My friend Dan Watson, a fellow Okie (an “Okie” being someone from Oklahoma), has written a great post on the second half of Matthew 5:8: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Seeing God is the blessedness of the pure in heart, and it is therefore the motivation for pursuing heart-purity.
“If the heart is all about desires (think John Piper and “Christian Hedonism”) then the deepest desire defines identity. Identity defines lifestyle. So desiring to see God most deeply is the orientation that produces a pure heart (and, conversely, impurity in the heart is evidence of an insufficient or nonexistent desire to see God).”
You might want to read that twice.
This is huge. Pleasures fuel priorities, and priorities drive pursuits. It’s so easy to reverse this. I do it every day of my life. It’s so easy to think that what you externally pursue is what defines you. To some extent, this is true. “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:20). But from another angle, it’s not true. What you externally pursue is not what ultimately defines you. You can be a whitewashed tomb with dead men’s bones inside (Matthew 23:27). Your outside can be clean (good-looking pursuits) while your inside is scum and filth (selfish pleasures).
Rather, what you delight in defines you. What you love is who you are. Your deepest affections are your identity. I can’t just say, “Once I re-prioritize the practical details of my life, I’ll really walk with God.” What I have to do is re-orient my pleasures. I have to cultivate God-centered and Christ-saturated desires and loves and hates and fears and hopes and affections. Re-prioritization will flow from my re-pleasured heart. And these new (or at least refreshed) pleasures and priorities will compel me to practically pursue different things.
Practically, this is important because you can’t really grow in Christlikeness if you’re not cultivating a pure, Christlike heart. You can read your Bible more, you can go to church regularly, you can not cuss and not watch bad movies, but unless your heart is being purified, you won’t be being purified, no matter how good you may look on the outside.
The point is not to deemphasize external obedience. The point is that the internal desires of your heart are what drive you to do what you do. And even your most holy external actions can be merely an attempt to whitewash the pitch-black color of your heart.
So how do you know what your desires really are? You have to examine yourself in the pure mirror of God’s Word and with a hair-trigger sensitivity to His Spirit’s conviction. I can’t overemphasize to myself and to you the necessity of biblical self-examination. Its neglect has left many “Christian” moralists in hell (Matthew 7:21-23), and its practice has led many children of God to full assurance and confidence (1 John 5:13-15).
A. W. Tozer once gave seven “Rules for Self-Discovery.” They are ways to know yourself. This list (with Tozer’s explanations) is pinned to the bulletin board in my study, three feet to my right as I type. Tozer says that we can know ourselves — who we truly are — by:
- What we want most.
- What we think about most.
- How we use our money.
- What we do with our leisure time.
- The company we enjoy.
- Whom and what we admire.
- What we laugh at.
After reading those “rules,” if you’re not alarmed at the ease with which you can be self-deceived, you probably didn’t read them closely enough. Or you read them without thinking. Or your concept of self-examination is lacking.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” If I really want to see God, I will pursue heart-purity with every fiber of my being. Not because I have to earn God’s favor — Christ did that for me in life and in death — but because I want to see God’s face. How blessed are the pure in heart!
“Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).