“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Matthew 5:8
The Bible doesn’t use the word “heart” in reference to the organ that sits in the chest and pumps blood. It uses “heart” to refer to the center of one’s being. So, to be pure in heart is to be pleasing to God, not just in outer conduct but also in inner motives, attitudes, and desires. And God is able to do true heart exams. He says in 1 Samuel 16:7, “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
But purity of heart does not mean sinlessness of life. Actually, it is the heart that prevents one from being sinless. Jeremiah 17:9 describes the situation this way: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” Jesus agreed in Matthew 15:19 by saying, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.”
So, if our hearts are such wrecks, who was Jesus referring to when He talked about “the pure in heart”? The answer is, He was referring to people who, despite the inborn wickedness of their heart, still have a burning inner desire to please God. David was a prime example of such a person. Even though his sin-tainted heart caused him to commit the sins of lust, covetousness, adultery, and murder, he still had a very real desire to please God. This is evidenced by the fact that he cried out to God, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10).
The Pharisees and scribes of Christ’s day focused exclusively on the outward appearance and completely disregarded anything involving the heart. They would have had Jesus say, “Blessed are the pure in conduct, for they shall see God.” A Pharisee could harbor an intense inner hatred for his brother, but that was alright as long as he didn’t actually murder him. He could go around lusting over every woman he met as long as he didn’t have sex with any of them. But Jesus came with a different teaching. He said, “Let’s focus on the inside. If you have hatred toward your brother, you need to treat that as murder (Matthew 5:21-26), and if you look at a woman lustfully, that’s adultery” (Matthew 5:27-30).
Jesus even reserved His harshest preaching for the Pharisees and scribes. He said, “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” (Matthew 23:25-26). He was saying, “You men seem to look so good on the outside, so devout and holy, but you are rotten to the core on the inside. Only when you become clean on the inside can you truly be clean on the outside.”
In Psalm 24:3-4, David wrote about the direct relationship between pureness of heart and godliness of conduct. He wrote: “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully.” You see, idolatry and deceitful swearing are merely outward evidences of an internal problem. If a person’s heart is pure, he won’t be committing those public sins. This explains why Proverbs 4:23 adamantly says: “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.”
As with each of the beatitudes of Matthew 5:1-12, Jesus was referring to saved people when he spoke of “the pure in heart.” The “pure in heart” have a desire to please God, and that desire will ultimately lead them to believe in Christ as Savior. This makes perfect sense in light of the fact that God desires that every person get saved by believing in Christ as Savior (1 Timothy 2:1-6; 2 Peter 3:9). It’s simply impossible for someone to be pleasing to God without knowing Christ as Savior.
And what reward does Jesus promise for those who are pure in heart enough to want to please God enough to believe in Christ as Savior? He says, “For they shall see God.” Let’s not be so quick to explain away this promise. Let’s not make it little more than, “They will see God in a sunset, a baby’s smile, or a charitable deed.” No, the Bible clearly and consistently teaches that Christians will not only one day see God but spend all eternity with Him. 1 Peter 1:3-5 tells us that Christians have an incorruptible, undefiled inheritance reserved for us in heaven, one that doesn’t fade away. Just as the pure in heart have a desire to please God, He has a desire to be around them for all eternity. What a promise this was to all those commoners who served as the audience for Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, and what a promise it still is to every Christian today.