What did Christ mean when He spoke of being pure in heart? (Matthew 5:8)? Was He saying that if and when our heart becomes morally pure enough, we’ll get to see our Father? Did He mean for us to grit our teeth, confess our present unworthiness, and resolve to become more pure—all the while realizing that we’ll never be completely pure? Do you think that’s what He was after? I don’t. There was a time in my life when I thought that way, but no longer. I know better because I’m grateful to say, I know Him better.
A pure heart speaks of singleness rather than sinlessness. It is one that is set on Him as opposed to countless other things (see Genesis 6:5). It’s not a perfect heart, but it’s pure in the sense that Jesus, and no one else, is Lord. The owner of such a heart loves God with their heart, soul, mind, and strength—not in the sense that there’s no room for their devotion to grow, but in the sense that He occupies the center (heart) of their lives. Think of a newly married couple. They have eyes for no one else. Over the years, their love will grow in degree and maturity, but it will not change in purity—it will still be for one another and no one else.
Christ spoke to this singleness when He told us to seek the kingdom of God first (6:33). If you look at that text, you’ll notice that nothing is listed as second or third. That’s because the principle Jesus is teaching is not that the kingdom should be #1 on a list of many things, but that it is the central operating principle of our lives as opposed to everything else. It is the lens through which we look at life (6:22-23).
Although it sounds a little strange to us, another way to think of a pure heart is singleness of mind (heart and mind are often interchangeable in Scripture— 1 Samuel 2:35; Colossians 3:1-2; Hebrews 8:10). James charges his readers with spiritual adultery in James 4:4ff. The base meaning of adultery is impurity—something that is a mixture rather than undiluted. Consequently, his instruction is to “purify your hearts, you double minded,” (v. 8), which tells us that purity is singleness of mind/heart.
“Seeing God” means more than just to physically see Him at the end of our lives. It means to experience Him relationally. In His conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus equates entering the kingdom of God with seeing it (v. 3,5). It’s clear from the context that entering/seeing the kingdom means to experience the blessings of it. I think Jesus is saying the same thing here about “seeing” God. The pure in heart experience God.
It seems to me that this is not so much of an achievement as it is a practical matter; when you’ve removed all obstacles from your line of sight you see God. He’s there all along—we just have to decide that we really want to see Him. The pure in heart see God because they are looking for Him!
They see Him when the sun is shining bright and warm, but they also know He is present in the quiet shadows of their lives. They know He’s there in the kindness of others and can most definitely be found in the joy of a child. His presence is felt in the strength that enables them to make it through a long, difficult season as well or in the peaceful rest at night. He’s there in the smile of their spouse or the constant encouragement of a friend. They see Him because they’ve learned to look. The years have trained their senses to be alert for His presence. The pure in heart have powerful vision. There’s no place that they don’t see God.