What Is the Meaning of the Sermon on the Mount?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matt. 5:3 ESV

What is the Sermon the Mount really about? Is the Sermon a new set of commandments for Christians? Or just a re-interpretation of the Ten Commandments? Or as some say, a Divine directive for U. S. government policy? Or, nice teaching from the Great Teacher?

In reality, the Sermon on the Mount is about the interior life of the Christian. The Sermon on the Mount is what our lives will look like when the Holy Spirit is having his way in us.

Beware of placing our Lord as Teacher first instead of Saviour. That tendency is prevalent to-day, and it is a dangerous tendency. We must know Him first as Saviour before His teaching can have any meaning for us, or before it can have any meaning other than that of an ideal which leads to despair. Fancy coming to men and women with defective lives and defiled hearts and wrong mainsprings, and telling them to be pure in heart! What is the use of giving us an ideal we cannot possibly attain? We are happier without it.

If Jesus is a Teacher only, then all He can do is to tantalise us by erecting a standard we cannot come anywhere near. But if by being “born again from above” we know Him first as Saviour, we know that He did not come to teach us only: He came to make us what He teaches we should be. The Sermon on the Mount is a statement of the life we will live when the Holy Spirit is having His way with us (emphasis mine).

Oswald Chambers, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Hants, UK: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1960).

Listen to Him; learn of Him; be like Him; receive Him into thine heart; let Him be revealed within thee, so shalt thou also be conformed to these qualities, and participate in this bliss.

F. B. Meyer, Blessed Are Ye: Talks on the Beatitudes

His Part, Our Part

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Phil. 2:12-13

When Evangelicals and other communions debate the nature of justification by faith alone, the Apostle Paul’s singular phrase, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12-13) is much discussed. Did Paul mean that our salvation is faith and works? Paul’s use of the word, “work,” is often sighted as proof that salvation is not “by faith alone” (Rom. 4:5). According to some, faith with works following achieve our acceptance before God on the Last Day.

However, the Apostle Paul’s use of “work” is not a work of accomplishing or earning our salvation: an attempt to achieve through our own efforts acceptance with God. No, this “work” is a living out of the life of faith: the indwelling Christ empowering us to make righteous choices and to live selfless lives.

How do we know what the Apostle Paul meant by “work”? In the writings of Paul, he never used justification (i.e., our acceptance with God) synonymously with the word, “salvation.” [Frank Thielman, The NIV Application Commentary: Philippians (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), 137] Salvation for Paul is not acceptance with God; but sanctification, our growth in Christ.

How are justification and sanctification different? Justification is a looking to God that receives Christ death as our death, his righteousness as our righteousness, and his life as our life. By grace through faith, we stand accepted before God.  Sanctification is progressively grasping Jesus’ victory over our sin by applying that victory in our daily attitudes and actions. Sanctification is living a life that is pleasing to God by being transformed into the image of Christ. Justification is a past event. Whereas, sanctification is an ongoing process.

The “fear and trembling” of which Paul speaks is a fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord is not a fear of punishment, but the dread of hurting or breaking God’s heart by disappointing his plans and purposes for us. Our responsibility according to Paul is to pursue holiness of heart knowing that one day we must give an account to God for our life choices.

In turn, God promises divine enablement, “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). “Work” here in the Greek means to energize and this energy produces the desire and ability in us to delight in God’s will and obey God’s word.

In summary, Philippians 2:13-14 teaches that human responsibility and divine empowering simultaneously cooperate together with the Holy Spirit to enable us to obey the words and do the works of Jesus.

Will you begin now? He may be working in you to confess to that fellow-Christian that you were unkind in your speech or act. Work it out. He may be working in you to give up that line of business about which you have been doubtful lately. Give it up. He may be working in you to be sweeter in your home, and gentler in your speech. Begin. He may be working in you to alter your relations with some with whom you have dealings that are not as they should be. Alter them. This very day let God begin to speak, and work and will; and then work out what He works in. God will not work apart from you, but He wants to work through you. Let Him. Yield to Him, and let this be the day when you shall begin to live in the power of the mighty Indwelling One.

F. B. Meyer, The Epistle to the Philippians (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1979), 110.

Between Death and Life

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).

Spent the week in Chicago at The Gospel Coalition conference which focused on preaching Christ in the Old Testament. Tim Keller gave a wonderful message on Exodus fourteen, Israel’s passing through the Red Sea. I commend it very highly to you. Not only did the sermon reveal the exodus as a prefigurement to Christ’s work on the Cross, but it also displayed properly how to “connect the dots” to the great redemptive themes of the Bible. “When you go to Luke 9, the transfiguration, Jesus is talking to Moses and Elijah about His departure, about His death in Jerusalem, but the Greek word there is “Exodus,”—Jesus’ death on the cross is the greater exodus” (Tim Keller).

For the Jews, the Exodus was their defining moment. The crossing of the Red Sea displayed to the Hebrews God’s covenant faithfulness. God loved Israel, he would protect them, he would supernaturally intervene and provide for them.

For the Christian, the Cross is our defining moment. Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection displays to the world God’s love and grace. God loves the world, he died that they might have life, he supernaturally intervened, and provided salvation for us all.

For the Christian, the Cross is our exodus. We have crossed from the darkness of Egypt through the dangers of the Red Sea into the promise land of the kingdom. The enemies of our soul are defeated: the world, the flesh, sin, death, and the devil. The cross is between us and our sinful failures. The cross is between us and our guilt and shame. The cross is between our embarrassing past and our hope-filled future. For us, the cross lies between death and life.

This wonderful epistle [Galatians] speaks of the cross as between me and Egypt, between me and the wilderness, between me and my past, my wanderings; and now the cross is my Jordan by which I pass through death into the land where Joshua leads, the land that flows with milk and honey . . . .

You have not therefore got to worry about the death side; think about the life side. Do not live looking at the corpse, but looking to the Holy Ghost; as you breath in the Holy Ghost moment by moment as you breathe in air, in the depth of your heart He will draw you away from the flesh, the self, the world, the devil; and insensibly, unconsciously, exquisitely, He will bring you into life. And the more you live on the life side, the more, without knowing much of it, you will live on the death side; for while you are engrossed with the Holy Ghost, the Holy Ghost in the depth of your being is carrying the sentence of death deeper, deeper, deeper down, and things are being mortified of which you once had no conception.

F. B. Meyer, The Christ Life for Your Life (Chicago: Moody) , 46-47.

Enclosed in God

God in and Through Our Circumstances

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

Gen. 50:20 NIV

We live in the midst of the fallout of the fall: sin has affected every area of creation and all aspects of our lives. Disappointment, pain, and trouble are significant ingredients of our daily lives. Ill-timed, unexpected tragedies can shape our lives for the better or make our hearts hard through bitterness. Our choice: trust that God is sovereignly working or become angry that life is not going our way.

The Bible teaches that is not God’s will that people sin. However, when people sin against us, their actions become God’s will for us. Because of the Cross of Christ, we can trust that God has something bigger and better planned through our being ill-treated, misunderstood, hurt, and disappointed.

The Lord is working his purposes in and through our circumstances: the molding of our character, the testing of our faith, and the ministry of Christ’s life. Through trials, the Lord is giving us our heart’s desire: Christlikeness. “And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering” (Romans 8:17 NLT).

Now it seems to me as if you and I are enclosed in God. An arrow comes from the enemy’s bow. A man hates me writes an anonymous letter. Someone defrauds me. Some woman sets an unkind story afloat about me. The evil travels toward me. If God liked, He could let the arrow pass this way or that. But if my God opens and permits the evil to pass through His encompassing power to my heart, by the time it has passed through God to me, it has become God’s will for me. He permits it, and that is His will for my life. I do not say that the man will escape his just doom. God will deal with him. I am not going to worry myself about him.

In early days, I have taken infinite pains to avert the evil that men wished to do me, or perhaps to repay them, or to show that the evil was perfectly unwarranted. I confess that I have ceased to worry about it. If you silence one man you will start twenty more. It is ever so much better for peace of mind to accept the will of God, to accept His permission and His appointment, to look up into His face, and say, ‘Even so, Father.’

F. B. Meyer, The Christ-Life for Your Life (Chicago: Moody Press, no date), 121.

The Christ Life vs. the Self-Life

Spirit vs. Flesh

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

Gal. 5:16-17

The Christ Life is peace, a peace that comes from knowing that our sins are forgiven. The Christ Life is rest, a rest that experiences by faith God’s adequacy and faithfulness in every life situation resulting in freedom from worry, anxiety, and care. The Christ Life is power, power to walk apart from sin and live unto God.

The Self Life is striving, the frustration of living the Christian life without joy and victory. The Self Life is manipulation, our attempt to achieve in our own power what only the Holy Spirit can achieve. The Self Life is self-righteousness, the prideful assumption that we can keep God’s law by our best efforts.

The self-life is living the Christian life by your own capability without regard to the leadership, ability, and power of the Holy Spirit. The self-life manipulates people and controls circumstances while contriving spiritual success. The self-life does God’s work, your way, and achieves limited worldly success.

F. B. Meyer