Today we come to consider the sixth beatitude. Verse 8.
“God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.”
There is a curious modern psychological condition where people lose their identity. I don’t mean identity theft, but a mental state in which a person no longer knows who they are.
It happens often to young people who are trying to get a job. They fill in an application for a job. Having researched the job description, they know what they have to be like to get the job. So they describe themselves as, for example, a strategic thinker with strong decision making skills. They convince themselves they can do it. Maybe they stand in front of a mirror telling themselves they are a great leader.
Then they fill in the next job application, but this time there is a whole new set of criteria and they adopt the new personality to fill in the new form. It doesn’t take too many job applications and mirror sessions before they no longer have any idea who they really are. They have an identity crisis, and may also have a mental breakdown.
There is an apocryphal story of a handsome and successful young man who married a beautiful girl. They had a baby, but the man was horrified at how ugly his child was. He then learned that his wife had been very ugly until she got plastic surgery. He sued her for deception and got a divorce.
People everywhere are reforming themselves to conform to an identity that has been created by the world. They are creating a false image to present a designed face to the world. It is called marketing. It is called image making. It is called pretending to be what you are not. Jesus called it hypocrisy.
In Jesus day, the Pharisees were the most seriously religious people around. No one was more zealous about purity than the Pharisees. They rejected pure but skin-deep beauty based on appearances. Instead they pursued true purity of lifestyle. Sadly, however, their standard method of seeking inner purity was based on external actions such as religious ceremony and legalistic conformity.
The Pharisees did not focus on inner attitudes of the heart.
This is why they loudly complained about the disciples of Jesus when they saw these Galilean fishermen eating without having washed their hands first.
Jesus responded vigorously to the Pharisees. He called them: “You hypocrites!”
And then he explains in Mark 7:18-23 why he called them hypocrites.
“Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.” (By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.)
And then he added, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.”
To be able to see God, you must be pure. Seeing God is the blessing promised to those with a pure heart.
Jesus says that external things do not make us pure. And they cannot make us impure.
If you were able to achieve perfection in behaviour, it would be futile. It would have no meaning as long as there is impurity in your heart.
You may be relieved to find that you can eat what you like and still be pure. But there is now a huge difficulty. How do we obey Jesus and achieve pure hearts?
The purity that Jesus demands starts inside. It is not narrowly defined religious purity. Jesus demands purity in every aspect of life. Purity in every corner. Cleanliness in every nook and cranny of our heart.
He is not talking about the extreme sins everybody recognises and you would never do, such as murder or adultery. Jesus is laying down a policy of zero tolerance for all of the socially acceptable sins. Greed and envy, slander and pride, arrogance and foolishness.
This is not the stuff of just not doing bad things. Abstinence works for murder, but not for arrogance. What this requires is a steady cultivation of the character of Christ.
And so growing a pure heart requires living out the commands of love. We have to live out the commands to love God with all our being, to love our neighbour as ourself, and to love fellow believers as much as God loves us.
No masks, no hidden agendas, no deceit, no pretence. Only raw, honest love. When you have a pure heart you will be a genuine disciple of Jesus, and genuine disciples get to meet with God.
Purity of heart will fundamentally shape our relationship with Jesus and with each other. How can we begin to develop pure hearts?
First, repentance. We are called to recognise our heart of stone, and seek a new heart. When we repent for our stony hearts, God comes as the Holy Spirit with love and starts to soften our heart. This is the repentance Jesus urges, to say sorry for our instinctive sinfulness, and reject it and turn to God and ask him for a new heart.
Second, faith. By faith in the resurrected Jesus we accept that his death was not a terrible mistake or a horrible accident, but God’s reaching out in love to make the sacrifice instead of us in order to save us. Through this faith we have a new standing before God and are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus.
Third, fruit of the spirit. When we consciously seek to nurture and cultivate the fruit of the spirit we have made our priority ‘inward change’. We put inner purity before external conformity as we seek to grow into the likeness of our Lord Jesus. Purity of heart is not where start from, but the aim of our life. At first it make seem like a distant mountain peak that is impossible to climb, but as we make our way toward this goal over the course of a lifetime we shall discover we are ascending ever higher.
Fourth and lastly, keep short accounts. What do I mean? You have the tendency to return easily to the way you were and the old attitudes. You give in again and again to the enticements of the world. Before you know it, you find yourself feeling or thinking or saying something impure. Our hearts turn so easily back into stone. So easily do our hearts harden.
So keeping a short account means, don’t delay for even a moment when you need to repent of something. Frequently and readily submit again to the way of crazy love, furious love, outrageous love. Get rid of all the opportunities in your life for inner impurity to put a hook into you. Get rid of the things you enjoy that lead to impurity. Stay out of situations that make impurity more likely. Avoid everything that would take hold of your purity and destroy it. Even that small measure of purity so hard earned can be lost in a moment if you are not serious about this.
So keep a short account. Be alert at every moment for all the ways the devil would bring impurity into your life and steal away your precious inner purity.
The reward for purity of the heart is to see God. One day in heaven, in the future; but also here and now. The more we seek purity of heart, the closer we draw to Jesus and the more we are filled with the Holy Spirit. Every time we toss out some impurity, we have to fill that space with the Holy Spirit and protect that new purity, and so we come closer to God and are more filled with the Holy Spirit.
Bit by bit as you grow more pure, you will see God more clearly in his creation, in his children, in the Holy Spirit, and in the face of Jesus. And at the same time you will reflect the glory of God to others around you. God will come down and live among us.