"Pure Hearts See God"
(Delivered Sunday, July 25, 2004 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture is taken from the New King James Version.)
This morning, we come to the sixth of the eight beatitudes that we find in Jesus' Sermon on The Mount. In it, Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."
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To stimulate our thinking this morning, let me ask a series of questions. Answer them in the privacy of your own thoughts - but answer them in all honesty before God:
(1) When you're sitting around, relaxed and at leisure and with your mind in neutral, in what sort of direction do your thoughts naturally go?
(2) If you found a $1,000 bill laying on the sidewalk, what would it be your first impulse to do with it?
(3) What celebrities do you most admire; and what is it about them that you find yourself most inclined to imitate?
(4) In what ways does your manner toward certain people differ from your actual feelings toward them?
(5) If you had the opportunity to be released from any obligations you chose, what things would you immediately want to stop doing?
(6) If you could be given a full day in which you knew no human eye would see anything you did, how differently would you plan that day than the way you plan your day now?
And now, here's a final question: When you hold your answers to these questions up against that phrase, "Blessed are the pure in heart . . ." What does the comparison tell you about the present condition of your heart before God?
You see; if our Lord had only said, "Blessed are the pure . . .", and just left the matter at that, then perhaps we might be able to feel a lot better about ourselves. After all, there's a whole lot of outward vices that we church-going people personally refrain from; and as a result, we can come out looking pretty 'pure' compared to a lot of other people. But Jesus takes it to a completely different level when He says, "Blessed are the pure in heart . . ."; and as a result, it's now out of the realm of just what other people see, and into the realm of what God alone sees. And that being the case, we know the truth - that we are not "pure in heart" before Him; and that we could never clean up our own hearts enough to be acceptable in God's sight and be blessed by Him.
If, as Jesus has said, it's only the 'pure in heart' that will see God, then - knowing our own hearts - we'd realize we could never expect to see such a holy God on the basis of our own righteousness . . . let alone even dare to approach Him.
But then, what would happen if we came to understand that by His grace through faith in His Son Jesus Christ - just as the Bible teaches us - God has already declared us to be 100% pure in His sight? What if we knew that a standing of full purity had already been given to us by God as His free gift; so that He never again looks upon us in any other way than as His pure sons and daughters? That, by the way, is exactly what our situation in Christ is if we have put our faith in Him! The Bible says, "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus . . ." (Romans 8:1). It tells us, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Cor. 5:17).
So what would happen, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if we took God at His word, and trusted confidently in God's promise to us that, because of what Jesus did on the cross for us, we will one day absolutely - without fail - be conformed fully to the heavenly glory of Jesus Christ, will be made to stand in His presence in love, and will behold His face? If we were to take such a promise seriously, stop and think: How differently would we then respond to those words, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God"? Wouldn't they then become a cause of great encouragement and hope to us? Wouldn't they then spur us on to conform in daily practice to what God says we are in His sight? Wouldn't we then be greatly motivated to become holy in our entire manner of living? Would we then seek to make the whole of our lives a great "preparation" for that day when we will finally behold His face in glory?
Well; let me remind you of what the apostle John has written:
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:1-2).
And note carefully how John calls us to apply the truth of that great hope in practical action:
And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (v. 3).
You see; outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ, those words, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God," become a door that slams in my face and shuts me out. I could never have any hope of being in heaven and seeing God if the standard is 'purity of heart'; because I know that sin still abides in my heart, and that I am very impure. But because of my relationship with Christ by faith - and because of my righteous standing before God on the basis of that relationship - those same words become a great encouragement to me. They greatly motivate me to live out - from the heart - the purity that God says is already mine by faith. The words of that beatitude become an expression of my great hope in Christ; and stir me to live in a way that's consistent with my glorious destiny!
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Do you recall that, as we've discussed these different beatitudes in the order that Jesus spoke them, we've identified the fourth beatitude as the key one? The first three spotlight the impoverished condition of our soul before God, and show us how great our need is for His grace. We stand before Him as sinners; (1) "poor in spirit" because of our hopeless condition, (2) as those who can do nothing but "mourn" over our sin, and (3) as those who can approach God in no other way than with empty hands outstretched - as those who come before him in 'meekness' and humility. Coming to grips with these spiritual realities makes us 'hunger' and 'thirst' after a righteousness that we do not possess in and of ourselves. And that's when we discover Jesus' wonderful promise in that fourth beatitude: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled" (Matthew 5:6).
That's the turning point in The Beatitudes; when God, in great grace, gives us the righteousness we hunger and thirst after through Jesus Christ. He pardons our sins by placing all our guilt upon Jesus, who died in our place; and then, He "fills" us with righteousness by crediting Jesus' own righteousness completely to our account. And now, by faith, we are to rise up and live brand new lives as righteous people who have been transformed by God's great grace. That new life in God's grace is what the remaining four beatitudes are all about.
The fourth beatitude, then, divides the eight beatitudes into two sections - one section that describes our condition when in we come to God in need of His grace, and the other our duty after having been made the recipients of God's grace. And if you look carefully, you can even detect something of a point-for-point relationship between them.1 In the first beatitude, we come to God "poor in spirit" - unable to offer anything to God except our plea for His mercy; but after God makes us righteous in Christ, as it says in the fifth beatitude, we are to be merciful to others because God has shown such mercy to us. Then, in the second beatitude, we come to God "mourning" over the grievousness of our sin; but after God makes us righteous in Christ, as it says in the sixth beatitude, we are to now live pure lives as those who have been made pure in heart. And then, in the third beatitude, we come to God in great meekness and humbleness - casting down our weapons and defenses as it were, and seeking peace with Him on His terms; but after God makes us righteous in Christ, as it says in the seventh beatitude, we are then to go out and become His peacemakers with respect to others. And finally, in the fourth beatitude, we come to God hungering and thirsting for righteousness; but after God makes us righteous in Christ, as it says in the eighth beatitude, we are to be gladly willing to suffer persecution in this world for righteousness' sake.
I believe this helps us to understand what a great encouragement - and a great motivation - this particular beatitude is. Jesus teaches us that, as His disciples, we must come to God with deep mourning over our sin; but once He declares us righteous through faith in Jesus' sacrifice for us, Jesus gives us this great promise, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." And now, we're to live in the present like people who have been declared righteous in God's sight, and fully expect to stand before Him and behold His face in glory forever. We're to live pure lives that fully conform to our pure standing and ultimate hope before God.
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Now; Jesus says, "Blessed are the pure in heart . . ." Let's consider this beatitude further by, first, asking . . .
1. WHAT IS MEANT BY THE "HEART"?
As soon as we hear the word "heart", we have to be careful that we don't misunderstand Jesus' words. In modern western culture, we're used to thinking of the heart strictly as the seat of the emotions. We tend to make a clear distinction between being 'led by the heart' (that is, our emotions and our affections), and 'using our head' (that is, our intellect and common sense) - as if these are two distinct and opposite aspects of our being.
But to people of biblical times, the seat of one's deep emotions and affections was not considered to be in the heart, but rather in the belly. In the Bible, the "heart" certainly included the idea of emotions and affections; but its meaning was much more comprehensive than that. The heart was considered to be the seat of one's whole life - physically, spiritually, mentally, and morally. The heart was considered to be the fountain out of which everything about a man or a woman pours forth. For that reason, the Bible teaches that the heart is crucial. "Keep your heart with all diligence", Solomon warns, "for out of it spring the issues of life" (Prov. 4:23).
Jesus was once accused by the scribes and Pharisees, because He and His disciples did not wash their hands in the prescribed, ceremonial manner before they ate. But Jesus told them, "Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man" (Matthew 15:11). The scribes and Pharisees were concerned about things in the wrong direction. Jesus later explained this to His disciples;
. . . Those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornication, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man . . . (Matthew 15:18-20).
Can you see, then, that Jesus isn't just talking just about feelings and emotions? When He says, "Blessed are the pure in heart . . .," He's really speaking about the whole fountainhead of a man's soul. He's really speaking about the whole inner man - the whole inner-self that expresses itself in every other aspect of the man's life.
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By the way; this is what makes the difference between true biblical faith and mere "religiosity". Religiosity is concerned primarily with the outward aspect of a man's life. It's focused on what a man does or doesn't do. It expresses itself through the observance of rituals and ceremonies and holidays. It expresses itself through the eating certain foods or refraining from others. It expresses itself through careful attention to where one goes, and what one wears, and what one chants. Its focus is primarily on the man's relationship to the outward things of this world. It's as Paul once put it: "'Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,' which all concern things which perish with the using - according to the commandments and doctrines of men" (Col. 3:21-22). It has its primary focus on the outer man.
True biblical faith certainly touches on some of these things; but they are not its primary focus. The primary focus of true biblical faith is the heart - the inner man, the aspect of man from which everything else flows. Human religion is man trying to make himself something acceptable to God on the outside; while God's work of grace in a man is what changes him and transforms him - first, and above all else - on the inside.
The Bible tells us, ". . . The LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7). God isn't satisfied with simply seeing someone's outward behavior changed. He wants the heart to be transformed first; and then, He wants the outward behavior to be changed because of a transformed heart.
And that leads me to pause and ask a question. What has been the primary focus of your experience in the Christian faith thus far? Has it been primarily outward; or has it been, above all else, a matter of the inner man? Has it been focused on efforts to transform your outward behavior and conduct; or has it been focused on pleading with God for a transformed heart? Has it been all about learning this, or reading that, or observing this ritual, or refraining from that practice? Or has it been about God making you a different man or woman from the inside out? Has it been about being the same old person on the inside with a new look on the outside; or has it been about being made by God's grace into a whole new person altogether - inside and out? Has it been about merely "turning over a new leaf"; or has it been about being "born again"?
As Martin Luther once said, "Though a common labourer, a shoemaker or a blacksmith may be dirty and sooty or may smell because he is covered with dirt and pitch, . . . and though he stinks outwardly, inwardly he is pure incense before God because he ponders the word of God in his heart and obeys it."2 Jesus says, "Blessed are the pure in heart . . ."; because that's what God is concerned about most - your heart!
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This leads us, next, to . . .
2. WHAT IS MEANT BY BEING "PURE" IN HEART?
The Greek word that is used in this beatitude (katharos) is one that basically means "clean". And with reference to the heart, I believe it can be understood in three ways. First, it could be understood as referring to a heart that is morally cleansed and free of the corruption of sin and guilt. I like to think of this as a "primary" cleansing.
The Bible teaches us that, because of the sin of our first parents in the Garden of Eden, we are all born into the human family with hearts that that are unclean in the sight of God. The individual sins that we commit are simply expressions of the corruption that is already resident in our hearts. The Bible speaks much of this. It warns us that "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked" (Jer. 17:9). It tells us that, because of our sinful rebellion against the God who made us, our "foolish hearts" are "darkened" (Rom. 1:21). Our hearts are described as so "hard" and "impenitent" toward God that we are "treasuring up" for ourselves "wrath in the day of wrath" (Rom. 2:5). It tells us that "hardness of heart" through "the deceitfulness of sin" is the cause of "unbelief" (Hebrews 3:12-13; see also Mark 16:14). Because of an impure heart, we can become hardened to the needs of others and so refuse to show love to them (1 John 3:17); or we can regard iniquity in our hearts in such a way as to prevent the Lord from hearing our prayers (Psalm 66:18); or even give such an opportunity to the devil so that he fills our hearts to sin against God even further (Acts 5:3).
God is so concerned with the heart that, when He speaks of transforming someone, He settles for nothing less than a complete cleansing of the heart. He says,
. . . I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take your heart of stone out of your flesh, and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them (Ezk. 36:25-27).
This "primary" cleansing is the complete transformation of the heart by God. It's a cleansing that every single human being desperately needs. And it's a cleansing that only a gracious God can give. No one can clean their own hearts. God must do it. And He does to everyone who trusts in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, "purifying their hearts by faith" (Acts 15:9). "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace" (Eph. 1:7).
I certainly hope you have experienced this cleansing of the heart through faith. It is yours only by trusting in what Jesus Christ did on the cross.
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I've called this a "primary" cleansing of the heart. It's an act of God's grace that He preforms on us once - when we place our trust in Jesus Christ. He washes all of the guilt of our sins away from us - past, present and future. But there's another kind of cleansing that I like to call a "progressive" cleansing. This is a cleansing of the heart in which, as we mature in our walk with Jesus Christ, the Father progressively removes from our hearts those things that get in the way of a full allegiance to Him, and that cause us to be divided in our devotion to His Son Jesus.
Jesus spoke of this "progressive" cleansing in practice as something that the Father performs on those who have experienced the "primary" cleansing through faith. Jesus told His disciples, "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes [and here, He uses the same word that can be translated "cleans"], that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you" (John 15:1-3). Do you see it? There's a primary cleansing of the heart ("You are already clean"); and there is a subsequent, progressive cleansing ("every branch that bears fruit He prunes").
I believe Jesus also referred to this "progressive" cleansing when He was with His disciples during their last supper together before He went to the cross. Do you remember that He washed the disciples' feet - giving them an example of humble service to follow? And do you remember that when He came to Peter to wash his feet, Peter refused? "You shall never wash my feet!" Peter said. But Jesus told him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me." And to that, Peter said, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!" Peter wanted, as it were, to have a complete, "primary" cleansing - but this full cleansing was something that Jesus had already provided for Peter as a gift of grace through the death He was about to die on the cross. So Jesus said, "He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean . . ." (John 13:8-10).
Every day, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we need this progressive cleansing. Our hearts have been washed absolutely clean by the blood of Jesus Christ. But so long as we live in the midst of this sin-saturated world, we find that the world around us often presses against us with its sinful values and priorities; and we find that we often stumble and fall. We are like people who have fully bathed, but who still need to wash the world's dirt off our feet at the end of the day. Or, as we grow ever closer to the Lord Jesus, we find that there are still sinful habits and practices from our former life of sin that still need to be washed away - like bits of spiritual "toe-jam" and "sock-sweat". Every day, we need to follow the example of King David, and pray the prayer that he prayed;
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
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So, there's a "primary" cleansing of the heart, and there's a "progressive" cleansing that follows after it. We who have experienced that "primary" cleansing will need that daily "progressive" cleansing as long as we are in these bodies and walk upon this earth.
But that leads me to point out one more cleansing to you - one that I like to call a "perfect" cleansing. It's Jesus' intention that we, as His people, enjoy eternal fellowship with Him in heavenly glory without any of the contaminating effects of sin abiding in us whatsoever. Paul wrote that Christ loved the church, ". . . and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25-27). He wrote to the Colossian believers and said, "And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight . . ." (Col. 1:21-22). Jude also, at the end of his tiny New Testament letter, promises that this is our destiny in Christ; "Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy . . ." (Jude 24).
Those of us who have been granted a "primary" cleansing of the heart by faith in Jesus Christ, and who faithfully submit ourselves to a life-long "progressive" cleansing by the Father and through the ministry of the indwelling Holy Spirit, can rest assured of "perfect" cleansing when our life on earth is over. Then, we will be made to stand before God in glory - without any sin, without any blemish, and without any imperfection. What a great thing it is that we have to look forward to! No wonder Jesus ways, "Blessed are the pure in heart . . ."
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And that leads us, finally, to consider a final question . . .
3. WHAT BLESSING DOES JESUS PROMISE TO THE PURE IN HEART?
Jesus gives a promise that thrills the heart of any man or woman who is truly pure of heart, ". . . For they shall see God."
What that means is, of course, a great mystery; but I feel we get something of a hint of it in the great prayer that Jesus prayed just before going to the cross for us. He prayed about His return to the Father in heaven, and He also prayed for us and said, "Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24). The greatest thrill to the heart of our Savior - the thing that He said He Himself desired - was that we would be with Him in heaven and behold the glory which the Father had given Him from before the foundation of the world.
The Bible tells us, "No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him" (John 1:18). Anything of God the Father that we would ever see is seen by us only through the Son. And as Jesus has said, "All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him" (Matthew 11:27). That's why He told the apostle Philip, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father . . ." (John 14:9). And so, to be in heaven and forever behold the glory of Jesus that had been given to Him by the Father from before the world began - this will be what it means to "see God"! To forever gaze into the face of the One who loved us so much will be the eternal blessedness of seeing God.
And I have to point one additional thing out to you, dear brother or sister in Christ. We will be able to gaze eternally upon the glory of Jesus because we, ourselves, will be made to share in that glory. In that wonderful prayer, Jesus prayed for His disciples and also said,
I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that you have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me (John 17:20-23).
Blessed indeed are we, dear brothers and sisters in Christ - the pure in heart, for we shall see God! Oh how we shall see Him!
And let me ask: How does that prospect impact you today? Doesn't that motivate you to want to be increasingly pure in the way you live right now? If you knew that, one week from today, you would be invited to a personal luncheon with the president of the United States, wouldn't you spend the whole week preparing yourself for such an honor? Well, here's something even greater than that: You are going to see God! How much more should you be preparing yourself every day for that glorious prospect!
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With that in mind, let me go back now and ask those original questions again - except, this time, with a new twist:
(1) When you are sitting around, relaxed and at leisure and with your mind in neutral, and you knew that you were declared pure in God's sight by faith and are now destined to see Jesus Christ and be conformed to His glorious image, in what sort of direction would your thoughts go?
(2) If you found a $1,000 bill laying on the sidewalk, and you knew that you were declared pure in God's sight by faith and are now destined to see Jesus Christ and be conformed to His glorious image, what would it be your first impulse to do with that money?
(3) If you knew that you were declared pure in God's sight by faith and are now destined to see Jesus Christ and be conformed to His glorious image, what sort of people would you begin to admire; and what is it about them that you find yourself most inclined to imitate?
(4) Knowing that you had been declared pure in God's sight by faith and are now destined to see Jesus Christ and be conformed to His glorious image, how would you then begin to view other people; and in what ways would your manner toward them compare with what's actually in your thoughts about them?
(5) If you had the opportunity to be freed from any obligation you choose, and you knew that you were declared pure in God's sight by faith and are now destined to see Jesus Christ and be conformed to His glorious image,what things would you immediately want to stop doing?
(6) If you could be given a full day in which no human eye would see anything you did, and you knew that you were declared pure in God's sight by faith and are now destined to see Jesus Christ and be conformed to His glorious image, how differently would you plan that day than the way you plan your day now?
What a difference our glorious hope makes! Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
1This observation was drawn from D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on The Mount (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1979), pp. 107-8.
2Cited in John R.W. Stott, Christian Counter-Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1978), p. 49).
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