“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.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:16 (ESV)
We tend to get it wrong when it comes to good deeds. We assume that our upright actions garner favor and blessing from God. We barter with God, “I’m doing this for you so I expect something in return.” We may not explicitly say that but it’s there under the surface. Then we take our good deeds and use them as an opportunity to get glory from others. We post our acts for the world to see in the hopes of getting a few digital pats on the back. Again, we may not consciously think about that but it’s there. But our approach is backwards.
Our good deeds are for the glory of God and the benefit of others. They are a tangible way in which we love our neighbor. Even when no one is watching or knows what we have done, they are how we shine light. And when we approach our good deeds from this perspective, all the glory goes straight to the only one who deserves it.
Relationships are messy. They aren’t static nor do they follow a linear progression. We’d never try to program our relationship with our spouse or our friends. So why do we try to program discipleship in the local church? If discipleship is fundamentally about a growing relationship with Jesus, why do we insist on treating it so differently? Programs have a role to play and we definitely need a strategy for making disciples. We also need to teach people how to grow as disciples as they go about their work, school, child-rearing, marriage, etc.
When Jesus told his followers to go and make disciples, he meant for that to be done in the context of everyday life. You could argue this has always been God’s design. In Deuteronomy 6, Israel was told to talk about God’s law in the rhythms of daily life. Growing our love for God and others doesn’t primarily happen in an awkward one-on-one relationship or a one-size-fits-all program. It happens when we realize that everything we do, from the mundane to the exciting, is an opportunity to grow in our relationship with Jesus. The challenge is to see what it is about our situation that can increase our love for Jesus.