Purity Where It Matters
During the last few months our country has been involved in a heated discussion about race and equality. It’s not a new discussion or a new problem, it’s a discussion we have been having as a country every since 1776. It’s not a discussion that started in this country, it was going on centuries before we declared our independence. It was Billy Graham who said, We’re suffering from only one disease in the world. Our basic problem is not a race problem. Our basic problem is not a poverty problem. Our basic problem is not a war problem. Our basic problem is a heart problem.
Today we make it to the sixth beatitude found in Matthew 5:8: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. If Jesus had said, Blessed are the pure, for they will see God, the religious folks would have sat back feeling a little justified. They were experts at outward purity and had all sorts of rules on what to eat, what to wear, and even how far you could walk on the Sabbath. They spent so much time trying to make the outside look good, they never had time to worry about what was on the inside.
A quick look through the Gospels reveals the fact that Jesus often got into trouble with the people who spent their time trying to get their outsides to look the part. The folks who wore the right clothes, made sure they were all washed up, and loved to stand in the prominent places in the community and pray out loud. They looked good in their worship but Jesus cuts through the pretense. Jesus used the words of Isaiah to describe these men, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
Some of the harshest words Jesus ever uttered were reserved for the religious elite. We read in Matthew 23:25-28: Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
God has never been interested in reforming our manners; He wants to change our hearts. Purity does not come from cleaning up our conduct, or even as a result of rigorous rule keeping, but from a heart that chases after God. In the Story of Scripture when you read heart you need to think about the very center of a person. What you think, how you feel, your motivations, impulses and passions all flow out of your heart, from the very core of your being. If you want to know what a person is truly like, on the inside, look at the kinds of things that flow out of their hearts.
God is interested in beauty, but not outward beauty. I know that some of you work awfully hard on what you look like on the outside, but God doesn’t care what’s on the outside. He wants to see the beauty of your inside, what’s going on in your heart. God judges people differently than we do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)
The struggle we face is that we get so preoccupied working on the outside we don’t notice all of the evil that comes out of our mouth. There are times that we are like the Pharisees who meticulously kept the law so they could appear righteous. But Jesus said they were whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside but filled with slander, hatred, vulgarity, and abuse toward those who weren’t so clean, or religious, or like them. Our biggest struggle with this beatitude is we truly believe we can fool everyone into believing that we are OK; we believe if we look righteous then everything is fine.
According to Jesus purity of heart is doing the right things with the right motives.
We all have had the misfortune of knowing someone who gathered in a place of worship on Sunday and sang songs of praise, and communed around the table with the church maybe rode to church in a car that had a little fish or some other bumper sticker on the back only to act as though they had never met Him on Monday. This is the same struggle that Jesus had with the Pharisees. If we act spiritual while we are here, try to be on our best behavior around church folks, only to act normal out there Jesus would say that we’re hypocrites and our spiritual actions are in vain.
We need to make sure that our lives are living up to what our mouths declare about us. There was a time when preachers would emphasize this point by saying you cannot teach your kids to always tell the truth when every time the phone rings you tell them to say your not at home. Now with cell phones you are always home. But the idea is still the same, I cannot teach the boys to be respectful and to love the people God loves, when I find every opportunity to gossip and lie. If we say we love God, and then treat those He loves with contempt or look for opportunities to gripe, grumble, or gossip about them then we’re hypocrites and we do not know the God we say we love.
Purity of heart is not just believing the right things or going through the right motions. It’s doing the right things, with the right motives, with the right heart. It’s asking yourself before you do something does my life back up my talk?
We need to understand that Purity isn’t the absence of corruption, it’s the fullness of God in your life.
If you were able to get rid of all of the impurity in your life without allowing God to fill you and occupy that void, at best you are nothing more than a religious do-gooder like the hypocrites of Jesus day. Purity of heart isn’t just the absence of certain things in your life it’s the very presence of God in you.
We can’t get to this sixth step if we have not come to terms with the first step, being poor in Spirit. The process of purity begins when I fully understand who I really am, a sinner in need of God’s grace and forgiveness. Once you have allowed God to get rid of the impurities in your life you have to fill your soul with God.
Jesus said it better in Matthew 12 When an evil spirit comes out of a person, it travels through dry places, looking for a place to rest, but it doesn't find it. So the spirit says, 'I will go back to the house I left.' When the spirit comes back, it finds the house still empty, swept clean, and made neat. Then the evil spirit goes out and brings seven other spirits even more evil than it is, and they go in and live there. So the person has even more trouble than before (Matthew 12:43-45)
Every time I go to the trouble to root out the corruption in my life, I am always better off. But I have to find something or someone to fill that empty space. It is not enough to just clean house, we must invite God to reside in our lives. The Pharisees were proud of their clean houses but their hearts were still empty. Religion has never saved anyone, salvation can only come by allowing Jesus to be the King of our Hearts. Our world and our souls are not starving for more religion or more religious activities. We are starving for Jesus; we need Him to enter our lives, fill us with Himself, and take His rightful place on the throne of our hearts.
Jesus didn’t die to make us a nice group of church folks. He died to make you pure on the inside where God sees you best! After we root out the selfishness, bitterness, and brokenness in our lives our souls are empty and long to be filled with our creator and sustainer.
The psalmist gives a beautiful picture of this longing in the 42nd Psalm As a deer longs for a stream of cool water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for you. The pure in heart long to spend time with God every day. They have a thirst for God that is greater than any other desire in their life. God is their top priority, understanding that every commitment, every plan, every obligation comes second to God.
Those who have filled their hearts with God dwell on the things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. You strengthen what you focus on. We become what we dwell on. No wonder the Bible repeatedly urges us to take captive our thoughts, renew our minds, train our imaginations, or as Paul says, guard our hearts. (Philippians 4:7)
To develop a healthy focus we have got to stock our mental shelves with the right groceries. So what are you focusing on? So what's going on in your mind these days? What are you reading? What kinds of movies are you viewing? Your imagination is a very powerful force. But it has to be programmed. And if you are putting junk into it, you're going to get junk out of it.
Those who are pure in heart have learned to turn their focus to Jesus. They know that the more you focus on Jesus, the more like Jesus you become. If we are going to be pure in heart then we will learn to walk like Jesus walked. Training our minds and hearts to focus on the right things will not be an overnight job. It took your whole life to get this way, but you are not doomed to stay this way.
Finally if we are to be pure in heart we must empty ourselves of ourselves.
In Luke 18 Jesus tells the story of two men who traveled to the Temple to pray. One man was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee posed and prayed: Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people; robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.
Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner!
Jesus was telling this story to those of us who are a little confident in our own righteousness. There are times when I struggle feeling a little self righteous because of all of the things that I don’t do. I mean I don’t drink, or smoke, or cheat on Trista, or curse, or steal. So I have a lot of things in my favor.
It’s easy for me to sit back and look at the people who are broken in different ways than I am and judge myself against them. I am a better husband so I have to be a better person. I am not in a position where I feel the need to steal so I must be a better Christian. When we choose to judge ourselves against the world, it’s like we are picking the low fruit off the tree and we can feel a bit self assured about how great we are. That’s exactly what this pharisee is doing, and his self righteousness has clouded his heart.
Jesus said the tax collector, not the Pharisee, went home made right with God. The Pharisee comes to God with empty words and leaves with nothing. All of his law-keeping, all of his self righteousness was worthless. This parable makes me think of the beautiful old hymn we sang a few moments ago, Rock of Ages. The third verse begins: Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling. Purity in heart does not come from our good works, but through our relationship with God. We don’t gain anything by our acts of service if our purpose is to exalt ourselves above others, or to raise ourselves up so that we can look down on those around us.
The apostle Paul says that if we are filled with ourselves then all of the good works we have ever done are worthless. In 1 Corinthians 13 he writes, I may speak in different languages of people or even angels. But if I do not have love, I am only a noisy bell or a crashing cymbal. I may have the gift of prophecy. I may understand all the secret things of God and have all knowledge, and I may have faith so great I can move mountains. But even with all these things, if I do not have love, then I am nothing. I may give away everything I have, and I may even give my body as an offering to be burned. But I gain nothing if I do not have love
How wonderful to be able to speak in the language of the angels, or to have the gift to understand all of the secret things of God. But if my pride keeps love out of my life then all of that ability is worthless. Pride keeps us from loving or even seeing the hurting people that fill our community. A life that is lived in humility and love will receive God’s approval. The reverse is just as true. A life that is lived with vain pride in an attempt to establish our own righteousness will receive God’s rejection and condemnation.
God longs to draw us to Him, to forgive us, to show Himself to us and in our lives. But first we have to get real before God. It’s not what’s on the outside of you that matters most to God, but what’s on the inside, what’s in the heart. Because what’s on the inside can’t help but work it’s way to the outside.
We need less religion and more Jesus. We need to be emptied of ourselves and filled with Christ. Paul says, When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.” (Romans 5:7) Jesus didn’t die to make you a nice religious church-going person. He died to make you pure, on the inside where God sees you best!