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!

Friday, March 13, 2009

IMPOSSIBLE: The Sermon on the Mount, Part 3

Let's continue our look at how the theme of “the righteousness of God” is woven into the text of the Sermon on the Mount. In the previous post we looked at the beatitudes. There are three other key texts where the theme of God's righteousness is mentioned.

It is in the sermon’s thesis statement:

Matthew 5:20 “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The thesis is simple: to enter God's Kingdom, one must have the highest possible kind of righteousness. God’s righteousness is a surpassing righteousness. It abounds beyond the very best of human virtue. The Lord goes on to give examples of how the outward, Pharisaic ethic falls short of the real standard:

It condemns murder, but inwardly burns with the anger that leads to murder.
God’s righteousness condemns anger (the root of murder), and murder (the fruit of anger).
It brings sacrifices to God, but leaves relationships in a damaged condition.
God’s righteousness values relationships above religious rituals.
It seeks legal victories, but ignores the possibility of reconciliation
God’s righteousness seeks reconciliation and brings peace.
It carefully avoids adultery, but cannot avoid the adulterous desires of the heart.
God’s righteousness deals with sin at the heart level.
It justifies divorce as a legal option, and ignores the consequences brought on others.
God’s righteousness considers how our actions affect others..
It multiplies religious promises, but doesn’t bring integrity to everyday speech.
God’s righteousness produces words of truth that are backed up with action.
It commands a love that extends to friends only.
God’s righteousness employs boundless love to make friends out of enemies.

Note that every single example deals directly with relationships in everyday life. We may be able to put on a facade of moralistic spirituality when we are isolated, but in close proximity to other human beings we quickly find we have sinful hearts.

God’s righteousness can be seen again in the sermon’s hinge point of Matthew 5:48-6:1
“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.”

Here Jesus identifies the problem with Pharisaic righteousness: impressive as it may be in the eyes and opinions of men, it falls short of the glory of God. The righteous standard is GOD HIMSELF, not the Pharisees (Mt. 5:20), not the tax collectors (Mt. 5:46), not the Gentiles (Mt. 5:47, 6:7-8, 6:32), not the hypocrites (Mt. 6:2, 5, 16), not the masses (Mt. 7:13-14), not the false prophets (Mt. 7:15-20). Two things are clear from this: first, righteousness is something to be practiced; second, it is to be practiced for God's sake and not for the approval of other people.

The theme gets a final mention at the sermon’s summary call to action found in Matthew 6:33

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness . . .”

Our Lord has been speaking about righteousness throughout the message, but here He defines the source of the righteousness He has been describing. It is from God; it is HIS righteousness. And how do we get it? By making it our first and primary pursuit, above our daily necessities, trusting God to provide the righteousness we need.
In essence, the sermon's opening thesis says, "Abandon your own righteousness - it's not good enough." The hinge point says, "Stop putting on a show - God is not impressed." The call to action says, "Seek the righteousness only God can give you - it's what you need most of all."

True righteousness is something we hunger and thirst for (Mt. 5:6). We don't come to God already possessing it. Instead we come with a need for it, and God fills us (Mt. 5:6). True righteousness is in Christ (Mt. 5:10-11), it is something that exceeds outward moral perfection (Mt. 5:20), it is something that imitates God and is practiced for His sake (Mt. 5:48-6:1), it is something that we must seek after and obtain from God (Mt. 6:33). This all sounds rather similar to the themes found in Romans, the Corinthian letters, Galatians, Philippians, Hebrews, etc. - really, it's laced through the entire New Testament, and even the Old (though less prominently). Do you see it? Far from a mere ethical teaching, the Sermon on the Mount is ultimately a denunciation of self-righteousness and an admonition to seek the higher, better, true righteousness of God – not merely as an active approach to life, but as that which we EAT, and DRINK, and as that which gives us life and FILLS US! The righteous ethic is a heart-level application of God’s Law. It’s an ethic that is tailor made to bash the living daylights out of the self-confident belief in our own ability to do good apart from the One Who IS our only righteousness. The phrase, “HIS righteousness,” summarizes both the ethic and the message of the Sermon on the Mount – and of the Gospel itself. It implies that there is a higher righteousness, that it isn't from us, and that we can get it only from Him Who is its origin and source.

Perhaps someone will ask, "where is faith in all of this? Where is regeneration? You've made a case for imputed righteousness, but what about the other pieces of the Gospel you preach? Are they in this sermon, too? And aren't there other important themes to talk about???" Stay tuned, the next post in this series will address some of these issues. Parts of the Sermon on the Mount which are virtually ignored by many of its most vocal "followers" are directly tied to the Gospel of God's sovereign grace, a Gospel which they have ironically rejected. What a joy to discover the true glory of God in this foundational text - a text which has been abused and misinterpreted to teach man-centered ideas of universalism, liberalism, political socialism and liberation theology! All of these are a result of overlooking (or ignoring) the obvious, as fallen men continue to suppress the truth in UNrighteousness . . . but may our Father reveal Himelf to our hearts as we study on.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to respond to anything written in the posts, or to the comments left by others. All comments are reviewed before they are published.

Please be charitable. If you disagree, do so with grace. Keep your words positive, focused, and on-topic. We don't expect everyone to agree, but we do expect everyone to treat everyone else with respect and grace, speaking the truth in love.