“Therefore, you should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, your name be honored as holy.” – Matthew 6:9 (CSB)
Of all the remarkable statements Jesus makes in the Sermon on the Mount, none are more important to our growth as his disciple than the invitation to address God as Father. To approach a holy God in such an intimate, relational way is no small matter. Jesus’ audience would have been floored by his statement. Yet this kind of access is precisely what is available to those who follow Jesus. Because we are in Christ, we can relate to God as our Heavenly Father.
Viewing God as a loving Father can sometimes be difficult. Especially if our relationship with our earthly father was troubled or non-existent. But through God’s amazing grace, all of us can learn to do it. And when we do, we will see more clearly that he loves us, delights in us, and genuinely wants the best for us.
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward with your Father in heaven.” Matthew 6:1 (CSB)
If someone does a good deed and doesn’t post about it on social media, did it really happen? That may not be exactly what Jesus had in mind with his statement but he’s heading in that direction. It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to look spiritual in front of others. We may do it sub-consciously yet the tendency is still there. We want them to know what we have done. The sacrifices we have made. The people we have helped. The ways we have given of our time and money. How often we read our Bible and pray. How long we fasted. But like everything else we do, the internal motivation matters just as much as the external actions. And when the external is all we have, the best we can hope for is a pat on the back from others. That’s our reward – all of it.
“Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” Matthew 5:17 (CSB)
Lest his hearers think that his teachings are new or in contrast to the Law, Jesus proclaims both his approval for and commitment to keeping it. What follows is a series of six “you have heard… but I tell you…” statements. In them, Jesus dismantles the notion that external behavior is all the Law required. He demonstrates that underneath the external behaviors are internal heart attitudes that need to change. Jesus doesn’t alter the standard. He reveals what the standard is and what it looks like to live out that standard. In this way, he fulfills the Law down to the smallest letter.
No one can argue that our world would be a better place if people lived according to Jesus’ teaching. In fact, nearly all of the problems we face can be traced to the issues he addresses. A world without anger, lust, divorce, dishonesty, retaliation, and hatred would be a spectacular place to live. For Jesus’ disciples, that world will one day become a reality. In the meantime, we are invited to experience a foretaste of this by the way we live now. In doing so, we serve as salt and light in the world. This means viewing the commands of God not as burdens but as the path to true life. It means recognizing that they lead to joy and human flourishing. They are more than just external codes to obey. They are internal changes brought about through Spirit empowered heart transformation.
“You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.” – Matthew 5:13a, 14a (CSB)
Nowhere is the brilliance of Jesus more on display than in the Sermon on the Mount. After pronouncing the way of kingdom life through the Beatitudes, Jesus goes one step further. He makes an explicit statement to his disciples about their role in proclaiming the good news of the kingdom that is now available. Rather than telling his disciples what to do, Jesus tells them who they are. They are salt and light. They flavor and illuminate.
We tend to place value on our lives to the extent that we do things we consider important. That way of thinking does not reflect the reality of life in God’s kingdom for followers of Jesus. Our lives matters not because of where we live or what we do. They matter because we are salt, we are light. As followers of Jesus, our fundamental identity has changed because we are now in Christ. These are not realities we strive to achieve. They are statements of who we are. They are how we are to interact with the world around us. We flavor our culture by showing a different way to live. We drive back darkness as our lives display light through the work of the Holy Spirit. When we see our lives from this viewpoint, it turns even the mundane into the extraordinary.
In his excellent book The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard makes an important observation about the way people – including Christians – tend to view Jesus. Willard writes, “Can we seriously imagine that Jesus could be Lord if he were not smart? If he were divine, would he be dumb? Or uninformed? Once you stop to think about it, how could he be what we take him to be in all other respects and not be the best-informed and most intelligent person of all, the smartest person who ever lived?”  Perhaps it was his upbringing as a carpenter. Maybe it’s our arrogance in thinking people today are somehow smarter than ancient people. Whatever the reason, Willard is right. Many of us tend to view Jesus in simple terms.
The Christian faith has always maintained that from the incarnation, Jesus was fully God and fully man. These two natures are distinct and without confusion. At the same time, neither his deity nor his humanity is in any way diminished by the other. In taking on human nature, Jesus in no way lost his divine attributes. He was still the the divine Word who brought our world into existence. Which means that the teachings of Jesus are not just nice ideas. They are the the thoughts and insights of the smartest man who ever lived. Why wouldn’t we want to listen to them, know them, and put them into practice?
 Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God (New York: HarperCollins, 1997), 94, Kindle.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.” – Ephesians 2:10 (CSB)
While good works do not merit us anything in our relationship with God, they are vital and indispensable. They are evidence of the radical transformation that has taken place within us. God may not need our acts of kindness, but our neighbors do. And as we do these works, they are not just random acts of kindness. They are precisely those works which God planned for us to do when he created us. In a culture where people are increasingly self-absorbed, doing good for others sends a powerful message. It points them to the one who has saved us, changed us, and deserves all the glory.
“For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9 (CSB)
Lest we think our radical transition from death to a stunning new life was our doing, Paul reminds us that we are saved by grace. Period. End of story. Christianity excludes all forms of boasting because it is God who saves. It’s not in any way dependent on something we have done. Our works are powerless to save us. After all, what could we really do for an infinite, perfect, and holy God? What could we offer to make him change his mind about us? It’s only by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus on our behalf that we are made right with God. What separates biblical Christianity from every other religion is that it’s not about what we do. It’s about what God did for us. We were dead but God made us alive through Christ. That’s amazing grace. That’s good news.