Be Holy For I am Holy


Honored are the pure in heart, 

for they shall see God. 

(Matt 5:8)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

God is holy; we are not. Our tension with God a menudo starts with guilt over this holiness gap. This gap, which is more of a chasm, points to our need for Christ, who is our bridge to our Holy God, being both hoy and divine.

The Greek word for pure means: “to be free from moral guilt, pure, free from sin.” (BDAG 3814.3c) The expression pure in heart appears only in Matthew 5:8 in the New Testament but occurs in the Old Testament:

Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? 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. (Ps 24:3–4)

This Psalm tells us how to worship in the temple in Jerusalem. In view is the holiness code of Leviticus where God admonishes us many times to “be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:44).

The expression, “pure in heart”, is incomplete in the English translation. The Hebrew word for heart means “inner man, mind, will, heart.”` (BDB 4761) that includes emotions but also things not included in the English. For example, immediately following the Hebrew prayer, the Shema (Deut 6:4), we are commanded—”You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:5)—that emphasizes the unity of heart, soul, and might through repetition (Benner 1998, 22). Jesus repeats this reference in Matthew 22:36–40 where he commands us to love both God and neighbor.

The Sixth Beatitude’s promise of seeing God, if we remain pure, is also a promise of forgiveness (Ps 51:10–12), salvation (Job 19:26–27), and the opportunity of ministry. Seeing God figures prominently in the call stories of Moses (Exod 3:6), Isaiah (Isa 6:5), and Ezekiel (Ezek 1:28) whose experience parallels that of Paul (Acts 9:3, 22:6, and 26:13). Paul is blinded by the light of heaven—an allusion both to God and to the call of the Prophet Ezekiel (Ezek 2:1). As unholy and mortal beings, seeing God blinds us and threatens our very existence.

The promise of seeing God is also a promise of restoration of the relationship with God, seen first in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:8-9). It also anticipates heaven, as prophesied in the last chapter of the Book of Revelation:

No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. (Rev 22:3-4)

Holiness is the mark of God, not only on our foreheads, but also on our souls, as we read in Genesis:

Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, Lord, will you kill an innocent people? Did he not himself say to me, She is my sister’? And she herself said, He is my brother. In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this. Then God said to him in the dream, Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her. (Gen 20:4-6)

Abimelech speaks directly with God who works in his heart to keep him from sinning even though he is a gentile and not a believer.

Seeing Jesus, a “friend of . . . sinners”, value and teach about holiness is indeed ironic, as we read:

For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, He has a demon. The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners! Yet wisdom is justified by all her children. (Luke 7:33–35)

Still,  the Sixth Beatitude anticipates our conversion and commissioning, much like that of the Apostles:

As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit. (John 20:21–22).

The call of an Apostle clearly required a purity of heart which the Holy Spirit brought within their reach.


Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.

Benner, David G. 1998. Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius (BDB). 1905. Hebrew-English Lexicon, unabridged.

Be Holy For I am Holy

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Preface to a Life in Tension

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