In the Bible, God praises those who are pure in heart pure, not just on the surface, but all the way through to the depths of their being. Today, purity is a selling point mostly in terms of bottled water. Certainly, the idea of personal purity is old-fashioned. Yet, in the beatitudes, Jesus tells us that the pure in heart are blessed; that only they will see God. If seeing God is the height of blessedness, then keeping a pure heart should be a high calling for every Christian.
What does it mean to have “a pure heart,” to be “pure”?
Probably more than any other human being, Mary, the mother of Jesus, embodied purity. While Scriptures do not deify Mary, she was unusually worthy of honor and respect. The fact that God chose her for the awesome responsibility of giving birth to Jesus means that we should study and emulate her devotion to Him and the purity of her attitudes and behaviors.
Mary’s purity reminds us that when we clothe ourselves in God’s righteousness rather than relying on our own strength and wisdom, we become conformed to the image of His Son. Mary lived a very ordinary life in common surroundings, yet she had the qualities of heart and spirit that made her ideal for the high honor and calling to be the mother of Jesus.
Some of the ancient philosophers thought that the pure in heart were able to see the spiritual world more clearly than those whose view was limited to the physical world. Perhaps the pure in heart see God more clearly because they focus their attention on Him. And, in the light of God’s holiness, our own unworthiness is made plain. As C.S. Lewis once wrote: “To know God is to know that our obedience is due Him.”
Let’s begin by looking at Mary’s obedience that momentous night when Gabriel visited and announced that she was to be the mother of the Messiah, the Son of God. Some explain Mary’s encounter with the angel solely in terms of spiritual ecstasy. Yet clear reason and solid logic also characterize her reaction. She asked the most basic question: how she, as a virgin, could have a baby. When we read her conversation with the angel, it sounds as coherent as that between any two humans. The type of questions she asked revealed her simple trust in and reliance upon God. It was obvious that, to her, God’s goodness was so complete that she just expected Him to provide all that would be needed. She didn’t have to ask further questions or try to negotiate any conditions before accepting His plan and obeying His instructions.
Her simple trust flowed from a pure heart and from knowledge of God. She stated plainly and without any apparent reservation: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Her response provides us with a perfect example of what it means to be purely and completely devoted to God and obedient to His will.
Some might want to argue that Mary’s limited response to the angel shows that she was simply a passive person. However, even a cursory examination of Mary’s behavior reveals that she was anything but passive.
Consider the situation about 30 years later when Mary, along with Jesus and His disciples, were at a wedding when the host ran out of wine. Notice that when Mary learned of this problem she approached her Son to solve it. When Jesus said the time wasn’t right, Mary turned to the servants and instructed them, “Do whatever he tells you to do.” With the servants eyeing Him for instructions, Jesus set in motion the steps by which He turned some 180 gallons of water into wine!
Inevitably, all of us end up focusing our lives on some set of ideas or principles. The ultimate irony is that even those who think they are creating their own way, their own truth, their own life, experience the greatest bondage: addiction and enslavement to their own urges and the chaos that are the wages of sin and disobedience. Paul admonished the Romans: “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slave to the one whom you obey whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience which leads to righteousness?” Mary’s life shows us how much better it is to serve our heavenly Father, who knows our frame and holds our best interest in His hands.
Faithfulness to Christ brings wonderful freedom in our lives the freedom that comes from a pure heart. And, in the end, we can say with Paul, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”
This article is adapted from a chapter in the book coauthored with Beverly LaHaye, A Different Kind of Strength, Harvest House Publishers, 2000.