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Sep 9, 2016

What Christ Means by Purity of Heart

Sonja Corbitt

Whether you live several states or simply blocks away, family BBQ’s, holidays, and gatherings are times to reconnect with those you love. But I know from experience those happy reunions also harbor potential for emotional eruptions.

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We recently endured an unmatched gauntlet for head-exploding drama and heart-pounding anxiety on both sides of our family. An eerily similar craziness boiled over from two different, unrelated people in two different, unrelated occasions separated by several weeks.

I’m no prophet, but I have learned through discerning my patterns, when I see or hear something two or more times I can be sure God is at work somehow. I know to pay attention to what happens next and be in prayer about the people and circumstances around me, because they are being used by the Holy Spirit to teach me something.

So the theatrics flanking our extended family’s last get-together sent warning bells ringing in my head as soon as the second emotional tornado hit. Baseless accusations, foaming rage, vociferous cursing, unjustifiable suspicion, and alternative realities left us all reeling in confusion. We looked at each other sideways, wondering, “What in the world is happening? Is it us? Is it them?”

The Mess We’re In

Living with the chaos and anxiety of habitual sin, our own or another’s, is tough. At some point we just want off the roller coaster of instability. Strained relationships, debt, busy schedules, insatiable children, and all other forms of dis-ease can really weigh on us. What causes this instability, this inability to find and live in lasting peace?

“A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8). In the Scriptures, we’re told double-mindedness causes instability. Double-minded means unreality or untruth, not necessarily in the sense of deceiving others but in the deeper sense of deceiving oneself.

So one who is two-hearted is in every sense a self-deceiver. The self-deceit causes insecurity and doubt, as he hedges his bets and gives himself first to one thing and then the other, but never fully to either.

He is a person of un-faith, and volatile: “He who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6). He doubts because he knows himself to be disloyal and unreliable, and he projects that unreliability on God and others.

In the Bible, this double-mindedness is called impurity.

Purity Is Whole-heartedness

Often we understand purity as cleanness, especially sexual or spiritual cleanness. But biblical purity is better described as spiritual single-mindedness, whole-heartedness. Purity is so powerful because it is focused single-mindedness. In a sense, it’s a contradiction of multitasking. This whole-heartedness leads inexorably away from instability and doubt, unto rest and stability when its object is God.

“Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind” (James 4:8). Oddly enough, the Bible says the cure for the hot mess of instability and sin is the purity of an undivided commitment to God. As we draw nearer to God, our hands are further cleansed and our hearts more deeply purified.

The opposite, impurity or double-heartedness, is the same as idolatry: “Unfaithful creatures! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

Double-minded literally means two-souled or two-spirited, wishy-washy, uncommitted, divided, doubting, wavering, uncertain, and especially a division of interest between the world and God.

So the double-minded man has a heart divided between the world and God, like a husband with a wife and a girlfriend. Purity of heart, on the other hand, is to will one thing, namely, full and total allegiance to God. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart” (Matthew 22:37).

Purity Is to Will One Thing

The Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard wrote a book called Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing, in which he explores the biblical view of faith as a matter of passion for God’s will rather than perfect dogmatic adherence. In his book, purity is understood as right willing. That is, willing the Good, or what God wills—“the one thing needed,” in Jesus’ words (Luke 10:42).

Purity is not so much whiteness, then, as it is a matter of being true to God and his will. Sin is to be eliminated only so that potential and goodness may flourish, not for its own sake. And sin can only be permanently eliminated through a single-minded, whole-hearted drawing near to God, because it is his presence and will that purifies.

Pure olive oil includes no additive or adulterant. Pure water is water and nothing else. A pure heart is a heart which is fully alive and unobstructed, with all its energies directed to a single end. The only thing that has the capacity to hold such an intense concentration of energy is God; with anything less the energies are scattered and focus is lost.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). This pure, whole-heartedness fits us for God himself. And what we see of him is his own “whole-heartedness.” He is who he is, and nothing else (Exodus 3:14). He invites us to become who we are, and nothing else.

Purity of heart comes from being drawn to God, and grappling in his presence with our tendencies to sin—to cover, prevaricate, and numb who we really are from ourselves, from God, and from others. Whatever the relative importance of marital fidelity and chastity to purity of heart, it must be acknowledged that purity of heart is the absolute foundation for a faithful, chaste, or otherwise pure life (see Matthew 5:27-32). Only one who is moving toward singleness of purpose will have courage to pursue virtue, despite temptation and failure.

Deceit, or impurity of heart, is what we do when we will two things, rather than one. We do one thing and want people to believe we do another. We feel one thing and want people to think we feel another. Psychologists tell us a divided heart is highly correlated with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, suicide, eating disorders, self-medication, and all manner of human dis-ease.

So the heart is utterly crucial to Jesus, because impurity and hypocrisy come from divided hearts (see Luke 6:45). Jesus did not come into the world simply because we have some bad habits that need to be broken. He came into the world because our divided hearts must be wholly integrated.

What we are in the deep, private recesses of our lives is what he cares about most, because our bald truthfulness about who we are is necessary for our oneness and healing. In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen. “The pure in heart will see God” (Matthew 5:8).

The Purity of God’s Presence Is Peace

What if the Cross, then, was the unfiltered, whole-hearted presence of God? What if, beneath the pain of reality, there is peace? Stability?

What if God was saying “I bare myself to you, the human race, you the human person. I have been as vulnerable and transparent to you as it is possible to be. My arms are completely open. I am naked. I am hurting. I am needy. I am bloody, sweaty, thirsty, pinned down, exhausted, empty. I went first. I am safe. I still AM. Won’t you be utterly real with me, too”?

Courage comes from the Latin “cor,” meaning “heart.” Originally it meant to tell who you are with your whole heart. Purity—single-mindedness—takes courage, the courage to go all-in with God. The willingness to let go of who I think I should be in order to be who I am. To whole-heartedly be imperfect and stop the fakeness with him and other people.

When I can be whole-hearted with him, I can begin whole-heartedness with others. I can allow them to be vulnerable, hot mess and all.

Maybe we will be patient with the slow emergence of one another’s beautiful truth, and maybe we won’t, but either way, going all-in with God is getting off the roller coaster. Peace is in the purity of God’s presence.

“Purity is not a long struggle against that which is impure or forbidden. Rather it is singleness of heart. Catch the great thought that from Him, the Father of Lights, comes every good and perfect gift, and therefore nothing outside God is worth having or craving” —Fr. John Gaynor Banks

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  • Hey, you are a terrific wordsmith. I’ve found that being actively aware of the Blessed Trinity, and asking for a “right mind,” helps. Human nature is such that some folks might think that they are guilty of “impure looks” when they are actually conforming to their nature, but are not in any way desirous.

  • Wow! That absolutely clarified it for me. Thank you so much! I solely applied it to sexual sin, not the divided heart. I never even heard that before. <3

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