Today at church we had a missionary come in to share about what their family had been doing lately, and he preached on Matthew 7:7-12 (Ask, Seek and Knock). He made a great point that this section is at the end of the sermon of the mount, and is directly related to asking through persistant prayer for God's help to change our lives to be more like him, and to help us obey his words which are in Matthew 5-7. Since there were so many links from that passage back to the sermon on the mount, I decided to read through it today. So far, I just finished Chapter 5, but the point is very clear - God's standard, perfection, is impossible to attain. We cannot keep his law. A quick clarification: Obedience to God cannot and will not save anyone. Everyone has sinned (Romans 3:23) and therefore we all deserve God's wrath eternally in hell. But in Jesus there is complete forgiveness and mercy, and if we genuinely turn to him (by repentance and faith) then we will be forgiven by God. The result of that is aiming to obey God and stop sinning. Good works cannot save us, but if we are truly saved, we will do good works. An Apple tree isn't an apple tree because it makes apples, but it makes apples because it is an apple tree.
I'll go through chapter 5 briefly:
The beatitudes: We are incapable of doing any of these without God's help. Poor in spirit refers to realising sin, mourning again is about hating our sin and knowing we deserve God's wrath, meekness is like humility, which is needed for repentance. As sinful humans, we cannot do any of those without God first convicting us of our sins. Then there's hungering and thirsting for righteousness - we are sinners, we cannot be righteous by our own strength. It is only by us taking Jesus' righteousness on the cross when he takes our sin and deals with God's wrath for it that we can be considered righteous - that happens when we turn to Jesus, when we repent and put our faith in him. Being merciful, being pure in heart - both involve not sinning, but getting rid of sin from our lives (which we cannot do without God). Being peacemakers refers at least in one sense to sharing the gospel, so that people will turn to God and therefore have peace with him. We can't do that unless we first have peace with God through Jesus. Then v12 Jesus calls us to rejoice when we are persecuted - not sure about you, but that's pretty hard!
This section is about being salt and light - obeying God and sharing the gospel so that people (v16) "may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." Obeying God so perfectly that people see that we are christians and glorify God for it, and sharing the gospel so that they will know it is God we serve and all he has done - I know I fail constantly at this: I freak out when I get opportunities to tell people about Jesus, and my life definitely isn't always up to the standard either. I fail at it - therefore (back to Chapter 7) I need to be praying consistently for God's help!.
Jesus talks about the law and that he did not come to abolish it, but that God requires perfect obedience. v20 really stands out: "For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." If you don't know, the Pharisees and Teachers of the law were the most religiously 'upright' people around. Legalistically they were almost perfect. Yet almost isn't good enough - God requires us to be better then them - No one can achieve that " for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Therefore, we need Jesus! Repent and believe - Turn away from sin and turn to God, obey him. Have faith that what Jesus did can and does save his people. Our obedience does not save us, but it is a result of salvation. Jesus is the only way! Ask, seek and knock! Turn to him to be saved, because we cannot do it ourselves!
Here Jesus uses the examples of Murder and Adultery. They seem like 'big' sins, but Jesus says that anger/hatred against someone and lust are just as bad. Internal sins are just as evil in God's sight as external ones - he requires perfection inwardly an outwardly. Jesus also calls us to forgive others and to seek forgiveness when we do wrong (v23-26) and to remove temptation or things which cause us to sin (v29-30). Both of which we fail at. We need Jesus, we cannot do it ourselves. Yet he did it, he was perfect and only in him can we be seen as perfect by God.
v31-32 - Don't divorce!
v33-37 - "Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’" - keep your word, be honest and trustworthy and truthful.
v38-42 - Be patient and generous, not easily angered. Don't go on about your rights, just seek to serve God and help people, even if they treat you badly. (There may be limits to this, search the bible for them and tell me!)
v43-47 - Love your enemies, care for them, pray for them. Thats definitely hard! Helping those who hate you and make your life hard.
So, to summarise:
v48 says "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." God requires perfection. He requires absolute, unwavering obedience to his law. One sin is enough for us to be justly condemned to hell. Looking through that list alone, without chapter 6 or 7, and without the other laws throughout the Old Testament and the rest of the bible, it's already impossible. We are sinful, we are born sinful and we cannot help ourselves. So where's the hope? Jesus of course. He is God - what better way to be perfect like God, then to have the perfection of Christ, who is God? He came to earth as a man, lived perfectly and did not sin - he alone did not deserve to die. He willingly died in our place (In fact he was murdered), taking our (Christians) sin on himself and God's wrath, so that we (Christians) can be entirely forgiven. How do you become a Christian? Repent and believe for the kingdom of God is at hand (Mark 1:15). We Cannot meet God's standard. Jesus is God and he did it for us, so that "If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." (Romans 10:9). We could not do it ourselves - "...At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly...God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:6,8.
So wheres the application for those of us who are christians? Well, going back to the sermon from this morning (See the link below if you want to listen to it), who of us can keep Jesus' words completely? We are called to do so, out of obedience and love for him, and since we are new creations in him (Romans 6, 2 Corinthians 5:17). How do we do it?
We cannot by our own strength. We need Jesus. Therefore, Ask, Seek and Knock. Pray! Pray, Pray, Pray! God alone can give us the strength to obey him. Pray for his help, and persevere in prayer - he does not promise to answer straight away, but calls us to pray continually so that he can teach us to depend on him and trust in him always. Pray and work at it.
Jesus is the only way, we cannot do it ourselves. Will you trust him?