Pursuing Purity in an Impure World

Matthew 5:8

February 15, 2004 | Brian Bill

I remember seeing a cartoon that shows a pastor and his wife deep in conversation.  The wife says, “Today let’s do something different.  Why don’t you be charming at home and grouchy at church?”  Ouch.  That really doesn’t apply to me…because I’m often grouchy in both places!  I think I’ve used this one before but it reminds me of the wife who said, “Sometimes I wake up grumpy…and other times I let him sleep in.”

We all wear masks, don’t we?  As believers, many of us have learned how to behave in such a way that people don’t really see what’s taking place on the inside.  We can con our coworkers, fool our friends and family, play charades with church members, and even deceive ourselves, but we can’t masquerade before the Lord because He sees right through our masks.  I want to confess this morning that just because I’m preaching on the Beatitudes doesn’t mean that I’m managing to perfectly live them out.  Unfortunately, I wear a mask.  Do you find yourself behind a mask, too? 

In his book called, “Rumors of Another World,” Philip Yancey concludes one of his chapters with a quote from Malcolm Muggeridge to show the subtleness of sin: “It is precisely when you consider the best in man that you see there is in each of us a hard core of pride or self-centeredness which corrupts our best achievements and blights our best experiences.  It comes out in all sorts of ways – in the jealousy which spoils our friendships, in the vanity we feel when we have done something pretty good, in the easy conversion of love into lust, in the meanness which makes us depreciate the efforts of other people, in the distortion of our own judgment by our own self-interest, in our fondness for flattery and our resentment of blame, and in our self-assertive profession of fine ideals which we never begin to practice” (Pages 123-24).  That last line really rings true, doesn’t it?  As Christians we do a pretty good job of “mask management,” but if the truth were known, we often make “self-assertive professions of fine ideals which we never begin to practice.”   Can you relate?   I sure can.  I want you to know that I make mistakes on a regular basis, my wisdom is at times suspect, and my heart is often unholy.

The bottom line is that the Lord can see our hearts; and when our hearts are pure, we can see Him.  That’s what the sixth Beatitude teaches in Matthew 5:8: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” After manifesting mercy to my neighbor, the attention moves from my neighbor to me, from charity to purity, from external compassion to internal holiness.  I like the Message paraphrase: “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right.  Then you can see God in the outside world.”  The emphasis here is on what’s inside us.

A Passion for Purity

The term “pure” is the Greek word from which we get “catharsis,” which means a cleansing of the mind or emotions.  Scholars suggest that the word basically has two meanings.  First, it means “to make pure by cleansing from dirt, filth, or contamination” and was most often used to describe metals that had been refined by fire until they were free from impurities.  It was also used for soiled clothes that had been washed clean, and of grain that had been carefully sifted to remove all impurities.

Second, it refers to being “unmixed, as having no double allegiance.”  In his commentary on this passage, Warren Wiersbe writes that the “basic idea is that of integrity, singleness of heart, as opposed to duplicity, or a divided heart.”  Jesus said it this way in Matthew 6:33: “No one can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money.”  Jesus wants us to be single-minded in the depth of our being.  James 1:8 teaches that the double-minded person is unstable in all his ways.

Let’s put these two definitions together.  A person with a passion for purity is one who has been cleansed in character so that the way he or she looks in public is the way he or she is in private.  As someone has said, “character is what you are when no one is looking.”  The one who is single-minded in his commitment to Christ will also be inwardly pure.  We see this in Psalm 24:3-4: “Who may ascend the hill of the LORD?  Who may stand in his holy place?  He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.”  

Coy Wylie suggests that there are at least 5 kinds of purity taught in God’s Word (www.cornerstonebc.com).

1. DIVINE Purity. 

This is the holiness that belongs only to God and is intrinsic in His nature.  Isaiah 6:3: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty…”

2. CREATED Purity. 

When God first created the world, everything was pure.  Genesis 1:31: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”


The moment we are saved, the purity of Jesus is imputed to us, and God sees us as robed with the righteousness of Christ according to 2 Corinthians 5:21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

4. PRACTICAL Purity. 

This is the challenging part – and we’ll spend more time on this later in the message.  It’s at this point that we must live out our position in practical ways.  2 Corinthians 7:1: “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”

5. ULTIMATE Purity. 

There’s a day coming when Christians will be totally cleansed and purified.  1 John 3:2: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.  But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

A Heart Unlike His

Let’s go back to our beatitude.  If Jesus would have just said, “Blessed are the pure, for they will see God,” the religious people back then would have been very happy because they were experts at outward purity.  They had all sorts of rules on what to eat, what to wear, how far you could walk on the Sabbath, and so on.  They spent all their time trying to make the outside look good, but they were really masking what was on the inside.  Actually, you can never fix the inside by just trying to clean up some activity or change a habit.  

Jesus reserved some of his harshest words for those involved in religious “mask management.”  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.” 

They mistakenly thought their religious acts made them pure but it was really just a show.  Jesus saw through all their prettiness and their pretense and looked right into their hearts as He quoted Isaiah in Matthew 15:8: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”  Holiness must come from the heart because it’s from the heart that everything else flows.  Proverbs 4:23, in the New Living Translation, provides a challenge to those of us who are prone to pretend: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do.”  The heart represents our invisible innermost being as that which shapes our lives.  

Jesus is not just interested in reforming our manners, but in changing the hearts of sinners like you and me.  Purity cannot come from cleaning up our conduct, or even as a result of rigorous rule keeping.  Jesus said it strongly in Matthew 15:18-19: “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”

Did you know that when God looks at you He pays little attention to your outward appearance?  That might be hard to hear because some of us spend a lot of time on what we look like.  Ultimately, this doesn’t really matter.  As we remembered Abraham Lincoln’s birthday this week, I like what he once said, “If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?”  God looks past what we look like and even how we behave because He hones in on the heart.  1 Samuel 16:7: “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”  Proverbs 21:2: “All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the LORD weighs the heart.” 

God longs to locate people who have undivided hearts.  2 Chronicles 16:9: “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” Notice that He’s not looking for believers who are busy in ministry, or for those who are focused on externals; He is searching for sold-out followers who have fully committed their hearts to Him.  When David prayed for his son Solomon in 1 Chronicles 29:19, his request was for God to give him “wholehearted devotion to keep your commands.”  On the other hand, in 2 Chronicles 12:14, it was said of King Rehoboam that, “he did evil because he had not set his heart on seeking the LORD.” 

In the Bible, the heart represents the deepest emotions and also the mind and the will.  It is a comprehensive term that refers to the whole person.  Proverbs 23:7 in the New American Standard teaches that what’s on the inside of each of us determines who we really are: “For as he thinks within himself, so he is…” Proverbs 27:19 says something similar: “As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.” Max Lucado refers to the heart as the “totality of the inner person…the seat of character…a freeway cloverleaf where all emotions and prejudices and wisdom converge.  It is a switch house that receives freight cars loaded with moods, emotions, and convictions and puts them on the right track…the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart” (“The Applause of Heaven,” Page 120).

Heart Problems

Let’s look now at the problem of the heart.  Billy Graham once 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.”   Please turn to Jeremiah 17:9-10: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?  I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”   I’m thankful to Rodney Castleberry for his insights into this passage.  

1. The Deceitfulness of the Heart. 

The word deceitful comes from the same root word as the name Jacob, which means “supplanter.” Jacob was a con artist and a deceiver until God got hold of him and changed his name, and his heart.  I like what Augustine said about the solution to living a sham: “Before God can deliver us from ourselves we must undeceive ourselves.”

2. The Disease of the Heart. 

Jeremiah refers to our hearts as “beyond cure” because they are terminally diseased.  The King James refers to the heart as “desperately wicked.”  This same phrase is used in Jeremiah 15:18 when the prophet cries out, “Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable?”  The heart is so sick that no medication can heal it.  The Reformers called this disease total depravity because it affects every part of us – what we think, how we feel, and how we behave.  John Ortberg writes: “We have fallen, and we can’t get up.  And the consequences are horrific” (“Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them,” Page 71).  

Adam was in a perfect environment and he still sinned because sin comes from within

We don’t sin because of our surroundings; we sin because of what’s in our heart.  Adam was in a perfect environment and he still sinned because sin comes from within.  You only have to read the first six chapters of the Bible before coming to a statement about our insidious sinfulness.  Genesis 6:5: “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.”

3. The Diagnosis of the Heart. 

Because the heart is deceitful and diseased, we desperately need God to search us out and tell us what’s wrong.  Notice verse 10: “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind.”  The King James uses an interesting phrase, “I try the reigns.”  God makes an intensive review of what’s really inside us.  We can attempt to mask our heart, or even hide it, but that doesn’t change it.  That reminds me of the little girl who started crying when she heard a dog barking.  The owner scolded his dog and it immediately settled down.  The mother tried to comfort her daughter and said, “You don’t have to cry, honey.  He stopped barking.”  The little girl continued to whimper and said, “Yes, but his bark is still in him.”  We might be able to control ourselves for a while, but sooner or later, our bark will come out.

4. The Doctor of the Heart. 

If we drop down a few more verses to verse 14, we hear the prophet call out, “Heal me, O LORD, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.”  Only the Holy One can heal your heart.  Actually, the Bible says that our condition is so grave that we are in desperate need of a transplant.  In Jeremiah 24:7, God says, “I will give them a heart to know me…”  Friend, listen carefully.  You will never be pure in heart until God gives you a new heart.  Ezekiel 36:26: “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.”  

The Pursuit of Purity

Before we look at some practical steps in the pursuit of purity, let me mention some ways that have been tried historically, and are still practiced today (adapted from Coy Wylie).

  • Legalism.  This can be defined as a harsh set of rules that one must follow in order to gain favor with God and impress people.  An example of this was the PHARISEES.  This system doesn’t work because it doesn’t deal with the heart.
  • Modernism.  This is the opposite end of the spectrum as some people have thrown off Scriptural standards and beliefs.  The SADDUCEES rejected key doctrinal truths during the time of Jesus, as they just picked and chose what they wanted.  This is very popular today.
  • Activism.  Some people believe that the only way to bring purity into our world is through political change.  While we certainly need to participate in the democratic process by voting, only a change of heart will bring about a change in our society.  The ZEALOTS of the first century believed a political change was needed and were willing to do anything to bring it about.
  • Monasticism.  Some individuals believe that they must totally disengage from society in order to be pure.  The problem with this is that sin lurks in the heart, not just in the world.  The ESSENES practiced this withdrawal from the world and gained popularity about 150 B.C.
God always provides a way to do what He commands

Well, if these methods don’t work well in the promotion of purity, what does?  Is there hope for holy living in our impure culture?  Friends, listen.  God always provides a way to do what He commands.  Philippians 2:12-13 gives us both God’s part and our part.  We’re to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” and God promises to “work in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.”  The pursuit of purity is a joint venture.  We must participate in our sanctification as God works in us according to His good pleasure.  We can’t sit back and do nothing, nor can we clean ourselves up on our own.  Proverbs 23:19 challenges us to keep our heart on the “right path.”  

The Bible gives us at least 10 pathways to purity.  

1. Admit our sinful impurity. 

The first step is to acknowledge that we can’t change on our own.  Jeremiah 13:23: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots?  Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.”  Proverbs 20:9: “Who can say, ‘I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin?’”  Have you ever admitted to God and to others how unholy your heart really is? 

2. Ask God for a new heart. 

After admitting that you have a deceitful and diseased heart, agree with God’s diagnosis and ask Him for a new one.  This is what happens at salvation.  Acts 15:9 teaches that our hearts are purified “through faith.” If you haven’t put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sin, it’s time to do so right now.

3. Pray for purity. 

David knew how impure his own heart was as he thought back to his moral mess-ups and sexual sins.  After confessing to the Lord, he prayed for a holy heart in Psalm 51:10: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” John Piper writes: “Jesus did not come into the world simply because we had some bad habits that needed to be broken.  He came into the world because we have dirty hearts that need to be purified.”  When’s the last time you prayed for purity?  Because our hearts are so unholy, it’s also helpful to follow another of David’s prayers from Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, O 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.”

4. Draw close to God.

When we come close to God, His very holiness will have a purifying effect in our lives.  Proverbs 8:13: “To fear the LORD is to hate evil…” James 4:8: “Come near to God and he will come near to you.  Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” There is no way to be pure without cultivating the IMPACT priorities into your life: Instruction in God’s Word, Mobilizing for Ministry, Praying with Faith, Adoring God in Worship, Caring for One Another, and Telling others the Gospel.

5. Memorize and meditate on the Word of God. 

If you are serious about seeking purity in your life, one of the best ways to have victory is through memorizing Scripture.  In Psalm 119:9, the psalmist asks a question, “How can a young man keep his way pure?”  The answer comes in the second part of this verse and in verse 11: “By living according to your word…I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

6. Avoid complaining and arguing. 

This one may surprise you but when we grumble, we are really exhibiting a lack of faith and when we argue with others, we are allowing unholiness to settle in our hearts.  Philippians 2:14-15: “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure…”

7. Watch what we watch. 

While our hearts harbor unholiness, we must also steer clear of impure images because what comes in through the eyes often settles into the heart.  James 1:27 tells us that part of pure religion is to “keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” This is not easy to do, when even the Super Bowl halftime show celebrates sinfulness.  I heard this week that a higher percentage of Christian teenagers watch MTV than non-Christians do.  One of the best ways to keep our hearts pure is to make a covenant to not allow polluted pictures into your mind.  That’s exactly what Job did in Job 31:1: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.”  It matters what we look at, whether that’s a book, a magazine, a TV show, a movie, or the Internet. 

8. Waiting is wonderful. 

I was listening to talk radio when I heard the host interview Rebecca St. James, a contemporary Christian musician.  They were talking about saving sex for marriage.  On this nationally syndicated radio show, she made this statement: “Waiting is wonderful!”  This message needs to be stated strongly.  True love waits.  Hebrews 13:4: “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” If you feel like it’s too late, it’s not.  From this point on, with God’s help and your determination, you can be pure.

9. Find a faithful friend. 

Some of us might need to find different friends because of the influence they are having on our lives.  Maybe you’re dating someone who is not right for you.  Proverbs 13:20: “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” If you need some help in the area of purity, find a faithful friend who can hold you accountable.  Proverbs 27:9: “…the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel.”

10. Focus on our future hope. 

If you’re serious about pursuing purity, you’ll quickly discover that this is a lifelong battle.  Don’t despair.  Don’t bail.  Keep your eyes focused on what’s to come for the believer.  Longing for Christ’s return will purify our hearts because we become what we love.  1 John 3:3: “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”  

Seeing God

The last part of this Beatitude contains the promise: “for they will see God.”  God reserves intimate fellowship with Himself to those who are unmixed in their devotion, and unmasked in their relationship with Him.  The nearer we approach to purity of heart, the surer we become of God; and the closer we get to God, the more pure we will become.  In our heart of hearts, above all things, we want to see Him.  Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has put eternity in the human heart.  Pascal wrote about the “God-shaped vacuum” inside each of us.  Augustine said that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.

Paul Thigpen writes: “Unfortunately sin has blinded us, leaving our spiritual eyes swollen shut.  Unable to see God, we grope in the darkness, searching desperately for someone or something to make us happy…our heart is splintered and scattered.  We run to and fro, gathering first this trinket, then that one, dropping both for the next shiny one we spy…the result is a civil war of the soul.  All the while our Father stands close by, waiting for us to turn around and run into His arms…if our vision of God is to grow wider, clearer, and brighter, our will must be united in a single focus on Him and an overriding desire to know and love Him” (Discipleship Journal, Issue 138, Pages 64-65).

Friend, are you ready to see God like you never have before?  Is your desire to know Him as intense as David’s was when he wrote in Psalm 119:58: “I have sought your face with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise?”  If so, then it’s time to cut loose anything that is keeping you from moving forward.  

I read this week about a couple from Bakersfield, California who had just purchased a new boat, but were having some serious problems.  No matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t get their 22-foot boat going.  It was very sluggish no matter which way they turned, no matter how much power was applied.  After about an hour of trying to make it go, they putted to a nearby marina, hoping someone there could tell them what was wrong.  A thorough check on the topside of the boat revealed that everything was in perfect working condition.  The engine ran fine, the out drive went up and down, and the propeller was the correct size and pitch.  Then, one of the marina guys jumped in the water to check underneath.  He came up choking on the water because he was laughing so hard.  As far as I know, this is a true story…under the boat, still strapped securely in place, was the trailer!

When God looks underneath your life, what does He see?  When He looks behind your mask, what does He discover?  Is your heart undivided?  Or, are you strapped to some sin that is slowly pulling you under?  

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?