Who Are We, Really?

1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:1-12)

I love the way Jesus opens up this inaugural sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, and begins the Beatitudes in such a way that He forces us to take a look at not only external things, but internal things. And really He sets the pace for His whole ministry by driving us to think very seriously and honestly about what is inside of us, about our hearts. Every time I read the Beatitudes I’m reminded of that. Where is His focus, where is He taking us, what does He want us to hear? It’s so clear. He is reaching into our hearts and wanting us to see a little bit about who we are.

I enjoy getting to know people. I like meeting people, I really do. I know not all people are that way. Some people struggle in the area of meeting new people. For some, I know it can be a really laborious task to meet new people, but I’m not so much that way. I generally like to hear people’s stories, hear where they’ve been and what their lives have been like. Everyone is so unique. People are just interesting to me. You are interesting to me! If you are here and we have not really gotten to know each other, it’s not because I don’t want to, it has more to do with this shared restraint we all deal with called time. Time prevents us from doing many things we may like to do. We are all limited to a 24-hour day and we have to do other things like sleep, eat, and other responsibilities. Getting to know people though is interesting to me, I enjoy that.

As much as I enjoy getting to know people, I also realize that there are very few people that will cross my path in my lifetime that I really, really know. You and I may talk, we may even do a few things together, but there is a difference between hanging out with each other and really getting to know one another. 

There have been many people that I thought I knew very well, to then be surprised to learn that I didn’t really know them at all. You have probably experienced that same thing. Something happens or is revealed and you think, “Wow, I never would have thought that of this particular person.” This can happen and often does happen because we may, and many do, operate on two levels. Level one I will call our outside person. It’s what you see. This is the person that everyone sees, it’s the way a person carries himself, looks, behaves. The other level is the inside person. Our inside person can be very different than what we see on the outside. The inside person is the real you and me, who we really are. The inside person is the part of us that we don’t show to everyone. In fact, we may show it to very few people, and to some we may not show it at all. The inside person is all about how we really think and feel, how we respond to others, but only in our minds, our hearts. We all have filters we operate through. It is interesting, we may think and feel a certain way on the inside, but then we filter that, we sanitize those thoughts, clean up those feelings, so what comes out may have little to do with what our inner man was processing. In other words, what we see coming from a person or what we hear may not be what they really think or even reflect well who they really are.

This makes it hard, even tricky at times, to really know another person. It can be a real challenge. We present to others what we want them to see, sometimes regardless of who we are on the inside. Jesus, of course, knew this. And so He says in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Jesus didn’t just say, “Blessed are the pure,” but said, “Blessed are the pure in heart.” He did not say, “Blessed are those who look pure, who say pure things, who talk about purity, who teach about purity.” He didn’t say any of that, did He? He didn’t say, “Blessed are those who understand the concept of purity, who call out people who are not pure, who think they are pure.” No, Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart.”

Our tendency may be to look at the outside of a person, the outer person. We may appreciate what we see. We also may tend to show others only our outer man, our presentation man. Jesus cuts through all of that. He does that with all these beatitudes, but maybe especially this one. He is not impressed with the person we conjure up for other people. In fact, we read in 1 Samuel 16…

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

And so for Jesus in the Beatitudes, in this introduction to His first public sermon in which He lays out a description of His Kingdom, of how His Kingdom operates and functions, it is no wonder that He would say, “Blessed are the pure in heart.” The Lord is interested in your heart, in my heart. He is interested in what is going on in our inner person, our innermost person, not so much what is seen on the outside.

Now I think it’s true that the more we are around each other and interact with each other, the more what is on the inside comes out and is seen. But really, if I only see you here on Sunday mornings, if you only see me here on Sundays, then you might not and I might not really see much of who we really are. But if you spend time at my house or I spend time in other places with you outside of church, living life together, then we will certainly learn more about each other. We will tend to get glimpses at least into each other’s inner man.

I was thinking about this very thing last week. I was thinking about how we can be so fearful of people really getting to know us. Sometimes we may not want our church friends in our homes because we can’t easily cover who we are there. And I don’t mean over for a visit, but I mean walking through several normal days with us. We may not want our children around some people, because you know how small children can be, they don’t have those filters, they just tell all, right? Oh to be a 1st grade Sunday school teacher, to hear those stories.

We don’t usually say, “Oh, if you think my husband is a godly man at church, you should see him at home! He is ten times more godly there.” “You think my children are well-behaved at church? You ought to see them at home!” It’s not so much that way. It’s more like we are afraid for people to see us in our normal environments, where our inner man may be more out there in the open, more visible, and we are not able to hide as much.

When we talk about purity of heart, we can do so in two ways. First we can talk about purity in heart as an inner holiness. Inner holiness in contrast to outward forms of holiness. In the Old Testament we can find many examples of ritualistic practice, or of observance to God’s commands with sincere obedience that flows from a sincere heart. For instance, in Deuteronomy 10 we read…

12 “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? 14 Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. (Deuteronomy 10:12-16)

One thing we see here is that there is an obedience in deeds, in outward forms, that bypasses obedience from the heart. God says circumcise your heart, deal with your heart, your inner man.

And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (Deuteronomy 30:6)

Again, notice the emphasis on the heart. It’s the heart that needs changing.

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22)

3 Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
5 He will receive blessing from the Lord
and righteousness from the God of his salvation. (Psalm 24:3-5)

Even more dramatically, Jeremiah was brutally clear when he spoke to those who practiced forms of religion while trampling on the weak and innocent, and as they even chased after false gods. 

1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. 3 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. 4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ 

5 “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. 

8 “Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. 9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? (Jeremiah 7:1-10)

Jeremiah was not speaking to some secular group, he was speaking to those who were entering the house of God to worship the Lord. They were his audience as he speaks, these who were going after other gods, thieves, murderers, adulterers, and so on. These were a religious group who practiced a form of religion, but their hearts were far, far from God. They were not in any measure “pure in heart.”

The second way we can think about purity is that we are not double minded about things. Like, we show mercy because we love to show mercy, not simply to look good or to gain something. If we’re doing it just to gain something, we are double minded. Or we show kindness, even to those who cannot return kindness. In other words we do what we do because we love the Lord, not so that we get something in return from people. Maybe it is like serving in ways that will never be known by others, or to serve people we will never see again in this lifetime. In this sense then, being pure in heart is obeying God because we get to! Not as if we are on a covert mission to manipulate through our kindness for our own good pleasure.

Our challenge is that we walk in the light, visibly in the light, both with our external self and our internal self. That we don’t foster a discrepancy between the two, or become satisfied with simply playing the part of a Christian at opportune times while we are not living that way the rest of the time. Life gets very dicy if we are really thinking about our hearts.

D.A Carson wrote, “We human beings are a strange lot. We hear high moral injunctions and glimpse just a little the genuine beauty of perfect holiness, and then prostitute the vision by dreaming about the way others would hold us in high esteem if we were like that. The demand for genuine perfection loses itself in the lesser goal of external piety; the goal of pleasing the Father is traded for its pygmy cousin, the goal of pleasing men.”

The most stinging remarks we find in the New Testament regarding this outward form of religion and inward hypocrisy is in Matthew 23 as Jesus addresses the Pharisees. Now, before we dismiss this chapter and say, “Well of course the Pharisees lacked purity of heart, because they were the Pharisees!” We give them a really hard time, but let’s remember that they were the religious leaders of their day. They were in general the ones looked up to in their day. People did not laugh at them or make fun of them on the streets, no, they generally held them in very high esteem and had great respect for them. They were the educated, the teachers, the role models even in their religious circles. We have an immediate negative connotation about the Pharisees, and we should to some degree, but in their day they were respected. Why? Because of their outward form. But Jesus cuts right through all of that, their outward forms, and goes right for the heart, the inner man.

1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. 

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. 

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it. 

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! 

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. 

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. 

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’…33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? (Matthew 23:1-33)

These men desired glory for themselves, who desired to put up a certain outward appearance, please man rather than God. They craved positive attention from people, wanted to be praised by their followers. They were obsessed with self-glory and found it in living a lie, living a lie of outward purity, outward piety, outward holiness, with no regard for what was going on in their very own hearts. They will not see God.

How we perform for other people, for each other, is of no consequence to God, because God is interested in the heart.

The question for us this morning is, who are we? Who are you, who am I? Who are we before God? When God peers into the heart, what does He see?

I think this beatitude is tied together with the second beatitude in a particular way. If we mourn over sin, biblically so, then we will desire to have a pure heart. If we recognize our sins, our sinful deeds, sinful thoughts, sinful desires, and if we hate those sins and stop making provision for those sins, if we mourn over those sins and labor to rip them out of our lives, cry out to God to rip them out of our lives, and we long for purity, weep for purity, cry out to God for purity, if we do that, in the process we will be the pure in heart and we will see God.

Please don’t just let this fly over your mind, don’t just float through life thinking all may be okay because of your religious life, and then wake up one day and say, “This is not really me at all, this is not for me.” No, what I would urge you to do is deal with it now, to look at your heart, examine your heart and say, “What is going on inside of me?” Ask the question, “Who am I really? Do I really love Christ? Do I really desire a pure heart? Do I really mourn over my sin? Do I really want to be with Him? Is He really my all and all, the pearl of great price, the treasure that I’m willing to sell everything to have?”

There are always statistics given, I’m sure you have heard some of them, of young people who grow up in the church and, after graduating from high school, they leave the church, leave the faith, never to return. What we don’t hear as much about is another situation that is very concerning to me. I think the stats are probably pretty high for middle aged adults who, after their children leave home, they too quit the church. They turn from what they had so professed to love, find other things to pursue.

In the church I grew up in, I had dozens of adults in my life who taught me in Sunday school, in youth group, and so on. But I could easily count on one hand those adults who are still in the church. I look back on that and think, “What happened?” I mean, what’s up with that? Was it real? I thought it was for them, but it doesn’t look like it. Who were they, really? Who were these people teaching me to persevere, to live in obedience, to love Christ? Who are they now? I don’t know. Maybe it wasn’t real at all. It’s sad, isn’t it? Outward forms of religion are not anchors of the faith; they will not hold you. Because Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart.” That means it’s got to be real in the heart.

Where are you in this matter of the heart? Who are you really? Is Christ in you, and are you in Him?

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