PURITY, HOLINESS, AND RIGHTEOUSNESS
Purity, holiness, and righteousness…first of all and above all…is a matter of the heart. It is in my hidden life within my heart…in my mind, my thoughts, my imagination…where a pure, holy, and righteous life has its roots. The only righteousness acceptable to God is purity of heart. Without that purity, the outward life makes no difference. God’s Divine evaluation takes place in the heart. He judges the source and origin of sin, not its manifestation or lack of manifestation.
If the purity, holiness, and righteousness that people see in your everyday visible physical life is not a true reflection of an inner purity deep within your heart, then either you do not belong to Christ or you are living a double life in disobedience to Him. Obedience begins in your heart. Many would abhor to commit one sinful external act before the eyes of men, in a temple of stone; and yet they are not afraid to commit a multitude of such acts in the temple of their hearts, and in the sight of God! If, for example, voluntary and deliberate looks and desires make adulterers and adulteresses, how many persons are there whose whole life is one continued crime! Many men and women go to hell forever because of the deception of self-righteous religion. The illusion that sin is only an external issue is damning. Heinous in His sight are sinful thoughts and feelings which may be forever concealed from the world!
True Christianity lies in the heart, in the purity of heart; the washing of the heart from wickedness. Those who truly belong to God will be motivated to purity. The deepest desire of the redeemed is for holiness, even when sin hinders the perfect fulfillment of that desire. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. [Rom 6:19] Intimate knowledge of and fellowship with God is reserved for the pure.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart. Therefore, brethren…Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded! Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. [Matt 5:8; Ps 24:3-4; James 4:8; 2 Cor 7:1; Heb 12:14; Matt 5:6]
Matt 5:8: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Here is one of those passages of Scripture whose depths are immeasurable and whose breadth is impossible to encompass. This incredible statement of Jesus is among the greatest utterances in all of the Bible. The subject of holiness, of purity of heart, can be traced from Genesis to Revelation. The theme is infinitely vast and touches on virtually every other biblical truth; it is impossible to exhaust its meaning or significance!
Excerpts From Matthew Henry’s Commentary:
The pure in heart are happy; Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. This is the most comprehensive of all the beatitudes; here holiness and happiness are fully described and put together.
Here is the most comprehensive character of the blessed: they are pure in heart. Note, True religion consists in heart-purity. Those who are inwardly pure, show themselves to be under the power of pure and undefiled religion. True Christianity lies in the heart, in the purity of heart; the washing of that from wickedness: Wash your heart from evil, O Jerusalem, that you may be saved. How long will your wicked thoughts lodge within you? [Jer 4:14] We must lift up to God, not only clean hands, but a pure heart: Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who shall stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted himself up to falsehood or to what is false, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation. [Ps 24:4-5] The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. [1 Tim 1:5] The heart must be purified by faith, and entire for God; must be presented and preserved a chaste virgin to Christ. Create in me such a clean heart, O God! [Ps 51:10]
Here is the most comprehensive comfort of the blessed; they shall see God. It is the perfection of the soul’s happiness to see God; to see Him as mine, and to see Him and enjoy Him; to see Him and be like Him, and be satisfied with that likeness, and to see Him for ever, and never lose the sight of Him; this is Heaven’s happiness. As for me, I will continue beholding Your face in righteousness (rightness, justice, and right standing with You); I shall be fully satisfied when I awaken to find myself beholding Your form and having sweet communion with You. [Ps 17:15]
The happiness of seeing God is promised to those, and those only, who are pure in heart.
Excerpts From The MacArthur New Testament Commentary
The Meaning of Holiness:
Blessed: The word blessed implies the condition of well-being that results from salvation, the status of one who has a right relation to God. Being accepted by Him is a matter of internal transformation.
Heart: used metaphorically to represent the inner person, the seat of motives and attitudes, the center of personality; much more than emotion or feelings, it also includes the thinking process and particularly the will. The heart is the control center of mind and will as well as emotion. As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. [Prov 23:7] Knowing their thoughts, Jesus asked a group of Scribes, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?” He went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.'” [Matt 9:4; Mark 7:20-23]
It is in the inner man, in the core of his very being, that God requires purity. “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” [Prov 4:23] The problem that caused God to destroy the Earth in the Flood was a heart problem: Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the Earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” [Gen 6:5] God has always been concerned above all else with the inside of man, with the condition of his heart. Evil ways and deeds begin in the heart and mind, which are here used synonymously. Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man” [Matt 15:19].
David acknowledged before the Lord, “Behold, Thou dost desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part Thou wilt make me know wisdom”; and then he prayed “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” [Ps 51:6,10]. Asaph wrote, “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart!” [Ps 73:1]. Jeremiah declared, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.” [Jer 17:9-10].
The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. [1 Sam 16:7] It was said of David’s leadership over Israel, “He shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart [Ps 78:72].
Pure: to make pure by cleansing from dirt, filth, and contamination. Applied to the heart, the idea is that of pure motive…of single-mindedness, undivided devotion, spiritual integrity, and true righteousness. Double-mindedness has always been one of the great plagues of the church. “Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” [James 4:4]. “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded” [v. 8].
Those who truly belong to God will be motivated to purity. The deepest desire of the redeemed is for holiness, even when sin halts the fulfillment of that desire. Though we may be extremely religious and constantly engaged in doing good things, we cannot please God unless our hearts are right with Him. The ultimate standard for purity of heart is perfection of heart. In the same sermon in which He gave the Beatitudes Jesus said, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” [Matt 5:48]. Only those who are pure in heart may enter the Kingdom. “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?” David asks, “and who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart” [Ps 24:3-4].
The only true religion is heart religion, which is based on God’s implanted purity. By faith in what God has done through His Son, Jesus Christ, “We have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” [Eph 1:7]. When God imputes His righteousness to us He imputes His purity to us.
As we look at Scripture we discover six kinds of purity: Primal purity…the kind that exists only in God; Created purity…the purity that existed in God’s creation before it was corrupted by the Fall; Positional purity…the purity we are given the moment we trust in Jesus Christ as Savior: The Eternal Power and Worth of the Blood of Jesus has conferred upon us the status of Eternal righteousness before God; Imputed purity…God grants actual purity in the new nature of the believer [Rom 6:4-5; 8:5-11; Col 3:9-10; 2 Peter 1:3]: every believer is a new creation [2 Cor 5:17]; Practical purity…demands our participation in a way that the other kinds of purity do not. “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One Who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy'” [1 Peter 1:14-16]. Cooperate with the power of His enabling grace Who is the One in me Who works in me both to will and to do. It is His work, not mine. We are not saved just for future Heavenly purity but also for present Earthly purity. If purity does not characterize our living, we either do not belong to Christ, or we are disobedient to Him; Ultimate purity…the perfected purity that God’s redeemed people will experience when they are glorified in His Presence.
The Way to Holiness:
God always provides for what He demands, and He has provided ways for us to live purely:
First, we must realize our hopeless helplessness, and utter dependence upon God…that we are unable to live a single holy moment without the Lord’s guidance and power. Cleansing begins with a recognition of weakness. Weakness then reaches out for the strength of God.
Second, we must stay in God’s Word. Jesus said, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” [John 15:3].
Third, it is essential to be controlled by and walking in the will and way of the Holy Spirit: Walk in the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. [Gal 5:16]
Fourth, we must pray. We cannot stay in God’s will or understand and obey His Word unless we stay near Him: With all prayer and petition we are to pray at all times in the Spirit [Eph 6:18] With David we cry, Create in me a clean heart, O God [Ps 51:10].
The Result of Holiness:
The great blessing of those who are pure in heart is that they be continuously seeing God. Intimate knowledge of and fellowship with God is reserved for the pure. To see God was the greatest hope of Old Testament saints. Like Moses, David wanted to see more of God: As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for Thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before Him? [Ps 42:1].
F.F. Bullard wrote:
When I in righteousness at last Thy glorious Face shall see;
When all the weary night has passed, and I awake with Thee;
To view the glories that abide, then and only then will I be satisfied.
Matt 5:27-28: You have heard that it was said, “Do not commit adultery.” But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
From the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus focuses on the internal, on what men are like in their minds and hearts. That is the primary thrust of Matt 5:21-48, as the Lord reemphasizes the Divine standards for living in His Kingdom, the Divine standards already given in the Law of the Old Testament, in contrast to Jewish tradition. The only righteousness acceptable to God is purity of heart. Without that purity, the outward life makes no difference. God’s divine evaluation takes place in the heart. He judges the source and origin of sin, not its manifestation or lack of manifestation.
Excerpts From The Bible Exposition Commentary:
In Matt 5:27-30, Jesus affirmed God’s law of purity, and then explained that the intent of this law was to reveal the sanctity of sex and the sinfulness of the human heart. God created sex, and God protects sex. He has the authority to regulate it and to punish those who rebel against His laws. Sexual impurity begins in the desires of the heart. Again, Jesus is not saying that lustful desires are identical to lustful deeds, and therefore a person might just as well go ahead and commit adultery. The desire and the deed are not identical, but, spiritually speaking, they are equivalent. The “look” that Jesus mentioned was not a casual glance, but a constant stare with the purpose of lusting. It is possible for a man to glance at a beautiful woman and know that she is beautiful, but not lust after her. The man Jesus described looked at the woman for the purpose of feeding his inner sensual appetites as a substitute for the act. It was not accidental; it was planned.
Excerpts From Adam Clarke’s Commentary:
It is the earnest wish or desire of the soul, which, in a variety of cases, constitutes the good or evil of an act. If a man earnestly wish to commit an evil, but cannot, because God puts time, place, and opportunity out of his power, he is fully chargeable with the iniquity of the act, by that God who searches and judges the heart. So, if a man earnestly wish to do some righteous act…some loving kindness or goodness…which it is out of his power to perform, the act is considered as his; because God, in this case, as in that above, takes the will for the deed. If voluntary and deliberate looks and desires make adulterers and adulteresses, how many persons are there whose whole life is one continued crime! “Whose eyes being full of adultery, they cannot cease from sin” [2 Peter 2:14] Many would abhor to commit one impure, unholy external act before the eyes of men, in a temple of stone; and yet they are not afraid to commit a multitude of such acts in the temple of their hearts, and in the sight of God!
Excerpts From Barnes’ Notes:
Our Saviour in these verses explains the seventh commandment. It is probable that the Pharisees had explained this commandment, as they had the sixth, as extending only to the external act; and that they regarded evil thoughts and a wanton imagination as of little consequence, or as not forbidden by the Law. Our Saviour assures them that the commandment did not regard the external act merely, but the secrets of the heart, and the movements of the eye. He declares that they who indulge a wanton desire, that they who look on a woman to increase their lust, have already, in the sight of God, violated the commandment, and committed adultery in the heart. Such was the guilt of David, whose deep and awful crime fully shows the danger of indulging in evil desires, and in the rovings of a wanton eye. So exceeding strict and broad is the Law of God! And so heinous in His sight are thoughts and feelings which may be forever concealed from the world!
Excerpts From Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary:
But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a women to lust after her…with the intent to do so…with the full consent of his will, to feed thereby his unholy desires…hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. We are not to suppose, from the word here used …“adultery”…that our Lord means to restrict the breach of this commandment to married persons, or to criminal sexual intercourse with such. The expressions, “whosoever looketh,” and “looketh upon a woman,” seem clearly to extend the range of this commandment to all forms of impurity, and the counsels which follow…as they most certainly were intended for all, whether married or unmarried…seem to confirm this.
Excerpts From Matthew Henry’s Commentary:
The command is here laid down (v. 27), “Thou shalt not commit adultery;” which includes a prohibition of all other acts of uncleanness, and the desire of them: but the Pharisees, in their expositions of this command, made it to extend no further than the act of adultery. We are here taught, that there is such a thing as heart-adultery, adulterous thoughts and dispositions, which never proceed to the act of adultery or fornication. This command forbids not only the acts of fornication and adultery, but, all appetites to them, all lusting after the forbidden object; this is the beginning of the sin, lust conceiving [James 1:15]; it is a bad step towards the sin; and where the lust is dwelt upon and approved, and the wanton desire is rolled under the tongue as a sweet morsel, it is the commission of sin, as far as the heart can do it; there wants nothing but convenient opportunity for the sin itself. All approaches toward them; feeding the eye with the sight of the forbidden fruit; not only looking for that end, that I may lust; but looking till I do lust, or looking to gratify the lust, where further satisfaction cannot be obtained. This forbids also the using of any other of our senses to stir up lust. If ensnaring looks are forbidden fruit, much more unclean discourses, and wanton dalliances, the fuel and bellows of this hellish fire. And if looking be lust, they who dress and deck, and expose themselves, with design to be looked at and lusted after [like Jezebel, that painted her face and tired her head, and looked out at the window] are no less guilty. Men sin, but devils tempt to sin.
Excerpts From The MacArthur New Testament Commentary:
Matt 5:28: But I say to you that everyone who so much as looks at a woman with evil desire for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Jesus continues to unmask the self-righteous externalism typified by the scribes and Pharisees by showing that the only righteousness acceptable to God is purity of heart. Without that purity, the outward life makes no difference. God’s divine evaluation takes place in the heart. He judges the source and origin of sin, not its manifestation or lack of manifestation. As a person thinks within himself, so he is [Prov 23:7], and so he is judged by God [1 Sam 16:7].
You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. [Ex 20:13-14] Those who rely only on external righteousness and disregard inner righteousness break both of those commandments, because in their hearts they attack the sanctity of life [murder] and the sanctity of marriage [adultery]…whether you do so outwardly or not. When you are angry or hate, you commit murder. When you lust sexually, you commit adultery. And when you do either of those things, you choose to despise God’s Law and God’s Name. Physical infidelity is first of all a matter of the heart; lusting is just as sinful in God’s eyes as the actual act of adultery.
The moral and spiritual fabric of our Nation has been disintegrating at warp speed. We are preoccupied with sex to a degree perhaps never before seen in a civilized culture. Yet the body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. [1 Cor 6:13] The body is more than biological, as Divine judgment will reveal. For Christians it is a member of Christ, a temple of the Holy Spirit, and belongs to the Lord rather than to us: Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, Who dwells in you, Whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price…the precious and priceless Blood of Christ Jesus the Son. Therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which belong to Him. [1 Cor 6:18-20] It is therefore never to be used for any purpose that dishonors the God Who made and indwells it. Christians should have but one response to sexual temptation… running away from it: She came and grabbed Joseph by his cloak, demanding, “Come on, sleep with me!” Joseph tore himself away, but he left his cloak in her hand as he ran from the house. [Gen 39:12]
Throughout the New Testament, prohibitions against sexual immorality are every bit as clear as those of the Old. “Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals” will inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9; cf. Gal 5:19-21; Rev 2:22). “Fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Heb 13:4). Regardless of how much a couple may care for each other and be deeply in love, sexual relations outside of marriage are forbidden. In every case, without exception, it is a heinous sin against God.
In both the Old and New Testaments the word “adultery” relates to sexual intercourse with anyone other than one’s marriage partner. That Jesus here implies that the principle of sexual purity can be seen in a wider sense than adultery (though adultery is His point here) seems clear from the fact that both “everyone” and “a woman” are comprehensive terms that could also apply to the unmarried.
Jesus is speaking of intentional looking with the purpose of lusting. He is speaking of the man who looks so that he may satisfy his evil desire. He is speaking of the man who goes to an X-rated movie, who selects a television program known for its sexual orientation, who goes to a beach known for its scanty swimsuits, or who does any such thing with the expectation and desire of being sexually and sinfully titillated.
Looking at a woman lustfully does not cause a man to commit adultery in his thoughts. He already has committed adultery in his heart. It is not lustful looking that causes the sin in the heart, but the sin in the heart that causes lustful looking. The lustful looking is but the expression of a heart that is already immoral and adulterous. The heart is the soil where the seeds of sin are imbedded and begin to grow.
It is continuing to look in order to satisfy lustful desires that Jesus condemns, because it evidences a vile, immoral heart. David was not at fault for seeing Bathsheba bathing. He could not have helped noticing her, because she was in plain view as he walked on the palace roof. His sin was in dwelling on the sight… lingering in the evil thought, considering it, dwelling upon it…and in willingly succumbing to the temptation. He could have looked away and put the experience out of his mind. The fact that he had her brought to his chambers and committed adultery with her expressed the immoral desire that already existed in his heart [2 Sam 11:1-4].
A popular proverb goes, “Sow a thought and reap an act. Sow an act and reap a habit. Sow a habit and reap a character. Sow a character and reap a destiny.” That process perfectly illustrates Jesus’ main thrust in this passage: No matter where it ends, sin always begins when an evil thought is sown in the mind and heart.
Just as the adulterous heart plans to expose itself to lust-satisfying situations, the godly heart plans to avoid them whenever possible and to flee from them when unavoidable. Just as the adulterous heart panders to itself in advance, so the godly heart protects itself in advance, praying with the psalmist, “Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, and revive me in Thy ways. Establish Thy word to Thy servant, as that which produces reverence for Thee” [Ps 119:37-38]. Paul exhorted Timothy to “flee from youthful lusts” and to cultivate a “pure heart: “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. [2 Tim 2:22] Like Job, therefore, we must make a covenant with our eyes…and with every other part of our bodies, minds, and spirits…to shun lust and pursue purity.
Jesus’ point is that we should be willing to give up whatever is necessary, even the most cherished things we possess, if doing that will help protect us from evil. Nothing is so valuable as to be worth preserving at the expense of righteousness.
The intent of these intense words of Jesus is simply to call for dramatic severing of the sinful impulses in us which push us to evil action (cf. Matt 18:8-9). The message of this hyperbolic statement of our Lord is clearly that sin must be dealt with radically. If we do not consciously and purposefully control what is around us, where we go, what we do, what we watch and read, the company we keep, and the conversations we have, then those things will control us. And what we cannot control we should discard without hesitation.
Obviously getting rid of harmful influences will not change a corrupt heart into a pure heart. Outward acts cannot produce inner benefits. But just as the outward act of adultery reflects a heart that is already adulterous, the outward act of forsaking whatever is harmful reflects a heart that hungers and thirsts for righteousness. That outward act is effective protection, because it comes from a heart that seeks to do God’s will instead of its own.
Jesus again sets forth the impossible standards of His Kingdom righteousness. All people are murderers and adulterers. Many do not realize that they are because of the subtlety of sin and its blinding effect on the mind. Jesus does not suggest that the scribes and Pharisees, or anyone else, could deliver themselves from the propensity to sin. As always, the impossibility that He sets forth has a twofold purpose: to make men and women despair of their own righteousness and to seek His. The Lord’s remedy for a wicked heart is a new heart, and His answer for our helplessness is His sufficiency.
Writer’s Biblical Conclusion:
I say then, walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. [Gal 5:16] It is only the Power of the indwelling Holy Spirit that enables me to abide in the Holy of Holies; He alone gives me the desire to even want to live my everyday life there. How, then, do I live my life in the Power of the Spirit? Not by trying, but by trusting. Living in the Power of the Spirit is entirely a matter of trust…an unwavering child-like trust that He will indeed work in me both to will and to do… both the desire to want to give Him free reign, and the power to actually do so. If I try to walk in the Spirit…if I am determined to live my life in the Power of the Spirit by my own efforts, resolutions, commitments, re-doubled efforts to do so, I have only guaranteed my failure. Why would I ever think that the powers of my sin-enslaved human nature would voluntarily choose to deny its own self and put forth effort to give the Spirit free reign over the conduct of my life? Quite the contrary…for my sin-enslaved human nature has a strong desire for its own will to be done and so to suppress the Spirit, and the Spirit constantly has a strong desire for God’s will to be done and so to suppress my sin-enslaved human nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that I am hindered by my sin-enslaved human nature from freely doing what I desire to do in obedience to God. [Gal 5:17] Living my life in the Power of the Spirit is solely, wholly, and only the work of the Spirit in me. It is His work, not mine. Yet it is ours, because I am one with Him whose work it is. My place is to respond to every leading and prompting of the Holy Spirit, not by my determined efforts to do so but rather by cooperating with the power of His enabling grace to do so.