This sermon is part of the sermon series "Change of Heart". See series.
What the heart wants
Back in the 1990's, the comedian and filmmaker Woody Allen was an icon of the movie industry—until his personal life began to unravel. His long-term affair with Mia Farrow came to an ugly end, just after they had a child together. A short time later, it was discovered that Allen was romantically involved with Mia's 17-yr old adopted daughter, Soon-Yi. The inappropriateness of that relationship scandalized even the most jaded Hollywood observers, but Allen seemed to find nothing wrong with dating the teenaged daughter of his former girlfriend. When a reporter challenged him on the matter, Allen rationalized and defended his actions, then concluded the discussion by declaring, "The heart wants what it wants." He seemed to be paraphrasing the philosopher Pascal who said, "The heart has reasons that reason does not know."
The heart wants what it wants. As disturbing as that defense was, it reflects a truth we have been considering throughout this series—that the heart is the control center of a person's life. Who we are and what we do is ultimately determined by the condition of our hearts. We are not robots who can be mentally programmed to function in certain ways. Nor are we animals who can be trained to behave properly. We are human beings who think, feel, and choose, and the place where our thoughts, emotions, and will intersect is right here, at the center of our being—the heart. In the end, our heart will reveal who we are, and in any given situation, our heart will determine what we do.
This is why Jesus says, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." Like the other Beatitudes, this one raises all kinds of questions. Who are the pure in heart? Why will they see God, and how will they see God? And the most unsettling question of all: how pure is my heart, and how pure is yours?
So far in our series we have learned that Christ-like people have desperate hearts—they need God and they know him; broken hearts—they mourn over their sin and the sin of the world; surrendered hearts—they yield to God's will and to others; hungry hearts—they want more of God and his rule; and tender hearts—they look beyond people's faults, and see their needs. This morning we're going to learn that Christ-like people have undivided hearts. Let's find out what that means, and what our hearts really want.
Pure in heart?
What does it mean to be pure in heart? As we've said the heart is the seat of human personality. It's what makes us tick. Someone described it as "the hidden spring of a person's life." That's what Pascal was getting at back in the 17th century. Pascal was a Christian. When he said the heart has reasons that reason did not know, he was not suggesting that we should bypass the mind or succumb to our feelings. He was simply acknowledging that a person's character and behavior is ultimately determined by more than just the mind. There's a deeper inner source that directs a person's life-the heart. It's the heart, he said, that enables us to relate to God. In fact, it was Pascal who spoke of the God-shaped vacuum in the human heart.
When I was growing up in the church, the expression we used to describe becoming a Christian was "accepting Jesus into your heart." It sounds pretty simple, but I remember explaining it to a child once, and when I told him that Christ wanted to come into his heart, he looked down at his chest with a puzzled look on his face. How does he get in there? he wanted to know. It may be a confusing image for children, but it reflects the Biblical truth that it's with the heart that we relate to God; the heart is where he wants to take up residence.
1 Samuel 16:7 says, "Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." 3:5 says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart …." Ecclesiastes 3:11: "God has set eternity in the human heart." Jeremiah 29:13: "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." Romans 10:10 says, "for it is with your heart that you believe and are justified." The heart is more than our mind, more than our emotions, more than our choices—it is the place where all of these come together to shape our life and faith. If that's the case, we can understand why it's important for our hearts to be pure.
But what does it mean to be pure in heart? That word "pure" is used about two dozen times in the New Testament, and it suggests two things. First of all, when we say something is pure, it means that it's free from impurities. It has no contaminants, no germs, no dirt. It's clean. Secondly, when we say something is pure, we mean it's the same through and through. It is not a mixture of things; it is all one thing. Pure gold has no trace metals in it—it is all gold, and only gold. When Jerry Seinfeld says that Newman is pure evil, he's saying that Newman is evil through and through, there is no part of him that is not tainted by evil. When something is pure it's all one thing.
The pure in heart are people who are free from impurities, and the same through and through. They are about one thing, and only one thing. They are always about one pursuit, and every part of them is about one pursuit. The one pursuit they have is God. No matter where they are, no matter what they're doing, no matter who they're with, their life revolves around God.
That is how we end up with the word "undivided" to describe the pure in heart. If you have an undivided heart, there's nothing in your heart that doesn't belong there—nothing that is foreign to everything else that's there. If you have an undivided heart, there's not a compartment for God and a compartment for your career and a compartment for your family. There's only one compartment, and God is in it. If you have an undivided heart, your thoughts and feelings and will aren't in conflict with each other; they're all aligned with God's purposes for your life. When you have an undivided heart, you live one life—from the inside out—and you live it for God.
As long as we're tossing around philosophers, we might as well mention Soren Kierkegaard, another Christian thinker, who said, "Purity of heart is to will one thing." People who are pure of heart want one thing, one thing only, and one thing always. The thing they want is God.
That's all fine and good if you're a philosopher, but what does purity of heart look like in everyday life—for ordinary people like you and me who want to be more like Christ? Let's go to Matthew 15 and look an unsettling conversation Jesus had that makes purity of heart a bit more practical for all of us.
Clean hands, dirty hearts
"Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 'Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!" Now, this isn't like your mom telling you to wash up before dinner. The religious leaders weren't concerned about good hygiene or table manners. They were concerned about defilement. A person who was defiled was ceremonially unclean. They couldn't enter the tabernacle. They couldn't celebrate festivals with the rest of the congregation. A person could be defiled in any number of ways—by coming in contact with a dead body or a diseased person, by eating unclean foods, or by contact with a Gentile.
To protect themselves against defilement, the religious leaders had developed an elaborate system of rules and regulations around hand washing—traditions that went far beyond what God had called for in the Scripture. They taught that a person should wash their hands not only before worship, but several times a day, and always before eating, just in case they had unknowingly become defiled in some way. But you couldn't wash them just any old way; you had to do it in a ceremonial fashion—fingers outstretched and held up in the air, with water poured over them. So hand washing became a public display of spirituality: the more you washed, and the better you washed, the godlier you were. Can you picture the Nominating Committee in the local synagogue considering candidates for eldership? "I'd like to nominate Ben. That guy can wash!" "I second that nomination," says another, "I understand he gets up at 5:30 every morning to wash." "And his children—they're very clean as well!" says another.
That might sound a little farfetched, but it's not by much. Clean hands and ceremonial washing had become the evidence of a person's faith. So when the leaders observed the disciples failing to wash their hands in the proper way before eating, they were scandalized and so complained to Jesus.
How did Jesus respond? "You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: these people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men." Jesus is not going to win any awards for diplomacy here. He accuses them of pretending to honor God, when in reality they were serving themselves and advancing their own status in the community. The Message translates this verse well: "These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their heart isn't in it. They act like they are worshiping me, but they don't mean it."
Understandably, this didn't sit too well with the religious leaders and was even confusing for the disciples. They came to Jesus afterwards and said, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?" It's kind of a funny question. Did they really think after all this time that Jesus was afraid to offend people? You have to understand how radical Jesus' teaching was for the Pharisees and the disciples. It would be like me standing before this congregation and saying, "You know, God is really not interested in your attendance here at church this morning. You might as well stay home on Sundays, because the songs you sing and the offerings you put in the plate really don't mean anything to him. And those of you who are making time each day to read your Bible and pray, you might as well just sleep in an extra 20 minutes or watch TV before you go to bed, because it's really not helping your relationship with God." Jesus was calling into question one of the most fundamental and widely accepted spiritual practices of the day. Why? Because he knew the people's hearts weren't in it. There was a disconnect between their public lives and their private lives. Outwardly, they acted as if their lives were all about God; inwardly, their lives were about other things.
Then, as if he hadn't upset them enough, Jesus continued:
Are you still so dull? Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 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. These are what make a man unclean; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him unclean.
These people had compartmentalized their lives. They had all their religious ducks in a row, but their inner world was a mess. They had clean hands but filthy hearts.
Heart on a screen
Have you ever seen an echocardiogram—a picture of a human heart—up on the screen? It wouldn't look like much of anything to us, but a trained eye could look at an echocardiogram and see if anything was wrong. In these final verses, Jesus performs an echocardiogram on the human heart, and it's not a pretty picture. The heart is full of impurities—evil thoughts, ugly feelings, bad choices. Suppose we were to put your heart up on the screen this morning, would it reveal any of these impurities?
How about "murder"? Before you dismiss that one, remember that Jesus said anyone who harbors anger against a brother or calls someone a fool is guilty of murder. Have any hurtful words come out of your mouth this week? Have you been nursing anger or bitterness toward someone?
How about "adultery" or "sexual immorality?" Most of us aren't about to run off with someone else's spouse. But one of the words Jesus uses here is porneia, from which we get pornography. It refers to any sexual behavior or thought that exploits another person or perverts the beautiful gift of sexuality. Do you have anything like that in the secret places of your life?
"Theft." It's not too likely that any of us are breaking into people's homes or shoplifting at the mall. But is it possible you're stealing time from your boss or your clients, or holding onto money that properly belongs to the government, or to God?
"False testimony." You would never lie under oath, but do you ever massage the truth to give someone a false impression? Have you lied on a resume or cheated on an exam? When someone asks, "How are you doing?" do you pretend to be doing better than you are?
"Slander." There are probably no gossip columnists here, but have you ever spoken poorly about another person just to make yourself look better, or to be in with the right crowd? Ever shared a bit of unsavory news under the guise of a prayer request, or passed judgment on a person's spirituality because of the way they dressed or the way they worshiped?
What this passage reveals is the human capacity to live a double life—to be one thing on the outside and another on the inside—to act one way at church and another way at home or the office or at school. We convince ourselves that as long as we're going to church and reading our Bibles and putting our 10% in the offering plate, then our abusive words, our ugly thoughts, and our selfish spending habits don't matter. Jesus is reminding us that our outward behavior flows from an inner condition. We can fill our heads with Bible knowledge, we can behave like good church people, we can even profess faith in Christ as Savior and Lord, but until the hidden spring of our life flows clear and clean, we can never be the whole people we want to be and were intended to be.
What are we supposed to do about all these impurities and this compartmentalization of our lives? Gillian, an artist in our congregation, depicted an undivided heart as one that, above all the cares and pursuits it may have, is completely covered with the blood of Christ. The blood of Christ cleanses every impurity, and the cross where Christ shed his blood is the focal point of every thought, feeling, and decision. This is an undivided heart: where no compartment is sealed off from the Lordship of Christ.
When you have an undivided heart, you don't think in terms of God's money and your money, or God's time and your time, because it's all God's money, and it's all God's time. You're not torn between doing God's will or your will, seeking God's glory or your glory, because God's will becomes your will, and when you glorify him, you're glorified as well. When you have an undivided heart, you don't just pray on Sundays or before meals, but you pray your way through the entire day. When you have an undivided heart, you live one life—from the inside out—and you live it for God. When you have this kind of heart beating within you, you will see God.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God?" I think Jesus means two things by this. First of all, he's telling us that the pure in heart will see God in the life to come. When our hearts have been cleansed and changed through faith in Christ, we know that we will spend eternity with him. When that happens, we will no longer see through a glass darkly, as Paul tells us, but face to face. So certainly Jesus is speaking of that day when we will see God in all his glory.
I think Jesus is also telling us that when our hearts are pure, we will begin to see God in this life—not just in rare and splendid moments, but in everyday life—in ordinary moments. When your life is about one thing, you see that one thing everywhere.
A couple of years ago, we decided it was time to start looking for a new car. After ten years, our big van was spending more time in the shop than on the road, so we decided to replace it, but with what? Our family was getting smaller at that point so we didn't need another full-sized vehicle. The kids pleaded with us not to get another mini-van, so I started poking around and discovered something called a mid-sized SUV. I didn't even know there was such a thing, but I started investigating them, and the more I learned about them, the more excited I got about them: four-wheel drive, decent gas mileage, and a lot cooler than a mini-van.
I started looking for them when I was out on the road, and you know what? They were everywhere! On the highway it seemed that every third or fourth car was mid-sized SUV. I'd be sitting in stop-and-go traffic, I'd look to the left, and there was a mid-sized SUV. I'd pull into the parking lot at church—mid-sized SUVs. Where did they all come from? Pretty soon I could pick them out going 65 miles an hour in the opposite direction: Highlander, Pilot, Santa Fe. Then I started seeing advertisements for them in magazines and commercials, on TV and on the radio. I found that friends had been driving them for years. Mid-sized SUVs had been there all along—I just hadn't noticed them. Once I had my heart set on one, I started seeing them everywhere.
So it is with the pure of heart. When your life is all about God, you see God everywhere. You see his handiwork in the autumn leaves. You see his providence every time you sit down to enjoy a meal. You see your job as an opportunity to glorify him by working hard and well. You see your paycheck as an opportunity to give to God's work. You see your marriage through the lens of Christ and the church. You see trials and hardships as opportunities to know him better. You see the poor as objects of his special affection. You see every human being as an individual created in the image of God and in need of a Savior. When you have an undivided heart, you see God in everything, because everything is about him.
What a way to live! No wonder Jesus says, "Blessed are the pure in heart," because they will see God-not just someday, but everyday! The Message translation puts it this way: "You're blessed when you get your inside world put right. Then you can see God in the outside world." The pure in heart are people who live one life, from the inside out, and live it for God.
Purify my heart.
How do we get this kind of heart? We ask for it. First of all, we ask him to cleanse our hearts. Our hearts have to be cleansed, and the only thing that can do that is the blood of Christ, shed on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. I John 1:9 tells us that "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just will forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." If you have never asked Christ to forgive your sins, to cleanse you from the inside out, you can do that today. If today's echocardiogram has revealed something in your heart that doesn't belong there, you can ask him to cleanse you from it.
Secondly, we ask him to change our hearts. In Ezekiel 11:19 we read, "I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone, and give them a heart of flesh." Only God can give you that kind of heart—a heart that wants what God wants, and only what God wants, and always what God wants. When you have that kind of heart beating within you, it becomes a hidden spring welling up to eternal life.
Bryan Wilkerson is pastor of Grace Chapel in Lexington, Massachusetts.