I am currently working our young church plant through Mathew’s gospel at KW Redeemer in a Christ Alone Series. As I worked through the gospel a few times to plan the series, I realized it’s going to take me 21 weeks. A few Sundays ago we tackled the famous Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus is looking for a response to His sermon, but it’s not the one you’d think. If you were on the hill that day when Jesus wrapped things up and you said “Hey Jesus, thanks for the Torah recap. I’ll do it,” you would have actually missed the point in His sermon.
The sermon on the Mount is Christ dialing the law to eleven so that by the time you get to the end of it, you recognize that you need a Savior.
Not only are the listeners not doing it, they’ve been saying they would do it since Moses.
- Leviticus: “We will keep the law!” No they didn’t.
- Deuteronomy: “We will choose life!” No they didn’t.
- Joshua: “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord!” God’s people: “Us too!” No they didn’t.
By 586 BC, God’s people had shown themselves to be so incapable of keeping His law, the work of Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David and Solomon had been completely undone. What started in “We will keep your law!” ended in a level 9 disobedience gong show.
Yet, Jesus does expect a response to His sermon. I will submit there are three responses.
The Religious Response
Just do it. How is that religious? Don’t we have the Holy Spirit? Yes, we do. So did the Apostle Paul. In Romans 7 he is flat out honest that he had a civil war raging inside him between his new nature in Christ and his sin nature in Adam. So do we, hence all Christians sin – daily. The standard for Christ’s sermon isn’t our best effort; it’s the perfection of God Himself. (Matthew 5:48) We don’t like the idea of confessing we are habitual sinners, but that’s precisely what we are – which is precisely why grace is so beautiful. Despite the fact that our substance is sinful, our status remains righteous.
The Rebellious Response
Don’t bother with it. Grace is like peanut butter; just spread it all over your life. How you live doesn’t matter because grace just takes care of it anyways. You don’t need to obey God’s moral law. Not even close. (Romans 6:1)
The Repentant Response
God, forgive more for not doing it and by your spirit change me so I desire to do it. When you read the Sermon on the Mount, you are reading requirements that were not yet accomplished for them but have been accomplished for you.
The original audience heard Jesus’ words in this way: Do and justification will be done. That was appropriate – they were under the law. Thankfully, because of the gospel, we can hear Jesus words this way: justification is done; therefore, freely do. We are under grace.
Confessing that we aren’t meeting the requirements of Christ’s sermon, makes us like those He describes at the beginning of His sermon: Humble, meek, willing to mourn, pure in heart, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, peacemakers, willing to be persecuted. Repentance is the soil in which the fruit of the Spirit grows. (Galatians 5)
Christ calls us to obey as God’s moral law still stands – but our obedience neither earns nor keeps our salvation. If it did, we would be our own saviors and Christ’s cross would merely make salvation possible for those with good enough behavior to keep it. If that were true, Christ accomplished nothing, He only opened a possibility. His cross would not save you; it would merely be a starter kit as you proceeded to save yourself. No. Christ alone.
We obey to enjoy full life in our salvation. Obedience must be understood through a cross-shaped filter: it isn’t for earning or keeping, but imitating – by the Spirit, we increasingly grow to want to be like the One who saved us. The One we love.
God required perfection from you because He’s just and then He provided perfection for you because He is gracious. What’s left to do then? Enjoy God and glorify Him forever as He transforms you to desire perfection.
“The law says do this and it is never done, the gospel says trust this and everything is done” ~ Luther.
May you rest in the grace of God and be strengthened by the peace of God as you live to the glory of the One who saves.
Paul Dunk is a student at Knox Theological Seminary, a church planter, a performance driver and an actor.