We come now to the sixth Beatitude. Matthew 5:8: ““Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
In part 2 of our study of the Beatitudes, we learned that when Jesus talked about those who were poor in spirit, He did not mean people who lack material possessions. Instead, by ‘poor in spirit,’ Jesus means those who are spiritually impoverished by being humbly aware of their lack of any spiritual strength or ability. This is a poverty has nothing to do with economic standing and everything to do with an accurate assessment of who we are as fallen creatures. D.A. Carson writes that poor in spirit “…confesses one’s unworthiness before God and (an) utter dependence upon Him.” In the same way, when Jesus talks about being pure in heart, it is not an external conformance to the law or a religious code. Instead, it is an inward holiness and a moral purity that is at the center of a person’s very being.
The word translated in our English Bibles as “pure” is the Greek word “katharos” from which we get the word “catharsis,” which means an emotional cleansing or release. To be pure in heart is to be pure and guiltless in the place where our emotions, thoughts and will reside; in one’s ‘heart,’ which, the Bible says, is the very center of our being (Matthew 15:19; Romans 10:10, ESV). To be pure in heart is to be pure spiritually, and it is manifest in thoughts, words, and deeds. It is a true purity, not a show of outward cleanliness.
Notice that Jesus does not say “blessed are the pure,” for there would have been those standing within earshot who would have considered themselves to be in such a condition. The Pharisee and Scribes thought themselves to be pure in a ceremonial way which is why later, Jesus called them “whitewashed tombs” (Matthew 23:27). The Apostle Paul considered himself to be pure before Jesus revealed to him what true purity required (Philippians 3:4-6). So when Jesus speaks of being pure in heart, He has something much more complete in mind when He speaks of the purity that leads to blessing.
Throughout Scripture, we find that God is never pleased with the right, moral behavior if it is without heart obedience. Through the Prophet Isaiah, God asks: “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.” (Isaiah 1:11). Instead, what God requires is internal purity. “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:16–17).
And what has been true throughout history is still true today. There are many people who come to church on Sunday morning for worship yet live lives during the rest of the week with little or no regard for God, honesty, humility or purity of heart. You may even know someone who claims to be a Christian, who tries hard to do all the right things, but their heart is filled with bitterness, resentment, anger, desire or covetousness. These are all sins of the hearts, and while people can often be fooled, God knows the heart, and He is never fooled (1 Samuel 16:7).
Once again we see how the Beatitudes cause us to examine ourselves in light of what God requires of those who are His children. In these few short verses, Jesus asks us to examine our spiritual condition. Are we poor in spirit, do we mourn over sin, are we meek and humble as reflects our real condition? If so, do we long to be different? Do we hunger and thirst after righteousness? If so, have we been filled? If we have then can it be seen in our conduct, are we merciful? Are we pure in heart? Next week we’ll look at what being pure in heart demands.