I want to focus our attention today on the last paragraph of chapter 5. As most of you are aware, we are studying the Sermon on the Mount, or what I prefer to call, the Manifesto of the Kingdom of Heaven. This is the first recorded sermon of Jesus Christ. And in it He has elucidated the characteristics of the citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.
One of the most striking statements that Jesus makes concerning the kingdom of heaven is He says that no one will enter unless their righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. The scribes and Pharisees were known for their righteousness. They were known for keeping the law to the smallest degree. And Jesus confirmed that even the smallest point of the law was important, and would not be done away with until all was fulfilled. And yet, even so, He said that the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees still came up short of what was required to enter the kingdom of heaven.
So then Jesus uses six illustrations of the law in order to show the kind of righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. In each case Jesus first says, this is what the scribes and Pharisees teach concerning the law, but this is what I say regarding it. And then in expounding the law He goes on to show the full extent of the spirit of the law, and thus He illustrates the degree of righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, the kind of righteousness needed to enter the kingdom of heaven.
And let me make sure that you understand what is meant by the kingdom of heaven. He is not speaking of going to heaven when you die, but of becoming a citizen of God’s kingdom now. It is a spiritual kingdom in which those who are a part of it are first of all made spiritual beings, who live under the reign and rule of Christ their King, who live their life for their King and by the power of His Spirit, and who are given everlasting life. The kingdom of heaven is not a place, but a state of being which exists now and forever. We need to stop thinking of heaven as a destination we will attain someday and all that’s required is that we do certain things in order make sure that we go there when we die sometime in the future. But we need to realize that we need to enter the kingdom of heaven now and live in the Spirit and by the Spirit now as citizens and ministers of God’s kingdom and then our eternal destiny will be secured.
That’s what Paul was speaking of in Eph.1:3 which says, “Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly [places] in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.” He’s not talking about heaven to come, but the heavenly, or spiritual realm we enter into now. He speaks of it again in chapter 2 vs 4 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Again, spiritually we are raised with Christ and seated with Him in the heavenly realm. That is a present reality, and then in the ages to come, in eternity future, He will show us the surpassing riches of His grace. It’s entering a spiritual state now, being born again into a life that will never end, going from glory to glory.
Now we came last week to the last illustration which Jesus gives of the law, the law of love. Paul said in Romans 13:10 that love is the fulfillment of the law. Or you could say love is the culmination of the law. And so Jesus is speaking of that law of love in vs 43. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
Now that is where we stopped last time, and I don’t have time to review all that we had to say about that passage. But the verses we are going to look at today build on that statement, and are connected to that statement, so I want to include it for the sake of context. However, I do want to pick up on that last phrase and expand on it for a moment. Notice the phrase, “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” This statement is of vital importance in coming to the correct interpretation of this passage. And It’s not the first time that Jesus has referenced this principle. He states in vs 9, as one of the beatitudes, that the peacemakers shall be called sons of God. He states again in vs 16, that our light should shine before men in such a way that it glorifies our Father who is in heaven.
The point that Jesus is making is that those who are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven are also the sons of God. God is their Father. And so it is reasonable to assume that the children are going to look like their parents. They will have a similar nature and character as their parents. It’s quite reasonable to expect when you see parents and kids together that you see a family resemblance. And in like manner, if we are the children of our Father in heaven, we will share in His nature. We will be like Him.
Now this is only possible as the man or woman is born again. We are all born naturally through our parents. The Bible teaches that by the lineage of our parents we are born in sin. We are born with a sin nature, and as a result we all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. So to become a child of God means that we have to be born again. Jesus said to Nicodemus, who incidentally was a Pharisee, a teacher of the law, Jesus said in John 3:3, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus was confused about that, as perhaps some of you are. He said, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” So to become a child of God you must be twice born, once in the flesh, and then born again in the Spirit.
So to be born again is to be born again spiritually. He is born of the Holy Spirit and his spirit becomes alive in Christ. No longer is he just a natural man, like everyone else, but he is a spiritual man, a Spirit filled man, who now lives in the power of the Spirit and according to the leading of the Spirit. Only in this way can it be said that you are now sons of God.
Now if this is true of you, that you have been born of God, then you are meant to be like God, you are meant to manifest Jesus Christ to the world and to imitate His example. You are meant to be like Christ, to be conformed to His image; that means you look like Christ, you act like Christ, you speak like Christ.
A Christian is not just someone who is morally upright, a do-gooder, a person who goes to church on Sunday. There are other religions in the world that are moral, that honor justice and do good works and so forth, and yet they are not Christians. They may even believe in God, or at least their version of God. But they deny Christ is God and so therefore they are not Christians. But they may still be moral people.
However, a Christian, who has become a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, is one who is born again spiritually by God, and now has the indwelling of the Spirit of God in Him, and who is being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, and therefore he manifests the life of Christ and the nature and character of Christ through HIs life.
Now only in that way can you be the type of person that Jesus describes in this chapter. Only in that way can your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. Because only through salvation, by being born again spiritually, is the righteousness of Jesus Christ applied to your account, and your sinfulness is applied to Jesus Christ. Only in that way is your nature changed, your heart changed, your desires changed. Only by being born again are the old things passed away and all things become new and you become a new creation. 2Co 5:17 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, [he is] a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” And only as that has happened are you able to be the type of person manifesting the kind of righteousness that Jesus describes in this passage.
So Jesus speaks to this necessity by comparing the works of the natural man with the works of the spiritual man. He is speaking in the context of the law of love, which was the last illustration of the law, but it’s application is far broader than that. In vs 46 Jesus says, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”
Here is the practical application of righteousness exceeding the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. They were undoubtedly moral people. They even worshipped the true God of Israel. But they were still natural men. They had not been born again because they had not believed on Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. They did not recognize Him as God’s Son. And so though moral men, they were unsaved.
But here in this statement, Jesus equates the righteousness of the Pharisees, who only loved other Israelites and hated everyone else, He equates that with the love of the tax collectors. Tax collectors were the most hated Jews in all of society. They were considered traitors who worked for the Roman government to extract taxes from the Jews and at the same time charge exorbitant rates. And so they were considered the lowest of the low in Jewish society.
And again Jesus compares the righteousness of the Pharisees, with their love for their own, as nothing better than that of the Gentiles. As we have pointed out last week, the Gentiles were hated by the Jews, and were considered no better than a stray, flea infested dog. So for Jesus to compare their love for their own with the love of the tax collectors and Gentiles was not very flattering for them to hear.
The point that Jesus is making though, is that even the most base of natural man loves his own children, loves his own family. That’s not the kind of love that God requires of us. That’s natural love. But God requires a supernatural love from His children, a love that goes beyond a love toward those that are likeable, those that are like us, to those who are unlikeable and are different from us, even to the point of loving those who hate us. The citizen of heaven loves more than the natural love of man, to the kind of love that God has towards the world. The Christian is to love even as far as the kind of love that Christ had, offering Himself as a substitute to die in the place of those who were enemies of God.
As Jesus said earlier, the Christian is the type of person that goes the extra mile. If you ask him for his coat, he will give you the shirt off his back as well. He does more than is required. He does more than the natural man. But not only that, the Christian does that which the natural man cannot do. The Pharisees could claim that they kept the letter of the law, but only the Christian has the capacity to go beyond that to exceed their righteousness. He goes beyond the norm by not only loving his neighbor, but also loving his enemies, and then even doing good to them that hate him, and even to the point of praying for them who persecute him.
And as I indicated earlier, this is only possible because there has been a transformation in him, from the natural man to the spiritual. He has been born again, so that He is made in the image of Christ. He is meant to be like Christ that he might be the child of his Father which is in heaven. So that Jesus says in vs. 48, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” He is not like the natural man because he has been made a new man, a new creation, a child of God His Father.
That aspect of God as our Father is one that needs to be explained. The natural man thinks of God as someone to be obeyed, someone in authority. But the Christian knows God as His Father. He still is to be obeyed, He still is the authority, but He is also our Father and we have a relationship with Him as His children that He loves. So that as a result of our relationship as sons we are able to love our Father with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. We are able to love Him that way because He first loved us, and because He has given us spiritual life.
Charles Spurgeon, the great English preacher of the 19th century once said, “It is a high crime and misdemeanor for a man to assume the name of a son of God, when he is utterly devoid of the divine nature, and lives in unholiness.” If we are truly sons of our Father, then we will manifest a dimension of His character and holiness. If God is in you, then you will exhibit His character. And His character is characterized as holiness.
So then Jesus says to His children in vs 48, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It is going to be a natural progression. As you are born of God, you become made in His image, conformed to His character, and as a result you will manifest His character.
The word translated there as perfect is a word that is used in many other places in the New Testament. It is the word “teleious” in the Greek. And it has the idea in it of completeness. The definition is brought to its end, finished, wanting nothing necessary to completeness, perfect. So the principle that Jesus is teaching is not that we must somehow obtain utter perfection, but rather be made complete, mature, finished, nothing lacking. The principle I think is that we can often fall short of God’s standard by not going far enough. We are complete when we love as He loved. We are incomplete when we love as a natural man loves.
So the thing we are to be striving for is maturity in our sanctification. It’s coming to a place where we have died to the selfish nature and we walk in the Spirit. It’s coming to a place where we know Christ and His attributes and we have imitated Christ and followed in His footsteps and our nature becomes aligned with His nature. Where we sin less because we love Him more. Where we are interested in the things that He is interested in. Our perspective on life is like His perspective. We love what He loves. We do what He does. We act like He acts. That is spiritual maturity, completeness, or what is called here being perfect.
When Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, be perfect, I’m sure there were many that wanted to say in response, “But I can’t be perfect.” And that’s when He says, “You’re right. And because you fall short of perfection, which is the standard of God, then you need a Savior.” None of us can reach perfection in our own efforts in the natural man. All of us fall short. But that’s where the new life in Christ comes in, and gives to you what Peter calls the divine nature. He gives you HIs Spirit to dwell in you. Therefore God, in a miracle of salvation, does for you what you could never do for yourself – to be like God. When you came to Jesus Christ, positionally, you were made a son of God, to be like God. You were given His spiritual life, His righteousness, and His nature. And in maturity, in completeness, your behavior comes into harmony with your who you are spiritually.
Oswald Sanders said, “The Master expects from His disciples such conduct as can be explained only in terms of the supernatural.” And if your conduct can only be explained in terms of the supernatural, then you will give testimony to the world of the power of Christ, and they’re going to take note. But if you say you’re a Christian but live like everybody else, what is the difference? What do you have that they don’t have? If we’re to speak to this age, and bring this world to Jesus Christ, and let them know that there’s real life in Christ, it’ll be when our lives are unique, and there is no other explanation than that God is in us.
I would conclude then by asking this question. It is the most important question that a person can ask in this life. Is there evidence of spiritual life in you? Is there evidence of God’s divine nature in you? I’m not asking if you go to church, or if you have taken communion, or if you do some charity work. I am not asking for that kind of thing. There are people who do that who are not Christians. If that is all you do, what do you do more than others? Is there something of your heavenly Father about you? In the earthly realm you expect to see some traits, some characteristics of the fathers in the children. Is there any less to be seen of our Heavenly Father in us?
If God is your Father, somewhere or another, in some form, the family likeness will inevitably appear. May God help you to examine yourself in light of His word, that you might see yourself in light of God’s likeness, that you might recognize if you are truly His child. The tremendous thing about the gospel of Jesus Christ is, that if you fail the test, and you recognize that you are still in your sins, and without God, then there is an invitation to become a child of God that is still open and waiting for you to respond. Jesus has given HIs life in exchange for yours, so that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. Call upon the Lord today that you may become a true child of God and enter into the kingdom of heaven.