Continued From Part Five…
As rare as it is in our world to find people who truly are merciful, it is even rarer to find a person who is truly “pure in heart.” Yet, in Matthew 5:6, Jesus emphasizes the need for His followers to be just that.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Of all of the beatitudes, this one may be the summation of all the rest. Because God is the One who is the source of all goodness and purity, it is through the working of His Spirit in the life of a believer that true purity can be found and demonstrated in this life. The longer one is around another person, the clearer it becomes what that person is really made of. What is really inside will inevitably come out into the open. In the following Old Testament passage we find God’s description of the human heart; then we will read what Jesus had to say about the fruit that is produced from a person’s life.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings. Jeremiah 17:9-10
For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:43-45
As we have discussed in earlier portions of this study,we as fallen man are not able to change the condition of our true self – our heart. We are able to put on a good face and, maybe with a good upbringing, may even be decent human beings, but we are not able to change the fallen nature with which we are born. The problem is in the genetics and only a supernatural touch of God can gift us with the cure. This “cure” came by way of the crucifixion and resurrection from the dead of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Only Jesus, with the authority of Almighty God, could say: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through Me.” He was God in the flesh. He is the ONLY way, the ONLY truth, and this is what separates Christianity from all other religious systems in the world.
True Christianity lies in the heart, in the purity of the heart. The conflict Jesus had with the religious leaders of His day was that they could teach the people how to obey their rules, but they were man-made rules. In one of His debates with the Scribes and Pharisees, He challenged them with these words:
These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. Matthew 15:8-9
Here is an example: One of the commandments in the Mosaic Law is to keep the Sabbath holy, which means that Jews were to do no work on Saturdays, their Sabbath. But in order to clarify this law, the Jewish scholars created 39 separate categories defining “work” and within those 39 categories there are many sub-categories. So to follow the rule of not working on the Sabbath, there are literally thousands of sub-rules to follow, including how many steps you can take, and how many letters you can write on the Sabbath. While most Jews in Jesus’ day did not even attempt to follow all of these additions to the original Law, the Pharisees did. They prided themselves on following not just the letter of the Mosaic Law, but even the letter of the man-made rules designed to explain the Law.
What was most significant is the fact that the Pharisees sought to abide by the external laws that distinguished the Jewish people from all of the other nations – the laws that made them outwardly distinct. These included laws about what to eat, what to wear, circumcision, how to pray out loud, etc. Jesus’ critique of the Pharisees was that they were legalistic – only concerned with the external appearance of keeping the Law rather than the inward spirit of the Law. It is not difficult to recognize the attitude Jesus had toward the hypocrisy He was observing in the passage below:
Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law; justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Matthew 23:23-28
Eating food with dirty hands, walking too far on a Sabbath, or making an error on some other man-made religious rule is not a “heart” issue. “Religion” has always tried to put emphasis on what is insignificant while at the same time missing what really is important. This is what Jesus was trying to get across to those he was speaking to. It is not possible to “earn” forgiveness from God, neither is it possible to “earn” a higher position of acceptability with God. The one “gift” that no religion on earth can offer is “grace”. The definition of “grace” is unmerited favor. Only God offers this and He is the only One who can. What a relief it is once a man realizes that God’s gift is free for the asking instead of needing to earn what cannot really be earned anyway. Only Christianity offers genuine assurance of eternal life in the kingdom of God after death. Every other religious system expects a person to do many good deeds in life so as to hopefully offset whatever evil they have done. Then, maybe the eternal Judge will offer a pass to paradise. Only God, only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, offers assurance of freedom from sin and eternal death. It is God who supernaturally changes a man’s heart and brings life to the spirit portion of his being so that he can commune with his Creator. That is the only source for truly having a pure heart.
God promised in the Old Testament that there was a time coming when He would provide a new covenant. This new covenant was promised to Israel but, as we now know from the New Testament, it has been promised to the Gentiles as well.
…and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles. As He says also in Hosea: I will call them My people, who were not My people, and her beloved, who was not beloved. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there they shall be called sons of the living God’” Romans 9:23-26
In the passage below, we see how God promises to supernaturally intervene with the heart condition. These are the words God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah:
“…this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” says the LORD: “I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Jeremiah 31:33
It is because God writes His law on a man’s heart that the Apostle Paul was able to say to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:5:
Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith…
The word “pure” describes something that is not mixed, not muddied as water which can come up pure from a mountain spring but then get “muddied” if someone walks through the water with muddy shoes. Sometimes we allow our life to get “muddied” with the the events surrounding us. This is why it is so important to have an intimate time alone with God every day. The Spirit of God will help us deal with anything and everything around us, if we let Him.
There is also a “sanctifying” or “setting apart” process that begins at the point of conversion. At the time we commit our lives into God’s control by accepting His free gift of forgiveness through His Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit of God enters our lives and begins to change our way of thinking and our actions. The new way of thinking and acting then begins to reflect those of our Master. Of course, God will never force us to follow His directives, but it is to our advantage if we do. Do all believers live up to this commitment? No, but they should. Here is what the Apostle Paul said to the Corinthian Church:
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31
This short verse is very important in explaining why many of God’s people are ineffective in their Christian lives. If God is not the #1 priority in our lives, then other things will take His place and it will not be possible to fulfill what that verse is really saying. Here is why I say this. It is very easy to make claims of being a faithful follower of Jesus Christ—but living it out in reality is a different matter—particularly while enjoying the comforts of the free West.
The situation is different with the persecuted Church today. Once a person has made a commitment to be a follower of Jesus Christ in an area where it is illegal or socially or culturally unacceptable to do so, they know their physical life is immediately in jeopardy. They could be stopped at any moment and have to decide whether they will deny Jesus Christ and live, or, refuse to deny Him and die. In the West it is not a life or death matter…at least not yet. The greater temptation is to “muddy the waters”, or to “water down” the potency of our walk with God by allowing other things to take greater importance in our lives than they should. The Apostle James put it in rather blunt terms in his New Testament epistle.
Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”. Therefore submit 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. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. James 4:4-10
The temptation for many is to take their relationship with God too lightly. The relationship we enjoy with our God was very, very “expensive”. The purchase price for our freedom from sin and death was so high that not one human being could pay it—no matter how “good” or “holy.” The price was also so high that there was only one way to pay it. God had to intervene in a very personal way. So, our triune God lowered Himself to the form of a man and paid the price—at the cost of Himself with His own Blood—the Blood of the Perfect Lamb of God! How can we take what our Creator bought and paid for by His own Blood lightly? We must not. Yet, many do. Why else would Jesus have urged, in His message to the Ephesian Church in the Book of Revelation, that they correct their relationship with Him? This is what He had to say to the Ephesian Church…words we must ourselves take to heart today:
…you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works…Revelation 2:3-5a
It is so easy for us to go through all the motions of sounding “spiritual”, acting “spiritual”, and looking “spiritual”. Many of us know all the “spiritual” language and we know how to express ourselves in “spiritual” ways. But, does our “spiritual walk” match our words? It must…or we are no less hypocritical than the New Testament scribes and Pharisees.
The Apostle John, late in his life, had this to say to the first century Church—as well as to us in this generation in which Christ will return:
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. 1 John 3:1-3
John urged the Church to live their lives with the end in mind. If we as believers begin to allow all of the things around us–things that may not be evil in themselves–to crowd out what contributes to our intimate walk with our Father, the pureness of our heart will begin to be compromised.
Is it possible that many of us in the West who are blessed with freedom to worship have lost much of our initial fervency and excitement? Could it also be that we have allowed ourselves to become so distracted with material blessings and the abundance of entertainments we have available that we have allowed our priorities to become rearranged? Could it even be that we have begun to see the things of God, maybe even the privilege of fellowship with other believers, as more of an inconvenience? It is because of what can happen to us as believers that the Apostle John made these comments in an earlier chapter of 1 John:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:15-17
The pure heart that Jesus was talking to the disciples about can even be distracted by what we may consider the work of the “ministry.” Many have become so engaged in the work, work, work, go, go, go of evangelism; the teaching, preaching, even overseeing the work of God, that we allow ourselves to become spiritually drained. This comes from not spending personal time communing with the Father. If we don’t allow ourselves to be refreshed by the Holy Spirit on a regular basis, we become like a dried up branch on a fruit tree. We begin to bear less and less fruit…not because God is failing us, but because we have denied Him the opportunity to recharge us.
It is good to remind ourselves often that we are about to see the KING in person. God’s trumpet call along with the voice of the archangel that will summon us into His presence is imminent. The more we think about that, the more anxious we are to commune with our Lord right here and now. As we do, our hearts are drawn ever closer to Him and as our hearts are drawn closer, we are brought into alignment with Him and His view on everything. The Psalmist penned these words for the pure in heart…those who will see God, about 3,000 years ago:
How precious is your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings. They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house, and You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures. For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light. Oh, continue Your lovingkindness to those who know you, and Your righteousness to the upright in heart. Psalm 36:7-10
In conclusion of Part Six of this teaching series, I would like to direct our attention to Revelation 22 and the beautiful promises written there to encourage us as believers in these last days.
…and there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. There shall be no night there: they need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever. Then he said to me, “These words are faithful and true.” And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which just shortly take place. “Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book…And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last. Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. Revelation 22:3-7; 12-14
After addressing the disciples about the pure in heart, Jesus teaches them about being peacemakers in verse 9.
Continued in Part Seven…