The Pure in Heart
Posted Friday, October 14, 2011
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Matthew 5:8
Kierkegaard says that to have a pure heart is to will one thing: God’s will. Impurity, then, is separation from God – the experience of sex away from him, and without his blessing.
Impurity does not affect us from the outside. Rather, because it originates in our imagination, it breaks out from inside us like an infected sore (Matt. 15:16–20). An impure spirit is never satisfied, never whole: it always wants to steal something for itself, and lusts for more. Impurity leads to spiritual death.
When we let impurity enter our hearts and minds, we open the door to a demonic force that will gain control over every sphere of life. This happens not only when we enter into sexual intimacy outside of marriage, but also when we idolize professional sports, or crave for power over others. If we are ruled by anything but Christ, we are living in impurity.
One of the starkest forms of impurity occurs when a person engages in sexual intercourse (or any other sexual act) for the sake of money. The apostle Paul says that a person who does this “becomes one with the harlot,” because he is using the body of another human for self-gratification. In doing this he commits a crime not only against the other person, but also against himself: “All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.” (1 Cor. 6:15–20). Even in marriage, sex for its own sake is sex separated from God.
How to Live Purely
How, then, can we ever live purely? It is a mistake to imagine that purity is the absence of sexual feeling. A person who lacks sensitivity to sex is, in actual fact, an incomplete person. And people who seek purity can never despise sex. Rather, they will hold the mystery of sex in reverence until they are called by God to enter its realm through marriage. In this way, they will also be free from fear.
God wants to give us inner harmony and clarity. In the Beatitudes, Jesus blesses the pure and the meek; he says that they shall inherit the earth and see God. Purity and humility belong together, because they arise from complete surrender to God. But purity and humility are not inborn; they must be struggled for continually. Only the humble can experience God’s goodness. The proud never can. People who strive for purity in their own strength will always stumble. They will keep falling into darkness and sin because they think they can handle their own problems. Those who seek help and advice, on the other hand, have already begun to win the battle. Such people live in God’s strength. They may fall, but God lifts them up and rescues them from a downward spiral.
I have seen people who might have been helped lose all hope and slide further into sin. Like an avalanche, their problems mount. Some fall into crime, drugs, and alcohol abuse because they see no way out. Often all such a person needs is a friend to point them toward God, to encourage them to fight for the purity they actually wants. But self-absorption shields such people from the great promise: that every temptation can be overcome if only we are willing to admit our failings.
Give Your Whole Life to Jesus
We need to place our whole lives under Jesus. Then he will help us overcome the desires that tear us apart. The more firmly we are gripped by his Spirit, the sooner we will find our true character. Bonhoeffer writes, “Who is pure in heart? Only those who have surrendered their hearts completely to Jesus, that he alone may remain in them; only those whose hearts are undefiled by their own evil – and by their own virtue as well.”
Sexual temptations are a problem not only for young adults, but can plague us for a lifetime. And while a desire for purity is essential, it remains impossible for anyone to simply “resolve” to never give in to temptation again. Only through faith in Jesus can the gift of purity be given. Even then, our battle will continue. Still, we can take courage, because Jesus himself will plead to God on our behalf if we ask him. (1 Cor. 10:13).
Pure men and women are able to discern the good and evil in the sexual sphere. They are aware of its goodness and beauty as a gift from God. But they also know that the misuse of this gift opens the door to evil spirits, and that they will not be able to free themselves from these spirits. Therefore they avoid every situation that defiles the soul, and will not lead others into sin.
The Daily Fight for Purity
In the Sermon on the Mount we can see how seriously Jesus takes this daily fight for purity. He says that if we look at another person with a lustful glance, we have already committed adultery in our hearts (Matt. 5:27–30). That Jesus speaks about lustful thoughts – let alone lustful actions – shows us how important a decisive attitude of heart is.
It is important to reject everything that belongs to the sphere of sexual impurity: greed, vanity, and all forms of self-indulgence. Our attitude cannot be one of “partial” fascination with lust, but must be one of complete rejection. If our hearts are pure, we will react instinctively to anything that threatens us. And purity is not just related to the sexual area, because there can be no purity of heart without a feeling for justice (James 1:26–27). To know that our neighbor is hungry and not give him food also defiles one’s heart. That is why the first Christians pooled everything they possessed and gave themselves to God.
We should not think that the struggle for purity ends when one is married. Marriage can be a trap. Young people think all their problems will be solved when they are married, but the fact is that many problems will only begin then. A marriage certificate is no guarantee of purity, nor should it be seen as a license to satisfy every desire. Whenever a true relationship to God is missing, sex quickly loses its true depth and dignity. And even inside of a marriage, superficiality in the sexual sphere breaks down the mystery of the bond between man and woman.
Here is Holy Ground
The union between husband and wife is a grace. It has a redeeming effect. But no one can solve the need of a partner’s burdened conscience. Full redemption can be found only in Jesus. Therefore, whenever a man and woman unite, they should have the attitude Moses had when he came upon the burning bush: “Here is holy ground, take off your shoes!” (Exod. 3:5)
As the union of a husband and wife under God, sex fulfills its divinely ordained function in a profound way: it is tender, peaceful, and mysterious. When a couple experiences the sexual sphere in this way, they will feel that their union cannot be meant only for procreation. At the same time, they must remember that through their uniting a new life may come into being. If they are truly reverent, they will be filled with such awe for the holiness of this fact that their union will become like a prayer to God.
Without Christ, a man or woman who has lived in impurity cannot grasp the mysterious depth of the sexual sphere. But in Christ there can be complete healing. “For we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” (1 John 3:3)