Beyond the Rules

Matthew 5.17-48

As I reflected on this passage, I was struck by how quickly Jesus dismantles the rule-based system of the Pharisees. To be sure, He doesn’t abolish the Law, but He shows very clearly that keeping the rules, if it doesn’t flow from a transformed character, will never accomplish kingdom righteousness. That is very freeing, and very scary. It’s a life of being first and foremost that then naturally leads to a life of doing.

I was also struck by the fact that the five examples that Jesus uses to illustrate our need for a heart transplant all have to do with interpersonal relationships. That our failure in so many of these areas to “keep the Law”, to even do the externals, is a natural consequence of our failure to love. We expect it of the Pharisees, but what about those of us who claim to be kingdom citizens? If life in the kingdom is characterized by love…love for God and love for others, what causes the break-down in our love? Remember when we talked about the Great Commandment…loving God and loving others is impossible when we are busy running our own universe. Life in the kingdom forces a change in perspective, a renewing of our mind so that we can see the beauty and wonder of our Creator and others as His image-bearers.

I shared a tweet this past week, “Righteousness that surpasses manmade constructs can only come from that which is outside of man…” Life in the kingdom can only be experienced fully as we learn to allow the character of the King to permeate all of our lives…breaking down the walls, seeing that life in the kingdom, being a son or daughter of the King, goes far beyond Sunday morning…and asking Him to continually renew our mind, so that we can live in the reality of the kingdom. It’s only as we experience the freedom of being so completely loved by Jesus that we can truly love in turn. And then we can live unexplainable lives…lives that reflect the character of our King; and as the world looks on, they won’t understand how we can live with such freedom and such love. It will force a response…they either persecute us or glorify God. If we are truly living a kingdom life, there is no middle ground.

As I thought about my own life, I realized how easy it is to slip into an external righteousness, a me-centered view of the world, where anger, lust, honesty, revenge and enemies present real challenges. I soon forget that I’m a son of the King who has a new heart, and I fail to act out of that reality. Instead, I fight for my own rights and leave broken relationships in the wake, all the while wondering why I’m not experiencing life in the kingdom. But there are those moments, when I glimpse it, when loving others seems almost effortless…and those are the moments that I long for.

But what about you? What do you do with this? Last week I made the statement that I wanted to be absolutely clear that the beatitudes were not a how-to list for kingdom entry. They represent characteristics of kingdom citizens. The same is true for our talk today. Even by focusing on the internal attitudes along with the external actions, you can’t achieve the righteousness of the kingdom. Let me say it as clearly as I can… If you are like the Pharisees and are counting on your good works or “law keeping” to get into the kingdom, Jesus is telling you that you are out of luck. His standards are too high. You need a new heart. And you need the righteousness of the King. Only His will do.

This is an important idea and makes me think about people today doing Christian things thinking it makes them Christians. Same problem as the original hearers of this sermon, kingdom behaviors will not impact righteousness, but intrinsic righteousness through faith  in Christ should result in kingdom behaviors. Church, baptism, sacraments, are not how to’s of Christianity, they are reflections of heart change and spiritual realities. But we still want to tell non Christians that their behavior should match ours as if the behavior alone has some kind of power to change the heart.

For you who are kingdom citizens, are you living like it? Are you loving others, even your enemies? If not, why not? What would it look like for you to “leave your offering at the altar and be reconciled” to them?

As a friend of mine and I talked about this this week, he had an amazing observation… Jesus is challenging us to a different kind of love…an undeserved love. Seen in this light:

  • Anger – I might have every right to be angry with my brother. Do I show undeserved love in that situation? Or do I call him a fool and be dismissive?
  • Lust – I’m not sure you could use this… What’s the issue for us married guys? “Well, I don’t have THAT at home.” Love your wife well even though she isn’t THAT. Ouch!
  • Honesty – As long as you hold up your end of the bargain, I’ll hold up mine. Undeserved love – I’ll keep my oath even when you break yours.
  • Revenge – I’ve been hurt by this person. Undeserved love – I’m going to continue to love this person even if it means that I might get hurt again.
  • Enemy – I don’t have to love this person, they are bad. Undeserved love – I’m going to take God’s view. Infinite value as image bearer. His desire is for reconciliation with all men.

Flip it around, and we’ve all been on the other side of it too, the ones receiving the undeserved love from the Father.

  • Anger – God pursues His people through His anger and judgment, Israel, us
  • Lust – If God was always looking for the bigger better deal, or to trade up, where would that leave us?
  • Honesty – How often do we hold up our end? Does that impact His faithfulness?
  • Revenge – We don’t want to go there. The Bible is clear about what we deserve.
  • Enemy – The story of the Bible is man becoming enemies of God and God’s plan for reconciliation. Such undeserved love is only possible as we live life in the kingdom, reflecting more and more the character of the King.

This story challenges us toward a more authentic life of faith…life in the kingdom, less focused on doing the right things and more on becoming the right people and the right things will come. My prayer for us this week is live life in the kingdom, loving others and showing off the family resemblance.

Until next time…stay salty.

BTW to hear an mp3 of this sermon, go to: http://www.centralchristian.org. To keep up on twitter: @mattdumas1969, or follow our conversation about Life in the Kingdom (aka the Sermon on the Mount): @cccsotm.

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