We have just finished thoughts on Holy Manners. Holy Manners focused on the fact that there are ways to behave if you belong to Christ. Why? The reasons are numerous. Heading that list is Jesus’ reason in Matthew 5:45, “... in order that you may be the sons (the children) of your Father who is in heaven ...”

In my understanding, the core of “The Sermon on The Mount” is found in Matthew 5:20: “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The verses 21-48 illustrate the difference between people passionate for God and people devoted to a religious process. Jesus’ illustrations centered on murder, adultery, deceitful vows, retaliation, and love. The basic distinction is this: there is a definite difference between passionate people who want to be God’s family and people who turn passion for God into a religious process.

Through generations, people with the scribes and Pharisees’ emphases turned God’s intent into a set of rules. The rules focused on “dotting i’s and crossing t’s” instead of understanding God’s intent. The result: They distorted God’s focus: concern for people.

Jesus came to restore God’s focus. God does not want His people to be angry enough to murder; to want to commit adultery; to deceive through vows; to seek retaliation; or to hate anyone. People passionate for God do not do those things! Those things are not a part of the lives of people who passionately want to be family to God!

It is not about rules and regulations! It is not about “How can I do evil and get away with evil acts.” It is about being family to God. It is about godly character.

That commitment takes a passion. It is not a passion focused on “how you live.” It is a passion focused on “how I live.” If “I” behave like people who worship idols who do not even know the living God, how am “I” different from godless people? This unique motivation comes from devotion to the living God. It cannot be reduced to a religious process that seeks to do evil in “correct” ways.

What Jesus said to his Jewish audience is relevant to all who passionately wish to be God’s family in our society. We are increasingly, rapidly becoming a pluralistic society that respects many gods and reacts with hostility to Christian values. In definite ways, Christians bear some responsibility for the transition. There are few godless behaviors (a) that Christians have not performed or (b) have not justified in self-interested concerns.

It is not that the living God is no longer attractive. It is not that His blessings are no longer valuable. It is that His people have changed the focus of His concern. It is that too few want passionately to be His family. For many, Christianity is a religious process that too often condones evil. Only by living in passionate devotion to God can we attract people to God again. We must be a godly people of godly character!

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Bulletin Article, 19 July 2007

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