Sin and moral impurity are not new. Yet in recent times there has been a flood of permissiveness in our society, and especially since the 1960s. With some justification it has been said, ‘We put Sodom and Gomorrah to shame’.
It is doubtful that Sodom and Gomorrah had the range of carnality and excess current in our society. The moral and spiritual situation is worsening. It is not just that there is impurity in sexual things, but also in politics, in connection with the family, and in fashion, art and music.
In literature and advertising, too, the standards adopted are very far removed from biblical standards of purity and chaste behaviour. Virtue is mocked as a relic of the past.
A need for light
The sixth Beatitude focuses squarely on this issue: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God’ (Matthew 5:7). Clearly, this is something that must lie at the heart of real Christian character.
The Christian stands for purity. The Christian sets his face against all moral and spiritual decadence. The challenge is for us to be clean and holy and virtuous.
I remember once going into an unlit loft to repair a cistern. There was no way of avoiding the dirt, and some of it stuck. There was a need for light. So it is in the moral and spiritual realm. If a believer — if any person — is not walking in the light as Christ is in the light, then dirt will both stick and accumulate.
What is purity?
To understand what purity is for men, we have to understand something of God himself, for he alone is perfectly and wholly pure. The Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, was ‘holy, harmless, undefiled’, even while he wore our human nature (Hebrews 7:26).
He was perfectly and wholly pure in word, thought and deed. This purity of the Father and the Son is essential purity, the pattern for all moral behaviour. The Spirit, too, is perfectly pure. He is the ‘Spirit of holiness’.
There is also original purity, which was the nature of man before Adam fell into sin, and is also the nature of all unfallen angels. Man was made without any impurity attaching to him. Obviously, this was gravely affected by the Fall.
When, therefore, we speak of a purity to be found in people subsequent to the Fall, we must speak of an evangelical purity. This is the purity produced by the Word and Spirit of God in the lives of God’s people, albeit incompletely in this life. It involves desire for holiness of life, a loathing for sin and decadence. It is not just civility or affability, nor mere moralism. Rather, it is essentially likeness to Christ.
What is it to be pure?
Christ encourages his disciples to be pure in heart. When the Bible speaks of the ‘heart’ in relation to man’s character, he is speaking of the seat of his affections. We may think of it in terms of what makes man ‘tick’, or what directs his life.
Says the proverb: ‘out of [the heart] spring the issues of life’ (Proverbs 4:23). Our heart-commitment determines where our life is going. Either our hearts are renewed by the Spirit and grace of God, or they are not.
The direction of the heart is either earthly or heavenly. Where your treasure is (said the Lord) is where your heart is (Matthew 6:21). The challenge of this Beatitude is this: is your heart set on pure things, those things which are clean and chaste?
The prophet Jeremiah put it bluntly with respect to the human condition: ‘The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?’ (Jeremiah 17:9). Man, therefore, needs a change of heart if he is to be really pure and godly.
He needs to be changed from being earth-bound to being heaven-bound. He needs to be cleansed and purified morally. It is not an option, for Jesus says, ‘blessed are the pure in heart’.
Here is how God describes this necessary cleansing: ‘I will cleanse you from all your filthiness … I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you … I will … cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will keep my judgements and do them’ (Ezekiel 36:25-27).
Notice that those who are renewed must also continue in such a way if there is to be blessing in their lives.
Why is it important?
It is important in the first place because Scripture calls us to such purity. In other words, God commands it and, therefore, his people are to be pure. It is necessary also because of what we are by nature: polluted, corrupt and loathsome. We need grace, says Thomas Watson, to wash off ‘our hellish filth’.
It is necessary and important, too, because without it we shall not see God. ‘Pursue peace with all men’ (says the letter to the Hebrews) ‘and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord’ (Hebrews 12:14). Clearly, purity is a vital part of holiness. If it is not possessed, there will be no heaven!
Besides this, it is important because it is both a mark and purpose of election. Some say that the doctrine of election is an encouragement to licence. They say it teaches us, ‘sin as you will and still get to heaven’.
But, of course, believers are predestined, not only to glory, but also ‘to be conformed to the image of his Son’ (Romans 8:29). As he is pure, therefore, so they will also be pure. His people are chosen, moreover, that they should be ‘holy and without blame before him’ (Ephesians 1:4).
The necessity and importance of gospel purity are also stressed by the fact that they are implied by the work of Christ. Paul declares that Jesus ‘gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for himself his own special people, zealous for good works’ (Titus 2:14).
The signs of impurity
Impurity will be evidenced in several ways. First of all, there will be ignorance of sin. When people do not see their grave condition, have no desire for Christ, and are ignorant of Satan’s devices, they bear the marks of gospel impurity. As Watson puts it: ‘There is no going to heaven in the dark’.
Again, the impure heart sees no need for purity or likeness to Christ. ‘I am well enough without it’, they will say. Besides this, the impure entertain sin in the heart and life. Sin is allowed and indulged. This can be true of real believers, which is why a command to purity is so important, and repentance for the want of it is so necessary.
Another mark of an impure heart is unbelief. If there is unbelief and covetousness in my life, there is the source of much sin and impurity.
There are few, furthermore, who do not feel the attraction in some measure of what is scandalous or salacious. Such indicators of an impure heart are to be mourned and mortified. That of course will be a lifelong struggle. But Christ’s word is an encouragement: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart.’
The signs of a pure heart
It is certainly a sign of purity in heart — gospel purity — when one has a serious and sincere desire to serve and follow the Lord and (as Watson puts it) to ‘breathe after’ purity of life.
There will be a loathing of sin. Like the psalmist, the pure in heart will ‘hate every false way’ (Psalm 119:104) and, with Paul, will ‘abhor what is evil’ (Romans 12:9).
There will be a corresponding concern to keep the commandments of the Lord, as representing his perfect standard of purity. This, of course, is indicated in Christ’s application of many commandments in the course of the sermon, of which the Beatitudes are part. ‘If you love me’, says the Lord elsewhere, ‘keep my commandments’ (John 14:15).
There will be a concern also to avoid all appearance of evil; that is, to avoid the suspicion of sin and to be watchful that, by the grace of God, people will see the Lord’s character reflected in the believer’s life.
There will be a concern for the things of God, particularly as they relate to his worship, to a life of principled obedience, and to walking uprightly in the ways of the Lord.
True, there is no perfection attainable in this life. But that is never a reason to give up striving for complete purity of life. We have to remember the promise attached to this Beatitude: ‘for they shall see God’. If we are to see God, and enjoy his favour and presence, then we must be pure in heart.
How do we attain this purity?
There are means by which, by God’s grace, men and women may attain a measure of this grace. In the first place, they must know the Word of God. It is through the Word, says Jesus, that people are sanctified (John 17:17,19). Therefore the people of God must be avid students of the Word of God. By this means they become ‘equipped for every good work’ (2 Timothy 3:17).
There must also be the exercise of faith in the Lord. After all, without faith it is impossible to please him (Hebrews 11:6). It is by faith that the believer purifies his heart (Acts 15:9).
No doubt, part of the exercise of faith in this matter is to ask for the constant quickening power of the Holy Spirit. He is the sanctifier. He convicts, renews, and causes us to bear fruit (Galatians 5:21-25).
Finally, the believer must beware of worldliness and of associations that might encourage a carnal spirit. ‘Evil communications corrupt good manners’ (1 Corinthians 15:33), while ‘he who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed’ (Proverbs 13:20).
This, then, is a clear call to purity of life. It is obviously an important call. For who will be blessed of the Lord, and who will see God? None other than the pure in heart.