In Matthew chapters 5 -7, the famous sermon on the mount, Jesus teaches on how those who choose to follow Him ought to live out their lives in the world. He calls them to be salt and light [Matthew 5:13-16], two elements conspicuous by their absence and also unmissable when present. I will admit, the first time I read the sermon on the mount, I thought to myself, it is impossible to live like this and quite frankly, it is, without the Holy Spirit. What I have found, however, is that on those few occasions when I yield to the leading of the Holy Spirit, I can turn the other cheek and I force myself to deal with my grudges before walking into the house of God. I find that the more I yield to the Holy Spirit, the more I can live out the kind of life Jesus described in the sermon on the mount. This confirms what I now know is true, God is not cruel, Jesus would not set out a way of life He knew was impossible for us to live and then command us to go live it.
Last week, I wrote about the lack of role models who live lives of integrity. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus calls on us who choose to follow Him to be the role models. In His word, He lays out the blueprint for us to do so by demonstrating virtues that are counter-cultural. Take for example this command, “if anyone forces you to go a mile, go with them two miles” [Matthew 5:41]. If Biblical historians are correct, in the days of Jesus, when the Jews were under Roman occupation, it was legal for a Roman soldier to force a Jew to carry their gear for a mile. Yet Jesus asked His followers to go the extra mile. Doing more than the minimum required for your enemy stirs up something in them. How about loving your enemy and praying for them [Matthew 5:43-44], this is impossible for anyone who doesn’t know Jesus. Jesus had much to say about sexual purity [Matthew 5:31-32], integrity and not taking revenge [Matthew 5:37-39], hypocrisy [Matthew 6:5,16], forgiveness [Matthew 6:14-15], judging others [Matthew 7:1-5], chasing the perishing wealth of this world [Matthew 6:19-22, 24] and anxiety [Matthew 6:25-34]. Jesus’ view on these things are vastly different from that of the world around us and every day, He calls us to be His role models, powerfully demonstrating God’s Spirit at work in us as we live counter-cultural lives. When we honour God by living in obedience to His word, it releases His supernatural power.
That said, the Christian life was never meant to be lived in isolation and Jesus knows we are not perfect which is why each of us has a log or a speck in our eyes [Matthew 7:3]. However, as Christians, we do each other a disservice when we live in isolation or pretentious lives. It is worth remembering that the God who calls us to live for Him knows our imperfections yet still wants to partner with us to accomplish His redeeming work in the world. Being a role model, therefore, does not require perfection, but it does require openly living in obedience to God. When the rest of the world lives and acts contrary to God’s word, we are to show them something altogether different. In times of trial and testing, when others compromise, we don’t. When we fall, instead of hiding, we model God’s indescribable forgiveness as we allow the Holy Spirit to heal us and the situation. Imagine if you could walk into a home, a school, an office or a church and find God’s people living like this, what a powerful testimony that would be. What a powerful witness this would be to the watching world.
When we live as role models, it impacts those around us who witness it but God also rewards our obedience in this life and the next. I once heard a sermon by Chuck Swindoll on living a godly life which resonated with me. He ended the sermon by outlining certain rewards of living a life that glorifies God. I would like to expand on some of his thoughts as they relate to the subject at hand.
- Living a godly life builds character: The lack of character especially among our spiritual and political leaders is wreaking havoc in our society. It is difficult to trust someone who lacks character because they lack integrity. Conversely, it is easy to follow someone with character, you look up to them and naturally seek to emulate them. Someone once said, “God is more interested in our character than our cause”. When we live in obedience to God’s word especially in the face of adversity, it builds character and God uses people with character powerfully.
- A clear conscience: So many find it difficult to be at peace, they are restless because they lack a clear conscience. I find that when my conscience is not clear such as when I hold a grudge, or knowingly give less than my best when asked to do something, refuse to forgive, lust after fame, power, money etc these things literally keep me awake at night. Even when I manage to fall asleep, I do not feel rested. Consequently, I wake up looking haggard. However, as soon as I confess my sin and repent before God, my conscience is clear, I have peace and I sleep soundly.
- Intimacy with God: This is the calm assurance that God is with you. Jesus gives us all this promise, “Anyone who loves me will obey My teaching. My Father will love them, and We will come to them and make our home with them.” [John 14:23 NIV]. It is a great feeling to know that God rewards my obedience to His word with His presence and I am blessed with unexplainable peace [Philippians 4:7]. These are tangible rewards we can take into every situation we face in life and live powerfully for God against all odds.
- The assurance of everlasting life: Living in obedience with God means our destiny is secure. Not even death can take it away from us. We can live today in the hope that God is in charge of every situation we face and nothing irredeemable can happen to us. As someone once said, the necessary consequence of living like this is “that we are grateful in prosperity, patient in adversity and wonderfully secure with respect to the future”. At the end of our lives, we can say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” [2 Timothy 4:7-8 NIV].
Resolve today to answer God’s call to be the salt and light wherever you find yourself by living out your life in obedience to Jesus. As you do so, you build your lives on the Rock [Matthew 7:24] as God works through you to advance His kingdom [Matthew 6:10].