Jesus taught, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8).”
This blessing, one of the beatitudes introducing the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, is a tremendous reminder to us that pleasing God is more than just a matter of going through the right actions. It’s a heart matter. While men might judge by outward appearances, God looks upon the heart (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7). And while we might fool ourselves about the condition of the heart, God is never fooled. As the proverb says, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart (Proverbs 21:2; ESV).”
Part of what Jesus preached in the Sermon on the Mount was a reminder of the importance of getting the heart right with God. Adultery is wrong, but Jesus reminded us that Lust, an inward sin of the heart, was also sinful (cf. Matthew 5:27-30). Murdering others was certainly wicked, but Jesus pointed out that Anger, another sin of the heart, would likewise send a man to hell (cf. Matthew 5:21-22). We will give an account for the deeds we have done in the body (2 Corinthians 5:10) but we will also give an account for the thoughts of our hearts.
The blessing which Jesus bestows upon the pure in heart makes good sense: if we will be judged according to our hearts, then it follows that those who have pure hearts will be the ones to enter into heaven. Like several other of the beatitudes, the blessing bestowed is a figure of speech describing salvation. “Theirs is the Kingdom,” “Be comforted,” “Inherit the earth,” “Receive Mercy,” and “See God,” are all different ways of saying, “They will be in Heaven.”
Contrarily, if our hearts are not pure, it follows that we will not be in heaven come the final day (cf. Psalm 24:3-5). This was the warning Jesus gave to the Pharisees and the scribes. He told His followers that they could not enter the Kingdom of Heaven unless their righteousness surpassed that of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20). He later warned that Pharisees were blind guides who would lead their followers into destruction (Matthew 15:14), and that the Pharisees were keeping themselves and others out of the Kingdom (Matthew 23:13). Part of the problem, a large part of the problem, Jesus said, was that while the Pharisees had an outward piety, their inward parts were wicked. Thus, the colorful description Jesus gave of them, saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matthew 23:27-28; ESV)” The Pharisees had a “heart problem.”
Though such “heart problems” may be hard for men to discern at times, there are definite warning signs we can look for to know when we might have such a failing.
There is the obvious problem of sin. The hearts of the Pharisees led them to reject Jesus and desire to murder Him. Good hearts do not produce such behavior. Rather, as Jesus taught, “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander (Matthew 15:19; ESV).” It might seem obvious, but it is still worth pointing out, when we see a husband cheat on his wife, when we see a man steal from another, or witness someone spreading lies and gossip, we can safely discern that there is a heart problem at the root of the behavior. It does us no good to protest that our heart is in the right place while our feet are swiftly carrying us down the wrong path.
A pure heart is going to produce pure words and pure actions. Just as one cannot get salt water out of a fresh water spring, or fresh water out of the ocean, so too we can’t get righteousness out of a wicked heart, nor will wickedness come from a pure heart (cf. James 3:10-11).
But there is a solution; a rather obvious solution. The Bible urges us, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded (James 4:8; ESV).” Though our hearts are sinful, God provides a means to cleanse them, and wisdom with which to fill them with things pure and good. It starts with an acknowledgment of what we have done and why we have done it, and with repentance as we draw near to God, allowing Him to wash us clean.
Like the Psalmist, our constant prayer should be, “Create a clean heart in me, O God (Psalm 51:10).”
If you would like to learn more about how God, in Christ, can cleanse the heart, the church of Christ invites you to worship and study with us, at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions or comments, we invite you to share them with us at chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.