“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
This beatitude is so beautiful because it looks so simple on paper, but beneath these eleven words is a depth of riches that I don’t think we can truly understand until we are face to face with Jesus. As a church, we’ve been walking through the Beatitudes each week, and exploring what each of them means for us in our walks with Christ. We’ve noted that the beatitudes are not “if-then” statements, they are “declaration-promise” statements. They are depictions of what the kingdom of God looks like.
The declaration of this beatitude is “Blessed are the pure in heart,” and the promise is, “for they shall see God.” In God’s kingdom, the pure in heart see him, but what does it mean to be pure in heart? What does it mean to see God?
These questions bring up images of the Old Testament for me. When Moses is called up to the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments, he can’t look upon God or he’ll die. Moses was a sinful human being, and couldn’t look upon God without perishing.
Exodus 33:18-20 says, “Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And [the LORD] said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” Before God the Son is sent into the world, God the Father could not be seen in his full glory by anyone. As Alastair put it on Sunday, “Our ordinary sight is insufficient to see God. If we stand before God with our sin, we will fall apart.”
Through the rest of the Old Testament, the people of Israel are proven to be engulfed by their sin thus separating them from God. But that’s not the end of the story. Out of God’s love for his people he sends his only Son to pay the ransom for humanity’s sin.
In the New Testament, Jesus, the Son of God is crucified on a cross to cleanse the world from all sin, and three days later, resurrected to bring life to all who believe in him. This is the ultimate epic! It is by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus’ death, resurrection, and Sonship that we can become pure in heart.
Therefore, purity in heart isn’t something we can achieve on our own, it’s something that the Holy Spirit produces in us as we walk closer and closer with Jesus. We can’t achieve it on our own, but we can do the walking. Walking toward purity in heart is a journey of forgetfulness and remembering. Remembering our sins, and remembering what Christ did to cleanse us from those sins, moves us onward in the journey to purity in heart, and forward to virtue and further spiritual formation.
David A. deSilva writes in his book Sacramental Life: Spiritual Formation Through the Book of Common Prayer,
“Remembering that we have been cleansed of past sins means that we will not so casually allow ourselves to fall back into the ruts of the old person. Jesus died so that we would leave those well-worn paths behind…looking back to our cleansing from sin impels us forward to grow in grace and equip ourselves with all the virtues God seeks to nurture within and among us; looking ahead to Christ’s final victory draws us forward on the same trajectory.”
Remembering our sins, and remembering what Christ did to cleanse us from those sins, moves us onward in the journey to purity in heart, and forward to virtue and further spiritual formation.
I love the directional language that deSilva uses. Words like, “back” and “forward” and “behind” and “grow” and “impel” and “ahead.” It seems like there’s a linear spectrum here, but maybe the journey to purity in heart isn’t linear at all. Maybe it’s holding “back,” and “forward” in the same hand? I do believe it’s possible with God’s help, but with every journey there are dangers (forgetfulness) and there are beauties (remembering). Here are a couple dangers followed by some beauties to make sure we’re staying emotionally balanced here (that was meant to be read with a slight chuckle).
The first danger is this:
When I forget the cleansing power of Jesus’ sacrifice, and I dwell only on my sins, I won’t be “impelled forward to grow in grace,” I will be trapped in a state of shame.
This was me for many years. I harboured so much guilt and shame for my sins. But I know that dwelling on my sins, or the bad parts of me, makes me forget about what Jesus did for me, and how he sees me. It keeps me trapped in the past.
My brother once told me a practice that his counsellor offered for him to use to take his thoughts captive:
Picture your mind as a house. Your house has a porch, and a driveway, and if you’re sitting on the porch, you can see the street in front of the house. All your thoughts are the people walking on the street. You can let some come to the driveway, you can let some stay on the porch, and you can let some inside your home.
Through the saving power of Christ and the grace that he offers, my negative thoughts and even actions can stay on the porch, the sidewalk, or the street. I don’t have to let them inside my house because Jesus is standing at the front door.
The beauty in all of this could be summarized like so:
When I remember Christ’s saving power in tandem with the sin that separates me from him, I can choose to not to dwell on those sins, I can dwell on Christ.
The second danger on the journey to purity in heart is this:
When I forget about my sins and what I’ve been saved from, I forget what I’ve been saved for.
Forgetfulness is one of the devil’s most powerful weapons against God’s people. I can forget how sinful I really am. Forgetfulness takes the cleansing power from Christ, and places it in my own hands. Pride takes its root in my life, and I forget the magnitude of Christ’s sacrifice for me. This pride makes my heart cloudy, and not pure.
However, the beauty lies in this :
When I remember that I’ve been saved through Christ’s sacrifice, and let it fill me with gratitude and joy, that will eventually lead me to purity in heart.
There’s an amazing song by King’s Kaleidoscope called Oxygen, and the verse goes like this:
I can feel the memories again
In this field of foreign oxygen
I’m awake without the medicine
I forgot the joy of suffering
After singing this a couple of times, the band seamlessly transitions into a jazzy rendition of “Jesus Loves Me.” The first time I heard it, my heart just melted onto the floor. Jesus loves me because the Bible tells me so! What’s a more pure statement than that?
Where do we go from here? I would say practice “porching it.” When we feel the memories of sin come creeping back to entice us into guilt and shame, when we forget the medicine provided so graciously to us through Jesus, we can remember that Jesus loves us and he standing at the door of hearts. As we grow closer to him, as we let him permeate through our actions, our hearts will grow purer and purer and eventually, we will see God.
Over the next few weeks, St. Peter’s Fireside is exploring the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, both in our sermons and these articles.