The Pure in Heart
by James Lincoln on Sunday, April 23, 2006
In 1982, the L.A. Times published a story about a 62-year-old woman named Anna Mae Pennick who was born blind. She had never seen a field of green grass, the blossoms on a dogwood tree, a blue sky or trees blowing in the wind. However, because her family was so loving and supportive she was always exuberant and cheerful about life. In 1981, doctors at UCLA surgically removed congenital cataracts from her left lens. For the first time in her life she could see. She, said, "Things were much bigger and brighter" than she ever imagined. Friends and family members were taller, shorter or heavier or skinnier than she had pictured them in her mind. Since that day she said that she can hardly wait for the sun to come up each day just to see the beauty of God's creation. Today her vision is 20/30 which is good enough to get a driver's license.1
Imagine seeing the Pacific Ocean, a bird flying in the sky, a cherry blossom tree heavy laden with blossoms or the river that cascades over Multnomah Falls for the first time. Do you ever take the gift of sight for granted? Can you imagine enjoying the beauty of God's creation so much that you just can't wait to get up in the morning to take it all in?
And yet all that God has given us to enjoy can only fill up a thimble compared to the promise given us here in this passage. "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God." When we see Christ, when we pass from this world to the next and see the face of Christ, the joy of that first split second will transcend all the accumulated joys of this life altogether.
I suppose people want to see God. We sing about it in a chorus, "We want to see Jesus." But do you associate seeing God with the slow and quiet process of making your heart pure? What do you think someone would be like who saw God? In the movie The Ten Commandments, after Moses' saw God's back his hair got a silver streak in it (at least Charleston Hesston's did.) Sometimes we look for the evidence of God in sensational, dramatic and earth shaking ways. Here Jesus connects seeing God with a pure heart. Is their a greater power or miracle of God than the miracle that changes an impure heart into a pure and ever-increasing righteous heart?
This morning I want to organize this beatitude into its three pieces. Let's begin with the heart. Then we'll explore what Jesus means by purity and then we touch on what it means to 'see God.'
Today when we hear the word 'heart" we most often think of emotions. When someone says, "She broke his heart." Or "Her heart was sad or happy." We automatically think of a person's feelings. Yet, In the Bible the seat of the emotions was primarily connected with you stomach. In the KJV, the phrase "bowels of affection" is used to describe a deep emotional response. Biblically speaking, the heart is the dynamic center or the core of a person's life. In the Bible, the condition of the heart describes and determines the condition of the person. Biblically, the heart touches on every aspect of your life. It includes your mind, affections, emotions, and will. It's the totality of your ability to think, feel, love, decide and act.
When Ezekiel and Jeremiah promised that God would someday change our stony hearts that were hard, dead and unresponsive into hearts of flesh that were pliable and alive to God, they were not talking primarily or only about our emotional life, they were talking about the very core of a person. God reminded Samuel of this when he was assigned to find a new king for Israel. Outwardly Saul appeared to be magnificent. Outwardly David did not. However, inwardly David was a man after God's heart. It's with the heart that we discover a disposition to righteousness or to wickedness. Jesus said,
"It's not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart and it's the heart that defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness and slander."
Jesus said these defile a person. To eat with unwashed hands doesn't defile a person.
Why does God promise to change our hearts?
God promised to change our hearts because that is our greatest need. We aren't born with innocent hearts which are later defiled. Instead, we are born with corrupted hearts. It's the condition of the heart that defines the condition of the person. The Bible says that we're not born innocent. Now, this is a very difficult doctrine for us to accept. We tend to resist this with every instinct of our being. Yet, can I ask you this, "How many of you had to teach your children to lie, or hit their sister or take things that weren't theirs?" My guess is none. Instead you spent a great deal of time teaching them not to do these things.
David said of his own life in Ps. 51:5 "Behold I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me." When David contemplated the horrific fact that, as the king of Israel, he had not only committed adultery with another man's wife but he also arranged for the murder of her husband. His sin was off the charts. It's almost beyond belief. You and I get upset with each other for the offences we cause each other. What would you do if you found out someone in the congregation had done what David did?
So, when his good friend Nathan confronts David and he's forced to look directly at what he has done he just collapses and breaks. And in his broken condition he recognizes that sin is not something that came walking into his life from the outside and just passed by and dropped in for a brief spell and then went along on its way. He said "No! No! This sin is right here in my heart from the time I was conceived. It's in me and it's mine. It has come up from within me. It has been in me right from the root and the beginning of my life."
So, sin is not something outside of us that comes inside. Sin is the condition of our hearts; it's what we are outside of the grace of God through faith in Christ who changes hearts. Beloved, purity is not something we had and then lost. It's something that we only gain by receiving it as a gift from God. As a teenager I can't tell you what a relief this was for me to hear. The gospel of this grace matched what was so evident and true about my heart. The message to "Improve yourself." or "Do better." failed me miserably over and over. Why? Well, I needed a new heart. But for so long I didn't know that. And through the grace and tender mercies of God that's exactly what He gave me as I trusted His son Jesus. But for years I lived with a deceived heart.
Jeremiah 17:9 "The heart is deceitful above all things and is desperately sick. Who can understand it?" Our hearts are hard to read. To be godly is to live without deceiving others or deceiving ourselves. Self deceit however is the natural condition of us all. We think too much of ourselves. Outside of Jesus what we see in ourselves is not accurate; it's bent. And so what we often rely upon, as the coordinates of truth, are already bent out of shape in order to satisfy a corrupt heart. This is the nub of self deceit. We think we're not so much in need of God's grace as is actually the case. Jeremiah says that the heart is not merely sick; it's desperately sick. It turns about like a cornered animal when pursued by the Light of God's love and truth. Why? Because both the love and the truth lay bare the condition of the heart. So, we all need a new heart.
That's why Jesus said Nicodemus, "Nicodemus, you must be born again" at the center of your heart. We're not acceptable as we are born we must be reborn.
"Truly, truly I say to you unless one is born of water and the Spirit he can't enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of flesh is flesh and that which is born of Spirit is spirit. So, don't marvel at this, Nicodemus. Don't be amazed at this."
Purity is not something we had and lost. It's something that we can only gain by receiving it as a gift from God. Have you received the gift of a new heart? I'm not asking you if you've made a decision to believe in Jesus. A person can believe in Jesus (as he imagines Him to be) instead of who Jesus fundamentally is. Has Jesus changed your heart? If you repent and believe in Jesus (as He is) He gives you a new heart. Such grace is liberating and wondrous!
Second, what does it mean to be pure? Many of us can remember when purity was defined by a list of very selective rules: Don't smoke, go to movies, play cards, don't play games with dice and don't drink any alcohol. Now, it's not that these are necessarily bad rules to live by. No one would die following those rules. The problem is that they often trivialize the corruption of the heart. They're just so shallow. Please don't misunderstand me; smoking will kill you. But the lists often don't address the weightier matters of purity or righteousness, justice, mercy and faith or pride, deceit, greed, jealousy, envy and gossip. One denomination split over the issue of chrome on your bumper. Those who thought that chrome was too worldly became the "Black Bumper Brethren." Another denomination divided over buttons on your shirt. Some thought that buttons were ostentatious. Another divided over whether you should use one cup or many cups during the Lord's Supper. Those who believed in one cup became the one cup brethren. These things trivialize what it means to be pure.
What is purity?
What does purity have to do with? The original word has these meanings: A clean cup or clean water; pure gold or pure quality; crystal and clear so that light can come in and refract with glory. It can mean bread with one kind of grain or cloth with one fabric. No admixture or foreign elements or other stuff. It can mean to be ceremonially or morally clean. It means pure things with no admixture, no foreign elements and singleness of purpose or heart and mind. James addresses this by calling us not to be double minded. It's the opposite of hypocrisy.
When Jesus said the word, 'pure', to this crowd on the hillside, what came to their minds? Well, probably not linen, water or gold. Their first thought was probably the Temple and the sacrifices. If you were not pure or if you were defiled you couldn't go to the temple and offer sacrifices. You had to wait until you could be cleansed. It was the admixture of sin in the heart.
Now, the gospel tells us that God doesn't want us to be unclean. Beloved, He doesn't want us to be buried in shame. And that's why he sent His son Jesus.
The Way the World Deals with Purity
You should know that the world we live in has two ways of dealing with impurity or shame. The first is to "Improve yourself." It's the dominant American way. That was how I was taught to do it as a kid. It was a simple message. If you're a good person you'll do the right thing and reject the wrong thing. And that works just fine until you do the wrong thing or until you do the wrong thing over and over and no matter how many times you recommit yourself to never do it again you still repeat it. And that's where I was at fifteen. I couldn't keep my commitments to do right and so I simply began to lower my commitments to deal with it. Even then I couldn't be consistent. The message "Improve yourself." was a hopeless message for me. I couldn't ever improve myself enough.
But there is another way the world is choosing more and more to deal with shame and impurity. And that is by becoming shameless. If we can work our minds around to the place where nothing really is evil and all things are acceptable we can then eliminate the need for guilt and there will be no shame.
Now, some think that this is a wonderful invention of modernity. They say that in the progress of mankind we've evolved into ever higher states of consciousness and, finally, we've come to the place where we realize that this whole business of having things that are forbidden and shameful is just a residue of our primitive past. Now, they say we're in an enlightened age where all things are understood in a tolerant and accepting manner as equally valid and good depending on your particular bent or your perspective. But it's not new at all. Turn to Jeremiah 6:13-15.
Jeremiah is recording one of the sermons he preached to Israel before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. This is how he describes the people of God.
"For from the least of them even to the greatest of them, Everyone is greedy for gain, And from the prophet even to the priest Everyone deals falsely. 14 "And they have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, Saying, 'Peace, peace, 'But there is no peace. 15 "Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No! No! They were not ashamed at all; They did not even know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; At the time that I punish them, They shall be cast down," says the LORD.
NAS Jer 6:13-15
"Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination?
No! They were not at all ashamed,
Nor did they know how to blush." 8:12 NKJV
Here's the issue: When was the last time you blushed when confronted by evil or impurity. Beloved, can the heart get hard so that it ceases to be tender to the truth of God and instead freely drinks the corrupted waters that flow in our culture? I think the most frightening condemnation that could come from our God is the judgment that says, "They no longer know how to blush for the heart has died and it has no consciousness of sin." Instead it walks in blindness.
By contrast the promise of the gospel is that we can enter God's presence without shame. That's the promise of the gospel. This is what it says in Heb. 10:19
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus...
(not by your record. But by His blood). That blood flowed to wash us clean. And when cleansed, the heart will be tender again and it will blush when confronted with evil for it will know the shame of what is impure. Beloved, this is a good thing. The affirmation that comes to us in the gospel is that by His grace and His blood we are no longer defiled. Instead, we're clean and this is ours by faith. So we gather this wonder to ourselves as a precious gift of the greatest possible worth. Amen?
1John 1:8-9 addresses this matter of our purity in Christ. You see God knows that having received Christ into our hearts we are yet burdened with the reality of our flesh. We struggle on an ongoing basis. And this is part of the whole account of what it means to be saved in Christ. So he says
"If we say we have no sin, ( If we say that we have no reason to blush or no reason for shame ) we deceive ourselves...( that is the natural tendency of the heart to relieve itself of the burden of reality) So, if we say we have no sin ( and he's talking to Christians here) we are deceived. Then the truth is not in us. Yet...If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify or cleans us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8-10
CLEAN AND SHAMELESS BY GRACE!
And when cleansed, the heart will be tender again and it will blush when confronted with evil for it will know the shame of what is impure. That's the promise that comes to us from our God. The reality of what it means to walk by faith is that we are saved and we are being saved. The reality is that we are righteous and we are becoming righteous. The reality is that we are free of sin and we are continuously freeing ourselves from sin. The reality is that we are pure and we are purifying ourselves all the time. Always by faith and always by His grace.
Finally, they shall see God. How do we see God? (Ex 33:20)
Today we see God through eyes of faith. Here's how we act seeing God now by faith. Paul says in 1Timothy 1:5, "The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart a clear conscience and a sincere faith." This is the goal in preaching God's word, not getting people to simply make a decision about Jesus and write their names in a Bible to get fire insurance. The aim of our charge is a love that flows out of this purity that is ours by faith and the purity that arises out of our choosing and willing: First, loving God with all of your heart, mind, soul, and might and then loving others as yourself. It's that active expression of the indwelling of the HS which lives to bless God and others as they have been blessed.
1Tim.2:22: "Flee youthful passion and pursue righteousness, love and peace along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. " We live and walk before the face of God by faith...by faith...We live, accountable to His presence, moment by moment because we now see him through the eyes of faith. Let me say to men that if you are using the internet and you're not held accountable for what you watch you are playing with fire. Several of us here have given our permission for one or two men to have every questionable web site visited on our computers sent to another man for his review. Do you want to be pure? What do you want? Beloved, observed behavior is better behavior. So, we put ourselves in accountable relationships for what we do. And we then call on the face of the Lord from a pure heart one that is not filled with the corrupted waters of our culture. It really is a matter of what you want. Where's your heart?
But we also live to see Him face to face.
Now, there is some mystery here about seeing God. The LORD told Moses, "You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live." (Ex 33:20) And so God put Moses in the cleft of the rock. There's a moral reason for this. Without grace sinners like us would instantly be incinerated in the sheer blast of His holiness. His Grace in Christ removes this obstacle. But God is Spirit. You don't look on the face of a spirit. But we can look on the face of Jesus.
Now, I don't know if I can reconcile these two statements. There is a piece of me that doesn't even want to; it's enough for me to live that question. I suppose the answer is that it is the case that in heaven we both will and won't see God in a way and relationship that our minds are just now too puny to bend around. And that's fine with me.
But in the last day every body alive will look on the face of Jesus to the joy of some and the absolute horror of others. There is a day coming when Jesus will come not to die for sin but for judgment. In that day those who have had their hearts purified by faith in the blood of Jesus will see Him in the dazzling brilliance that will be so beautiful and satisfying and radiant and full of joy that we now simply just can't imagine. Take the best, most glorious and satisfying thing you can think of and multiply that by the highest number you can think of and you only have a cup full of the beauty and wonder that will be. This is what awaits those who put their hope in Jesus and love His appearing.
So John says, "We know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him (doesn't pass the time wasting his life on trivialities and the fleeting delights of sin but instead) he purifies himself, just as he is pure." 1 John 3:2-3
Anna Mae Pinnick was sixty-two years old when, for the first time in her, life she could see the wonder of God's creation. The sad thing is that doctors had the technology to do that surgery forty years earlier. Don't waste your life. If the Lord gives them to you; don't waste the next forty years. Here's his promise. Receive it and take it in by faith. "If you confess you sins he is faithful and just to forgive us and purify us from all unrighteousness." It will make you blush again in the presence of wickedness. And, beloved, that's a good thing. Because it will drive us back again to His grace and tender mercies. "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God."
1Cf. K. Hughes, Sermon on the Mount p.61