By: The John Ankerberg Show
|By: Dr. Steven C. Riser; ©2008|
|All of us understand why we wear masks: We don’t want people to know who we really are. We don’t want people to see our weaknesses and struggles. We fear judgment and/or rejection from others. We can fool our employers and fellow workers. We can fool our family members and friends. We can fool our brothers and sisters in Christ. However, no matter how hard we try, we can’t fool the Lord. And in the end, His judgment is the only one that counts!|
Matthew 5:8 – “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
Have you ever noticed that many people go through life hiding behind a mask? I’m not talking about the ones we wear at costume parties; I’m talking about the masks we wear every day. Sometimes we wear a mask when we go to work and interact with customers or fellow employees, but the mask comes off when we get home. Sometimes we put on another mask when friends come over to visit our home, but when they leave the mask comes off.
We have yet another mask. It’s the one we wear to church. We put it on just before we gather for worship. It’s a mask that cleverly disguises our pain, fears, struggles and secrets. There’s a classic cartoon of a pastor talking with his wife on a Sunday morning as they’re driving to church. The wife says, “Today let’s do something different. Why don’t you be charming at home and grouchy at church?”
All of us understand why we wear masks: We don’t want people to know who we really are. We don’t want people to see our weaknesses and struggles. We fear judgment and/or rejection from others. We can fool our employers and fellow workers. We can fool our family members and friends. We can fool our brothers and sisters in Christ. However, no matter how hard we try, we can’t fool the Lord. And in the end, His judgment is the only one that counts!
In Matthew 5, in the Beatitudes, Jesus speaks of taking off our masks and learning to be authentic before God, with ourselves and with one another. In Matthew 5:8 Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Sin is like a “spiritual fog” that keeps us from seeing God through our spiritual eyes.
The Beatitudes are our Lord’s prescription for a life filled with deep meaning and joy! Jesus has taught that the condition of our heart before God is of first importance. We can’t come into a deep and vital relationship with God until we first realize our spiritual poverty without him, until we deeply repent and truly trust Christ, and until we understand who we are in light of who He is. And that requires regular and radical self confrontation to prevent rationalization/justification.
In Matthew 5:8, Jesus is calling us to a heart of purity. He looks beneath our spiritual façade. He wants to know, “What is in your heart?” What is the condition of your heart? That’s what He cares about.
God spoke to Samuel searching for a new king to replace Saul saying, “Don’t look at his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him (Eliab). The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).
Solomon says, “All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the LORD weighs the heart” (Prov. 21:2); “As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man” (Prov. 27:19). What are these verses saying? They are saying that our heart reveals our true character.
I. What Is The Biblical View of The Human Heart?
What does the Bible mean when it speaks of “the heart”? In the Bible, the word “heart” is used as a metaphor of the inner person – the core of our being. The heart represents our deepest emotions, feelings, and thoughts, but it also represents the control center of our will. To suggest that God really doesn’t care all that much about our behavior would be theologically ridiculous. Obviously, our actions do matter. But our Lord knows that the things we do are driven by the inner thoughts, desires and motivations of the heart. Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” The heart influences everything else in your life!
Our Lord knows we are more than the sum total of our actions. What we are in the deep recesses of our heart is what determines our behavior and the course of our lives and that’s what God cares about most! The Bible teaches that the heart is 1) the control center of our affections, emotions, but it is also, 2) the source of most of our problems:
1) Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure…”; 2) God sent a flood because, He “saw how great man’s wickedness on the Earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all of the time. (Gen. 6:5); 3) Jesus said, “out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, and slander” (Matt. 15:19).
There is no doubt about it: the human heart is rebellious and deceptive! The tragic fallacy of our time is: sociologists and secular humanists have led many to believe that man’s problems are merely educational or environmental and so they pump billions of dollars into our failed social experiments. It takes more than education to overcome a corrupt, rebellious human heart.
What’s the result of misdiagnosing the problem? Do we have a better, safer and gentler world? Most of our social experiments have been a monumental failure because we’ve misdiagnosed the primary problem. The fundamental problem is that our unregenerate natures are at enmity with God. We’re all helpless and hopeless sinners by nature and by choice! Our sinful nature does not and cannot submit to the moral law of God.
II. Jesus Calls Us to Have a Pure Heart
It’s naïve to think we can change man by changing his environment. Jeremiah asks the rhetorical question, “can the leopard change its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.” Our primary problem isn’t environmental, or cultural or educational, or social, or political, or economic. The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart.
Jeremiah 17:9 says, the heart of man is “desperately wicked, who can know it?” God didn’t send his Son into our world because we need a little more education, or we have some bad habits that need to be broken, or we have some social graces needing refinement. We have a heart problem that only God can remedy by the regeneration of the Spirit.
Jesus calls us to purity of heart (v. 8). The word pure is the Greek word katharos, a word from which we get the English word catharsis. Catharsis is a word that’s commonly used in the realm of psychology when speaking of the cleansing of our mind and emotions. You often hear people talk about cathartic experiences, experiences that brought a dramatic change or renewal into their lives. The Greek word means, “to make pure by cleansing from filth and contamination.” Jesus calls us to have pure hearts, hearts free from the moral contamination caused by sin.
The Bible speaks of purity in three different ways. Let me briefly mention them:
- The Bible speaks of divine purity: the purity and holiness of God. Holiness is intrinsic to God’s nature. It’s interesting that in the Bible, holiness is the only attribute of God that spoken of in the superlative. The angels sang, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts. The whole earth is filled with his glory.” The Bible never says that God is “love, love, love” or “mercy, mercy, mercy” or “faithful, faithful, faithful.” But it does say that He is: thrice holy: holy, holy, holy!
- Speaking of the believer, there is a positional purity: a holiness God imputes to those who trust Jesus. The moment we’re saved, God imputed the righteousness of Christ to us as a gift. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:21, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Do you know that God sees you robed in the righteousness of his Son? We see all of the flaws, but God sees us as righteous, just as He sees his Son.
- The third kind of purity is a practical purity, mentioned in Matthew 5:8. This is the process of sanctification – living on the outside, the purity that God has made real on the inside. It’s working out the new life God has imparted to us in Christ and we know this is where we all struggle.
Obviously, there’s a sense in which only God can make us holy and purify our hearts. But the Bible does not teach that after we come to Christ we’re to be these passive vessels into which God pours his virtue. God begins working in us to transform us and the Bible teaches that we have a part to play too. Dallas Willard says, Grace, we must learn, is opposed to earning, not effort.
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 7, “Therefore, having these promises beloved, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” This is why Peter challenged us, As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do. John said, “He that has this hope purifies himself, even as he [God] is pure.”
III. Jesus Will Help Us to Have a Pure Heart
What am I driving at? To be pure in heart means to be saved – to have the righteousness of Christ imputed to your life and to live life of purity on the outside based on what God made real on the inside.
You may be thinking, “Who am I kidding? Every day is a battle. Like Paul, I’m this walking paradox, I want to do the things that please God, but more often than not, I find that I don’t have the power to carry it out.”
John Bunyan said, “Sin and corruption flows out of my heart as naturally as water flows from a fountain.”
C.S. Lewis, who came to Christ later in his adult life once said, “I realize that I spent most of my life doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.” Can you relate?
Are you looking for change in your life? Spiritual freedom instead of bondage to things that pull you down and drain the life out of you? Do you want to know the power of God’s presence with you and in you?
The good news I have for you today is to say that: 1) Spiritual transformation and growth in Christ is not only possible, but that: 2) No one wants that more for you than the Lover of your soul – God Himself! But, it’s not uncommon to go down all the wrong paths in our quest for answers. For example:
- The PHARISEES went down the path of legalism and imposed all kinds of regulations on people in an effort to clean up people from the outside in. But, Jesus said, they were like whitewashed tombs. Outwardly they were beautiful, but inside they were filled with dead men’s bones and every unclean thing.
- The SADDUCEES went down the path of modernism and secularism. They decided the clear teachings of Scripture were passé – let’s not deal with the resurrection, let’s not deal with the spirit world and the afterlife. Let’s deal with the problems of here and now – a secular utilitarian approach. Let’s appease our enemies. Let’s go along to get along.
- The ZEALOTS went down the path of political activism. They believed that the only way to change society and change man was through political upheaval and social change – a rather radical approach! In the medieval church, some went down the path of monasticism. They decided that the key to living a godly life was to retreat from the distractions of the world, devoting their time and energy to prayer and meditation. Also in the early church, many went down the path of asceticism.
They thought, “I need to suppress my inward desires.” So they committed to living lives of rigorous self-denial. Some, like Martin Luther, routinely beat themselves. Some denied themselves food. Some donned sackcloth. Still others emasculated themselves in an effort to sublimate sexual temptation, but all of these pursuits left people frustrated and feeling distant from God.
Do any these pursuits sound familiar? How many of them have you tried in your spiritual journey? I don’t know about you, but I’ve tried many of them. I’ve tried reforming my behavior by imposing strict standards on myself. I’ve read self-help books and made more spiritual resolutions than I can count. I’ve decided to pray more and to try harder.
How many have said, “I’m going to lose weight, I’m going to stop drinking; I’m going to stop smoking; I’m going to stop looking at pornography on the Internet; I’m going to finally get my act together”?
But try as we may, we can never live holy lives by 1) following our own ideas and 2) polishing up the exterior. Solomon asks a rhetorical question in Proverbs 20:9, “Who can say, ‘I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin?’”
What is the bottom line? God changes our hearts, which in turn, changes our lives! We can’t change our lives without changing our heart and only Jesus has the power to do that.
IV. But How Does That Change Of Heart Happen? (Matthew 5:1-12)
Believe it or not, the answer is found in the beatitudes. True Christianity isn’t a matter of reformed behavior, but allowing Jesus to live his life in and through us.
1) It’s becoming poor in spirit, realizing that we’re nothing without God. 2) It’s mourning our true spiritual condition, damaged and wrecked by sin. 3) It’s humbling our lives before God, realizing who we are in light of who he is. 4) It’s hungering and thirsting for the deep spiritual satisfaction only God can give. 5) It’s learning to be gracious to others because God has been gracious to us. 6) It’s learning to pray like David out of brokenness over our own sin: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Don’t cast me away from your presence or take your Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” And when we come to God, in humility, in our brokenness, taking off the masks, God can and God will make us pure in heart by His Spirit.
When we do that, God has a wonderful reward: the pure in heart will see God. Isn’t that the deep desire of our heart? To dwell in the sweetness of God’s presence, to see His hand working in our family, in our relationships, in our church, in our place of employment, in our circumstances, in our prayers and in our lives and to one day see him face to face in the fullness of his glory? (The beatific Vision)
I believe that God wants to reveal His glory, His majesty, His power and Himself, that we might understand His ways and walk in them, but our vision of Him is sharpened by living a life of moral and spiritual purity (John 14:21, 23).
What is the condition of your heart? Some of you have…
- A broken heart: you’re deeply wounded inside, perhaps by the things done by you or to you.
- A hard heart: you’ve allowed anger and bitterness to harden your heart and you’ve decided no one is getting close to you, you push people away and you live a shallow and superficial life. The Word of God is like a hammer that can break a hard heart into pieces.
- A divided heart: you’re torn between living for God and wanting your own way. You have one foot in the Kingdom and one foot in the world. God alone is worthy of our ultimate love/loyalty.
All of us need…
- A healed or healthy heart – Only the Great Physician can mend a broken heart.
- A regenerate or responsive heart – Only God’s Spirit regenerate the human heart.
- A whole or complete (perfect) heart – A whole heart has undivided loyalty toward God.
Isn’t it time to take off the mask? Isn’t it time, in the quietness of this moment to pray: “God, create in me a clean heart. Holy Spirit, please help me!” God promises, I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people and I will be their God (Jer. 24:7).