Story 52: On Purity and Grace

Matthew 5:8-9

water flowing from plastic bottle into a glass

In a lot of places in the world, perhaps especially in the West, the concept of purity doesn’t mean much unless we are talking about our water. The way we think, spend our time, our desires and hopes…they can take any shape or form they want as long as we aren’t breaking any laws…or at least not getting caught. And then we wonder why there is so much pain in the world…and within ourselves. The importance of purity is easy to understand with water…the crisp clean look and taste of clean water makes that obvious…especially if the last glass you drank was contaminated. So why is it such a stretch to consider, to find deeply important, the purity of something infinitely more valuable…the purity of the human heart? Christ didn’t shrink from this. If we want to see Him, neither can we.

As Jesus taught about those who would be blessed in the Kingdom of Heaven, the next thing he said was, “‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.’” What does it mean to see God? And for that matter, what does it mean to be pure in heart?

To find out if we are pure in heart, we have to ask some very hard questions. The questions are not about the outward things we do, like whether we go to church every week. It is not about whether we look the way we think a Christian is supposed to look. We have to ask deeper questions about what is really going on inside our hearts…and we have to be starkly honest about the dark things that are really there. It is amazing how quickly we can deceive ourselves or ignore the areas of our lives that we aren’t proud of. Looking honestly at our own areas of brokenness is one of the bravest things a person can do, but how else can we offer those things to Jesus?  He is the only one with the power to forgive us, cleanse us, and make us new.

Some of the questions go like this:

  • Are there certain sins I want to keep doing, even though I know they are wrong?
  • What thoughts do I have that I would be ashamed to share with others?
  • Do I enjoy thinking about or talking about others in a malicious way?
  • Do I serve Jesus to keep people from judging me or to win compliments?
  • Do I serve others so that they will owe me for my work, or do I do it as a clean and pure offering to the Lord?
  • Do I laugh at things that offend Jesus? Do I enjoy it when others are shamed or embarrassed?
  • Is there anyone I feel jealous of when something good happens to them?
  • Am I more caught up in being comfortable, getting rich, or having the right clothes or cell phone than I am in my love for Christ and His Kingdom?
  • Is there anyone I treat as if they are someone I can use?  Do I treat anyone as if they are beneath me, or do I seek to treat others with the dignity and love of Christ?
  • Can I enjoy myself if I don’t feel like I am superior to others?  Is my primary way of relating to others a competition?
  • If I recorded the voice in my head, what would it sound like? Are there lies I’m believing or living out of?
  • When I look at my emotions, what things make me feel excited?   Do they honor God?  Are they good for me?  Are they good for the people around me?

These are just a few of the questions that can help us search our own hearts. They help reveal things in us that are toxic and destructive.  When we confess those things to Jesus, it is like an invitation for Him to come and cleanse our hearts.  He purifies us so that the old, ugly things are not longer filling our vision with poisonous emotions and fears.  We come to see Him more and more clearly, drawing nearer into His perfect love.  Our subtly negative ways of thinking and behaving out of mistrust, jealousy, anger, shame, fear and hatred are no longer the way we approach world…or our relationship with God. We begin to see the world around us and the people in our lives with greater purity and goodness.

But how?  Well, for one, we need to be patient with ourselves and our feelings.  God is slow to anger and abounding in love.  He is patient and full of grace.  If we bravely ask the Lord to reveal to us what He wants to show us and are willing to ask the hard questions, He will be faithful.  Sometimes we need to set aside the things we think are most important…the sins that really bother us, and allow Him to show us what He wants to deal with in us.  He might have a different agenda than you or I have for ourselves.  We need to be ready to listen to Him.

It is important to realize that when He speaks, it will not be full of contempt and shame.  It is with gentleness and love.  The stories where God speaks with anger in the Bible is not towards those who have come to Him with a repentant and willing heart.  He reserves His wrath for the hard and stubborn of heart.  God loves a broken and contrite spirit, and He loves to bless us with transforming insight.  We can take what He shows us about our sin and shame and confess it right back to Him.  Say: “Lord Jesus, I have…” then tell Him what you’ve done or what attitude you’ve had.  Then repent: “Lord, I am wrong, and I don’t want to sin against You in this way anymore” and ask Him for forgiveness.   Then say thank You to Him because we know that when we confess our sins He is faithful to forgive us.  He is a beautiful Savior.

In fact, it might be good to spend some time thinking about your new forgiveness and freedom and keep on thanking Him with focussed gratefulness. Try it for a minute or two or five.  Even if your emotions don’t feel it, keep thanking Him.  You can sing a praise song or listen to worship music.  You can go to a Psalm of thanksgiving and pray through it (try Psalm 100 or 103).  Your job is use the will you have to focus your mind on gratitude.  How do you feel afterwards?  Was it hard?  Keep on trying.  That kind of attention and focus builds with practice, and the reward is great.  You will know you have meditated long enough when your emotions change.  It is very important let go of the habits of unhappiness and shame and take hold of the joy of  gratefulness over Christ’s compelling love for you.

A lot of times we will struggle with sins over and over again.  It will be hard to conquer them.  Often, when we face areas of sin, especially the ones we have already tried to conquer, it makes them seem even more glaring and terrible. We feel heaping shame…we can feel desperate to turn away and ignore them.  That doesn’t help.  We need to fight our sinful patterns even when it gets messy…and it will.  Just ask anyone recovering from an addiction.  Fight on.  The messiness can go from bad to worse, but we are meant to keep calling on the name of Jesus…we are meant to keep fighting.  Wage war.  We can ask others for help and accountability, and we keep fighting.  It might go from bad to worse…it might get messier and messier.  It might take years.  Keep going.  And then, one day, there will be a turn.  Things will start to change.  What was once a torturous temptation won’t be so painful to walk away from.  It will get easier to be the kind of person you want to be.  You can walk further and further into your release.  And then, as full freedom comes, it will be beautiful.  We can know through the full length of that battle with sin that Jesus is right there with us, loving that we are hungering and thirsting for righteousness even as we stumble and fall in our weakness.  He is the Lord of grace, and He will help us on our way to freedom.

One day, when this age is over and Christ brings us all to Heaven to be with Him in everlasting life, we will be completely transformed and made perfectly pure in His love. We will be made to be like Jesus, and our weary struggle with sin will be over. We will love with perfection. But until that day, we are striving towards that goal, and in the process our hearts are being purified…and the pure in heart will see God.

Jesus went on. He said: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”  We know that Jesus is the Son of God…He is also the ultimate peacemaker. The Most High God of the universe has made a way for sinful men to have peace with Him through His Son.  When Jesus died and rose again, He conquered sin and death.  He broke the barrier between God and humanity.  He took our sin away and gave us His righteousness…and by His stripes we are healed.  (Check out Isaiah 52:13-53:12).

And because we know what Jesus did for us, believers in Christ know that God took the impossible and made it possible. Since we know that this amazing miracle has already happened, we have great hope for what God can do in our world. We love…even those who have hurt us. We seek to bring peace between people who seem to hate each other. We seek solutions where no solutions seem possible. We forgive even when it is totally undeserved. We have freedom not to defend ourselves and fight for our rights at every turn because we trust Jesus to fight for us. We can lay down our pride and act with humility, disarming the tensions of proud and angry and injured men and women. And sometimes we set protective boundaries so the vulnerable cannot be hurt any longer, and the wicked have less opportunity to sin. We are the sons and daughters of God.  We bring peace.

 

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