Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. [Matthew 5:8 ESV]
God tells us to live up to His standards which are based upon Himself, upon His character and personality. Here, Jesus tells us the “pure in heart” are blessed. At the end of Matthew 5 Jesus states “you therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” [Matthew 5:48 ESV]. God tells His people they are to be “holy, because I am holy” [Leviticus 11:44 ESV]. “You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine” [Leviticus 20:26 ESV]. Peter reinforces God expectations in his first letter. “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” [1 Peter 114-16 ESV]. God’s expectations for His people were their separation from the world and the motives and activities of the world. Jesus describes the citizen of the kingdom of heaven as one who lives and acts like they belong to God. Peter encourages the church to be those who live in the world but belong to God.
Is God demanding we live to a standard which is impossible for us to attain? Yes. Why would He do this? He knows we cannot meet His expectations. Did He not create us for relationship with Himself? Yes. But we fell away, rebelling against Him. He did not turn us away or reject us. In His Son He redeemed us which means He bought us back and recreated us and is fitting us for eternity as citizens of His kingdom. When He created us in His image He had every right to expect our devotion to Him. We sinned making impossible for us any motivation and action which adheres to His expectations. When He redeemed us from sin He established His Creator rights over those redeemed to prepare us for eternity with Him.
God is just and righteous. His character and personality define the scope of all which remains in His known presence. He is good which includes His mercy and grace. He does not arbitrarily decide anything will be good based upon His will but created all things good because He would do nothing less. He is true and truth originates with Him. His creation exists according to and within the truth of the laws of nature and the spiritual laws of eternity. He is holy and nothing unholy may enter and remain in His presence. All of His creation and every being so created, whether seen or unseen, physical or spiritual, radiates and reflects His being.
Yet, He allowed sin to enter His creation which corrupts, bends, twists and poisons through rebellion those so created. According to God’s eternal nature that which is so defiled cannot then become undefiled. His holiness must exclude from His presence any being who even rebels in, what we would say is, a mild and minor way for no rebellion is insignificant. One sin brings down God’s righteous justice because that one sin makes that which He created good not good, that which He created in truth becomes a lie, that which He created to radiate His holiness cannot.
Our concern is with His highest creation, those made in His image for relationship with Him. Here is what God says about people.
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”
But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.[Genesis 6:5-8 ESV]
How can anyone, bent and twisted by sin, be considered “pure in heart” by God? How can anyone, born into Adam’s sinful race, be considered “pure in heart” by God? How can Jesus even suggest those who are His be “pure in heart?” There is nothing pure in that which is corrupted by sin.
Perhaps the best place to start is to understand the words Jesus spoke and then put those words in the context of the verse.
“Pure” means “without hypocrisy”, “single faced or single minded” and with “nothing hidden.” In the OT “barar” means to polish, purge, cleanse, make bright, test and prove, specifically concerning oneself and the tools one uses. In the NT “kathros” carries the idea of being clean, free from corruption, pruned of the unnecessary, unstained.
In Scripture the “heart” is the center not of the emotions but of the personality. God looks to and judges first the heart. Notice Genesis 6:5. It is the “thoughts of his heart” God examines because it is here the person’s motivations are found. In the OT the word “leb” means the seat of the passions which include the mind and emotions, reflection and inclination, determination and conscience. In the NT the word “kardia” means literally “heart.” It is the center of the person’s life and being and includes character, personality, motivation, purpose and all contained in “leb.” The evidence of a person’s motivations will come through every activity, every word and every thought.
Those who are pure in heart, then, are those who are motivated by a deep, passionate, genuine love for God. There is nothing of the world in them compromising or conflicting with their obvious motivation to obey God’s commands. Jesus gives a straightforward, unambiguous explanation of how we show our love for Him. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” [John 14:15 ESV].
But, doesn’t God say that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” [Genesis 6:5 ESV]. Once corrupted by sin there is no possibility of removing that sin from the persons being. A drop of poison in a tank of water corrupts the whole tank. However, notice Noah found favor in God’s eyes in verse 8. The word favor, “chen”, is also translated grace. The implication is not Noah had done anything to curry God’s favor, but that God decided, for His own reasons, to extend grace and favor to Noah.
Here is the paradox of grace and God’s decrees. The implications of the context of Genesis 6 suggests either Noah was just like everyone else or He actually sought God while being just like everyone else. The difference would be in his seeking God where others did not. His motivation, especially in obeying the command to build an ark, was to do what God wanted. This is different than everyone else in the world at that time.
Obedience does not make anyone pure in heart. Only God can do this. Obedience to God’s commands, however, is evidence one’s motivation is at least pointing in the right direction which is toward God. Reasons to obey include fear and respect. The greatest reason to obey is love for God.