Matthew 5:8 (KJV) Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
What does it mean to be pure in heart? Like so many other words, purity has lost its way over the course of the evolution of our language. For many, the notion of purity is simply an avoidance of sin; particularly, sexual immorality. Is it possible that the idea of purity could be so easily summed?
The Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard included, in what is perhaps his most regarded work, Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, a discourse entitled “Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing.” In this, he explains that purity is not for the sake of reward, nor to avoid punishment, nor is it simply doing of good for the sake of good or altruism. Purity’s only motive is to seek for what he called the “eternal.”
Perhaps, dear reader, you may be asking why it is that you should consider the writings of a Danish theologian who died in the middle 1800s? The answer is simple; because he’s right. There can be no purity so long as we are of two desires.
James 4:7-10 (KJV) 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. 9 Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
After urging the brethren to consider the fruits of heavenly wisdom (chapter 3), he then questions them as to the source of the strife and hostility among the brethren. Attributing both to their devotion to fleshly desires, he admonishes them to seek the Lord as a cure for their impurity. He does not prescribe better deeds or even urge them to set their affection on Heaven. Instead, James encourages them to first cleanse their hands of wickedness and- more importantly- to purify their hearts.
An abrupt turn toward purity will doubtlessly bring about pangs of conscience, but James concludes that the sufferings are worthwhile in service of returning to humility before our Lord. This is the nature of seeking the eternal. James concludes that they have forsaken that which brings them closer to God and adopted that which draws them away. The answer is not simply cleanse the hands and do better but purify the heart of its double-mindedness.
He introduced the idea of double-mindedness in the first chapter where he warned in verse 8 that the man who asks God for wisdom to deal with various trials should do so without doubting. The one who asks of God when he is not earnest in his desire to overcome temptation is unstable in his ways. He has no true allegiance. How can a man will the one thing when he is devoted to two? (Matt. 6:24)
Elijah posed the same question in 1 Kings 18, raising the challenge, “How long halt ye between two opinions?” Challenging them to be either fully devoted to Baal or to God, Elijah understood that a half-measure of devotion is no devotion at all. This is truly a lesson for the modern age and the modern Christian.
We’ve become satisfied with the half-measure. It’s evident in the morality of the day. Modern morality, which often resembles the immorality of decades past, can only mean that our devotion to purity and our will for the eternal has become corrupted. Morality, in which long-settled questions are reopened with a view toward being more permissive of worldliness, does not speak to a single-minded imitation of the Father.
Encroachment is visible even in the most fundamental aspects of faith. Countless sermons are taught defending baptism as essential, but how often do we teach on the transition within the heart as one forsakes the old self and puts on Christ? Are we emphasizing the action at the expense of devoting the heart? When we disregard the notion of the Spirit of Christ dwelling in us, a spirit that leads us (Romans 8; Galatians 5), instructs us, and even teaches us to cry, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8; Galatians 4) in favor of rudimentary and easily digested lists of works and restraints, can we really say that our hearts are wholly devoted to the Lord? How can we say that we have but one will, when we’ve barely scratched the surface of what it means to surrender our will to His?
No amount of good doing or good teaching can replace the example of a heart that is devoted to the cause of being like the Father. Is it any surprise that our young are being lost to attrition when they observe in us less than the Father’s will? Can we fortify our claim of purity based on abstaining from sin, when the devotion of the heart is evidently not in the fullest measure to the Father?
They Shall See God
The beauty of the purified heart is that it builds a deep connection to the Father. They become imitators of Christ who died to bring many sons to glory (Ephesians 4-5; Hebrews 2). They receive from Him wisdom to overcome their trials of faith (James 1). They bear righteous fruits which are sown in peace because they seek the heavenly wisdom (James 3).
(Matthew 5:8 KJV) Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God
It would be easy to see this commendation as a blessing for some future time. Truly those who have purified their hearts will see God for all eternity, but the beauty of the purified heart is not that we will see God one day but that we see God in our lives every day.
By Jared Bollman