The Pure in Heart

“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).

Purity has been a sacred matter throughout the generations. It seems that almost every culture has some ritual declaring or making participants clean or pure; we tend to value pure, clean things. Insistence on cleanliness and sanitation is perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the medical and public health fields. In general, we associate good, positive things with purity and cleanliness, and negative, evil things we portray in dirtier, filthier ways. Purity is good.

In order to communicate the value of purity in a physical way, God established many commands regarding cleanliness for Israel in the Old Testament. Certain foods were reckoned as clean, and others unclean and defiling (Leviticus 11:1-47). Many bodily discharges rendered a person ritually unclean, needing purification (cf. Leviticus 12:1-8, 15:1-32). Various skin diseases also rendered a person unclean (Leviticus 13:1-14:57). Many of these cleanliness laws were established to limit contagion and the spread of disease; others were designed to mark out Israel as a special people. All of the cleanliness laws, at some level, were designed to instruct Israel about God’s sanctity and the need for cleanliness before Him.

By the first century, the Israelites were quite faithful when it came to ritual cleansings. Many small pools used for such ritual cleansing, known as mikva’ot, have been discovered through archaeological digs; some are mentioned in John 5:1-4 and John 9:7. The Israelites understood the concept of ritual cleansing; they placed a high priority on remaining ritually clean and pure.

External cleansing is great, well, and good, but Jesus’ radical message in Matthew 5:8 is that it is not enough. External cleansing can only remove the symptoms of defilement, not the cause.

Jesus considers those who are pure in heart to be blessed, or happy. It is the internal purity which allows for external purity and righteousness; despite whatever pretense people may try to maintain, as long as there is impurity and defilement within, impurity and defilement must come to the surface some day. True defilement is not something a person can ingest; defilement comes out from what is within, which is Jesus’ powerful message in Mark 7:14-23.

This “beatitude” is as much a challenge as it is a declaration of blessedness. None of us can be fully pure in heart; we all fall short of God’s glory and sin (Romans 3:23, 7:14-25, 1 John 1:8). There is always a strong temptation to foster and harbor impure thoughts and attitudes within ourselves; we easily deceive ourselves into thinking that since no other human can perceive our thoughts, no one else knows what we are thinking. To this day people face strong societal pressures to make sure that their outward actions conform to societal norms; this is why we rarely tell others how we really feel about them, and very few of us feel comfortable admitting the darkness that is often present deep within us. Thus, we keep things inside.

But God does see and know; all things in darkness will be revealed by light at some point (Ephesians 5:7-13). Meanwhile we labor under significant burdens, trying to save face and keeping up a false exterior. It never works out; it always collapses somehow.

This is why God throughout the New Testament insists on a complete cleansing and renewal of the individual. It is not as if people are generally good and just need a little help here or there; we must come to terms with our sad reality. Sin has corrupted and defiled not just our deeds but also our thoughts and feelings, and we must fully repent, changing our minds so that our attitudes and actions will follow (Acts 2:38). This is why we must capture every thought unto obedience in Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5); this is why we must mentally dwell on that which is good, holy, and profitable (Philippians 4:8). We must in every way seek to remove all that which is unholy, impure, and defiled from our thoughts and feelings; then we can live without hypocrisy, allowing our exterior to shine with the interior light which comes from Christ (Matthew 5:13-16).

Those who are pure in heart shall see God. We are not intended to understand this verse on a physical, concrete level: after all, the heart is merely an muscle pumping blood, and no man can see God (John 1:18). Purity in heart involves purity of mind and emotion, and none of this is possible without purity in soul. Little wonder, then, that the Risen Jesus speaks of the saved as those who have not soiled their garments and who walk with Him dressed in white (Revelation 2:4-5), and Paul speaks of Jesus presenting a church to Himself which is pure and unblemished (Ephesians 5:25-27). Those who are pure shall be with God forever and will stand in His presence in the resurrection (cf. Revelation 21:1-22:6).

Such purity cannot come from our own futile efforts; we can try to cleanse ourselves all we want, but the stain of sin remains. None of us will walk in white because we, by our own power, have kept from defilement. We all need cleansing, and continuous cleansing at that, from Jesus through the blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins (Romans 5:6-11, Ephesians 5:25-27). We must seek after purity in Christ; we must seek to align our will to His so that we can be conformed into His image (Romans 8:29), and thus maintain our cleansing. Let us seek to be pure in heart so that we may see God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Tenth Commandment

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s (Exodus 20:17).

God had now come to the tenth and concluding commandment. Matters regarding man’s relationship with God had been thoroughly covered– Israel was to have no other god before God, they were not to make an image of anything to bow down to it and serve it, they were not to take the name of the LORD their God in vain, and they were to honor the Sabbath and rest upon it (Exodus 20:3-11). The Israelites’ relationship with one another was also established: they were to honor their parents, and they were not to kill, commit adultery, steal, or bear false witness (Exodus 20:12-16). As the list concludes, God comes to a much more fundamental challenge, one that all too often leads to the other problems already addressed: covetousness, the desire of the human heart (Exodus 20:17).

The desire to have something that belongs to another is one of the most primal desires of humanity and one of the hardest to control. We might already have spouses, houses, employees, or other possessions. It is easy, however, to think that the “grass is greener on the other side.” Our neighbor’s spouse may seem more alluring, their house nicer, their stuff of better quality. Whatever the justification or the reason may be, the result is the same– it is easy to want it, and to do things in order to get it.

Covetousness is one of the main impulses that lead to other sins. David had many wives, but coveted Bathsheba– and ultimately committed adultery and murder in the process (2 Samuel 11:1-27). Despite being king of Israel, and having much property, Ahab coveted Naboth’s vineyard, and his desire led to false witness and murder (1 Kings 21:1-16). By falling prey to covetousness, these men fell prey to violations of two other commandments. They also prove just how irrational covetousness can be– it is not as if David had no other women around, or that Ahab had no other property to enjoy. Even though they already had plenty, they wanted more– things that did not belong to them but still looked nice. And, in the heat of covetousness, acted very poorly.

But if covetousness is what leads to other sin, why does God wait to mention it until the end? Perhaps it is because how private covetousness is. Dishonoring parents tends to be a public matter. Murder, adultery, theft, and false witness leave victims in their wake. These are all sins done “outside the body.” While covetousness often does lead to the committing of other sins (cf. also James 1:13-15), it does not necessarily produce any physical symptoms. One can covet without any other person knowing it.

The tenth commandment, therefore, presents quite a difficult challenge, one that Jesus will discuss in greater length in Matthew 5:17-48. Righteousness cannot merely limit and direct one’s outward conduct, although that is included. It cannot be enough to just not violate one’s neighbor, his property, or his reputation publicly. In order to be truly righteous one must control the very thoughts, impulses, and attitudes that might lead to such conduct. God tells Israel in the Ten Commandments that it is not enough to just not steal or not to commit adultery– one must not even nurse the covetous desire that leads to theft and adultery. Jesus will later expand on that premise– it is not enough to avoid murdering your brother, you must not even hate him or despise him in your heart (Matthew 5:21-26). Looking upon any woman with lustful intent is committing adultery in the heart (Matthew 5:27-30). Not harming your neighbor is good; loving him as yourself, blessing him and praying for him even if that love is not reciprocated, is better (Matthew 5:43-48)!

Moses will later declare to Israel that they were to “love the LORD [their] God with all [their] heart, and with all [their] soul, and with all [their] might” (Deuteronomy 6:5), a message affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 22:37-38 as the “great and first” commandment. Such complete love cannot exist only on the surface– therefore, Israel’s concern could not just involve their surface conduct. Such complete love demands complete reformation of the whole man– not just outward conduct, but also mind, body, and soul. God hints at this for Israel with the tenth commandment, showing that sinful desire is as bad as sinful action, since it is a precursor to sinful action. We should not allow this message to be lost upon us as we seek to serve the Lord Jesus, following in His footsteps, understanding that God is as concerned about how we think and how we control our desires as much as He is concerned about how we conduct ourselves outwardly. Let us not even covet so that we may not break God’s commands!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Think on These Things

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things (Philippians 4:8).

The human mind is a most wonderful and profound entity. Its depths and its abilities are only now beginning to be plumbed and understood. There is much about the mind that is beyond our understanding; perhaps it will always be that way.

Yet there is one undeniable aspect of the mind– the power of its meditations. We humans have been given the ability to think our way through all kinds of challenges and difficulties. We have the ability to focus on the positive in the worst of times. But we can also focus on the negative even in the best of times. On account of our mental attitude we may survive and endure; we can just as quickly wither and fall apart.

This is why Paul encourages Christians to focus on the positive– that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy. Paul’s idea is that if we focus our minds on things like that, our attitude, emotions, and actions will conform to those excellent standards. We will be better able to express the love and joy that should mark believers (John 13:35, Philippians 4:4).

We all know what happens when we focus on the opposite. When we think about what is false, dishonorable, unjust, impure, and grotesque, our attitudes and actions easily follow, and we find ourselves tempted in sin (cf. James 1:14-15). If our minds are focused on what has no virtue and can have no praise, it cannot be pleasing to the God Who is excellent, virtuous, and praiseworthy!

Yet there is an even more pervasive and subtle difficulty– the “middle ground.” In the “middle ground,” one might not be thinking of practices that are sinful, but one is surely not thinking about what is good. Instead, the mind is filled with anxiety, worry, and negativity. Cynicism and pessimism dominate such a perspective.

As it is written in Proverbs 23:7a, “for as he thinketh within himself, so is he.” While we may not always choose an instantaneous reflex, and while there are some circumstances when the brain’s chemistry is not properly aligned, in general, we have the choice about that which we focus upon with our minds. We may try to blame our circumstances, our past, or some other external factor in an attempt to justify negative or sinful thinking, but in the end, such is just an excuse.

In times of distress it is easy to focus on the worries and to believe that things will continually fall apart; at such times we must endeavor even more to remember what is of value, honorable, lovely, and praiseworthy, so that we can be sustained through the difficulty. Yet it is no less important to remember the positive when things are going well. Too many spend the good times worrying about the bad ones they know are just around the corner.

What Jesus says about the heart is also true for the mind: “for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). If we know that we are of God, and that we belong to God, then we will direct our minds to God and to all of the blessings and benefits of this life. We will dwell mentally about all the good with which He has blessed us and all the wonderful things that He has provided in the creation and through His Son Jesus Christ. But if our treasure is in the perishing and fading world, then our thoughts will focus on the dark and negative, and will lead to our own fading and perishing.

While not everything is in the mind, the mind controls a lot more of our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being than we would perhaps like to admit. Where have we placed our minds? Let us focus on what is divine, holy, and of benefit, and serve Christ the Lord!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Repent!

From that time began Jesus to preach, and to say, “Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).

“I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all in like manner perish” (Luke 13:3).

Repent!

This is the message of the New Testament, and as with many such messages, there is some confusion as to what it means. How do we “repent”? Of what do we “repent?” What happens when we “repent”?

The matter of repentance is somewhat complicated by language differences. In English, “to repent” involves expressing great sorrow for doing something. It is true that we are to show great sorrow for all of the sins that we have committed, and mourn for what our sin required– the death of Jesus (cf. Zechariah 12:10). Yet repentance requires much more.

The Greek word meaning “to repent” is metanoeo, and it fundamentally means “to change one’s mind” (Thayer’s). To repent, therefore, is really to change your mind.

This is why repentance is one of the fundamental elements of Christianity. We must indeed believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and be willing to confess that truth (Acts 16:31, Romans 10:9-10). Yet demons also believe, and shudder (James 2:19)! Belief alone cannot save (James 1:22-25, 2:24), for it does not lead to any form of reformation of person or character.

A lot of people want to put the emphasis on changed behaviors. Yes, it is true that Christians are to no longer engage in the works of the flesh, but should instead develop the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:17-24). But where do deeds come from? Jesus says that deeds come from the thoughts and intents of the heart (Mark 7:20-23). Solomon indicates that as a man thinks within himself, so he is (Proverbs 23:7).

A man cannot truly change until his mind changes. This is why God calls men everywhere to repent– they must change the way they think if they are going to change the way they act (Acts 17:30).

We should not need to justify this mandate to change our minds, for it should be evident that the natural ways of our thinking are flawed. We think we have a good handle on what we should do, yet we really do not (Jeremiah 10:23). When we live in the world and have no hope, we think in worldly ways and justify things that the world justifies (1 John 2:15-17). The end of this way of thinking is death (Romans 6:23)!

When we learn of Jesus Christ, we learn of a better way. We should now strive to have the “mind of Christ,” and try to understand all things spiritually (1 Corinthians 2:12-16). Jesus did all things according to the will of His Father (John 7:16-18, 28-29). While we will never be able to plumb the depths of God’s knowledge and insight (Isaiah 55:8-9), we can do the best we can to understand how God in Christ would have us think and act in any given circumstance. What would God think of what we are doing? What would God think about our thoughts? Would God have us do this or that?

Repentance, in short, is learning how to see ourselves, our fellow man, and the world in the way that God sees them. It is not limited to a momentary decision before one is baptized– it is a journey, something we must constantly do as we grow and develop in the faith. Without truly repenting, we will not discover eternal life. Let us repent of our sins, change our minds, and think and act in godly ways!

Ethan R. Longhenry