What does it take to live the blessed life? What are the secrets to happiness? The answers lie in the eight Beatitudes Jesus gave us at the beginning of his Sermon on the Mount. Over the past five weeks, we have been considering them one by one… we only have three more to go!
This morning we are considering the 6th Beatitude: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
You know, this is probably the most popular of all the Beatitudes. That’s ironic, because it is also the most difficult one to achieve! Jesus says, to be happy we must be pure in heart – that’s impossible, isn’t it? Perhaps we might be able to be pure in our intentions – maybe even in our actions – but “pure in heart?” No one is pure, except Christ alone! How can Jesus hold us to a standard which is impossible for us to achieve?
Jesus calls us to be pure, but we are by nature impure. Jesus says as much in Mark 7:21-22, “For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
Because we are human and are given free-will, we are prone to sin. That’s what the church has called “depravity” or “original sin” – our inevitable propensity to sin.
A pastor said to one of his parishioners, “I hope, madam, you believe in total depravity.” The lady replied, “Oh, pastor, what a fine doctrine it would be, if folks would only live up to it!” No need to worry about that! Sin comes naturally to us. It seems it can’t be avoided. I find it an interesting coincidence that the word “live” (l.i.v.e.) spelled backwards, is e.v.i.l. (“evil.”) Yes, sin comes to us naturally!
Scripture tells us that it is our sinful nature that separates us from God. Because God is totally pure and holy, he cannot abide the impure and unholy. Therefore, since we are impure, we cannot hope to “see God,” as the beatitude states it. As It is written in Psalm 24; “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts…” And friends, that ain’t us!
Yet Jesus says that, if we are to ever “see God,” we MUST become “pure of heart.” But how do we do that? To answer that, we had better understand what we mean by “purity.”
How “pure” are you? Based on Webster’s definition, purity has four connotations or meanings, each of which can teach us something about what it means to have a pure heart. According to the dictionary, the four definitions of “Purity” are:
Freedom from foreign admixture or deleterious matter.
Cleanness; freedom from foulness or dirt.
Freedom from guilt or defilement of sin; innocence; chastity.
Freedom from any sinister or improper motives.
For the rest of our time together this morning, I’d like for us to each give ourselves a little test to measure the level of our “purity of heart,” based on these four aspects of purity, and see how we measure up. Are you ready?
Our first meaning of purity is “freedom from foreign admixture or deleterious matter.”
In other words, something is considered “pure” when it is “unadulterated or uncontaminated.” The word for “purity” in Greek (the language in which the New Testament was written) is “katharos.” This Greek word has several connotations, each of which help us understand this Beatitude better:
In the ancient world, people had the practice of adding water to milk or to wine in order to make it go farther. In a similar way, the word was also used in the field of metalworking to describe metals whose strength had been compromised by the presence of alloys and impurities.
As you are aware, since the discovery of the Titanic resting on the bottom of the North Atlantic, there has been a huge amount of interest and research into the circumstances of how this unsinkable ocean liner could go down on its maiden voyage after striking an iceberg. There have been many theories, but one of the most compelling is the analysis of the bolts that were used to hold the hull together – they contained alloys that caused the bolts to be brittle and to break under pressure. Hundreds of lives were lost because the bolts contained impurities.
A person with a pure heart is one whose zeal for God is not watered down or corrupted by influences that compromise the strength of our faith. That person has had the dross burned out so that only the purest metal remains.
The Old Testament prophet Malachi used this same image to describe the Messiah who was to come. He said that their coming Messiah would be “like a refiner’s fire . . . he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, …he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver…” (Mal. 3:2-3).
The message is clear. We must be on guard constantly, because it doesn’t take much “deleterious matter” to make us impure and our life brittle.
So here is Question #1 on our quiz: Is your life characterized by this kind of purity? Or would it be more accurate to describe your faith as “watered down” or “compromised?”
The second dictionary definition of “purity” was this: “Cleanness; freedom from foulness or dirt.”
Another meaning of “katharos” in the Bible is “cleanness,” as in how we care for our body, or the laundering of our clothing.
If you have ever traveled in a third world country where standards of personal hygiene are more relaxed than ours, you know how important bodily cleanliness is – obviously it can lead to a significant level of “BO” (body odor) – but when neglected entirely, poor hygiene can become the cause of disease, and even death. God cares about how we use or abuse our bodies – whether we exercise, eat properly, abuse tobacco, alcohol or other drugs, engage in illicit sexual activity, and so on. The old saying is true, “Cleanliness IS next to godliness” (by the way, that phrase is nowhere in the Bible, even though most people think it is).
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says this: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own. For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.”
But this is more than just cleanliness of the body itself. It is also addressing the cleanliness of our mind (such as which TV shows and movies we watch, the music we listen to, what we look at on the computer or social media, and the books and magazines we read); – and the cleanliness of our mouths (the jokes we tell, the language we use, our lies or the gossip we pass on). Here’s a good rule of thumb to follow: Never watch anything you wouldn’t want your children to watch, and never say anything you wouldn’t want your mother to hear.
I think this is what the writer of Hebrews was referring to when he wrote: “Let us approach (God) with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
Cleanliness IS next to godliness. Don’t allow foulness to dirty up your life. Keep your life pure and spotless.
So question #2 on our purity test is this: “Are you pure in your body? Are your mind and mouth free from foulness and dirt?”
The third meaning of “purity” is this: “Freedom from guilt or defilement of sin; innocence; chastity.”
This is the deeper, more profound meaning of “cleanness.” In Bible-times, when a person sinned, they were labeled “unclean” by the religious leaders. They even had to offer special sacrifices and take ritual purification baths to be declared “clean” again, and rejoin society. But even that didn’t cleanse them from the defilement of sin. Sacrifices and washings MAY have made them acceptable to their community, but the guilt of their sin remained. In the Christian church, we may no longer pronounce people “unclean,” (at least not to their face) but we still speak of sin as making us unclean.
Through the prophet Jeremiah, God pointed out the futility of our human efforts to remove our sin, God said; “Though you wash yourself with lye and use much soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me.” Sin is an ugly stain which can only be washed away by one “detergent,” the blood of Jesus.
A favorite hymn of mine is “Grace Greater than My Sin.” One of the verses says this well:
“Dark is the stain that we cannot hide.
What can avail to wash it away?
Look! There is flowing a crimson tide,
Brighter than snow may you be today.”
Friends, all of us are sinners in need of the grace of God. It’s not whether or not we have sinned – we have. What counts is the status of our sin. Have we been declared innocent? Has the stain of our sin washed clean?
So, here’s question #3: Are you free from sins which bring impurity into your life? Or is there some unrepented and unforgiven sin that you are trying to hide from God, causing you to be unclean and impure?
The final connotation of “purity” in the dictionary is certainly the most problematic of the four: “Freedom from any sinister or improper motives.”
As we have seen all through our look at the Beatitudes, it is possible to live an outwardly pure life, yet not have pure motives or views. Even Christians who strive to live according to the Christian faith find themselves drawing on many other influences in deciding how to live (our society, our family, our social class, the media). And when you are motivated by anything other than that which is godly, you will end up mired in sin.
The Greek word which I mentioned a few moments ago has still another connotation – not only can it be translated “cleanness,” it can also be translated “purged.” That same Greek word is used to describe grain after the chaff has been sifted away. In that context, purity means not allowing that which is useless and trivial to clutter up our lives, but to dispose of those things that might distract us from following Jesus.
There’s a similar way this same word is used – in a military context. It is used when describing an army that has been purged of soldiers who are cowardly, weak, or ineffective. It is just as we find in the story of Gideon in the Old Testament, where God culled the army of Israel down for 32,000 men to 300 (like the Marines, God must have been looking for “a few good men”). In that military context, purity means purging our lives of anything that might weaken our resolve and make us more vulnerable to the attacks of the devil. We must not allow weaknesses in our defenses or cracks in our spiritual armor. Whatever there may be that would weaken us, we must get rid of it – we must purge it from our lives.
The idea is that there must be a singleness of purpose to serve God without allowing anything to distract us from our faithfulness in following him.
As James warns in his letter in the New Testament about the danger of distraction in our spiritual life, “The doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” (1:8) In other words, we must not permit anything that would make us “double-minded” in our faith. It must be purged from our lives.
So, the final question in our purity quiz is this: Are you sure your motives are always pure? Or, are you “double-minded,” too easily distracted from your walk of discipleship? Do you have any “chaff” or “cowardly soldiers” you need to purge from your life?
Well, how did you do? Can we certify anyone here as “pure in heart” this morning? Of course not! None of us is pure (though that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to be). But, no matter how hard we try, we can never achieve purity on our own.
Just consider the Pharisees we read about in the Gospels: No one was technically more “pure” than they. Yet Jesus called them “cups which are clean on the outside and filthy on the inside,” “whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones.” They had only fooled themselves into thinking they are “pure,” but their hearts were sullied by sin. Ours are too.
There was a famous preacher years ago who had a clock in his church that was well known for its inability to keep the time accurately – sometimes too fast, often too slow – but never right. Finally, after many efforts to regulate it, the pastor put a sign over it, that read: “Don’t blame the hands – the trouble lies deeper.”
This is true for each of us. We can do our best to “fix” our problem of impurity, only to discover that the “trouble lies deeper.” We can try to be pure – to live above reproach – and still be impure.
So we’re back to the original quandary I raised at the beginning of this message: How can Jesus hold us to a standard which is impossible for us to achieve? We are told to have “pure hearts,” but no matter how hard we try, we always fall short. It seems like an unsolvable riddle – a “Catch 22.” But God has provided the solution.
The Good News is that, just like grace, purity is a gift. We’re saved, not by our own virtue, but by grace – by the merits of Jesus who died for us. In the same way, we are made pure, not by striving for perfection, but by laying our impurities at the foot of the cross. The Scriptures say it best: “When we confess our sin, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
In this sixth beatitude, Jesus was saying that it is only when we have allowed God to cleanse us, that we can begin to “see God.”
John Keble expressed this beatitude beautifully in poetry, when he wrote:
Still to the lowly soul He doth Himself impart, And for His cradle and His throne Chooseth the pure in heart.”
“Blessed are the pure in heart,” Jesus said, “for they shall see God.” They are “blessed” because it is only in pure hearts that God chooses to take up residence.