A Heart for God

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

Jesus taught a lot about the importance of the heart. The heart is spoken of in Scripture as the center of the moral and spiritual life. It is God’s dwelling place in us as believers and, as the root of so many problems, the heart is also where God performs most of His work on us.

There are consistent reminders of the evil of the heart: the heart can be self-deceiving (James 1:26), deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9), lustful (Matthew 5:28), arrogant (Isaiah 9:9), impious (Acts 7:51), perverse (Psalm 101:4), and impenitent (Romans 2:5).

Further, look at the statement Jesus makes recorded in Mark 7:18-23. After Jesus had just admonished the Pharisees and scribes for focusing more on man’s commandments instead of God’s, He pulled His disciples aside and said, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

I wonder what can we do in our own lives to work on our heart? I’m not talking about cardio exercise here, but rather our own actions that define our hearts. In this age of social media and instant feedback on every post and picture we put out there, where is our focus? We care so much about letting others know about where they error in their political beliefs, or posting pics of our fabulous new car, new home, the places we’re visiting and all of the other external things in life that define us, but what are we doing to change our own hearts? Do our daily actions really indicate a people set apart for God?

I have mentioned elsewhere the statistic that 83% of Americans consider themselves Christian. That’s hard to believe given all of the hatred and divisiveness seen not only on this same social media but in life in general. Are we putting any effort into changing our hearts? Do we belong to the modern Pharisee group or do we reflect the light that is in us? Perhaps we should consider ‘What Would Jesus do?” the next time we want to re-post a politically charged ad or get angry at the person in front of us in line or even when someone cuts us off in traffic. Are we using our influence to exacerbate the divisiveness that is so prevalent, the truth that has become so baseless and relative, or are we focused more on purifying our own hearts? Are we growing?

Thankfully, there is hope for the human condition. When we recognize our own brokenness, when we are at our weakest, He is there if only we allow Him to work in us. When we put away our own self-sufficiency and pride, we can then allow our hearts to truly be transformed (Romans 6:17-18; 2 Corinthians 5:17). For the Lord will not despise a broken, contrite heart (Psalm 51:17); if one’s heart is turned toward God, He promises to make it sensitive to divine things, renewed and purified (Deuteronomy 4:29; 2 Kings 23:25; Psalm 51:10; Joel 2:13; Ezekiel 36:25–27).

In the verse at the beginning, Jesus refers to the pure in heart. These individuals are those whose pursuit of purity and uprightness affects EVERY area of life. When He says “they shall see God”, this coincides with the fulfillment promised in Revelation 22:4 which states, “will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads”. In contrast to Jewish traditions that overemphasized external ritual purity, Jesus taught that purity of heart was most important.

Matthew 6:21 states that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. We must be on constant vigil to guard our hearts against our sinful nature (Philippians 4:6). While we cannot escape this human condition in our earthly bodies, we can overcome the evil of the heart by letting go of our arrogance and pride in learning to trust in Him to deliver us from the evil within. Only when we become weak, can He become strong.

“Only let it be remembered, that the heart, even of a believer, is not wholly purified when he is justified. Sin is then overcome, but it is not rooted out; it is conquered, but not destroyed. Experience shows him, First, that the roots of sin, self-will, pride, and idolatry, remain still in his heart. But as long as he continues to watch and pray, none of them can prevail against him. Experience teaches him, Secondly, that sin (generally pride or self-will) cleaves to his best actions: So that, even with regard to these, he finds an absolute necessity for the blood of atonement.” ~ John Wesley