“How you think about God will determine who you become. You aren’t just the byproduct of ‘nature’ and ‘nurture.’ You are a byproduct of your God-picture. And that internal picture of God determines how you see everything else.” - Mark Batterson
This quote came to mind after reading about the duplicity that polytheism brought out in the ancient world. People experimented with all kinds of different religions, gods, and goddesses. In an age where there was often no ethical content to religious devotion, people would hop from one religion to another depending on what they needed or wanted out of life at any given time. Sometimes human sacrifices were involved, and there was no fidelity to it. So peoples’ characters would shift because each deity in each religious system had its own kind of odd personality. If it’s true that you become like the type of god you worship, you can imagine these kinds of fluctuations.
In that context, the faith of Jesus’ Jewish forebears proclaimed something that seemed radical at the time: monotheism. There’s only one true God, and in the Ten Commandments we’re called to put away idols and worship Him alone (Deuteronomy 5:6-10). This called for an integrity and a fidelity that’s best expressed in Deuteronomy 6:5: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Jesus said this commandment is the most important one of all (in Matthew 22:37), perhaps because it would stand to bring an end to having a divided heart. This is where duplicity comes to a halt.
This is a notion that worked its way into Jesus’ beatitudes as given in Matthew 5:3-12, and especially in the 6th beatitude (in verse 8) where Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” This purity is the single-minded antithesis of the duplicity that would lead a person into a double-life. It has similar meaning with the English word integrity, which is closely related to the mathematical term integer. An integer is a whole number. The numbers 2, 4, 6, and 8 are integers, while 7.12653 is not. To have integrity means to be whole, as opposed to having a divided heart and leading a divided life. Jesus said the pure in heart are blessed.
Jesus Himself is the only true example of complete purity. This helps us to remember our dependency on Him and the grace that He brings. The great evangelical writer John R.W. Stott was correct when he penned these words: “…how few of us live one life and live it in the open! We are tempted to wear a different mask and play a different role according to each occasion. This is not reality but play acting, which is the essence of hypocrisy. Some people weave round themselves such a tissue of lies that they can no longer tell which part of them is real and which is make believe. Alone among men Jesus Christ was absolutely pure in heart, being entirely guileless.”
Jesus did not invent the genre of the beatitude; there are quite a number of them scattered throughout the Old Testament (e.g. Proverbs 28:14). But He did flesh out some key Old Testament concepts in new ways by giving them a beatitude form. The best example related to this one would be Psalm 24:3-6, which speaks of processing to the temple on Mount Zion in Jerusalem:
“Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully. They will receive blessing from the Lord, and vindication from the God of their salvation. Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.”
The emphasis in the Old Testament era was on God’s presence dwelling chiefly in the temple itself. But in the New Testament (and under the new covenant of Jesus) that meaning was taken away from the temple (cf. Matthew 27:51) which was destroyed in the year A.D. 70. It was placed in the Holy Spirit – God’s presence living inside of us (cf. I Corinthians 6:19-20).
This explains the meaning of the 6th beatitude, then, and it’s counterintuitive. The world would seem to bless the crafty, the bullish, and the slick – those who are smart and deceitful and careful with their words. So why would those who are pure in heart and straightforward about their motives turn out to be the ones who are blessed? The answer points to spiritual sight (cf. Matthew 6:22-23, 7:3-5). Our vision tends to get obscured by impurities that get in the way. But by the grace of God and the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit, we can see Him more clearly, love Him more dearly, and follow Him more nearly (to paraphrase the song from the old musical Godspell). It’s sort of like cleaning the smudges off of a pair of eyeglasses. The person who does this is better prepared to drive their car to wherever it is that God would take them.
God bless you,
Andrew McHenry, Pastor
First Congregational Church
The blog of Andrew McHenry, Pastor of First Congregational Church of Emporia, Kansas.