“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” – Matthew 5:8
If one thing is clear in the Sermon on the Mount, it is that the Lord is concerned with more than outward cleanliness and show. He has emphasized the spiritual life of His people in comparable ways to the physical. Poor, hunger and thirst are just a few words that are normally physical descriptions have now been used to describe our inner man. Now, He points toward heart purity and our future opportunity to see God. As the writer of Hebrews puts it, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). With such weighty reward, what does it mean to be “pure in heart?”
This particular idea is not something new but is a rather common expression found even in the Old Testament. While there is some truth that the “bowels” was also a place where emotions and feelings were believed to arise from, there is plenty of consistency (probably more) that the heart in scripture is still a place of thinking, feeling, and motive, just as it is commonly used today. This is especially true for the psalms and Jesus. David in the psalms could write about what it takes for a person to see God upon His holy hill in Psalm 24:4, “He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart.” After confessing his sin with Bathsheba, David requests God to, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10). There is a definite contrast in the eyes of Jesus toward those who are outwardly cleansed but have dirty, rotten hearts. One such example is when he looks at the pharisees and says, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” (Mt. 23:27). It is already clear that we, like the pharisees, can be whitewashed tombs that house decay.
To be “pure” includes so many different reference points. This word could mean to be clean, as with clothes. It also references produce, such as corn, which has been winnowed or sifted and cleansed of all chaff. Lastly, it could refer to an army which has been purged of all discontent, cowardly, unwilling, and inefficient soldiers, and is now a force composed solely of first class fighting men. The basic meaning then of pure becomes something that is unmixed, unadulterated, singled-out. The “pure in heart” then equals those who have a “singleness of heart,” they’re filled with an honesty which has no hidden motive, no selfish interest, and are true and open in all things.
This is only possible in a heart that is justified and sanctified by God. It is only possible to approach other people with a pure heart when we have been purified by God. We cannot see God in this life and in glory unless we have cleansed by His Word. Remember the phrasing in Hebrews 12:14, that no one can see God without “peace with all men” and “holiness.” Another phrasing of holiness in some circles is heart purity. That verse combines the to approach both the vertical (God) and horizontal (Man) relationships with a pure heart. This begins with God and spreads towards others. God knows our heart and can cleanse us of our sin and foul intentions. Then we can approach others with love and sincerity.