By Julia Wallace
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matt. 5:8). It’s tempting to read these words as we read most words—quickly and without much thought—but I encourage you to pause and let these words sink in: they will see God. Is this not the ultimate hope of our faith, that one day we can stand in the presence of God? Do we not spend our lives asking, “How can I please God?” or “How can I be closer to Him?” And yet here Jesus gives us a very direct answer: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
But what does it mean to be “pure in heart”? According to the testimony of Scripture, this “purity” refers to an undivided allegiance free from division or distraction. It could be characterized as full-hearted devotion marked by sincerity, transparency, and integrity. Søren Kierkegaard, 19th century philosopher and theologian, summed it up well in the title of his devotional classic Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing. Kierkegaard, and Scripture, argue that this one thing is to know and love God.
In a world characterized by distraction and as people marred by sin’s temptation to worship idols, how can we have this singular devotion to God? Thank God the answer doesn’t lie with us—it lies with Him! God seeks to transform our hearts toward Himself, recognizing that from our hearts flows everything we do (Prov. 4:23). We can change our habits and alter our behavior, but without the transformation of our hearts—of our deepest will and desires—lasting change, which is pleasing to the Lord, will not come. Inward transformation must precede and sustain external transformation.
The transformation is God’s work, but throughout Scripture Jesus, the prophets, and the apostles make it abundantly clear that we can position ourselves in contexts that allow God’s Spirit to move within us and transform us. This includes drawing close to God that He may draw close to us (James 4:8); fixing our mind on what is true, pure, and lovely (Phil. 4:8); knowing and obeying His law and worshiping Him alone (Exod. 6).
It is important to note that this heart transformation is not an insular event that will solely alter how we individually relate to God; rather, when God changes our heart towards Him, it will necessarily change our hearts towards others. The Psalmist captures this duality in Psalm 24—”Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully” (Ps. 24:3-5). A pure heart is recognized by its undivided devotion to God, but also by its honest and sincere dealing with other people.