Can you imagine what it would be like to see God? It is hard to even imagine or visualize what that moment would be like when we would be able to see God. Everything in the scriptures tells us that impact of humans seeing even the likeness of the glory of God caused people to tremble and fear. His majesty and glory is so great that no flesh could look upon the full glory of God. When the scriptures even try to describe the glory of God in places like Revelation 4 and Ezekiel 1, we cannot even begin to fully comprehend what we are reading. Can you imagine what it would be like to fully see God? Do you want to see God? Listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 5:8. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
So what does it mean to be “pure in heart?” First, we need to understand the meaning of the heart. For us in our culture when we speak of the heart we are either using the heart in terms of emotions or in terms of our will and desire. We will say things like how our mind tells us one thing but our heart tells us to do another thing. It is important to understand that this is not how the ancients spoke of the heart and neither did the biblical writers. The heart for them was not about emotions but referred to our will, our desire, and our mind. The heart was the sum of the inner person with all of its many aspects. To say this another way, the heart was the control center of the body, much in the same way that we probably think of the mind as the control center over our bodies. You will note this difference sometimes in the older translations. Notice how the KJV translates Philemon 7.
For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother. (Philemon 7 KJV)
You see that the ancients spoke of the place of emotions as one’s bowels. But this does not make any sense to us in our culture. If we talk about our bowels it is because we ate something bad. So we translate this in a way that makes sense to us today.
For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother. (Philemon 7 NKJV)
But then we can get confused because when the scriptures do speak of the heart and translate it as such we might make the mistake of applying our understanding of the emotions to the heart rather than the will, the desire, and the mind. When the scriptures tell us to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (cf. Matthew 22:37), these four things are indistinguishable to the ancients. There is not a division that we might be tempted to make as if these are four separate things. The statement is emphatic to refer to the whole of our very being.
Purity of Heart
Therefore when Jesus says that those who belong to his kingdom are those who are pure in heart, Jesus is not asking for people to be emotional or act from the heart. Rather, Jesus is declaring that his people have purity of mind, purity of will, and purity of desire. There are two aspects in the scriptures that picture what it means to be pure in heart: sincerity and cleanliness.
Sincerity of heart.
To be pure in heart means that we are sincere and not double-minded. We will have unmixed motives as the basis for all that we do. James spoke directly to this problem.
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4 ESV)
Then James gives the solution to this problem a few sentences later.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (James 4:7–8 ESV)
Notice that James says that purifying our hearts is about being sincere toward God and no longer being double-minded. This speaks to God’s people having a singleness of devotion to God and complete faithfulness to God. We are to have an undivided loyalty to God so that we are not pulled away by anything else. Purity of heart means that those who belong to his kingdom are only focused on Jesus. They are not focused on the other cares and concerns of life. They do not try to serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). They know they only have one master, Jesus, and they serve him without veering from that course. Purity of heart means that our decisions have only one concern: Jesus.
There is a second aspect to being pure in heart that we see in scriptures and that is being clean and holy in our desire, will, and mind. This is the natural outcome of having a sincere heart that is focused on Jesus. The mind, the will, and the desires are transformed from impurity to purity and righteousness. We see this idea in many places in the scriptures also.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” (Jeremiah 17:9–10 ESV)
But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. (Matthew 15:18–19 ESV)
Maintaining a pure heart is critical if we are going to hunger and thirst for righteousness. Righteousness cannot come from an impure heart. We have sick hearts that require transformation. God is the cause of the transformation, according to the scriptures.
Who can say, “I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin”? (Proverbs 20:9 ESV)
Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. (Acts 15:7–9 ESV)
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10 ESV)
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:25–26 ESV)
God is opening and transforming the heart through his word which he has given us by his Holy Spirit. God is also transforming our hearts by displaying his love for us in the sacrifice of Jesus. God continues to cleanse our hearts by allowing trials in life, blessing us in life, and through answered prayers. God desires our hearts to be purge from uncleanness and made pure for his service.
Bringing these two concepts together we see that purity of heart means that we are so devoted and focused on the Lord that the impurities and uncleanness of the heart will be driven out. It is our uncleanness and lack of faith in the Lord that causes our double-mindedness. But when we devote ourselves completely to pursuing the Lord, the heart will become transformed into the pure heart that was previously depraved and darkened.
For us, at some point we must decide what is our highest joy. Until we see Jesus as our highest joy and pursue him as such, we will always be double-minded, always be distracted by the world, always be caught by sins, and continue to have a sinful heart. We must decide what is our highest joy. Is our highest joy a worldly activity, a sinful pursuit, or some other distraction of life? Is our highest joy our work, our career, our wealth, our comfort, our family, or some thing else other than Jesus? What we continue to learn from these beatitudes is that Jesus is very concerned about our hearts. It matters if we have pure hearts. It matters if we have sincere hearts. It matters if we have devoted hearts. This is why the scriptures teach that God knows our hearts (Luke 16:15; Acts 1:24; Acts 15:8; Romans 8:27). God knows our will, our desires, and our intentions. God knows what our highest joy is. Coming to church on Sunday does not trick our Lord into thinking that he is our highest joy. Coming to church on Sunday does not fool the Lord into thinking we have pure hearts.
Purify your hearts by drawing near to the Lord (James 4:8). Purify your hearts by seeing Jesus as your highest joy and pursuing him like the great treasure that he is.
For They Shall See God
The reason we must make Jesus our highest pursuit and joy is because Jesus says that only these people will see God. Stop and reflect on this outcome. What a reward! This is the highest possible blessing there is: to see God. Seeing God is the culmination of all our hungering and thirsting. Purity of heart is the indispensable prerequisite for fellowship with God. Only the transformed heart will be able to see God. The writer of Hebrews said that without holiness no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). I don’t know what greater motivation could be given to us. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. Seeing God is everything. Relationship with God is everything. If this goal is not all you are striving for, then you are not a kingdom citizen.
We must make a conscious decision to practice the instruction given by the writer of Hebrews: Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2 ESV)
Set aside life’s distractions and activities and run the race toward Jesus so that we can be with him and see him. The gospel message is that you can see God if you will run with a pure heart toward your God.