Being Perfect

The Sermon on the Mount (Part 11 of 11)

“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).  Jesus wraps up Matthew chapter 5 with this powerful summary statement, “Be perfect as your Father is perfect.”

Leading up to this conclusion, Jesus lays out a series of “You have heard it said … but I say to you” directives.  This is Jesus’ way of saying to the braggadocious law-keepers of His day, “You think you know the Law (‘You have heard it said’), check out what I am adding to it (‘But I say to you’).  It is a much higher calling than you know.”  And by the end of the chapter Jesus states it clearly; being right with God requires perfection.  Wow!

(As an aside, I often hear this verse preached with “perfect” being explained as “mature”.  The verse is somehow about us maturing into what God desires of us.  DON’T WATER IT DOWN.  Perfection is perfection.  And perfection is required to be right with God.)

Jesus’ hearers would have been scratching their collective heads or just ignoring His words.  They would have no idea what to do with perfect.  That goal is impossible.  How can any human be perfect in the sight of God?

Because we know the rest of the gospel story, we agree; perfection is impossible.  And if the gospel story ended right here, we would be left in that conundrum.  We would be lost in our imperfection, our sin.  But praise be to God, Someone became perfection FOR US!  Someone became the righteousness that surpasses the scribes and Pharisees FOR US!  “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:21).

And what about perfection?  Just when you think perfection is impossible, look what the author of the book of Hebrews says, “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14).  You are sanctified, set apart and perfected, by the offering of Jesus.  He did it all!

Does that mean we are perfect in our actions and attitudes?  No, our behavior is energized by the new resurrection power of Christ living His life in us.  But it also faces headwinds from our enemies of the world, the flesh, and the devil.  But our new identity is perfect, righteous, and blameless.  “Yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (Colossians 1:22).

In Matthew 5:48, Jesus is not only laying out a requirement that the law-keepers would have found impossible to live up to.  But as with much of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is being prophetic in His announcement.  Something that He has not explained or even alluded to yet is that He will become our perfection.

We and Jesus both know that we can never arrive at perfect on our own.  We are only perfected by what Christ accomplished for us.  We became perfect because God made us perfect by an act of His grace.  Don’t cringe at the word “perfection”.  You did not earn it and left to yourself you cannot keep it.  We are delivered, made perfect, and kept by the beautiful grace of God.

Righteousness that Surpasses

The Sermon on the Mount (Part 10)

“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).  Jesus has come to the end of His introduction to the Sermon on the Mount.  The first 19 verses of Matthew 5 introduce us to who you will become when you enter the kingdom of heaven by faith in Jesus.  Jesus is looking forward to who you will become under the new covenant arrangement when you believe in Jesus.  The promise of the new covenant is that you will become … gentle, peaceful, merciful, pure in heart, have your hunger and thirst satisfied, be persecuted for righteousness, be the salt of the earth, be the light of the world, see the Law requirements fulfilled by Jesus, and be set free from the Law.

Verse 20, quoted above, starts us into the next section of Jesus’ sermon.  Remember, Jesus began His public ministry with this message, “Repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).  For those of you who repent and believe, the promise of Matthew 5:3-19 is yours.

For those who do not repent – change their mind about how one is made right with God – Jesus goes on to what’s next.  And Jesus is basically saying, “If you choose to stick with the Law system, here is what you are up against.  Your expression of righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees.”  What in the world does that look like?

Moving ahead in Matthew chapter 5, it looks like this.  “You think you are keeping the ‘do not kill’?  What if you are angry with your brother?  Guilty (Matthew 5:21-22).  You think you can call someone any derogatory name you wish?  Call your brother a fool and you are guilty enough for hell (Matthew 5:22).  You think that you are passing the test on not committing adultery?  Do you desire a woman who is not your wife with lustful intentions?  Guilty (Matthew 5:27-28).

Your eye causes you to sin.  Poke it out (Matthew 5:29).  Your hand makes you stumble.  Cut it off (Matthew 5:30).  We don’t even know what to do with that.  Are you putting away your wife for your own selfish desires?  Guilty (Matthew 5:31-32).  Think you have found a loophole in breaking an oath, breaking a vow with some creative language?  If your yes does not clearly mean yes and your no mean no, you are guilty (Matthew 5:33-37).

Are you comfortable with an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth?  Is revenge your thing?  You are guilty if you are not turning the other cheek, loving your enemy (Matthew 5:38-47).

This entire large section of Matthew 5 verses 21 through 47 is Jesus exceeding the Law in His requirements.  And it fits the introduction to this passage, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).  “If you are going to go with the Law as your entrance to God, you must do better than even those who appear to be the best law keepers, the scribes and Pharisees.”  How is that even possible?

Of course, we know looking back that it is not possible.  This is why we need Jesus.  Jesus became perfection for us.  Did you notice the word “perfection”?  Where did that come in?  Jesus finally comes to the conclusion of what exceeding the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees looks like, perfection.  “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).  How is that even possible?  We will talk about it next time.

The Law Fulfilled

The Sermon on the Mount (Part 9)

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.  For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18).

Teachers who unnecessarily burden New Testament believers with a form of law are quick to quote the first part of Matthew 5:17.  They proclaim, “Christ did not come to abolish the Law!”  And they miss the entire point of the rest of the verse.

Let’s look at some key words in these verses.  First, ABOLISH.  Yes, Jesus said that He did not come to destroy or blow up the Law.  The Law is still in existence.  In fact, Paul writes that the Law still has a purpose today.  “But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous man, BUT FOR THOSE WHO ARE lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane” (I Timothy 1:8-9).  This list describes the lost.  The Law is for the lost.  The Law exists to convict unbelievers of their sin.

But you are a “righteous man” having been made righteous by the work of Christ and your faith in Jesus.  So the Law has nothing to do with you now.  The Law is “not made” for you.  Why?

Let’s look at the second word, FULFILL.  Christ fulfilled, Christ completed, any requirement the Law placed on us.  “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4).  We have arrived at our righteousness through the gift of God’s grace, not through keeping any Law requirement.  We are dead to the Law as is made clear in Romans chapters 5 through 8, the entire book of Galatians, II Corinthians 3, and many other passages.

Think about a contract that has been fulfilled.  Once the obligations laid out in the contract are fulfilled, the contract is over.  I don’t have to physically destroy the contract.  I don’t have to tear it up and throw it away.  Whether or not the paper copy exists makes no difference.  If the contract has been fulfilled, the deal is finished.  The contract no longer carries any weight or obligation.  Christ prophesied in Matthew 5:17 that He was going to fulfill the Law.  And that is exactly what He did.

Finally, let’s look at UNTIL ALL IS ACCOMPLISHED.  The interaction between us and the Law ended at the cross.  The cross is where all was accomplished.  Jesus declared “It is finished” and the sacrifice was complete.  We are now saved by grace through the shed blood of Jesus in our place.  Our connection to the Law is permanently over.  The tearing of the temple veil is a visual of the end of the old covenant of the Law and the ushering in of the new covenant of grace.

The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day had twisted the Law into all kinds of requirements, confusion, and loopholes.  Jesus is addressing the Jews saying, “You can tweak the Law.  You can twist the Law.  You can water down the Law.  But until my death that fulfills the Law, every commandment remains intact.  Christ did not come to lessen the requirements of the Law.  In fact, He seems to crank them up a notch in the rest of Matthew chapter 5.

But for you and I, the Law – and what Jesus added to it – is over, fulfilled by Christ on our behalf.  Jesus is again looking forward in this part of the Sermon on the Mount.  Looking ahead to the cross where the Law would be fulfilled when “all will be accomplished.”  You have been set free from the Law!

You Are the Light of the World

The Sermon on the Mount (Part 8)

“You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house” (Matthew 5:14-15).

Light and darkness is a huge theme in the teachings of Jesus and the letters of the apostles.  Light equates with life.  And walking in the light is experiencing the life of Christ, His life in us.

Darkness represents being lost.  Lost without Christ.  Walking in darkness is missing the light and life of Christ inside because it was never there.  Darkness equates with spiritual death.

“In Him [Jesus] was life; and the life was the light of men.  And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:4-5).  Jesus’ promise in the Sermon on the Mount is that some will “comprehend it” and literally become “the light of the world.”

Later in the gospels, Jesus identifies Himself as the light of the world.  “Jesus spoke to them saying, ‘I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life’ “ (John 8:12).  And we who believe have become His sons, sons of light.  “Jesus said to them, ‘For a little while longer the light is among you … While you have the light, believe in the light, in order that you may become sons of light’ “ (John 12:35-36).

In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus is looking ahead to a day when we will be more than light followers.  He is announcing that a time is coming when those who believe in Him, the Light of the world, will literally become lights themselves.  How can we and Jesus both be the “light of the world?”

This can only happen when all distance and separation that once existed between us and Jesus is taken away.  And that separation ended at the cross.  It became real in you and I when we believed the gospel message of Jesus Christ.  When you believed, the light of the world became the light inside you.  You are more than a light bearer, a light reflector, a light follower.  By virtue of Christ in you, you ARE the light of the world!

And God’s design is for His light that dwells in you to be on display in the world.  Your light belongs on a lampstand where it can “give light to all who are in the house.”  There is no pride in taking your place on the lampstand, because the light inside you is a pure gift of God’s grace.  You did not become the light by your talent, ingenuity, good works, smarts, or whatever.  The light came to you because Christ paid the price for your sin, rescued you out of the darkness, and filled your insides with light the minute you believed.

“For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (II Corinthians 4:6).  Shine on, my friend.  May the world see the glory of God shining forth from your pure heart.  And may the world see the face of Christ in your countenance today!

Persecuted for Righteousness

The Sermon on the Mount (Part 7)

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).  We often see this verse as being persecuted for being a Christian or being persecuted for living a righteous life.  And this could very well be Jesus’ point.  But I wonder if there could be another angle to this verse based on the word “righteousness”.

At the heart of the gospel message is the proclamation that you and I are made 100% righteous when we believe the gospel message of Jesus Christ.  “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (II Corinthians 5:21).  “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (I Corinthians 1:30).  “For as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous (Romans 5:19).

That we have been declared righteous in the here and now by faith in Jesus is settled fact in the New Testament.  But that message is not always well-received even in the church.  It was happening in the apostle Paul’s day and is still with us today.

In Acts chapter 13, the apostle Paul launched into a powerful sermon that concluded with this promise, “Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man [Jesus Christ] is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39).  The gist of Paul’s message?  You are justified, declared righteous, by believing in Jesus.

While many hearers rejoiced at this gospel message, the end of the story is a familiar one.  “But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region” (Acts 13:50).  This is a common theme in the book of Acts.  Paul faced persecution many times for proclaiming that the forgiveness of sins and being declared righteous was fully found through faith in Christ, apart from the Law.

Paul came back to this idea of being persecuted for his message of righteousness in this allegory from Galatians chapter 4.  “But the son [Ishmael] of the bondwoman [Hagar] was born according to the flesh, and the son [Isaac] of the free woman [Sarah] through the promise.  This contains an allegory: for these women are two covenants” (Galatians 4:23-24).  Paul goes on to explain that Hagar and Ishmael are a picture of the old covenant or the Law, and Sarah and Isaac represent the promise of the new covenant of grace.

Look now at Paul’s conclusion to the story.  “But as at that time, he who was born according to the flesh [Ishmael] persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit [Isaac], so it is now also!” (Galatians 4:29).  Did you catch the “so it is now also!”?  Paul is saying that those who see a need for a continued connection to the Law are persecuting grace teachers like Paul.

But what about today?  Is this still true?  I am afraid it is.  The law keepers are still persecuting the grace teachers.  Law keepers give an intellectual assent to grace.  They see grace as one part of the gospel.  But the message of the New Testament is that grace in the ONLY gospel.  And I say with sadness that friends of mine have lost their ministry position because of preaching too much of a grace emphasis.

I believe it is possible that Matthew 5:10, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” may be a prophecy regarding those who are persecuted for proclaiming a message of righteousness, proclaiming a message of grace.  If so, it was being fulfilled in Paul’s day, and it is still with us today.