Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Best Loved, Least Observed Sermon Ever Preached – SOTM: Part 1

In my many years of Bible teaching I’ve had no other portion of Scripture resisted as defensively as the “Sermon on the Mount.”  Those who came to class remembering those marvelous beatitudes – well, the early ones at least, before Jesus got to talking about persecution – found the sermon less to their liking for the remainder of chapters 5, 6, and 7 of the Gospel of Matthew. The common response to Jesus’ blunt statements was, “I don’t think he meant for us to take that literally.” Or some might say, “You can’t live like that in our world or people would walk all over you.” Like they didn’t walk all over Jesus? Like he didn’t promise that they would walk all over those who follow him?

We Evangelicals typically hold that salvation comes through faith in Christ alone, not through works done in the flesh. I believe that. Still we have these moral teachings of Jesus that seem to imply that there is some obligation upon those who wish to be approved by God to live righteously. He even went so far as to tell his audience that, unless their righteousness was greater than that of the champions of righteousness, the Pharisees, they would not enter the kingdom of heaven. The good Evangelical response to that is, “Ah, and Jesus was referring to his righteousness, which they must obtain through faith in him.” I don’t believe that. It is evident that his sermon was, in part, an expose of the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders, but it was preached to his “disciples” and he admonishes them at every step to do better than the self-righteous Scribes and Pharisees. Even the apostle Paul, to whom we Evangelicals like to run for grace when Jesus’ sermons get too hot, lists a number of behaviors and activities which, if practiced, will, he says, keep one from inheriting the kingdom of God.

So what are we to do with this Sermon on the Mount? Is it, or is it not instructive of how one must live one’s life in Christ if they hope to inherit eternal life? I want, in the next several postings, to explore Matthew 5, 6, and 7 and hope to be able to show that the righteousness Jesus declares to be essential is practical, day to day right living; to ignore it and live beneath the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees is to court disaster in your spiritual life.

But I will give this much of a hint about my answer to the questions posed in the previous paragraph. I believe there is a difference between the requirements to get into the kingdom of God and those required to stay in it. In other words, you can’t get in by good works. You won’t stay in without them. But if you leave to live unrighteously, you won’t get back in by simply ceasing to live unrighteously. Is that confusing? Stay around and see where this takes us.

Join me as often as you can over the next several days. Comment if you like. It is my policy to post all comments that are serious and respectfully written. I don’t respond, on the blog, to comments. It is not my purpose to get into disputes. But I welcome the ideas others may have and I’ll grant them space in the comment section to express them, even if they are not in agreement with my positions.

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