Sunday, October 14, 2007

Beware of dogs - Part 3

In this post, I'm going to attempt to answer the questions I asked in the last post. When Jesus gave the "sermon on the mount," was He:

a) ...trying to get all these people to start working on all these things so they could have righteousness that exceeded that of the scribes and Pharisees, and thereby enter the kingdom of heaven?

b) ...hoping that people would take a hold of His words as practical principles for Christian living?

Let me see if I can find the right words to describe my thoughts on both a) and b).


There, that was easy!

I fully understand if you're shaking your head in disgust at my answer, but at least allow me to explain.

Do you really think it's possible for anyone to "be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect?" If we were to look at the zealous life of Saul the Pharisee, and try to compare ourselves to his performance, and then aim to be even more righteous than his "blameless" (his own words) righteousness according to the law, would any of us ever measure up? Read all of Jesus' words in Matthew 5-7, and ask yourself, is Jesus really laying out methods and principles for Christian living?

"If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out..."
"If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off..."
"Whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery."
"Whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also."
"Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Jesus says so much more. And the thing is, He means every word He says. What I've noticed about modern Christians is that they follow the words that seem doable, and they make excuses for the things that don't seem doable. OR... they say things such as:

"Jesus was just exaggerating to make a point."
"We can't really be perfect."
"We shouldn't really pluck out our eyes or cut off our hands."

"However, we really should turn the other cheek, and if someone marries a divorced woman, he does commit adultery... but at least there's forgiveness."

We basically pick and choose certain words of Jesus, and we zero in on specific sins that are mentioned here, and we essentially ignore the rest because, well, Jesus didn't really mean it.

But as I said... I think He really did mean every last word. And I believe we can summarize all of what He said with "be perfect" and "unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall by no means enter the kingdom of heaven."

If you're going to follow the word of God, you have to follow it perfectly, without fault. Period. That's the end of it. If not, you shall by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

And so we're left with two basic options. Try harder or give up. As Kathy J commented in the last post, trying harder wearies us to the point of exhaustion. I mean, seriously, can you tell me that you have lived up to the words of Jesus' sermon on the mount? I know, I know... you haven't done it, but at least there's forgiveness and you can try harder tomorrow, right?

WRONG! I don't care how hard you try and I don't care how many times you think the Lord has forgiven you for failing to live up to the sermon on the mount (or any words of Jesus), the fact still remains: If you aren't perfect and if your righteousness doesn't exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, you're TOAST!

So let me get to the point. If we can't be perfect and if our own righteousness will never measure up, then we need to find some other way. We need to give up our efforts to do all this and we need to cling to the ONLY way that God actually provided in order for all of this to be fulfilled in us: The perfect sacrifice of Jesus. We KNOW that the only way we can be perfect is through the blood of Jesus, so why do we somehow think that we can work the works of the sermon on the mount and actually impress God somehow???

As Kathy J also commented, what she needed was not a changed heart, but a new heart. We can try and try and try and try, and we can change a lot of things in our lives, but what we've received in Christ isn't a changed heart, but a new heart. Ezekiel, in speaking of the New Covenant, prophesied that the Lord would give us a new heart and would put a new spirit within us (Ez. 36:26).

So what we did when we came to Jesus is that we DIED to our own efforts to change. We died to struggling and striving to prove ourselves to God and to make ourselves more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees. We died to trying to be perfect. And we received freely a new heart and a new spirit. We received perfection as a gift. (See 2 Cor 5:21, Heb 10:14, Heb 7:19)

So why do we keep going back to what never worked?

"Dog" was a term of reproach used to humiliate people. Paul called false apostles "dogs." Dogs were unclean animals, and Paul used the term against those who would try to bring us back to a fleshly walk of trying to maintain righteousness by our own efforts.

So again, why do we keep going back to that? Who let the dogs out?

(Fourth and final part coming up).


  1. Awesome post, Joel.

    I know the reason I keep going back to what never worked is the same reason the people written about in Hebrews were running back. I started to feel the weight of my sin and I want to DO something to cover it up, rather than have faith in Jesus Christ. I feel compelled to work and re-dedicate myself in order to redeem myself. But the Holy Spirit wrote through Paul: "In Him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."

    Also most Christians seem to think Jesus gives people a "second chance" at life and if they screw up too badly, they've had it unless they re-commit their lives to being a slave instead of a son.

  2. That "second chances" thing has always turned me off. I understand what people mean by it, but I disagree with them that God gives us second chances. When we failed to live up to perfection, we didn't get a second chance. We died. God didn't give our hearts a second chance to try again. He gave us a new heart and a new spirit.

    This life isn't about second chances and renewing our commitment to God. It's about living fully in the new life that He has given us freely and in understanding HIS commitment to us! :)

    We can dedicate and rededicate ourselves to the max, but He's not interested in us dedicating ourselves. Our dedicated selves amount to filthy rags. You are so right... "in Him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." The fact that He Himself has forgiven us and sanctified us... that is what makes us acceptable to Him!

  3. Good series of posts Joel!
    People all get hung up on 10 commandments, 600+ laws... everything
    They miss the whole point that Jesus was burying them under the law there by preparing them for the cross. Jesus did it to point them to the significance of the cross. Many didn't get it. and still many don't get it... I am thankful to God that He showed this to me gracefully...

  4. Bino,

    I think it's interesting how some people - especially those who have come to Christ (which, by the way, is only possible by dying to the Law) - think that we can get progressively "better" at keeping the law! If only people of today would put themselves in the shoes of those people who Jesus was talking to, and understand that those people already knew the Law. It then might become more clear that Jesus was really showing them the true depths of what the Law really means. As you say, He was burying them under the Law so they would come to the cross and receive Life simply by faith plus nothing.