart” then is the center of a person’s will, emotions, and intellect. The heart is who we are inside that no one sees but God. Scripture teaches we are to love God with our whole heart, echoing the idea of this total steadfast loyalty.

If we aren’t sufficiently challenged, let’s consider Psalm 24:3-4, “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in His Holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart …”  Or Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked …”  Or Mark 7:20-22 which says, “For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts … wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride and foolishness.”

Then there’s Hebrews 12:14—“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord”—a verse that seems to support the Biblical scholars who believe this Beatitude is better translated, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for these and these only shall see God.” Difficult Biblical truths like these can leave some of us questioning the genuineness of our salvation experience.

Clearly, God’s standard for residency in His Kingdom is high. Living morally or “acting pure” to those around us will not fool God if our hearts are not right with Him. Thankfully, when we come to faith, the Holy Spirit begins a work in us—resulting in a real and permanent transformation at our very core. As Scripture promises, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek 36:26). When we put our faith and trust in Jesus, our hearts are made new with a purity that does not come from us, but from the Spirit of God living within us.

Although this purity of heart is bestowed on believers through Christ, it should also characterize our walk. Jesus can not just be our Savior; He must also be the Lord of our lives. We need to act in accordance with His teachings and do our best to do what is pleasing in His sight. Therefore, a pure heart must be aligned with the character of God. It is not proud, deceitful, or envious. It rejoices in doing good. It is gentle, generous, and kind.

Finally, the blessing for those with pure hearts is a promise that they shall see God. Remember when we discussed the “now, but not yet” aspect of prophesy. While “seeing God” can certainly refer to living in His presence after death, the Greek word can also mean mental or spiritual insight or discernment. The Bible often uses the idea of blindness as a metaphor for the lost, so implicit in this blessing is the idea that purity of heart leads us into a more intimate relationship with God, allowing us to see more of who He is—His ways, His will, and His plans. Purity of heart increases our ability to discern God’s presence in our circumstances, to understand His Word more clearly, and to see the spiritual truths He would have us know.

A pure heart enables us to draw closer to God and to worship Him as He deserves. As the Lord’s brother himself taught, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). To remain unpolluted by sin and the darkness of the culture around us, we need to be deliberate about our focus on a daily basis.

The happiest people I know are those who see God in everything that happens—not just in the mountaintop experiences or in the deepest valleys—but in the routine details of our everyday lives. We’ve probably all stopped and praised our Creator for a particularly beautiful landscape, a newborn baby, or a breathtaking sunset, but do we pause in gratitude for His daily provision of running water, fresh sheets, or a pantry full of food? I knew a wonderful Christian woman years ago who lived and breathed Jesus. She rarely did anything without seeking Him first; she even prayed before she would make lefse! What a blessing to live in such close communication with God, asking for His help and guidance as she moved through her day.

Maybe that kind of purity of heart—a single-minded dependence on and loyalty to the Lord—was what Paul had in mind when he wrote, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

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