Blessed Are the Pure in Heart (Matt 5:8)
Blessed Are the Pure in Heart
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
After the pivot of hungering and thirsting for righteousness, God begins to fill his people with righteousness. He makes them the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers. In many ways, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” is the chief beatitude. Some have wondered why this is not the first beatitude or the last, as the culmination. Throughout history, seeing and knowing God has often been considered the summum bonum—the highest good in life. Jeremiah said this:
Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me
He names three things that people often pursue in life as the highest good: wisdom, strength, and wealth; however, the highest good is knowing God. This is essentially what Matthew 5:8 promises—to see and know God more intimately.
Moses cried out for this in Exodus 33:18, as he asked to see God’s glory. God said to him that no one could see his face and live, but that he would show him his back and hands—manifestations of his glory, but not his full glory. But here, Christ declares the promise of the highest good that man can achieve—seeing and knowing God. It is for this reason that some view this beatitude as the climax or pinnacle of the beatitudes. The first five lead to it and the last two flow from it.
In this study, we’ll consider the sixth beatitude: the blessing on the pure in heart and the promise of seeing God.
Big Question: What does the sixth beatitude mean and what applications can we take from it?
The Pure in Heart
Interpretation Question: What does it mean to be pure in heart?
The word “pure” has had a variety of uses: It was used of soiled clothed which had been washed clean, and an army of soldiers which had been purged of the discontented, unwilling, cowardly, and inefficient soldiers—with only first class fighters remaining. It was also used of metals that had been refined until all the impurities were gone—leaving only pure silver, pure gold, etc. Therefore, the word generally means to be clean and unmixed.
When Christ adds the word “heart” to it, he is not just referring to emotions. In the biblical mindset, heart refers to the mind, will, and emotions. Therefore, we must ask what does Christ mean practically by being “pure in heart”?
1. The pure in heart refers to having an inner moral righteousness.
When people follow God and are born again, God begins to change their heart. He starts ridding them of jealousy, anger, pride, and selfishness, and replacing these attitudes with selflessness, humility, love, patience, and other virtues. The more a person grows in these godly virtues, the more they see God. Therefore, to have ungodly attitudes is to hinder our relationship with God and our ability to see him. We see this commonly in Scripture. James 1:7-8 describes how the double-minded man is unstable in all his ways and how he will receive nothing from God when he prays. The double-minded man is somebody who wants to live for the world and live for God at the same time. Therefore, he is unstable and ineffective in prayer. Likewise, David said if he cherished iniquity in his heart, the Lord would not hear him (Ps 66:18). To love sin, to cultivate unforgiveness, or pride is to hinder our relationship with God and our ability to see him.
This was especially important for the Jews and Pharisees to hear who tended to focus on outward compliance to God’s laws instead of inward compliance. They thought if they hadn’t murdered they had kept the law, but Christ said to be angry is to commit murder in our hearts. They thought if they hadn’t committed adultery, they had kept the law, but Christ said to lust is to commit adultery. To commit any of these is to fail both to love God and man with all our hearts. Christ rebuked the Pharisees for this by calling them white washed tombs—clean on the outside but dead men’s bones on the inside (Matt 23:27). He said they drew near God with their mouths but their hearts were far from him (Matt 15:8). They didn’t cultivate pure hearts.
Psalm 24:3-4 says, “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god.” This Psalm seems to describe the ideal worshiper. Clean hands refers to godly works, and a pure heart refers to inner morality. When our heart is right, it leads to right actions. This is the person that God allows into his presence. He seeks after worshipers, who worship him in spirit (heart) and truth (John 4:23).
Are you developing an inner morality? If so, you will increasingly see God. The more you cultivate honesty, integrity, patience, perseverance, a hate for sin, etc., the more you will experience God’s presence.
2. To be pure in heart refers to being sincere—free of hypocrisy.
This is certainly part of inner morality, but worth separating for emphasis. As we continue to study the Sermon on the Mount, and the Gospels in general, Christ will repeatedly mention this. In Matthew 6, he calls for the disciples to not be like the Pharisees and teachers of the law who did their acts of righteousness (praying, giving, and fasting) to be seen by men. He says if we do this, then we have received our reward, but we will not be rewarded by God.
This is something those who serve in ministry must be particularly aware of. It is easy to start to do ministry for the applause of men. We can tell if this is in our hearts by how we respond when criticized or praised by others. Criticism will overly discourage us, and praise will overly excite us. Are we really seeking God’s honor and praise alone? It is also possible to do ministry primarily for financial purposes. Christ stressed how he was the good shepherd and all before him were just hirelings—doing ministry simply for pay (John 10). When the wolf comes, the hireling flees because he is only there for pay. How do we respond when we encounter trials in our ministry—our service to God and others? If we are just there for the benefits, we will not stay committed.
Are our motives for serving God pure? Or are they mixed—insincere?
3. To be pure in heart refers to being single-minded in devotion to God.
As mentioned, the word “pure” was used of cleansing an army—getting rid of the cowardly and the uncommitted and leaving only the most devoted and effective fighters. Sadly, we are often like this with God—divided between love for the world and its things and love for God and his kingdom. Therefore, many Christians are stunted in their growth. They are not hearing God’s voice—not enjoying his presence—because this is something God gives to single-minded—the devoted. Matthew 13:22 describes how “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth” choke the Word and make it unfruitful. It’s the divided heart that misses God’s best.
In Philippians 3:13, Paul said, “this one thing I do”—referring to his pursuit of knowing and being rewarded by Christ (Phil 3:13, cf. v. 10-12, 14). Sadly, for most, God is just one of their many things, and therefore, they miss out on a heightened intimacy with God. Through Jeremiah, God said this to the idolatrous Israelites who were deported to Babylon, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jer 29:13). It is when we turn away from our idols and come after God with our whole heart that we will truly see him and know him.
Are you pursuing God with your whole heart or are you half-hearted?
Application Question: Which aspect of purity of heart stood out to you most and why (inner morality, sincerity, single-minded devotion)? What are common idols that distract people from single-minded devotion to God? Describe a season (or seasons) in your life when you were the most single-minded. What contributed to your passion and devotion? What eventually detracted from it?
Growth in Purity of Heart
Application Question: How can we grow in purity of heart?
1. To grow in purity of heart, we must make sure that we are saved.
It is the pure in heart and they, and they alone, who will see God. As with the other beatitudes, these characteristics are only true of the born again. Hebrews 12:6 says “without holiness, no one will see God.” What God does at salvation is give us a clean heart—a new nature. It is a promise of the New Covenant. Ezekiel 36:25-26 says,
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
At salvation, purity of heart begins. God gives us a new nature. He gives us new desires—a desire to pursue him and obey him. This is one of the ways that we know that we are saved. We know something of purity of heart—singleness of mind—a desire to follow Christ as Lord and please him above ourselves and everybody else.
Have you experience this new heart?
2. To grow in purity of heart, we must continually confess anything unpleasing to God.
While on earth, we will never be completely pure of heart. Jeremiah 17:9 says that our hearts are “deceitful above all things and beyond cure” and yet, Christ still commands us: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). Therefore, we must continually confess pride, anger, lust, and everything that dishonors God. In fact, we must ask God to help us discern the evil in our hearts, as we often are blind to its defects. In Psalm 139:23-24, David prays, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” As we discern wrong attitudes and actions, we must confess and repent to God. When we do this, God is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
Are you daily confessing and repenting of wrong motives, attitudes, and actions?
3. To grow in purity of heart, we must guard and protect our hearts.
Our hearts are idol factories—prone to love and worship things other than God. Because of this, we must continually guard it, not only from sinful things but good things that might steal our affections. Proverbs 4:23 says “guard your heart for out of it flows the issues of life.” In Matthew 6:19-21, Christ, aware of this sinful tendency in our hearts, commanded believers to not store up riches on this earth, not because riches are sinful, but because where ever our riches are, our hearts will be also. Riches tend to steal our hearts from God and seeking his kingdom first. We must be aware this disease in our hearts—they are prone to love entertainment, clothes, cars, our career, social media, popularity, etc., over God. For some of us, we must forsake certain things, even as Christ commanded the rich man (Matt 19). We can’t handle them. They will keep us out of the Word, away from prayer, and serving God. For others, we will just have to be disciplined with these objects. This is a wisdom principle; each believer will have to discern this through the Holy Spirit and counsel of godly saints. What might be a treasure (and therefore be a temptation) to one person, might not be a treasure for another.
4. To grow in purity of heart, we must pray for it.
In prayer, we recognize that only God can truly change our hearts. In Psalm 51:10, David prayed: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Create in me a heart that is solely devoted to you—one that beats to honor your name and build your kingdom. We must recognize our lack of a clean heart and cry out for it. In Psalm 86:11, David again prayed, “give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” So many things pull me away from you, unify my mind to worship you, Lord. If we are going to grow in purity of heart, like David, we must cry out for it.
5. To grow in purity of heart, we must saturate ourselves in God’s Word.
Christ said this to his disciples in John 15:3, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” It was through hearing the Gospel and believing it, that the disciples were made clean, as Christ gave them new hearts. However, it is still through God’s Word that our hearts are daily made clean. Hebrews 4:12 says,
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
As we study God’s Word, it cuts us. It reveals wrong heart motives and makes us more into the image of Christ. It sanctifies us.
Are you living in God’s Word?
6. To grow in purity of heart, we must desire the promise of knowing God more than anything else.
If you really desire to see God more and more, then you will be willing to get rid of anything that corrupts your heart. Is it your entertainment—your music and TV watching—that defiles your heart with explicit content? If so, you must be willing to get rid of it to know God more. Is it your relationships that are drawing you away from Christ? If so, you must be willing to let go of them to know God more. If you don’t really want to see God and experience him, then you won’t do whatever it takes to be pure in heart.
Philippians 4:8-9 says,
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
To think on what is noble, right, pure, and lovely, we must, by necessity, let go of what is common, wrong, compromised, and ugly. It is only when our thoughts and practices are right, that the God of peace will be with us, as we experience his presence and intimacy in a special way.
7. To grow in purity of heart, we must continually think on eternity.
First John 3:2-3 says,
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
The more we hope in seeing Christ and serving him throughout eternity, we will naturally want to purify ourselves because we want to be pleasing to him. However, if our hearts are continually set on this world and the things of the world, we will become more secular and worldly—dimming our spiritual sight.
Are you thinking on eternity and seeing Christ?
Application Question: What are some other practices that aid in developing purity of heart? In what ways is God challenging you to pursue growth in purity of heart?
Interpretation Question: What does the promise of seeing God mean?
1. Seeing God has a present aspect to it.
Believers will see God in creation.
In Psalm 19:1-2, David said that the heavens declare the glory of God and that they daily pour forth speech about him. In Psalm 29, David talks about seeing and experiencing God in a thunder storm. It says:
The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning. The voice of the Lord shakes the desert; the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh. The voice of the Lord twists the oaks and strips the forests bare. And in his temple all cry, “Glory!” The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
David, a man after God’s own heart, even saw God in his imperfect and aging body, as he declared how he was fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps 139:14). Only the pure in heart have this type of sight. They see God even in imperfect things like creation, as it still bears his marks. Similarly, when the disciples were fearful about their futures, Christ comforted them with God’s work in creation (Matt 6). He said, “Did you see the lilies of the field today—how God clothed them? Did you see the birds of the air—how God fed them?” When Christ saw creation, it revealed God’s love and providence. As we grow in purity of heart, we’ll see God more in his creation.
Believers see God in difficult circumstances.
We saw this with Joseph. After his father died, his brothers pleaded with him to not treat them harshly. Joseph responded, “What you meant for bad, God meant for good so that I could save many lives” (Gen 50:20). He saw God’s goodness in the storms of life where others might have doubted God, became angry at him, or turned away from him. After Job had lost his family and much of his business, he declared, “The Lord gives and he takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). To him, both blessings and curses came from the hand of God. When Stephen was stoned, Christ appeared to him in the clouds—no doubt strengthening him to be the church’s first martyr (Acts 7:56). God works all things to the good of those who love the Lord, including trials (Rom 8:28).
Are you seeing his hand in your trials?
Believers see God in acts of worship.
The purer our hearts, the more, we will see and experience God, as we study God’s Word, pray, fellowship with others, and serve. When our hearts are not pure, we will meditate on Scripture and receive nothing. We will worship and pray, but it’s like the heavens are shut. We’ll serve, and it will only be a burden. God reveals himself to those with right hearts.
2. Seeing God has a future aspect.
Obviously, we will most clearly see God in heaven. In 1 Corinthians 13:12, Scripture compares our sight of God to looking through a mirror. Ancient mirrors were made of polished stone or metal and therefore weren’t very clear. The reflection was dim at best. However, in eternity, we will see God face to face. We will know him, even as he knows us. This is the great hope of believers. Only those who are truly born again will ultimately see God.
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced the promise of seeing and experiencing God more when your heart was right before God? In what ways have you experienced a lack of intimacy with God when in sin or consumed with lesser things?
Blessed are the pure in heart is the climax of the beatitudes. It is the climax because it brings the greatest blessing—seeing God. As seeing and knowing God becomes our highest pursuit in life, there will be no cost that we are unwilling to pay, and no height that we are unwilling to climb to know him. Blessed are the pure in heart for they, and they alone, will see God. Lord, purify our hearts.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 202). Chicago: Moody Press.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 202). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Barclay, W. (2001). The Gospel of Matthew (Third Ed., p. 122). Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 204). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Boice, J. M. (2002). The Sermon on the Mount: an expositional commentary (p. 46). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.