Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

IMPOSSIBLE: The Sermon on the Mount, Part 1

Gandhi once said, “The message of Jesus as I understand it, is contained in the Sermon on the Mount unadulterated and taken as a whole... If then I had to face only the Sermon on the Mount and my own interpretation of it, I should not hesitate to say, 'Oh, yes, I am a Christian.'”

This seems to me the quintessential statement of man-made religion. It is raw self-righteousness. You see, as I face the Sermon on the Mount I find myself reaching the exact opposite conclusion. I say, “If this is what it means to be a Christian, I’m in big trouble.”

Liberal Christians from Tolstoy to MacLaren to Obama have persistently affirmed their allegiance to the Sermon on the Mount. For them, the sermon’s morality is inspirational, its ideals grand, its effects potentially utopian. For me, it’s the other way. The morality is impossible, the ideals unattainable, the effects demolishing to everything I am - apart from Christ and grace and the Gospel. We’re not supposed to read the words of Jesus and say, “Oh, that’s nice.” His words are intended to devastate us. Anything short of that is evidence of a hardened heart.

In the view of Gandhi and many of today’s Christians, Jesus gives the world an ethical teaching that will help mankind to become better. But this is nothing more than an expanded re-packaging of the same old legalism that Jesus is preaching against. It is an error that confuses the ethic of the Gospel with the message of the Gospel. Christ’s teaching contains both ethic and message. The ethic He prescribes shocks us and prepares us to receive the message; and the message, once received, works in us to produce the ethic. In other words, the sermon contains both Law and Gospel in perfect balance.

Please join me as I examine the Sermon on the Mount in this series of posts. Let’s study it “unadulterated and taken as a whole” as Gandhi recommends– and see what we find . . .


  1. Love reading your blog. Wish we had more time to spend with you, Shondra (sp?) and the kids to get to know you guys better!!! Looking forward to the Sermon on the Mount series. Angie M.

  2. Derek,
    Good stuff.

    My understanding of total depravity has been growing as of late. I praise God for His grace! Yes, I am a Christian. Has nothing to do with MY righteousness and everything to do with my Gods. Thanks for this series!

  3. Angie,

    Great to hear from you. We will certainly miss your family when you are on the field. Thanks for stopping by my humble blog!


    Amen brother!


  4. A quick note for the sake of accuracy:

    I'm surprised nobody has mentioned this, but it bothers me every time I see the last picture in this post. The picture shows the Lord standing on top of the mountain, but Jesus was clearly sitting down when He gave this sermon (Mt. 5:1-2). I don't like to use inaccurate pictures, but it was the best picture of the sermon on the mount I could find.


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