Let's Study the Beatitudes! Part 7, The Pure in Heart

On Christmas Eve, 1968, astronaut Jim Lovell sat aboard Apollo 8 and watched the earth rise over the moon for the first time in history. Reflecting on that moment, he observed: “You can put your thumb up and you can hide the earth behind your thumb. Everything that you've ever known, your loved ones, your business, the problems of the earth itself—all behind your thumb.” It’s odd that with such a stunning view before him, what marveled him most was his ability to blot it all out with a single gesture. Even more strange is to think that though the eyes of our hearts have been opened, we tend to obscure our vision with impure desires and distractions rather than behold the majesty of God.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus teaches that the pure in heart shall see God. But what does it actually mean to be pure in heart? And why do we so often fail to take hold of this wonderful gift?

The word pure used in the beatitudes means “clean” or, "without admixture." It’s a word used in Scripture to describe clean water, white linen, and refined gold.[1] But purity of heart is not naturally attainable or desirable to us. We are born with darkened hearts and our righteousness is like filthy rags.[2] So it is careful to note that this beatitude should not be misunderstood as a condition for salvation or a directive to attain perfection but it is a precious reminder of the Holy Spirit’s work in opening the eyes of our hearts.[3] As gold cannot refine itself, only God Himself can revive our hearts and cause the blind to see.

But that’s not all there is to it. As so many things are in the Christian life, there is an already-not-yet aspect of this purity. We are made pure by the finished work of Christ, and being made pure as we mortify sin and seek to please our Father.[4] And there’s the rub. As Christians, it is easy to understand and embrace our status as righteous but difficult to deny ourselves and pursue purity on an ongoing basis. 

If we’re honest, we tend to get creative when assessing our purity. To make ourselves feel better, we measure our purity comparatively rather than objectively, because it is easier for us to convince ourselves that we are better than the wild sin in the world than admit that our own domesticated sins are still repulsive in the sight of God. And so, we half-heartedly seek God. We happily let other things occupy our affections. And in our myopia, we’ve put our thumbs up and blocked our vision of God.

This beatitude is deeply personal because that which is found in those dark corners of your heart is strictly between you and God. This verse is not about your neighbor’s heart. It’s not about your child’s heart. This is about the state of your heart alone. You can deceive yourself and others easily with outward actions, but God is not concerned with optics.[5] It is not enough to outwardly change our actions or sit in apathy. The holiness of God needs to grip our hearts daily to fight the “continual and irreconcilable war” between the flesh and the spirit.[6]

God must have our unmixed, uncompromising, unwavering devotion no matter what else is in our line of vision today. We will only be truly blessed when we have an unobstructed vision of who God is and all things through Him.

It would be nice if our view of God always held steady, but we are prone to wander and must anchor our eyes of faith on Him through the daily practice of living in His presence, meditating on His Word, and approaching Him in prayer. As we draw near to God, He will draw near to us, and He offers divine help in our pursuit of purity.[7] Our desires will align with His desires, we will see things as He sees things, and we will despise what He despises. Only then can we say like the Psalmist, “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.”[8]

And though right now we see as if through a glass darkly, one day, all obstacles will be removed and we will see Him face to face– and what a glorious vision that will be! In the meantime, may we sing with the saints, “Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; naught be all else to me, save that thou art. Thou my best thought, by day or by night, waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.”

Megan K. Taylor earned her MA in Theological Studies from Westminster Theological Seminary. She and her husband, Joel, live in Sanford, Fl where she works for Ligonier Ministries and is a member of Saint Paul’s PCA.

[1]Hebrews 10:22, Revelation 19:8, Revelation 21:18

[2] Romans 1:21, Isaiah 64:6

[3]Ephesians 1:18

[4]1 John 3:3

[5]1 Samuel 16:7, Matthew 23:25-27

[6]WCF 13.1

[7]James 4:8

[8]Psalm 16:8


Megan Taylor