As part of this article on the Sermon on the Mount, I introduce the proper way to read and understand the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, and then I also interview Kent Young about his excellent commentary on the Sermon on the Mount.
In our discussion we look at these three Bible verses:
Matthew 5:22: “… But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.”
Matthew 5:29-30: “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that once of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut if off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.”
Matthew 7:13a “… Enter through the narrow gate …”
How to Read and Apply the Sermon on the Mount
Matthew 5:1 begins the famous “Sermon the Mount” in Matthew 5–7.
At the beginning of this teaching, Jesus notices a multitude of people following Him, and so He goes up on a mountain to teach His disciples. At this point in His ministry, Jesus had not yet selected the twelve disciples to be His closest followers (cf. Matt 10:1-4; Luke 6:12-16), and so this time of teaching was not just to a select few disciples, but to the entire multitude of followers.
It cannot be imagined that every single person in the multitude of disciples was already a believer, and so this is a message that invited the followers of Jesus—whether they were believers or not—to listen to His teachings about a better way to live.
Nowhere in the Sermon on the Mount does Jesus talk about how to receive eternal life. Eternal Life isn’t even mentioned.
Why not? Because the Sermon on the Mount contains instructions about how to live this life, not instructions about how to receive eternal life.
And anybody, believer and unbeliever alike, can benefit from the instructions of Jesus about how best to live.
The Sermon on the Mount is not about Eternal Life
It is critical to recognize that the Sermon on the Mount does not contain the offer of eternal life, because if we get confused on this fact, we will think that one gains eternal life by fulfilling the conditions and requirements Jesus talks about in this Sermon.
For example, if Jesus is telling people how to receive eternal life, then we gain eternal life by being mournful, meek, and merciful, by being poor in spirit, peacemakers, and persecuted (Matt 5:3-12).
If Jesus is teaching about how to receive eternal life, then we must make sure our righteousness exceeds that of the most religiously righteous people in Jesus’ day (Matt 5:20).
If Jesus is teaching about how to receive eternal life, we must not hate or lust (Matt 5:21-28). If you do lust, you better pluck out your eye and cut off your hand if you want to spend eternity with God (Matt 5:29-30).
If Jesus is telling people how to receive eternal life, then according to Him, you must refrain from making oaths, go the second mile, and love your enemies even when they hate you and try to kill you (Matt 5:33-47).
Ultimately, if Jesus is teaching about how to have eternal life, you need to be perfect just as God is perfect (Matt 5:48).
All of the preceding statements come from the first chapter of the Sermon on the Mount. There are two more to go.
If you believe the Sermon on the Mount is about eternal life, you will fall into legalism
When people think that the Sermon on the Mount is about “how to gain eternal life” they end up adding all sorts of good works to the free offer of eternal life through “faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.”
And when a person adds all the calls to obedience of the Sermon on the Mount to the free offer of eternal life, this causes many people to despair of ever gaining eternal life from God.
Indeed, if the Sermon on the Mount contains the conditions for receiving eternal life, not a single person would ever achieve it.
How to Understand the Sermon the Mount
Thankfully, there is a much better way of understanding this Sermon from Jesus.
Jesus is not telling people how to gain eternal life. Instead, Jesus is teaching His disciples about the best way to live this life.
Jesus is teaching people about the requirements of following Him and being His disciple. Clearly, nobody can ever fulfill or accomplish all these requirements, yet there is something in here for everyone, and nobody will ever get bored in trying to follow Jesus.
So whether you are a believer or not, the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount will challenge you to live in the way that God wants and intends for humanity.
But never think that these teachings will help you earn or gain eternal life for yourself. To receive eternal life, the only thing that is needed is to believe in Jesus for it.
Difficult Texts in the Sermon on the Mount
With this understanding of the Sermon on the Mount, we are in a better position to understand some of the troublesome texts it contains.
To help with some of the tricky texts of the Sermon on the Mount, listen to the podcast interview I did with Kent Young, and then get his book, Theirs is the Kingdom, as a free download on his website, or as a paperback on Amazon.com
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