“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” – Matthew 5:8
While these words are meant to be a source of encouragement to Jesus’ followers, they often lead to discouragement instead. After all, if we are honest with ourselves, our hearts are anything but pure, especially when examined under Jesus’ standards.
Throughout the Old Testament, it was taught that God must not be approached by those who are unclean, lest his holiness be desecrated (Lev. 22:1-9). In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees had created manmade rituals which they believed could guarantee that they would remain undefiled, but Jesus taught that true purity begins with moral integrity (Matt. 23:23-28).
In the verses following the beatitudes, he taught that even the most heinous of sins such as murder or adultery could be committed in the privacy of one’s heart (Matt. 5:21-30). According to Jesus, “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28). Furthermore, our hearts can be lured away from seeking after God by the fleeting treasures of this world (6:19-24). Because of this, when we assess our spiritual state, we must not only consider our actions but look into the shadowy regions of our hearts as well (Matt. 15:18-19). It is easy for us to hide behind a facade of being a “good Christian,” but God knows our hearts, and He is not satisfied with merely outward appearances.
What is a Pure Heart?
This may sound like bad news. However, the beatitudes are meant to bring comfort, not condemnation. In this beatitude, Jesus refers to Psalm 24, which depicts the expectations, rewards, and motivations of a pure heart. When we examine the Psalm we see that purity flows from a desire for God:
3 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? 4 Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false and do not swear deceitfully. 5 They will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from the God of his salvation. 6 Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
The Psalm was originally used during Israelite temple worship, and verses 3–4 declare that only those with moral purity would be qualified to enter the temple. As the Israelites worshipped with this Psalm, they acknowledged their God’s holy standards. These faithful Israelites had endeavored to meet those standards and sought to be vindicated by God for their efforts (v. 5). Yet, they would also have recognized their various failures made it necessary for them to bring sacrifices to the temple. Verse 6 explains that the driving force behind the Israelites’ efforts to maintain moral purity and engage in acts of worship was their earnest desire for God. From this Psalm, we see that a pure heart involves an expectation of moral integrity before our holy God, is rewarded by blessing and vindication from our God, and is motivated by a heartfelt desire to have fellowship with our God.
Who Has a Pure Heart?
Moral purity can only be found in a heart that beats for God. That’s why Jesus taught that each commandment of the Law hangs upon the greatest commandment, which is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). A single-minded devotion to a righteous and pure God will result in righteousness and purity in the lives of the devoted. This truth carries on the implications of the previous beatitude of Matthew 5:6. While the hunger and thirst for righteousness described in that verse focus on a desire for seeing God’s holiness displayed upon the earth, it would include a desire for personal holiness. Still, the purity of heart that Jesus expects from His followers comes from more than just a desire to keep rules. It comes from a desire to enjoy God.
Yet, when one reflects upon the level of devotion to God which Christ expects, they may ask the same question his first disciples asked: “Who then can be saved?” (Matt. 19:25). Jesus’ answer would remain the same: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). Only God can create a heart that is devoted to him, and it is a gift He gives to all who put their faith in Christ. This change in heart begins at salvation and continues to be worked out for the rest of a Christian’s life as God conforms them to the image of His Son (Rom. 6:17–18; Gal. 2:20; Eph 2:4–6; Phil. 2:12–13).
While we know that God enables all our efforts, the battle for purity remains incredibly difficult. Our hearts can feel torn between our godly desires and what we cannot help but desire (Gal. 5:17). Sometimes, we may even find ourselves doubting if the struggle is worth it. However, this is where Jesus’ exhortation to purity is especially relevant.
Jesus knows that his followers’ hearts are fickle and prone to corruption. He knows that we are enticed by a host of temptations that would draw us away from loving God. He gave us teachings like this beatitude to embolden us as we engage in the process of withdrawing our affections from that which corrupts and setting them upon what is pure. Whether it is anger, lust, or self-righteousness, a variety of temptations flash before us like neon signs that promise cheap thrills. However, Jesus promises that purity of heart will result in a reward that outshines anything this world has to offer: seeing God. There are at least three implications of seeing God: Being admitted into His presence, being awestruck by His glory, and being comforted by His grace.
Today, we are blessed with a taste of God’s presence, glory, and comfort, but we wait for a future day when will enjoy these promises in full. The words of Scripture describe it best:
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:3–4).
3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in [new Jerusalem], and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:3–5).
Consider the grace of God. His kindness toward us is such that He not only creates a pure heart within us but will richly reward us for that which He created. On that day, we will enjoy the very presence of God upon the earth. Today, we see just a hint of God’s glory displayed in the power of the sun. On that day there will be no need for the sun because God’s glory will fill the earth with light. Today, we are comforted with the promises of Scripture. On that day, God himself will wipe away our tears. While it can be painful, the process of becoming pure in heart is well worth it. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
 For more on Psalm 24 see Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, vol. 1 (573-589)