Matthew 5:8 (NIV) Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Even though right actions, righteousness, is required to live in God’s presence, those right actions must come from the right source. The Pharisees and teachers of the law were by all accounts externally righteous. Some of them even spent hours counting out the small seeds of their harvest, ensuring that one of every ten was given to God as their tithe.
But the external disciplines did nothing to get to the heart of those people. They would not go into Pilate’s headquarters to accuse Jesus, because setting foot in a gentile’s home would make them ceremonially unclean, and keep them from eating the Passover. But those same men had no qualms about standing outside of Pilate’s headquarters and making themselves spiritually unclean by bearing false witness against an innocent man in a death penalty trial!
Jesus pointed out that genuinely good fruit spontaneously springs from a good tree, while a bad tree will naturally produce bad fruit (Matthew 7:16-18). Those whose hearts are really pure will produce the good fruit of right actions and attitudes unconsciously, without even thinking about it. But those whose hearts are impure will have to work at producing right actions, imposing disciplines and external controls on themselves to keep themselves from slipping.
Many despair of ever being able to “develop” a pure heart, because after years, even decades, of stringent discipline, their hearts seem just as wicked and depraved as always. They grow frustrated and discouraged over the many “slips” that they experience, and resign themselves to the seeming inevitability of sin in their lives.
But a heart can never be made pure through external discipline. It can only be instilled by transformation. It is only those who not only realize the futility of trying to develop a pure heart from the outside in, and who hunger and thirst for real righteousness, AND who turn to God in that powerful desire, that will find transformation and a genuinely pure heart.
Jesus always chose His words carefully. Notice what He says in Matthew 12:33 (NIV emphasis added), when using the same illustration of a tree: “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.” No man can make a heart good (although they can make their heart bad through sin and turning away from God and His commands), but God can. He can turn darkness into light, and call forth universes from nothing. For God, it is a simple thing to remake a heart, to melt it with the fire of His Holy Spirit, and to recast it as a pure heart that can see His presence, and can hear His voice every day. But He will only do that for those whose hunger and thirst for righteousness drive them to seek Him for what only He can do.
Father, thank You for the promise contained in this beatitude. You never require something of us that You won’t enable us to do or to be, if we seek You for it wholeheartedly. Help me, Lord, to so hunger and thirst for real righteousness, genuine purity of heart, that I seek You afresh for it every single day. Help me to see and to hear You every day, so that my every thought, word, and deed will glorify You today and every day. Amen.