He [Christ] replied, "My mother and brothers are those who hear
God's word and put it into practice (Lk. 8:21).
I once had a Christian friend tell me that the Sermon on the Mount was an
ideal, but nothing we are to try to live up to because we would most certainly fail. I was
not quite sure I understood what he meant. But what I think he was getting at was that he
believed that Christ was presenting us with the truest standard of measure by which we
would have to live in order to please God--a standard of righteousness and purity that is
The people of the Jesus' day were trying to live up to the Law as their religious leaders
had interpreted it. Needless to say, over time the interpretations of the Law fell prey to
human reasoning and religious rhetoric. Jesus, however, brought forth from the mangled
misunderstandings a clearer representation of what the Law was intended to be.
My friend's understanding was most likely founded in an understanding of God's grace in
his own life. A grace that goes beyond the Law in that we are not able--without the grace
of God--to live up to the standards of truest righteousness. To see the Sermon on the
Mount as the ideal of what should be, yet cannot because of our inadequacy, leaves us
depending on nothing of our selves but entirely on the merciful grace of God. My friend
would more than likely contend that what Christ was drawing us to was not so much the
unreachable standard, as He was drawing us to an understanding of our complete dependency
on the grace of God.
But to stop there would be inconsistent with the message of the Scripture. For although we
are inadequate and therefore under grace, we must never give up striving toward the
righteousness Christ spoke of. The apostle Paul knew the struggle with sin and selfish
desire (Rom.7:15-20), yet he states "I press toward the mark for the prize. . ."
(Phil. 3:14). The writer of Hebrews similarly encourages, "let us throw off
everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with
perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and
perfecter of our faith" (Heb. 12:1-2). The truest Christian Ideal is that we realize
the ideal is one that may elude us from time to time, yet we strive for the goal of
righteousness found in Christ and through His strength alone.
The ideals of the Sermon on the Mount may be difficult to understand, swallow or practice,
yet Christ ends His sermon with the illustration of the foolish builder and the wise
builder. He tells us:
Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into
practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. . .But everyone who hears
these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built
his house on sand. . ." (Mt.7:24-27).
An Olympic Ice-skater must practice very hard every day. Rest assured that
person does not hit the ice perfect the first time. Many setbacks occur--and lots of
falling down. Yet the skater is determined to get back up and press on toward the goal.
Christ wants us to put into practice the words in the Sermon. He knows full well we will
fall down a number of times, yet He encourages us to get back up and keep at it. The more
we practice, the fewer setbacks we are likely to experience. We will discover the
blessings of perfecting God's will in some areas of our lives, while we gain a greater
awareness of His grace each time we fall down and He reaches His hand to us to help us
up--and to help us try again.