What killed Jesus was not irreligion, but religion itself; not lawlessness, but precisely the Law;
not anarchy, but the upholders of order.
It was not the bestial but those considered the best who crucified the one in whom divine Wisdom was visibly incarnate.
~Walter Wink

The Sermon on the Mount – 3: You’re Accepted. Do Something.

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CLICK HERE to read all of Matthew 5 before beginning this session.

CLICK HERE to read basic assumptions about studying the Sermon on the Mount before beginning this session.

CLICK HERE to read the previous section in this series on the Sermon on the Mount before beginning this session.

There were two dominant battle-cries of the Protestant Reformation:  1) sola Scriptura (only Scripture, which we will discuss in our next segment); and 2) sola fides (only faith).  The basic idea of sola fides is that one finds salvation (a topic to be more fully defined at another time) only by faith, not by works.  Passages like Galatians 2:16 were used as support for this idea.  This has morphed into the idea that if I have or accept the correct doctrine I have salvation (usually oversimplified to mean going to heaven) – I have been accepted by God.  Thus, I find salvation and acceptance with God through what I believe or think about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, etc.  Therefore, I don’t have to do anything to be Christian; I just have to cognitively accept a particular doctrine.  Very early on, I believe the author of the book of James saw the danger of this concept leading that person to write, “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2:17; 26)

Part of the problem is that people forget that Paul didn’t say one is not justified by “works” but “works of the law.”  Just reading Philippians 2 or 1 Corinthians 12-13 ought to make us see that Paul thinks we should do works.  As we begin to see now in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is clear that we are to be about works.

In the Congratulations (aka Beatitudes) that begin the Sermon on the Mount, I think we hear Jesus say, “Guess what!  Those of you who don’t think God accepts you just as you are: hear the good news.  You area already accepted!  You have the kingdom, comfort, the earth, mercy, etc!”  Then in verses 13-16, Jesus says, “Now that you know you are accepted, do something that shows you are!”

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-16 (NRSV)

In talking of salt, we shouldn’t think that the idea is that somehow there is a miraculous, chemical change of the salt into something that is not salty.  Rather, the point is likely about salt becoming diluted with impurities.  If you accidentally pour pepper into your salt shaker at home, are you really going to take the time to separate each grain of salt from pepper, or will you toss it all out and start over?

Thus the point of this aphorism is similar to Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart [those with a single-minded devotion to God], for they will see God.”  If our purpose, calling, or very being becomes diluted to the point that we lose our understanding of our identity – our acceptedness by God – what good are we in the Kingdom?

Verses 14-16 are very clear.  Unlike the words attributed to Jesus in John 8:12 where he is noted as say, “I am the light of the world. . . ,” here we see Jesus say, “YOU are the light of the world.  You have a responsibility to share your light with others – THROUGH YOUR GOOD WORKS!”  When we share our good works by doing them out in the open – being the people God created us to be and doing what God created us to do – we shed our light on others who hopefully realize they can – and have the responsibility – to share their light, their good works for the good of others and God’s kingdom!

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