Proverbs 20:9

A Clean Heart


1. This is a simple proverb. It is but a question.

2. However, it is a question designed to drive home a point. It is designed to make us think (which is always a healthy exercise).

3. Here Solomon makes his point by raising a question.

a. The obvious answer is no one.

b. Solomon answers his own question in Ecc. 7:20.

4. This proverb is short, concise way of describing the doctrine of the depravity of man.

a. Actually, it is fair to think of this question as coming directly from the heart of God to the heart of every man. Who can say that? No one!

b. It is sort of like God’s question to Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”

c. It is the kind of question that causes our mouths to shut… that causes us to be humbled. It puts us in our place.

9 Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?

1. The HEART: Mind; emotions; conscience; the inner man. Our hearts have been entirely affected by sin… impure… unclean…

a. All has been defiled by sin.

b. Sin and impurity have affected the way we think; the way we feel; our conscience; it has brought guilt and shame.

c. The point Solomon is driving home is how deeply engrained is our sin… and how impotent we are to remove it.

d. Sin is our nature… it is human nature—fallen human nature.

2. This is not just a New Testament truth. It was clearly taught in the Old Testament as well.

a. I Kings 8:46 – Solomon acknowledged in his prayer at the dedication of the Temple that “there is no man that sinneth not.”

b. Ps. 14:1–3 – Here is David’s description of depravity. Paul quotes him in Romans 3.

c. Job 15:14 – Eliphaz speaks forth the wisdom of the ages and asks a similar question.

d. Job 25:4 – Another of Job’s friends, Bildad says the same.

e. Both testaments proclaim that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

3. This passage is a recognition of this sad reality of life in a cursed earth… and a lamentation over the fact.

a. Of the over 6 billion people in the world today, not one can make this claim.

b. Not one has a clean or pure heart. There is none that doeth good no not one.

c. Of course Jesus Christ was the one exception to this rule… but among mere mortals there is not one.

4. Knowing this truth and keeping it in mind can have some practical benefits.

a. It serves as a reminder that in all conflicts, nobody has a completely pure heart.

b. There is always plenty of blame to go around.

c. If you are running a business, it is imperative to take this fact into account.
• Your competition will try to steal your company secrets…
• Employees will try to cheat on their hours… stop working when not being watched…
• Someone will attempt to break into your buildings…
• Business leaders would be fools if they didn’t take this into account in making their plans.

d. If you are running a school you have to take into account the fact that kids will try to make trouble.
• Schools need rules.
• Leaders need to take into account that some kids will stretch the rules to their limits… will try to avoid the spirit of the law by some technicality…

e. In EVERY area of life, fallen human nature needs to be taken into account.

f. That was one of the reasons Communism didn’t succeed.
• On paper and in theory, it didn’t sound so bad.
• They failed to take into account human nature—
• If everybody works for the state… if the property is owned by the state… and everybody gets the same, then the workers will not work as hard… they won’t take care of the property…
• Even comrades are sinners!

g. Solomon as a king was well aware of human nature. He wants all of his readers to know what the human heart is like too.

5. Theologically, this is an important statement. It destroys the notion of sinless perfection. But it is also an exceedingly practical truth!

a. Parents should be aware of this too. Our sweet little kids are sinners!
• Buying one toy for two kids and expecting them to share doesn’t always work.
• Vague rules don’t work either. Your kids will find a way to get around the obvious intent of the rule unless you are crystal clear!

b. In every sphere of life, we need to incorporate this principle into all of our plans and procedures. The people we are working with are sinners! And so are we!

9a Who can say?

1. Solomon raises the question because he has a doubly good sense of this truth.

a. Solomon knew that it is human nature to be a sinner… unclean… impure.

b. Solomon also knew that it is human nature to try to DENY it!

c. There are some who have the audacity to claim that they are pure… or at least they THINK they are.

2. Prov. 30:12 – There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness.

a. Yes it is human nature to attempt to deny the obvious… that we are all unclean.

b. As arrogant as it might sound, there ARE those who SAY “I have made my heart clean.”

c. We have blind spots concerning our own hearts. Our vision is quite good when it comes to noticing spots on others… but it is human nature to be blind towards our own failures… impurities.

d. Such boasts do not prove a man’s goodness, only his blindness.

e. It is spiritually healthy to be aware of this.

f. Ps. 139:24 – David prayed that God would show him any wicked ways… impurities in his own heart… motives, etc.
• David acknowledged that he was often blind to them.
• He needed God to point them out to him.
• That is an honest and healthy attitude.

g. Thus, Solomon raises the question in such a way as almost to DARE anyone to make that claim.

h. The proverb challenges the readers to think twice before saying such a thing.

i. If you think about it honestly, you would never say it.

j. In fact, as we meditate upon the condition of our own hearts we are more inclined to say, “In me, that is in my flesh dwells no good thing!”

3. I John 1:8-10 – John takes up this issue too.

a. People can SAY their hearts are pure, but their walk proves it a lie.

b. Those who make such claims are deceived and are liars.

c. Don’t ever be so foolish as to make this claim.

9b I have made MY heart clean

1. Nobody can say, “I have cleansed my heart.”

a. Put the emphasis on the word “I”… as if “I” had such power!

b. No we cannot say “I” have cleansed my heart.

c. But we CAN say that the precious blood of Christ has cleansed us from all sin and provided us with a new heart!

2. We cannot say that WE have made our hearts pure.

a. Those who are born again DO possess a pure heart, but it was the work of the Holy Spirit…

b. Unfortunately, we ALSO still possess our fallen, impure heart.

3. I don’t think that Solomon had in mind the distinction between legal vs. practical righteousness or purity… but it might be helpful for us to think about it.

a. Believers today are pure of heart in a legal sense:
• We stand blameless and without fault in the sight of God.
• Our iniquities have been forgiven
• We are clothed with fine linen, clean and white, the righteousness of the saints:
• There is no condemnation.
• Acts 15:9 – purifying their hearts by faith.
• Positionally, our hearts are pure.
• This is by faith… through grace, not works.
• No one can say “I” have made my heart clean…
• Positionally, we ARE pure, cleansed, washed.

b. But none of us are pure from indwelling sin…
• We still have the sin nature… and it is just as ugly as ever.
• None of us are clean and pure from the commission of sin.
• To deny that would make us a liar.
• That is what Solomon was getting at… in a practical sense.

The Real Cure

1. Get a fresh look at the holiness of God.

2. No one ever got a glimpse of the holiness of God and made such a foolish boast: I am clean! My heart is pure!

3. Just the opposite.

a. Isaiah saw the Lord and exclaimed: Woe is me! I am undone. I am an unclean man!

b. Job 40:4 – “I am vile! What shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth.”

c. Job also said, “Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (42:6)

d. Paul also saw the Lord, and he said of himself, “I am the chief of sinners.”

4. If we start getting too full of ourselves, if we begin to think we are something when we are nothing, if we begin to esteem ourselves more highly than we ought… it’s time for a fresh glimpse at the holiness of God in His Word.