The need for a pure heart…
Jesus pointed out in Matt. 5:8 that it is only those who are “pure in heart” who will see God. The heart is a catch-phrase in the Bible that refers to our feeling (Deut. 28:47; Matt. 5:27-28; 22:37), willing (Jer. 3:17) and thinking (Judg. 5:16; Matt. 9:4) – our entire inner person. And as Prov. 4:23 would explain, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” What we think, feel and will (decide upon), will change the course of our entire life.
And as Jesus says, it is only those who are pure in what they think, feel and will that will see God. Ps. 24:3-4 also mentions that only people who have a pure heart can approach God. So it is quite important that we ask the question: what does “pure in heart” mean?
If we continue reading Ps. 24:4, what you will notice is that the Psalmist defines what a pure heart is. It is a heart that does not “lift up his soul to what is false (an idol) and does not swear deceitfully”. Put positively, a pure heart is a heart that is single-minded in its pursuit of God. It is when our thoughts, desires and decisions/will are single-mindedly centered on God alone. As Augustine would put it, we can only see God with a “single-heart”; or James 4:10, it is heart that is not double-minded, split in its devotion and thoughts. You will never enjoy the spiritual experience of knowing God through His Word now and seeing Him at the second coming of Christ if your heart is not single-minded in its focus on Him.
The Danger of Sinful Desires…
Apart from doubt, one of the root causes of sin is pride, believing we can be like God (cf. Gen. 3:5). Yet, that is not the only cause of sin. We also read in Gen. 3:6 that Eve desired what Satan had promised, “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” Whereas pride was central to the lie in Gen. 3:5, sin also came because we desired what the lie promised.
And our desire for the lie is present today. Paul told Timothy in 2 Tim. 3:16-17 that God’s Word is beneficial for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that every believer would be equipped for every good work. It should be Timothy’s express purpose to always proclaim God’s Word in all circumstances (2 Tim. 4:2).
Yet, Paul also warns that “men will not put up with sound doctrine”. People will resist God’s Word. Why? Like Adam and Eve, Paul continues, “to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Due to their desires being in conflict with God’s Word, not wanting their sinful desires to be rebuked, corrected and trained in a correct way, they will look for alternatives that will affirm their evil desires. As the Apostle Peter would explain, they will scoff/ridicule God’s Word, since it is in conflict with what they want, “scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires” (2 Pet. 3:3).
For example, in a culture that is obsessed with getting sexual pleasure, it should not surprise us that all the passages on sexual purity before marriage and sexual fidelity within marriage are scoffed at, seen as archaic and not suitable to the “modern society”. Our sinful desires for sex outside God’s revealed will (the Scriptures) will cause us to ridicule God’s Word or look for teachers that will affirm our sinful desires, saying they are “ok”. In a culture obsessed with material wealth and health, it should not surprise us that passages that focus on the danger of wealth, suffering and eternity are downplayed, ignored or even considered irrelevant. Our sinful desires of greed will cause us to try and sidestep God’s Word and look for teachers that will affirm our greed. As one person put it, what we want (I desire that), the mind justifies (its ok to desire that) and the will decides to do (I will gratify that desire).
And once we go down this path of indulging our sinful desires, as James would explain in James 4:4, we have actually become haters of God (since we desire what is contrary to God) and have become enemies of God (since we oppose what is God). Such a person has become “double-minded” (James 4:8). We are no longer pure in heart – single-hearted.
God expects fidelity
In Ex. 20:5 and James 4:5 (and many other passages), God describes Himself as a jealous God. What does the Bible mean by God being jealous? When the Bible speaks of God being a jealous God, we need to understand it in the context of fidelity. Like a spouse desiring their spouse to be faithful to their marriage covenant, wanting their spouse’s love to be single-mindedly directed towards them, so God desires us to be faithful to Him, to be single-minded in our love for Him. It is only in that context of marital faithfulness/fidelity that a true loving relationship can grow.
In the Old Testament, God is often described as being wed to His people. He is their bridegroom and they are His bride. This picture is especially vivid in Hosea, in which God grieves over His people’s unfaithfulness to their marriage covenant to Him. In numerous places in the Gospels, Jesus is described as the bridegroom of His people. In particular, Eph. 5:22-33, Jesus is described as the husband of His people, who died for His people in love. God’s love for us is a single-minded love, a pure love, the marital love a husband should have for his wife. Why should it be strange if God expects that same single-minded love in return? How warped is our thinking if we expect God to unconditionally love us, but we have no desire to love Him in return; God must be faithful, but we want to be unfaithful?
Pride and our sinful desires can derail our relationship with God. It can cause us to reject His Word and so reject any opportunity of knowing Him more. And if you know pride and sinful desires are in your heart, you are being unfaithful to God, there is only one thing you can do: repent as God commands us to do in James 4:7-8… “Submit yourselves to God… resist the devil… purify your hearts… humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up”. And pray with David in Ps. 51:10, “create in me a clean heart, oh God and renew a right spirit within me”. Let us never forget in our pursuit of God Jesus’ promise, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”