The Sermon on the Mount is one of the most cherished passages in Scripture. It is the longest piece of teaching by Christ found in the New Testament, and He delivered it not long after He had been baptized and after He had defeated the devil in the wilderness. Within the Sermon in the Mount is found such well-known passages as the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer.
Why is the Sermon on the Mount so important to Christians? It is not just a matter of its length but also because of its profundity and fullness. Most believers derive the central tenets of Christian discipleship from this passage. Recently, Pr Mun Chung of Aglow Assembly, a bilingual Cantonese-English church in SS15 Subang, shared about the core of this discipleship and the essence of Christian righteousness.
He conveyed that the Sermon on the Mount is so important for Christians to know because of three central facts about it. Firstly, through it Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God. These are not just vacant words but a proclamation of the most significant thing in our lives.
How does a person know about the Kingdom of God? It is by first knowing God and then knowing His character and His heart. In the Sermon, Jesus taught us Kingdom principles such as Humility, Teachability and Truth. He taught us the foundation of being Christian witnesses. Through passages such as the Beatitudes, and through the live He showed, Jesus demonstrates the power of the Kingdom.
A central concern for Christians is to have a right standing before God. In Matthew 5:6, Jesus reminded us that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will never go hungry or thirsty. As followers of Christ, we need to understand this righteousness, not according to the definition of the world but according to God’s.
The dictionary definition of righteousness is “to act in accord with divine or moral law”. This is quite close to the actual meaning of the word, but many people approach it through a concept of ‘rightness’. So the most common interpretation of righteousness is to be morally right or justifiable.
Some people take it one step further and become moral police. They view others through the lens of a certain judgment system, whether the person is “right” or not. Eventually, this sort of approach to righteousness will lead to self-righteousness but it is not of God.
Pr Mun Chung imparted that whenever Jesus spoke of Kingdom righteousness, one of the very first things He mentions is always meekness. Meekness and righteousness go together. The danger of righteousness without meekness will lead to pride and sanctimony. The danger of meekness without righteousness will lead to a lackadaisical attitude, a careless mindset, and a fear to offend and speak the truth, which is an attitude that is not from God.
Christian understanding of righteousness is always intrinsically tied to Spiritual Appetite which is another focus of Christians. What are we searching for in life? Why is Godly righteousness important? There are 3 aspects of this.
The first Biblical definition of righteousness is to live rightly, that is, ethically or morally. Many people today live careless lives, thinking that no one notices. Sometimes that’s how petty criminals such as pickpockets are caught stealing in a location where they thought there were no cameras. If we were to extend this analogy with God, no one is more omniscient than Him and He sees everything.
How aware are we of God in our daily lives and how much do we honour Him? To live rightly as Christians is not so much about being caught but rather to be able to have a clear conscience before God. It is being able to confess truthfully before Him that we have lived lives of integrity. This is also where the second definition of Christian righteousness is drawn from.
The second Biblical definition of righteousness is to live a pattern of life in conformity to God’s will. This is related to what Jesus spoke about in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 7:22-23, Jesus gave stern warning that not everyone who comes to Jesus claiming to have done wonders in His name will be recognized by Him.
Jesus is saying that Christian righteousness has nothing to do with action, works or our position in church. It is about the heart issue. How serious do we take God in our lives, how teachable are we in our growth process with Him, how much do we desire to be with God, to have Him daily in our lives, and to live within His will?
Thirdly but also primarily, to have Christian righteousness is to have a right standing before God or to be in a state of being right with God. But this righteousness cannot come from or of ourselves. In Romans 4:3, Scripture gives us a valuable pointer to this portion of the Christian live. In that verse, Paul wrote that righteousness was accounted to Abraham according to his faith.
Notice that righteousness was accounted to Abraham, Pr Mun Chung pointed out. The righteousness did not come of Abraham but was credited to him by God.
Pr Mun Chung posed 3 questions: firstly: can a righteous man do the wrong thing? The answer is yes. Secondly: can an unrighteous man do the right thing? Again the answer is yes. Thirdly, will the correct things we do cause us to be a righteous person? Following from the two questions above, the answer is obvious.
Like all qualities of God, which are always absolute, He is all-holy and because God is holy in totality and perfect, He hates sin completely; even those we think are small ones. By our human strength we can never attain a standard of righteousness that is befitting to God. That is the reason why Jesus came more than 2000 years ago.
Scripture says in Romans 5:21 that while sin reigned in death, because of Christ, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with Him and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:21 is an encouraging reminder of hope for it tells us that God had made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. Christ could do this and offer up a sacrifice that is acceptable to God because He is the only One who has truly no sin in Him.
Jesus is the righteousness of Christians. Today we have hope because our accounts of righteousness are in Jesus. To be righteous before God then is to belong to Jesus, and to belong to Jesus is to be able to be righteous before God. Pr Mun Chung communicated that to do the right thing is important but the most important thing for us as Christians is to be in a right relationship with God. We must understand what it is to thirst after Christ.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
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