Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Matthew 5:8 (NIV)
The Jewish leaders, especially the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, were very big on external purity. This included specific ways of washing their hands, and total avoidance of contact with gentiles, contact with whom would make a person ceremonially unclean. The scribes, as they copied the Scriptures, would even wash themselves entirely every time they had to write the divine name of God.
The idea was that, since you couldn’t touch your heart as far as making it clean, the best you could do was to make all of your outside as clean as possible. For this reason, in addition to the external washings, there was also a strong emphasis to make sure that your outer actions complied with all of the requirements of the Law of Moses.
This was the kind of thought process that Jesus was referring to in the story of the Good Samaritan. The priest and the Levite who passed by the injured man were probably on their way up to Jerusalem to serve in the Temple. Touching a dead person (and this guy was apparently so injured that he possibly could die while they were helping him) would make them ceremonially unclean and ineligible to serve in the Temple. So the simplest thing to do was to avoid the possible problem entirely, passing by on the other side of the road and ignoring the man’s cries for help.
But the people who were so focused on the external aspects of rightousness were missing the whole point, as Jesus pointed out in Matthew 15 (NIV):
Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.'”
Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”
“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “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.'”
Jesus was pointing out that the external things, the things that the Pharisees and teachers of the Law were so focused on, couldn’t touch the heart for good or bad. This was also the reason why Jesus did a lot of things that no good Pharisee would dare do, yet seemed to remain totally uncontaminated by them. For example, Jesus touched dead bodies, but instead of the uncleanness of death making Him unclean, His life sprang into the dead bodies making them alive again. He touched lepers, but instead of the uncleanness of their disease making Him unclean, His purity sprang into their bodies, taking away the disease and making them clean again. In a lot of ways Jesus was a lot like soap – it makes dirty things clean without becoming dirty itself.
Jesus pointed out that only an internal purity could fit one to see God – to live in His presence and to experience His power. No amount of external cleansing and washing and obedience could ever clean a person’s heart. As I said before, the Pharisees knew this, but what were they to do? If external cleansing couldn’t fit one to live in God’s presence, what else could a person do?
Jesus’ reply was clearly that there was nothing a person could do to purify thier own hearts, but God could do the work. The prophet Ezekiel, writing several hundred years before Jesus’ time, clearly saw both the need for God’s people to be cleansed inside, and God’s ability to do this in the days of the Messiah:
“‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:24-27 NIV)
Jesus knew that the time when God was making this kind of purity available to His people was here at last. This purifying of heart was such a complete transformation that Ezekiel likened it to a heart transplant – removing a heart of stone that was not able to follow God, and replacing it with a new, maleable heart of flesh that would follow God instinctively. This is not about trying harder to please God, but receiving a new heart that willingly follows Him wherever He might lead.
This work of transformation, which the holiness churches refer to as Entire Sanctification, is the instantaneous transformation of the heart by the work of the Holy Spirit, reorienting the Christian’s life totally toward God. No longer do God’s people have to rely on an external written code and their own efforts in following it. Instead, through the power of a transformed heart and the indwelling Holy Spirit, God makes the right thing the most natural thing to do.
When someone experiences the transforming power of Entire Sanctification, they are made instantly pure in heart, and can then see God – living in His presence and experincing His power.