Pure in Heart

Matthew 5:3-8

Grace, mercy, and peace are always for you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Our world is such a broken, imperfect place, filled with temptation, corrupted by attitudes and behaviors of the cultures in which we live. How could any of us keep a pure heart? Yet, that’s exactly what Jesus says concisely, powerfully. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” So my question is, How can any of us receive a pure heart?

Advertisers hustle their products as pure, claiming pure pleasure, pure satisfaction. Animal breeders produce purebred horses, pigs, dogs, cats. We desire pure silver or gold. We drink pure water. We want to wear clothing made from pure fabrics like silk, cotton, or wool because they are exquisite in their appearance, comfort, and endurance.

Pure! One hundred percent, undiluted, uncompromised, unmixed.

Hospitals around the world have infection-control departments. They have processes for sterilization of medical equipment because they need pure, germ-free environments so patients may gain health. Purity is important.

God seeks men and women with pure hearts. Hosea 6:6 says, “I delight not in sacrifice but in loyalty and obedience.” When the prophet Samuel came to Jesse’s house to anoint the next King of Israel in I Samuel 16, he looked at the older sons and thought they were the ones, but the Spirit said, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.”

How can I have a pure heart? Purity is being clean, free of contamination, free of immorality (especially sexual immorality), free from impurity, free from corruption, absolutely conforming to a standard of quality, flawless, faultless. This definition makes purity difficult to attain.

Acts 13 describes King David as a man after God’s own heart. Yet he had great moral failings in his life. We especially remember him sleeping with Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife, and then, when she was found to be pregnant, having Uriah murdered. When he was confronted with his sin, David wrote these powerful words of Psalm 51: “You desire truth in my inward parts. Purify me, and I will be clean, O Lord. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” David was far from perfect, but he was purely devoted to seek, serve, love, and honor God.

Have you ever been in a restaurant where they served you an entrée that was less than perfect? The proverbial fly in the soup. Sometimes I think we offer God a fly in the soup. We think, God understands I’m not perfect. The liturgy confession says, “We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed.” We also sin in attitudes and motives. We offer God a fly in the soup.

Fredrik Wisloff, in his devotional book, “Rest a While,” says, “Every human is by nature desiring honor. Who doesn’t like to be well spoken of? We dismiss kind words, proud of our own modesty, but in our hearts we’re really agreeing with the person who praised us, feeling it is well deserved. To feed on the praise of others is the danger of making ourselves small. We can become slaves of other people’s approval. We desire honor and recognition from others in a way that might hinder or cripple our faith. Faith’s one goal should be to honor Christ. The true believer has no ulterior motives, desires nothing for himself but all for Christ. Where faith lives, the desire for honor dies.”

Purity of heart, though, is more than just the removal of dirt. It’s also the way our minds and our hearts think and feel. It’s more than vacuuming our living room or washing a car. Who can help us?

Ezekiel 36:25 says this: “God promises, ‘I will sprinkle clean water on you. You will be clean.” God has to wash our hearts. I will cleanse you from all your filthiness, from all your idols. Moreover, I’ll go even beyond that. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. It’s beautiful! It is the power of God that gives every believer a pure heart. It’s the gift of Jesus Himself – a pure gift. Not only is the pure heart a gift – not earned – it is given to us even in the face of our defiant rebellion and immorality. The pure love of Jesus cleanses us. The blood of the pure Son of God gives us a pure heart. Our response to Jesus is, I belong to you, Lord.

When I was an undergraduate at Augustana College, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the campus pastor was the late Rev. Mark Jerstad. He told the story of when he was in college at St. Olaf and fell madly in love with a young lady named Sandy. It was the spring semester of the year, and he was so wild about her that he proposed marriage. But she didn’t give him an immediate verbal answer.

She still hadn’t responded as they waited for a bus to take Sandy home for the summer. When the bus pulled up, she placed a card in his hand, gave him a kiss, and boarded the bus. As the bus pulled away, Mark opened the card like a crazy man to read the words Sandy had penned: “Yours with a will to love.”

That’s how we respond to God’s gift of Jesus to us. Yours with a will to love.

Søren Kierkegaard, a Danish theologian and writer, once said, “Purity of heart is to will one thing. We must extract from our hearts all the elements contrary to the singular purpose of loving God. The only way to have a pure heart is to have a heart cleansed by divine love.”

John MacArthur, preacher of Grace to You Ministries, offers a perspective on purity that I find helpful. “First of all, a pure heart is an imputed purity.” So when Paul writes in Philippians 3 – not having a righteousness of my own but that which is given to me through Jesus Christ – MacArthur is saying God imputes a purity to us. It’s a conferred purity in Jesus’ name. God looks at us through Christ’s purity.

Second, MacArthur also says it is a regenerational purity. The Holy Spirit, working within us, gives a new birth to our soul. Our desires change. We have holy aspirations, holy longings. We now have a holy love for the Word of God. We have a spontaneous love of worship for God, a love of gathering in fellowship with other Christians in the body of Christ, a joy in serving God in daily life, and a hope of the glory of heaven and seeing Christ’s face in glory someday.

Third, MacArthur says, God gives us a practical purity. This is a conscious purging – cleansing ourselves from filthiness and fleshly desires. It is similar to the fearless moral inventory participants must do at AA. We need to honestly look at our lives in light of the Word of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and ask ourselves what needs to be cleaned. What patterns of behavior need to stop? What attitudes are not appropriate for the person who wants his life to reflect the love of Jesus Christ?

Do you remember singing this song in Sunday school:
“Oh, be careful little eyes what you see . . .
Oh, be careful little ears what should you hear . . .
Oh, be careful little feet where you go . . .
For the Father up above is looking down in love.
Oh, be careful little eyes what you see.”

It is similar to what Paul writes, “Whatever is good or excellent, beautiful or pure, think on these things, and God’s peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:8).

What are the signs of a pure heart? The first would be  a  sincere integrity of faith that is lived authentically. In the Old Testament story of Shadrach, Meshak, and Abednego, the book of Daniel speaks of this kind of integrity of faith. When King Nebuchadnezzar demanded that they bow down to the golden image statue he had set up, they knew it would be wrong and unfaithful to Yahweh. So they declined. They stood bold and tall when everyone else fell down as the music played.

King Nebuchadnezzar was informed of Shadrach, Meshak, and Abednego’s refusal to bow down. He called them and said with anger, I’ll give you another chance. When the music plays, you better bow down. Otherwise, I’ll throw you in the fiery furnace!

Listen to what Shadrach, Meshak, and Abednego said to King Nebuchadnezzar: “O King. We do not need to deliberate. We will not bow down to your image. Our God is able to deliver us from the fiery furnace. But even if he does not deliver us and we die, we will not bow down to your image.”

You see, Shadrach, Meshak and Abednego already had a preeminent loyalty of their pure hearts where they trusted Yahweh above all else.

The second aspect or sign of a pure heart is a continued hunger for our hearts to be purged, a longing to be holy, belonging to God. We participate in the continual confession to God of the areas of our life that need to be purified. We surrender those areas of our life to the Spirit’s work.

The third sign of a pure heart is a hatred of sin. Our hearts are broken and contrite before a holy God whom we love with gratitude. Therefore, we repent of our sin. We loathe our old behavior patterns, hurtful words spoken, and wrong attitudes that hurt God, diminish our vibrancy of faith, and hurt the people around us. We hate sin. Scripture tells us, “Flee immorality” (I Cor. 6:18).

The fourth is a passion for God’s mission. We are excited and committed to invite other people to experience Jesus’ grace with us.

The fifth sign of a pure heart is living with a heart full of awe. This means having a conscious awareness that we live in the presence of the holy One. We worship God every day and see Him at work in life realities. King David recognized that the only good in him was God in him. All great godly leaders are people who are willing to step aside from their own ego building and self-confidence to humble themselves before Almighty God.

President Theodore Roosevelt often went outdoors at night and looked up into the sky simply to remind himself of his humanity compared to the vastness of the universe.

This is good counsel for us as believers of Christ. As we look into the glory of creation, we also look into the glory of Jesus Christ – crucified for us on the cross and raised from the dead – and we realize God’s gift to us is a pure heart. In response, we devote ourselves in loyalty and commitment to Christ. Lou Holtz once said, “The Japanese Kamikaze pilot who flew ten missions was involved, but never committed.”

Do you have a pure heart in faith? Are you totally devoted to Jesus? Are you not only grateful for forgiveness, but also loyal to Him alone?

How can we have a pure heart? It is a gift from God, and we gladly receive it in faith. We trust that the Spirit of Jesus purifies and cleanses our heart, and we are pure.

But then we join David in his words. They become the prayer words of our soul, “O God, purify me, and I will be clean. Wash me and I will be whiter than snow. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

Lord, I give you my heart. Amen.

Rev. Lee Laaveg