There is a tendency in modern evangelicalism today to make a distinction between faith and obedience. That is a distinction that is not shared by the gospel of Jesus Christ. And this message we know as the Sermon on the Mount is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Someone has said, that in the gospels we have the gospel proclaimed. And in the epistles we have the gospel explained. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is announcing, proclaiming, preaching the gospel. His gospel.
And it’s the only gospel we have. There is not a gospel of Jesus and another gospel of Paul. The Corinthian church made that mistake, some saying I am of Paul, and another I am of Peter, and another I am of Christ. Paul said that Christ has not been divided. There is one Lord, one faith and one baptism. Paul said he was called to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. I heard a preacher say the other day that Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount to the Jews, and thus it was not really something that we could appropriate because we are under a different covenant. Let me tell you something; the gospel is the same since Creation. The means of appropriating it are different, but the gospel is the same. In the Old Testament they looked forward to the cross, today we look backward to the cross. But the gospel is the same. We are saved the same way that Abraham was saved. Three times in the NT, in Romans and Galatians and James, the OT is quoted as saying, “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” So in the OT salvation was by faith, and in the NT salvation is by faith. The gospel hasn’t changed.
But back to my point, a lot of people want to make a distinction between faith and obedience that isn’t really taught in the gospel. There is a story that might explain what I mean. There was a fire in an apartment building once that quickly consumed the lower floors. And when the firemen arrived, they spotted a little girl that was trapped on the 6th floor. She had the window open, and was looking down at the flames quickly climbing up the building. The firemen took one of those round trampoline type of tarps and spread it open and pulled it taut. The captain called out to the little girl with a megaphone, “Jump out of the window! We will catch you.” But the little girl was scared of the great height. She was afraid to jump. The firemen were confident that they could catch her and were urging her to jump, but her fear seemed to paralyze her. Finally, the flames got so hot and had almost reached the room she was in, and at the last minute, she climbed onto the window sill, closed her eyes and jumped. And the firemen caught her in the tarp. The little girl was saved. But I want to ask you a question. What was it that saved the little girl? Was it faith that the firemen could catch her? Was it trust in what the captain said? Was it because she finally believed the captain? Or was it obedience to the command of the captain to jump?
I submit to you that she could have had all the faith, all the trust, have believed fully everything that the captain said, but unless she acted on that faith, until she was obedient to his call, she would have perished. The point that I want to make is that there is a connection between faith and obedience that cannot be dismissed. One cannot exist without the other.
Jesus spoke of this necessity for obedience and faith to be combined in much of His preaching. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, for instance, He says in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles? And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’
Notice that He is emphasizing there the works of faith, doing the will of God, rather than just giving lip service.
Jesus further emphasizes that in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? “Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. “But the one who has heard and has not acted [accordingly,] is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.” Notice again the emphasis on acting on the word of Christ, not just hearing or even agreement, but acting in obedience to the word of God.
Now I make that point this morning because as James said, “Faith without works is dead.” But three times in the NT it says, quoting Habakkuk, “the just shall live by faith.” Our faith produces a life that is governed by faith, producing a faith and obedience that is ongoing. Living in a way that does not come naturally. Of course, the whole Christian life is not a natural life, but a spiritual life. It requires first of all, that you are born again spiritually. We are all born naturally in our mother’s womb, but in order to enter the kingdom of God, you must be born spiritually. That’s what Jesus referred to as being born again in HIs conversation with Nicodemus in John 3.
So there must be a transformation from death to life, there must be a conversion from natural to spiritual. There must be given a new heart. Not an actual new physical heart, but the term heart speaks of the soul, the seat of the mind, will and emotions. So by the grace of God in response to our faith in Christ, at our new birth we are given a new heart, new desires, new attitudes. But I want to make the point today that even though you have been given a new heart, with new desires to serve the Lord, to love the Lord, there is a maturation process that begins at that new birth which continues until the day we die. And some of the characteristics of a citizen of the kingdom of heaven as Jesus describes him here, are not going to come about automatically as a result of your new birth. Some attitudes or behaviors or characteristics are learned.
To use the analogy of our natural birth, a child becomes a son or daughter of the parents by birth, but they are then raised by the parents to be the men and women that they are supposed to become. There are some characteristics in that child that are inculcated in their the DNA, passed down from their parents. But there are other characteristics that are trained into them by their parents. The spiritual birth is not much different than that. We are born again in the Spirit, to have a spiritual nature, to have a new heart, new attitudes, new behavior. But then we are trained in righteousness, we practice righteousness, we follow the example of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Some aspects of our Christianity are learned behavior. That learned behavior is a process which is spoken of in scripture as being led by the Spirit, walking in the Spirit, being filled with the Spirit. It’s living by faith according to what God has declared to be true even though it doesn’t come naturally. It’s living according to the instruction of the Spirit rather than by the natural tendencies of the flesh.
Today’s Beatitude I believe fits into that category of a characteristic which is taught and we are trained in. Jesus says the citizen of the kingdom of heaven is merciful, and as a result they receive mercy. I believe this characteristic of being merciful is a characteristic that is learned, that is practiced. That it doesn’t come naturally, nor automatically. Did you know that we are supposed to practice certain things in our Christianity that are not natural, but that we become more proficient at as we grow in the Lord? In Hebrews 5, talking about obedience to the word of God in relation to spiritual immaturity or maturity , it says in vs 14 “But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” So we practice righteousness, following the example of Christ.
Peter talks about the need to pattern our lives after Jesus. 1Peter 2:21 “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.” Peter says we are to imitate Jesus, following in His footsteps. And we know that Jesus was merciful, even as God is merciful. That’s what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. We pattern our life after His life.
John speaks to the necessity of practicing righteousness in 1John 3:10 “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.” Children will exhibit the characteristics of their parents, and so we that are Christians will exhibit the characteristics of Christ.
Now speaking of righteousness, notice that this Beatitude follows on the previous one, which is hungering and thirsting for righteousness. I have said previously that there is a divine order to these Beatitudes, that they build on one another. And this one is no exception. In fact, the previous principle of hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and then being filled with righteousness as a result of that hungering and thirsting, makes it essential that the principle of being merciful should follow it.
What I mean is this; having received righteousness which is by grace, it is essential we must remember that we are undeserving, we were hopelessly lost, we were enemies of God and estranged from God, so that the gift of Christ’s righteousness does not puff us up, does not give us a holier than thou attitude, but that we remember that it was only by the mercy and grace of God that we did not get what we deserved, because what we deserved was death. Having received such mercy when we were yet sinners, should cause us to be merciful to others who sin against us.
That principle reminds us that this is not a natural tendency. When someone sins against us, our natural tendency is to strike back, to take revenge. To get even. Or at least to get defensive. Maybe fantasize about how pay back is going to be sweet. Just wait. But that isn’t the attitude that Jesus says citizens of the kingdom have. Citizens of the kingdom are blessed, because they live under the sovereign rule of God, are citizens of His kingdom, and are inheritors with Christ. And Jesus says those citizens are merciful. That’s a defining characteristic. But I say that it doesn’t come naturally nor automatically. It comes from a desire to please God, to see men saved, and submission to God’s word.
Being merciful follows upon hungering and thirsting for righteousness that we might not take vengeance from the province of the Lord out of some exaggerated sense of self righteousness. James 2:13 says, “For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.”
Let me be clear though. The scripture says “Vengeance is Mine says the Lord, I will repay.” Justice is God’s province. God will not wink at sin in order to be merciful. God is a God of mercy. But He is also a just and holy God. And in order for God to be just, justice must be satisfied. God did not stop counting sin so that I might be saved. He counted it on Jesus. And He poured out His wrath against my sin, upon His Son, putting Him to death by torture, crushing Him, so that those who believe in Him might be made righteous. “God made Jesus, who knew no sin, to become sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” So God counted my sin towards Jesus, and transferred His righteousness to me.
Therefore, having considered God’s mercy towards me, I have no other response but to be merciful to others. I am blessed, I receive blessing, and I have received mercy and continue to receive mercy, so therefore I am merciful.
So what is mercy? Psalm 85:10 says, “Mercy and truth are met together.” One is not at the expense of the other. Mercy without truth is not mercy at all. It is indulgence. It’s bad parenting. It’s never holding your children accountable. But God is not a bad Father. He has satisfied truth in the crucifixion of His Son and extended mercy through the atonement of Jesus Christ. Grace and truth are satisfied in Jesus Christ.
Now let’s consider what it means to be merciful. Mercy is not getting what I deserved. I deserved death for my sin. Grace, on the other hand, is getting what I don’t deserve. And God has given us grace and mercy. Grace and mercy go hand in hand in the gospel. Thank God I don’t get what I deserve which is death, and praise God He has given me what I don’t deserve, which is new life everlasting.
Merciful means showing compassion. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. Compassion is something that comes from the heart, from the soul. It’s having empathy for someone. Compassion comes from a Latin word which means to suffer with. That’s why this characteristic has to be the result of a change of heart, because being merciful is an expression of a new heart, a heart like Christ’s.
Let me expand on that for a moment, because it’s something that has come to my mind a few times lately. Being merciful or being kind is not that difficult when it’s someone we naturally love. If it’s someone you love then being merciful comes more easily. Even when they sin against you, when they have done you wrong, it’s still easier than it might be otherwise because you love that person. But it’s another thing entirely to be merciful when it’s an enemy, or when it’s someone that you really don’t like. And it’s hard to be merciful to people that you somehow don’t think deserve your kindness. It’s tempting to look at others and judge whether or not we think they are worthy of our compassion, or our mercy. And I’m afraid that harsh condescension is more common to the Christian than we would like to think. We judge between people we think are worthy or unworthy of our compassion. But we have been commanded to be merciful to the unloveable, even as God was compassionate to us when we were at enmity with Him.
Jesus spoke of this principle of showing merciful to those deemed lesser than us in Matthew 25:34-40 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me [something] to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me [something] to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You [something] to drink? ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”
That’s what it means to suffer with someone, to have compassion for others. It’s not just a sentimental feeling, but acting like Christ acted towards us, showing compassion for others. That’s the positive side of this Beatitude. And Jesus addressed this Beatitude in the positive. But other times He spoke about it in the negative. There is a parable in particular that Jesus uses to phrase this in the negative sense, speaking of those who are not merciful. It’s the parable of the debtor, found in Matthew 18.
Matthew 18:23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle [them,] one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have [the means] to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell [to the ground] and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and [began] to choke [him,] saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ So his fellow slave fell [to the ground] and [began] to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”
What that parable illustrates is that the worthless slave did not really have a true heart of repentance to begin with. There is a difference between being sorry that you got caught, and a true repentance of your sins. Repentance is confessing your sin as sin, and committing to turn from it and go the other direction. And mercy is God giving us forgiveness and giving us a new life. And that produces gratefulness, out of the recognition that our standing before God is not based on our merits, but on His mercy. Which in turn should produce mercifulness in us towards others.
When I am truly repentant then I am truly forgiven. It’s realizing the repugnancy of my sin, and recognizing that I am not worthy of forgiveness, and as a result of repentance I am forgiven. Then having that attitude and realization of my self worth, I cannot help but be merciful towards others who trespass against me.
However, the opposite of repentance is the confession of the arrogant. He says, “I am not that bad. I may have made some wrong choices in my life, but deep down I am a good person.” No, deep down you are a dirty rotten sinner, corrupt in every thought and deed, and deserving of death and hell. And having realized that about myself, I see that other men are just as blind and enslaved to sin and undeserving as I was, just as lost as I was, just as hopelessly held captive to sin as I was, and are in desperate need of mercy, just as God showed mercy to me. I distinguish between the sinner and the sin. I love the sinner and hate the sin, even when they sin against me.
Jesus, in teaching the disciples to pray, said, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Why? Because God forgave us our trespasses against Him. How? As we submit to Christ, to be remade in His image. We suffer their trespasses against us, even as He has suffered for our trespasses against Him. That’s what the scriptures call the fellowship of His suffering. Phil. 3:10 says, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.”
This fellowship with Christ through suffering the trespasses of others against us here on this earth, is the thing that shapes us and matures us as we grow to be like Christ. And that is our sanctification, which leads us to our future glorification with God.
Romans 8:16-17 “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with [Him] so that we may also be glorified with [Him.]”
The question that I would leave you with today is, have you first of all been born again as a child of God? Do you exhibit the characteristics of your Father in heaven? Are you merciful? If you honestly examine yourself and the Spirit of God convicts you in your heart so that you know you’re not merciful, then perhaps it is because you have never been born again. Listen, Jesus is calling out to you today to come to Him. Jump into the arms of the Savior and you will be saved, born again, given a new life and a new heart that you might know the Lord and have the life which He gives.
Jesus said in Matt. 11:28-30 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Come to Jesus today, and receive mercy. The invitation is open to all who will come.
And then to those who have been born again, but as you examine yourself in light of this Beatitude, perhaps you realize that you are not merciful as you should be. Maybe you realize that you are still immature in your spiritual life. This is an area that you need to be trained in. I encourage you today to call upon the Lord and repent of your selfishness, repent of your self righteousness, and ask God to give you a heart of mercy, that you might give mercy even as you have received it. Submit to the Lord and let the Lord deal with those who trespass against you. Forgive them, even as you have been forgiven. And in so doing you will bring glory to your Father in heaven, and bring others into the kingdom of heaven.