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Back to the Basics: Glorifying God in the Gray Areas (Matt. 5:8)

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And just like that, we are close to the end of this series called “Back to the Basics: Knowing why you believe what you believe.” We have been talking these days about salvation and last week we looked at what means to walk in freedom. We saw that this meant in Galatians 5 to walk by the Spirit, moment-by-moment making the choice to respond to the Lord and His love and serve others.

Now when it comes to Christian freedom, we all know it is wrong to commit murder, adultery, to steal, cheat and lie. But sometimes we do not know what to do with what is called the “gray areas.” What should we do with areas that the Bible is not clear on?

This brings us to point 9, which I am glad is there:

9. That God alone is the Lord of our conscience, and that the believers are free from the commands of men which are contrary to, or in addition to, the Scriptures in matters of faith and conduct.

Now this does not mean, “Well, if the Bible does not mention it, do whatever you want! You are free in Christ!” Remember that the flesh is very opportunistic and will always try to find a way to feed itself with sin. People who don’t realize how ready the flesh is will play around the lines.

Every once in a while, I will meet people who are more curious about where they shouldn’t walk instead of where they should walk. So they will ask things like, “Is it okay to drink once in a while? How much I can drink? And how often can I go to the club? Because after all, the Bible doesn’t say, ‘Thou shalt not club’ right? And how far can I go with my girlfriend physically?” So in essence, they are asking, how close to the line can I walk and still be ok?

I do agree that there are so many things not mentioned in the Bible, but does the Lord care about those decisions too? Yes! The Bible offers a lot of principles regarding the gray areas. I want to give you some of those, but more than anything, I want us to have a supreme motivation for living life in general. Because I believe if we have that gray will not seem so challenging and difficult for us to navigate through. I really want us to live our lives in freedom, for His glory.

So I want to in our time together today, to unpack this verse in Matt. 5:8 in light of gray areas: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” This is unusual for me to preach on just one verse, since I usually enjoy studying a paragraph or two at a time, but we will trust the Lord to help us unpack this.

Our verse today is found in a section called “The Beatitudes.” It is part of a bigger section of Christ’s sermons called “the Sermon on the Mount” (Matt. 5-7). One day we will study this in depth, but for now study this verse. First, let’s set the context.

Jesus has just announced upon His arrival that the Kingdom of Heaven was here (Matt. 4:17). He also commanded people to repent to enter this kingdom. This was already in contrast to the Pharisees and teachers of the law who taught that there was external righteousness needed to enter the Kingdom of God. It was about keeping the rituals, laws and commandments for the religious leaders. But Jesus just said, “Repent.”

Now as Jesus begins His teaching ministry, many were wondering. What does it mean to be in the Kingdom of Heaven? So Jesus begins with the Beatitudes. By the way, The Latin word for blessed is beatus, and from this comes the word beatitude.[1] Some have said these are “attitudes to be.” Notice in the eight beatitudes listed here, from Matt. 5:3-11, that the Kingdom of Heaven is mentioned first and last. These are the characteristics of those people who have turned from their kingdom (repentance) and willingly placed themselves under the rule of King Jesus.  

      BEATITUDES  (Matt. 5:3-12) WOES (Matt. 23:13-23)
1. Kingdom opened (v.3) 1. Kingdom shut (v.13)
2. Comfort for mourners (v.4) 2. Mourners distressed (v.14)
3. Meek inheriting the earth (v.5) 3. Fanatics compassing the earth (v.15)
4. True righteousness sought by true desire (v.6) 4. True righteousness sought by selfish desire (vv.16-22)
5. The merciful obtaining mercy (v.7) 5. Mercy “omitted” and left “undone” (vv.23-24)
6. Purity within, then vision of God (v.8) 6. Purity outside, uncleanness inside. “Blindness” (vv.25-26)
7. Peacemakers, sons of God (v.9) 7. Hypocrites, lawless (vv.27-28)
8. Persecuted (vv.10-12) 8. Persecutors (vv.29-33)

So the Beatitudes are not commandments, though there is authority behind them (since it is from our King). They are not requirements to enter the Kingdom. Rather, they show “how a person who is in right relationship with God should conduct his life.”[2] Blessed here is literally translated, “Happy” or “Fortunate.” However, it still does not convey the depth of it because “happy” might lead us to conclude incorrectly that he is referring to feelings. Rather, it is the blessedness of knowing Christ ruling your life.

Though I like how Phillip Yancey says it, “Oh, you lucky person!”[3] because it conveys this desire that you want what that person has, it still is not the best. Another commentator suggests that these sayings are like the equivalent of Jesus’ congratulations to those who have entered His kingdom through repentance, though he himself is not satisfied with it.[4] Perhaps the best word is blessed!

Anyway, we can say it is a quality of life that Jesus emphasizes that is deep, satisfying and characteristic of those who make up His Kingdom. Notice all of the qualities here are more internal heart qualities that flows from within (or as Paul would say, the fruit of walking by the Spirit). This is a different message than what the Pharisees taught. They were concerned with how loud you prayed, how you looked when you fasted and how much you gave. It was all external. In fact, if you want to ever study the Beatitudes, you should compare them in light of the eight “woes” of Matthew 23[5]:

Sometimes it is better to understand what something means by studying its opposite. By the way, when Jesus says, “Woe!” He means something like “grief, calamity, misery, sorrow,”[6] essentially the opposite of being truly blessed.

All that is by way of introduction here. The Kingdom is ours and will be set up in God’s timing. God has not forsaken us in all our evil, but the King has come. Through His death and resurrection, God is going to set everything in order again. Pastor Ray Ortlund says, “The good news is that this world is not spinning out of control, but Heaven is moving in and taking over with powers that evil cannot stop…whatever you life may be right now, your future is as bright as the promises of God. Yours is the kingdom of Heaven, you will be comforted, you will inherit the earth, you will be satisfied, you will receive mercy, you will see God, you will be called sons of God, yours is the kingdom of heaven…the Beatitudes are not handy tips for improving your week; they are the enduring promises of Christ, because you have stepped over the line to join him by faith in a whole new world so beautiful only God can accomplish it.”[7]

But what does Jesus mean by being “pure in heart”? Does that just sound unattainable? We may understand poor in spirit, being sorry for our sin, growing in meekness and wanting righteousness perhaps, but be pure in heart? No way! I can’t do it. The Beatitudes are not a menu to choose from. They are all strings of one pearl, giving us a “multi-perspectival portrait of the human profile that belongs in the kingdom of heaven.”[8] So what is purity of heart? Let’s start with this:

I.  To be pure in heart means whole-hearted devotion to Jesus Christ

What does the word “pure” mean here? William Barclay tells us that the Greek word was used to describe clear water, sometimes metals without alloy, sometimes grain that had been winnowed, and sometimes feelings that are unmixed.[9] It means to be undivided. It carries with it the idea of focus, absorption, concentration, sincerity, and singleness.[10]

In Psalm 24:3-4 David the Psalmist asks who can stand before God. His answer in Ps. 24:4 is one with a pure heart and he elaborates on what he means: “one who does not lift up his soul to what is false.” Lifting up our souls to what is false is giving our lives over to empty things.[11] He may have in mind an idol. We know an idol is whatever we look to that we think will quench the thirsts of our heart.

When we give our lives over to empty things, our hearts become divided, pulled in many directions. Notice also, “and does not swear deceitfully” meaning honesty in our lives. Honesty about ourselves and telling ourselves the truth about God. It’s getting real with God, being decisive about God and not turning back. There is a gap between who we appear to be and who we are. Bridging that gap is what we call authenticity. So the pure in heart are sinners, but they recognize their sinfulness and what is pure about them is that they want Christ. They do not think I want Christ and blank.  I want Christ and my false comforts. I want Christ and everyone’s approval. They are constantly aware of what their heart desires.

Do you know what Jesus says the first time Jesus speaks in the gospel of John? He asks a question in John 1:38: “What are you seeking?” NIV translates it, “What do you want?” That is THE question of our own lives. Notice the word “heart” here. In the Bible, heart means more than just the mind; it also includes the emotions and the will. It is the totality of our ability to think, feel, and decide.[12] Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “He [Jesus] does not commend those who are intellectual; His interest is in the heart. In other words we have to remind ourselves again that the Christian faith is ultimately not only a matter of doctrine or understanding or of intellect, it is a condition of the heart.”[13] So Lloyd-Jones paraphrases Matt. 5:8 to say, “Blessed are those who are pure, not merely on the surface but in the centre of their being and at the source of their every activity.”[14]

The Psalmist in Ps. 86:11 prays this prayer, “Unite my heart to fear your name.” The Psalmist senses his loyalty to God is divided. David prays, “One thing have I asked of the gaze upon the beauty of the Lord” (Ps. 27:4). David there is consumed by wanting a single-minded wholehearted devotion to the Lord. The context of that Psalm is that he’s afraid. And so when he prays that prayer for God to consume his heart, he is also saying, “Unless you consume my heart, fear will consume me.” Listen to Asaph’s prayer in Ps. 73:25: “There is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” Paul would say, “One thing I do: forget what is behind and reach forward to what is ahead” (Phil. 3:13-14).

All of these people are sinners. But they want wholehearted devotion to Christ. Again, take the opposite to help us understand. So an impure heart will be content at his/her spiritual state. They say things like, “one of these days..” They accept compromise. They excuse sin. They keep telling themselves the lie that there are other important things they want to pursue.

See if our heart stays in that condition of impurity, the Lord is pushed to the corner. His voice is stifled. The writer of Hebrews would say, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart” (Heb. 3:12). Later he says sin deceives us and causes us not to believe in Him. The danger is that once He is not the center, other things become center. Once I saw a tomato that fell to the ground in my dad’s garden in New York. No one noticed it for many days. When I looked at what at what happened to it, not only was the tomato detached from its life source, but other things started growing in it! That is what will happen to our heart.

When other things are growing first, the Bible becomes dull. Prayer is a chore. Worship is lifeless. Church is part of a checklist on Sunday. But it is such hearts that the Lord keep pursuing. He pursues because our hearts were made for Him. What goal is at the center of your heart? If Jesus says, “What do you want?” Would you say to Him?  And as we confess other trespassers in our heart, the power of those idols break down and He comes and wraps His arms around us and cut the strings that attach us to those things. Loved ones, the gray areas are not a big deal if your heart wholeheartedly wants to be devoted to the Lord.

Secondly, you have a promise for the pure heart:

II. Whole hearted disciples will get their hearts desire

As many of you know, Jenny and I first met online. Our interactions were electronic through the computer, then the phone and finally we met face to face. Seeing her was different from hearing her on the phone. Seeing is experience. Seeing is participation. It’s being there. There is something special about a face-to-face encounter. It’s better than email or a phone call or an instant message. Seeing moves us toward intimacy.[15]

Here Jesus promises that those who want Christ alone to be at the center of their being, will get something better than an answered prayer or an emotional feeling or good thought. They will see God. This is just a foretaste of what is to come. Paul says, “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12). John says in Revelation 22:4: “They will see HIS FACE.” Earlier he said, “We shall see Him as he is” (1 John 3:2). We will enter unimaginable intimacy with our Lord. As Ortlund says, “We are going into the audience chamber the King of Kings, that we are now being prepared for His presence.”[16]

However, we do see Him now as well. In John 14:21, Jesus promises to “manifest” Himself to His true followers. You can experience His intimacy. His love fills your heart. His peace passes all your understanding. When your heart is tangled up, you lose intimacy with Him and all that He brings.

Phillip Yancey, in his classic The Jesus I Never Knew I think gets to the heart of the issue here. Though Jesus is concerned about more than just sexual sin in Matt. 5:8, Yancey uses that struggle to help us. During a period of his life when he was battling sexual temptation, Yancey came across an article by a French Catholic writer Francois Mauriac.  He says, “I knew that Mauriac understood lust.”  This was because he wrote much about it in his novels.

Yancey notes, “For Mauriac, sexual temptation was a familiar battleground.  Mauriac dismissed most of the arguments in favor of sexual purity that he had been taught in his Catholic upbringing.  "Marriage will cure lust": it did not for Mauriac, as it has not for so many others, because lust involves the attraction of unknown creatures and the taste for adventure and chance meetings.  "With self-discipline you can master lust": Mauriac found that sexual desire is like a tidal wave powerful enough to bear away all the best intentions.

Mauriac concluded that self-discipline, repression, and rational argument are inadequate weapons to use in fighting the impulse toward impurity.  In the end, he could find only one reason to be pure, and that is what Jesus presented in the Beatitudes:  "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God."  In Mauriac's words, "Impurity separates us from God. ...Purity is the condition for a higher love - for a possession superior to all possessions: that of God.  Yes, this is what is at stake, and nothing less. Reading Francois Mauriac's words did not end my struggle with lust.  But I must say beyond all doubt that I have found his analysis to be true.  The love God holds out to us requires that our faculties be cleansed and purified before we can receive a higher love, one attainable in no other way.  That is the motive to stay pure.  By harboring lust, I limit my own intimacy with God.”[17] But Jesus would say, “Harboring any sin will limit my intimacy with you.” Losing His fellowship, experiencing His comfort, His joy, His love, His grace is a bad trade-off for a momentary satisfaction. What am I harboring that limits my intimacy with you Lord?

With that said, let me end our time with some questions we can ask when we are faced with gray areas. Again, I give you these questions under the assumption that your supreme primary motivation is that you want to be pure in heart and you are seeing God working in your life.

1.  Does the Scripture forbid it?

2.  Does it tempt you to sin? Rom. 13:14

3. Is it a weight? Heb. 12:1. This text assumes you are running the Christian race. Notice it mentions sin, but it also mentions weights. Weights may be good things, but things that weigh you down. It could be a certain possession. It could be a wrong relationship at the wrong time.

4. Is it the best way to please God? Phil. 4:8 (approve the things that are excellent)

5. Does it tend to control me? 1 Cor. 6:12

6. Does it cause a brother or sister to stumble? 1 Cor. 8:8-9. John Macarthur says, “If you know that your choice–what you consider "in bounds" and approved–causes another Christian to stumble and sin, love that brother or sister enough to restrict your own freedom. That is not very popular in our self-absorbed society, but it is biblical. To continue to indulge in a legitimate freedom that causes problems for another Christian is a sin. For "by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore," Paul said, "If food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble” (1 Cor. 8:12-13).[18]

7. Can I do it with a clear conscience before God? Rom.14:1


As I close, my heart again is drawn to the One person who had a pure heart. He was never double-minded. The most single-  -minded person history had ever seen. Luke 9:51 tells us, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” I think Jesus’ ultimate goal was to glorify God by dying for us. As I think about that and my heart is drawn toward the fact that he came to die for me, my double-minded heart, the double vision I see becomes singular.

James 4:8 says, “Purify your hearts you double-minded.” Purity and singleness of mind again mentioned there. I think it is good to wake up each morning praying, “Lord, many things will seek to blind me away from you. There will be interruptions in my schedule. There will be bad co-workers. Burdensome people. Long days. The fear of the “What-ifs”—what if I can’t find that spouse, get that job, have that baby, buy that house. What if I get sick, breaks into my house, etc. All of these things give me a divided heart. But now as I take this shower, I thank God for another day to be alive to bring you glory. As I am at work or school, I thank God for the provision He has given me and pray to love like the Savior and lead like a servant. As I go home driving or on the bus, I trust God with unfinished tasks and for the humbling reminder that God is the One holding our lives together. As you have time with your family and enjoy your time with them, your heart thanks God for them and for relationship with people who care about you. As you put your head on the pillow, you pray to God to live through you again tomorrow. All of life is worship. The more we see that, the easier it will be to wholehearted before Him and the more Christ will be real to you.

Christ loves me with my divided heart, but He does not want me to leave it divided. He says to us, “I am wise enough and good enough to make my whole life work when you put me in the Center.”[19] Is your heart divided this morning? Will you trust Christ to hand over everything to Him and to show you where He is being pushed into the corner of your heart?




[1]Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible Exposition Commentary (Mt 5:1). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

[2]Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-). The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Mt 5:1–12). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[3]Yancey, Phillip (1995). The Jesus I Never Knew (107). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4]France, R. T. (2007). The Gospel of Matthew. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (161). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co.

[5]Adapted from accessed 19 May 2011.

[6]Taken from 8 Beatitudes and the 8 Woes of Matthew.htm accessed 19 May 2011.

[7]Ortlund, R. From the sermon series, “The Sermon on the Mount,” accessed 19 May 2011.


[9]Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom. Preaching the Word (55). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.


[11]Ortlund, Ibid.   

[12]Hughes, R. K. Ibid.

[13]Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn (1959). Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Vol. 2  (88). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.

[14]Ibid (89). 

[15]Ortlund, Ibid. 


[17]Yancey, P. (118-119). 

[18]Macarthur, J. “What to do in the gray areas,” accesses 21 May 2011. 

[19]Ortlund, R. Ibid.

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