How Do We Approach the Sermon on the Mount?

1 Apr

View #1 — The Sermon on the Mount is All That Matters

This view was popular in the early 20th century social gospel movement and re-appears somewhat with today’s “Red Letter Christians”, who seem at times to elevate the Sermon to a status above the rest of Scripture. To be sure, there are many choice truths in the Sermon, but in itself it is not to be regarded as the gospel itself. I believe it is better to view the sermon as an exposition of the fruit of the gospel in the lives of Jesus’ followers.

View #2 — The Sermon on the Mount Doesn’t Matter at All

This view was also popular in the early 20th century, as some theologians saw in Scripture a sharp distinction between the time of Jesus’ ministry and the Church age. Thus the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon are relegated to Israel in the time of Jesus’ ministry and are not to be directly applied to the church. A big problem with this view is that virtually every principle in the Sermon on the Mount is reiterated in the epistles, which definitely apply to Christians today. A less theologically-oriented approach that leads to this view is the approach which reads the Sermon and says, “this is impossible.” The demands are too great, therefore we won’t give this much time. This is a little different from outright saying that the Sermon does not apply to Christians at all but the practical difference is very small.

View #3 — The Sermon on the Mount is a Teacher to Lead Us to Christ

Like Paul’s explanation of the law in Galatians, those who take this view think of the Sermon as impossible, so that when we see the demands of the Sermon we are led to call on Christ for mercy. The outcome of this view is to read the Sermon as applying to Christians, but only as a means to show them their need for the righteousness of Christ. The problem with this view is that the rest of the New Testament does point to genuine heart transformation among the people of God along the lines of the very truths unfolded in the Sermon on the Mount.

View #4 — The Sermon on the Mount is a Joke

Some people view the Sermon as laughable, beginning with the Beatitudes and going all the way through chapter seven. The demands (don’t look with lust; bless those who persecute you) seem foolish to many. The view of the Sermon as foolishness is a common view among unbelievers but many believers also sometimes are guilty of snickering at some of the statements in the Sermon.

View #5 — The Sermon on the Mount is a Second Law

Some people view the Sermon on the Mount as a new law, an expansion on the Ten Commandments. This view has some merit, in that Jesus at times in the Sermon does directly addresses the Ten Commandments but I think it fails as a comprehensive view of the Sermon because with the Beatitudes we have a significant departure form a legal code. The Sermon goes so far beyond the Law that I think it is not best to think of it in terms of a second law.

View #6 — The Sermon on the Mount is the Normal Christian Life

This is where I come down in my thinking about the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon is a portrait of the life transformed by the grace of God through Christ. It is a picture of the subjects of the kingdom of God and their approach to life. Clearly, there is no full attainment of the perfect attitudes and actions highlighted in the Sermon on the part of Christians in this life but there is an expectation of change by the power of God to all those who are poor in spirit. “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” God’s people already have the kingdom they are waiting for in the sense that God dwells with them and is even now conforming them to the image of Christ. This is God’s design. God is purifying for Himself a people (Titus 2:14), so the Sermon is a choice tool God uses to change His people.

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