Though the modern man and woman no longer scales Mount Olympus looking for Zeus, both still yearn to experience the divine. When their plane flying thousands of feet above the mountains dives uncontrollably to the earth, the modern person still longs to know that the blackness of death will open to the glories of heaven. Despite the advancements of technology, philosophy, and political theory, the human condition remains the same. We long to see God.
While technology has not altered the soul’s yearning for something more, it has rechanneled it. Men such as Augustine, Luther, and others have repeatedly documented the follies of attempting to find God through animal sacrifices, ritualistic chants, and sacred pilgrimages. In his massive volume entitled, The City of God, Augustine chronicled the futility of paganism and concluded that the pagan sacrifices of Rome “do nothing to either injure those whom they hate or to benefit those whom they love.” Following the lead of Augustine, western men and women have stopped looking for the divine in nature and began searching for the divine within their souls.
As the platonic philosophers of old, people have begun to believe that each soul has been seeded by the universe with a spark of divinity. To connect with the divine, the modern soul thought it must immerse itself into its own thoughts, impulses, and emotions, believing such activities would lead the soul back down the pathway to god.
The lurch towards the god within has also infiltrated the church. Christians of all stripes and sizes frequently base their ministries, teachings, and decisions upon their own mystical thoughts, citing their personal encounters with the divine.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus diverges from the preoccupation with self and directs his listeners to the path of purity, declaring, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God (Matt 5:8).” To see God, men and women must become pure.
Jesus and the Impure
Though direct, Jesus’s statement always proves troubling. In stark contrast to the pop song which proclaims our souls to be both broken and beautiful, Jesus asserts our souls to be broken and vile. A few chapters later in Matthew 15, Jesus defines the heart as being the source of all human trouble. He said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone (Matt 15:19-20).” Jesus does not believe the human soul is a diamond mine to be carefully explored and excavated. He proclaims it to be a storehouse of manure that must be cleansed. In other words, Jesus requires his followers to be that which they naturally are not: pure.
Does Heart = Mind?
At this juncture, some theologians have found hope in a modernist understanding of the analogy of the heart. While they admit the things of the heart such as emotions and feelings are broken by sin, these theologians believe the human intellect has survived the brokenness of the world. If men and women will but think, they can find purity.
Sadly for them, Jesus did not equate the heart with children’s valentine’s day cards that say, “I love you. Be Mine.” When Jesus spoke of the heart, he spoke of the essence of a person. It contains all notions of thinking, reasoning, feeling, understanding, and interpreting. Jesus has implied that the very center of human personality is fallen. Even human thought is prone to error and mistakes (Rom 1-2). There is none righteous no not one. No man or woman can ascend to heaven for no mind is pure. No heart is pure.
From Sin to Purity
Thankfully, the God who calls his followers to do the impossible does the impossible for them. When Jesus died upon the cross, he offered his blood as the final purifying sacrifice. When men and women in ancient Jewish world committed sins or developed a significant skin disease, they had to offer sacrifices for their cleansing (Lev. 14-15). Through the blood of birds and sheep, the unclean were cleaned and allowed to commune with God’s people. Through Jesus’s sacrifice upon the cross, his blood cleanses us from all sin. As Jesus told Peter before he died, Jesus’s blood makes his children “completely clean (John 13:10).” Those who understand their spiritual poverty, mourn their sins, and embrace humility, pursuing righteousness will find the comfort of divine forgiveness and they will be cleansed from their sins.
What is Purity?
Though the believer must still pray for the kingdom to come and for God’s will to be done in his or her life, they know they will one day attain true perfection for they have been washed in the blood of the lamb. The hope of being perfectly like Jesus tomorrow propels the Christian to purity today. The apostle John writes, “We know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure (1 John 3:2-3).” Those who have been washed in the blood of the lamb publicly follow God attending church, praying, and serving their brothers and sisters in Christ. But they do more. They welcome correction and confess sin. Instead of rationalizing their greed, lust, or anger, they confess those faults to God; they pray for deliverance, and welcome accountability and change.
The British pastor and friend of Billy Graham, John Stott, helpfully summed up the concept of the pure in heart writing,
The pure in heart are those whose life, public and private, is transparent before God and others. Their very heart – including their thoughts and motives – is pure, unmixed with anything devious, underhanded, or sordid. Hypocrisy and deceit are repugnant to them; they are without deceit.
Unlike the Pharisees and scribes who did great deeds to earn the applause of their neighbors while inwardly running amuck with covetousness, lust, and pride, the pure in heart are sincerely pure both without and within. As they sit in their easy chair or mindlessly stare at the shower wall as the water runs through their hair, their mind does not tolerate ungodly humor, provocative daydreams, or small amounts of deception. As theologian D.A. Carson noted even in neutral, the people of God pursue purity. Jesus produces purity.
And purity leads to unhindered access to God. Though men such as Moses and Peter have caught glimpses of God’s glory, no human being has fully encountered the glory of God on earth. God told Moses in Exodus 33:20, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” The apostle John describes Jesus as the full manifestation of God’s Truth and Grace. Still those who beheld Jesus did not see the full glory of God. When Jesus did pull back the curtain in Matthew 17:2, the gospel writer said Jesus’s “face shone like the sun and his clothes become white as light.” No one has seen God, but the pure will see him soon. Those who are washed in the Jesus’s blood and who have pure hearts will behold that which Moses could not behold, the glory of God. When the soul feels tempted to sin, we do not simply gamble human relationships or earthly gains. We risk the most exclusive ticket in the universe which grants accesses to the presence of God.
As we cling to that ticket, we experience God daily through the Scriptures and prayer. We also get glimpse of Jesus when we watch our church sung of our savior on Sunday mornings and when our sister in Christ extends mercy to her mother-in-law. Those who obediently follow God regularly see him as they live out their faith eagerly looking forward to the day with then will see God in all his glory.
To discover God, the soul must not look within but without to the Scriptures. Their as it encounters Jesus, it will find the pathway to heaven. In the text of the Bible, the heart will find the blood of Christ which cleanses the heart making all things pure, securing our accesses to heaven. As Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”