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!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

IMPOSSIBLE: The Sermon On The Mount, Part 4

At the end of the last post in this series (going back about three weeks - where does the time go?), I posed the question, "where are faith and regeneration in the Sermon on the Mount?" Here's the answer I'm proposing: they are wrapped up in the concept of God the Father which our Lord has interlaced through the entire sermon.

Jesus' presentation of God as the Father of His disciples implies regeneration and inspires faith.

Before we leap toward the commonly held, universalistic idea that "all people are God's children," let's notice that Jesus is expressly addressing His disciples in this sermon. Matthew 5:1-2 says, "When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them ..." The direct audience is the disciples, although the crowds are certainly listening in.

A child is a father's offspring, the extension of his life. The life of the father is in his son. As in Adam all died, so all who are in Christ live again, through the sharing of the Father's life that is in Christ. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, shares with us the privileges of His sonship. This includes the most basic privilege of all, that of having spiritual life in ourselves. It is impossible to have eternal life apart from union with God.

That is the INVOLUNTARY side of sonship. It is the aspect in which God gives us His own life, not because we chose to live but because He chose to make us alive. After all, who chooses to be born?

The VOLUNTARY side of sonship involves dependency, relationship, and imitation. Another way of of saying this is, "sonship leads us voluntarily into a faith relationship." Many earthly fathers have proven themselves untrustworthy, and failed to bring their children into this type of trusting intimacy, but it is nonetheless God's intention for fatherhood. With God, failure is impossible. He always draws His children irresistibly into communion with Himself, simply by showing them how loving and faithful He is. We therefore voluntarily trust Him, through the faith which He gives us by revealing Himself. One of our Lord's most obvious objectives in the Sermon on the Mount is to endear us to the Father He is revealing.

With this in mind, I would like to examine the various statements about God the Father, so that in the words of His Son we might find Him more glorious and trust Him more fully.

A Perfect, Holy & Righteous Father

(Perfect, yet not perfectionistic)

Mt. 6:9 Pray, then, in this way:‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.

The Father is holy. He lives in heaven. He hears our prayers.

Mt. 5:48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

The Father is perfect (Gk. TELEOIS, finished, mature, fully developed, complete). His eternal and immutable perfection engenders our perfecting process, and guarantees that we ultimately become like Him in character (i.e., imitators of Him).

Mt. 6:33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness ...

The Father is a Righteous King. Sovereign, just, and worthy to be our primary pursuit.

A Provider

(Rich, yet generous)

Mt. 6:32-33 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

The Father knows everything we need. He promises to provide everything we need. He does not abandon His children. In this section, His kingdom and righteousness are presented as our basic necessities, compared as they are with such daily essentials as "food" and "clothing."

Mt. 7:11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!

The Father gives His children good things. He does not sell to them, nor does He trade with them. He responds lovingly to their requests with free gifts of grace. What could they ever use to trade or buy with? All that they possess has come from His bounty.

A brief side note here: the concept of total depravity is implied in Jesus' passing description of His own disciples as "evil." He calls them the Father's children, and yet He calls them evil in the exact same verse. In this we find the paradox of a pervasively depraved nature and a radically sanctifying grace present and active in the very same individuals. Those who teach errors such as sinless perfection and innate human goodness would be hard pressed to explain this dual description of the disciples. When we read passages like Romans 7 and Galatians 5, it all becomes more clear, though it is still indissolubly paradoxical - even under the penetrating light of Pauline examination. But back to the subject at hand . . .

Mt. 6:26 Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?

The Father takes care of all His creatures, especially His own children. A good father values his children and gives all he has to them. If we hunger and thirst for righteousness, He will not fail to feed us.

An Omniscient Father

(Unseen, yet all-seeing)

Mt. 6:4 so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

The Father sees everything, even our most secret deeds.

Mt. 6:6 But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

The Father is unseen, and He sees every unseen thing. Just as the Father dwells in secret, and the birth of His children takes place in secret, so a great deal of our relationship with Him must remain hidden. Yet the light that results from such a relationship cannot possibly remain a secret.

Mt. 6:8 ... your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

The Father knows everything we need. He knows what we are thinking. He is intimately acquainted with our hearts, wills, and bodies. He made us.

Mt. 6:18 so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

The Father notices what we do. He is not ignorant of our deeds, whether good or evil.

Mt. 6:32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things ...

The Father knows what we need. Are we getting this yet?

A Kind and Generous Father
(Forgiving of enemies, yet not forgiving of unforgiveness)

Mt. 5:44-45 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

The Father's kindness is unlimited, extending even to His enemies.

Mt. 6:14-15 For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

The Father forgives transgressions. He is so committed to forgiveness that He will not allow for exceptions in His children. They must forgive as they have been forgiven, and they will be forgiven as they share His forgiveness.

Mt. 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
The Father's likeness is seen in those who resolve conflict and restore relationships. They are doing His work as His representatives, for they imitate His kindness.

A Father Who Rewards His Children
(Giving just rewards, yet doing so on the basis of grace)

Mt. 6:1 Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.

The Father notices and rewards every single righteous deed done by His children, even though the righteousness came to them as a gift in the first place - and in spite of the fact that they have been forgiven for innumerable evils.

Mt. 6:6 But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

Believe it! God will reward the work you do for Him.

Mt. 6:18 so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

The rewards are promised, but granted only in the future. Therefore, they can only be received through faith in the Father's Word. Thus, we will only practice secret righteousness if we believe His promise, so our "just" rewards come by grace, through faith. Sublime paradox!

A Glorious Father
(Unseen, yet revealing His glory through our works)

Mt. 5:16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

A perfect balance is achieved by comparing this verse to Mt. 6:1. We are not to practice our righteousness before men, but we are to shine our light before men. Like the Father, we should seek to enlighten others, and not to justify ourselves. We are not to act in such a way that we ourselves are noticed by men, but rather that they may see our good works. Like the Father, we ourselves should remain hidden and allow our works to be seen. We are not to have the motive of being noticed by men, but rather that men may glorify our Father. God-revealing light shines through the good works which result from a humble dependence upon His righteousness. But the man-centered reward of self-glorification is all we will ever get from gaudy displays of self-righteousness. The actions may appear outwardly similar in some respects, but what a contrast in motivations and results!

The Father is worthy to be glorified. Only the new heart that has been created by regeneration, and become endeared to the Father, can have as its motivation the supreme glory of God. Apart from regeneration and faith, the God-centered Christian life would be . . . impossible.

Likewise, it is only as we come to know God as Father that we can bear to see that we are spiritually destitute. It is only in the embrace of our Father that we can shed tears of shame and grief for our sins. It is only in the glow of the Father's love and generosity that we can bow the knee and willingly comply with what He has commanded. As He graciously fills our spiritual hunger, we begin to imitate Him in His mercy, purity, and peacemaking ways. Thus the light shines, and He is greatly glorified in His adoring and grateful children.

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