JOPLIN, Mo. —
Over the course of two millennia, the Sermon on the Mount has suffered many reinterpretations in attempts to soften its strictures. But even a cursory reading of Jesus’ words suggests that his instructions are uncompromisingly clear. Far from being a polite guide to Christian etiquette, his sermon is a timeless design for a life of total dedication.
Two questions remain to be answered: Is such a life practicable? And is it necessary, or can a confident Christian get by with something less demanding?
As for the first, Jesus would not call people to perfection if it were not the preferred path to follow. The alternative is to be content with our inadequacies. Moral perfection is rare this side of eternity, but that does not excuse us from accepting the gift of costly grace that will bind us more closely to our creator. In any event, the sermon bids us to follow him as our model.
In one important respect, the sermon is an inadequate guide. It gives proper direction and attitude, but fails to tell us how to behave and choose in every moral situation. Asking ourselves “What would Jesus do?” in daily crises may only make them worse. Instead, in times of uncertainty, it is wise to emulate the heart and mind of Jesus, admitting humbly that sometimes we will do more harm than good, requiring us to beg the forgiveness of those we have tried to help. To shrink from moral decisions is seldom a safe alternative; discipleship demands involvement. Living the Sermon on the Mount is practicable because it seeks our only true objective -- God’s kingdom -- and is enabled by God’s grace and forgiveness. Although faltering is inevitable, confident Christians keep their eyes on the prize, which is not ours to be won, but to be accepted gratefully as a gift.
As for the remaining question, we can get by with less effort than true disciples, but at the expense of drifting without a destination. Humanly speaking, there are many satisfactions to seek in this life, but only one God who can deliver. There is nothing wrong with seeking wealth, success and pleasure, but it is misguided to believe that any permanent good will come our way through our own efforts alone.
Life is neither a game to be won nor a lottery that pays off. All good comes from God’s grace, and he is the only prize worth having. It is senseless to focus on the transient when God’s kingdom alone is eternal. If we have not sought the kingdom, we risk not recognizing it when it is offered to us.
Will complacent Christians who have invested their entire faith in the world be prepared to accept the gift of eternal life when it is offered to them? We can only take Jesus at his word: Humanly speaking, it is impossible; but with God everything is possible.
DAVID YOUNT is the author of 14 books. He answers readers at P.O. Box 2758, Woodbridge, VA 22195 and email@example.com.