‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’Matthew 5:8
In the lesson on mercy we discussed Moses meeting God on Sinai. Just before God announced his name to Moses in that passage, He spoke words that would have echoed in the ears of those who heard the sixth beatitude. In Exodus 33:20 God declared, ‘You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live.’ And yet, here Jesus promises that the pure in heart will indeed see God—they will see what Moses was unable to see. Citizens of the Kingdom, in other words, will be greater than Moses.
The easy error to commit is to confuse purity with piety. Pious people are full of religious actions and performances. We meet them in the Sermon on the Mount, when they sound trumpets to announce their fasting, or pray on street corners to be heard. Pious people are those who perform Godly actions to impress—not God, but other people. Their piety is directed toward impressing their peers. God has little interest in it.
But we often confuse this kind of piety with purity. We hear the word ‘purity’ and think that it implies a certain kind of lifestyle—embodied, perhaps, in the old church rhyme that ‘We don’t drink, and we don’t chew, and we don’t go with girls who do!’ The pure person refrains from performing certain impure actions—no drinking, smoking, gambling or dancing, no movie watching or salacious reading. Whatever the merits or demerits of a philosophy like teetotalism, we must not confuse it with what Jesus asks of those who are called to purity of heart. They aren’t the same thing at all. And they aren’t the same, chiefly, because they are all external. Jesus condemns this kind of thinking roundly when he rebukes the Pharisees, ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.’ (Matt 23:25)
True purity, however, is deeper. It is internal. It is, in short, a matter of the heart.
There are two ways we can go about seeking this kind of purity. The first is described by Jeremiah when he wrote that ‘You [God’s people] will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.’ (Jer 29:13) The first way of seeking purity is through purifying our intentions. This is not a matter of will power, of inward focus, or of bootstrap piety—it is, quite the opposite, a matter of getting our eyes off of our selves and onto our God. The pure of heart are purified in their hearts by affixing their eyes on Jesus and His Kingdom. The pure aren’t looking at themselves; they are looking at King Jesus, who is the one making them pure. With respect to this, Kierkegaard may have said it best, ‘Purity of heart is to will one thing.’ The Christian wills to see his or her King.
This, in fact, is perhaps the single best advice for sin management we can receive—as with Peter who sank into the waves when he took his eyes off of Christ, so we will inevitably sink into sin when we take our eyes off the King. If you want to be pure, look no further than Christ.
The second way we can approach purity is through cultivating a childlike spirit. Childlikeness is not to be confused with childishness. To be childish is to be immature and silly. To be childlike is to be innocent, open, and honest. Jesus himself says, ‘I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.’ (Matt 11:25) It is not to the crafty, the world-wise, or to bloated intellects that God revealed Himself, but to those who received His good news like children. And how do children receive good news? With wide eyes, open hearts, and with rejoicing! If we would be pure of heart, we must do likewise.
The attitude of those who strive to live out the sixth beatitude is, then, that we strive for purity of heart. But this is not an external piety, rather it is an inward disposition that is marked by our singular focus on God and by the cultivation of childlike responses to His Word.
When we do this, we receive the promise that we shall see God—what Moses never could see, we will see! God was never interested in rule-followers for the sake of the rules; what He wanted was people of a certain character, who would seek Him with all of their hearts, minds, souls, and strength. He doesn’t want jaded adults; he wants joyful children.
And when we seek Him in this way, with childlike hearts, He invades, rendering the purity of our hearts a thin space through which His light can shine afresh. When we affix our eyes upon Jesus, He purifies us in turn, and that purity shines for others to see. As Jesus says, ‘Seek first the kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.’ (Matt 6:33) Strive for purity and you will fail. Seek Christ, and you will find purity. In finding Christ’s purity, God’s light will shine through you.
The next time you attend a worship service, or listen to worship music, attempt to worship the Lord with a childlike heart. Sing, engage, dance—leave behind your stodgy adulthood, and seek the face of God with childlike purity.