Exceeding Expectations

Read: Matthew 5

“But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

If you are like me, you were probably spiritually exhausted after reading through the list of “kingdom requirements” Jesus laid out for his followers in Matthew 5. And if you were thinking that Jesus had set the bar pretty high, you came to the very last verse and realized that it wasn’t just high, he set the bar impossibly high by capping the chapter with these words: “Be perfect, just like God.” So much for the “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” stuff we were hoping for from Jesus!

It doesn’t take very long in reading through Christ’s teachings in this and the following two chapters that comprise the Sermon on the Mount before you realize Jesus isn’t backing down from the rigid, legalistic, impossible, burdensome demands of Jewish law, he’s actually calling his followers to a much higher standard.  He’s not asking for less, he’s expecting more. He’s revealing what the Father really requires of those who want to enter the kingdom life and live as a true child of God.

The problem in Jesus’ day was that over time, the religious leaders of the Jewish people had boiled down the law of God to a long list of do’s and don’ts.  Eventually, the spirit of the law had been lost and rigid, loveless, legal applications had taken its place.  The result was that along the way, the people of God, the Jews, wandered from what was meant to produce an intimate love relationship with their God and had settled instead for a religious system that measured spirituality through outward acts of piety. But, Jesus taught, the Jews had missed the point by a mile.

By the way, that didn’t just happen in Jesus’ day. It is just as easy for people—for you and I—to do today in our day in our walk with God.  The spiritual drift is always away from loving intimacy with the Father toward measurable acts of religiosity: Church attendance, tithing, serving in a ministry, not doing this, doing that…

Jesus’ bottom line in all of these teachings in Matthew 5-7 is that God wants not your outward acts of piety and prideful obedience to the minutiae of some religious legal system—he wants your heart.  He wants a heart that is fully engaged, fully devoted, and fully in love with him.

Obviously that can’t happen through a wooden observance of the law.  The law was meant to drive us to the cross where we can drink from the grace and mercy of God—something the law could never do. And once we have been submerged in the deep, deep love of God revealed by the cross of Christ, that love drives us back to a different kind of law, the law of Christ (revealed here in the Sermon on the Mount and throughout the New Testament), where we can be sanctified.  What a beautiful truth:

The cross of Christ saves us once and for all; the law of Christ sanctifies us day by day!

As we offer our saving, sanctifying God a fully devoted heart and a totally surrendered life, then our obedience takes us—and keeps us—where the law couldn’t through it’s requirements: By his grace, perfection—just as our Father in heaven is perfect.

“The law works fear and wrath; grace works hope and mercy.” ~Martin Luther

What If God Took Over?

Make this prayer yours, and offer it with an open and sincere heart to God:  “Father God, arrest my heart.  Create in me a new heart—one that longs for you more than even life itself.  May it be perfect before you!  God, I invite you to finally, fully, and forever take over my life.”

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