At church this morning, we had an adult baptism. Normally, my church baptizes infants. Today’s adult baptism was noteworthy, in my opinion, because it was so authentic. We weren’t just going through the motions, vowing as a congregation that we would do our part to nourish someone’s faith, when chances were that we would never see that person ever again, or that we wouldn’t see that person often (usually it would the next time a baby is baptized). That’s my impression of most of the infant baptisms that we do. But the person who was baptized today has been going to our church for over a year. He actually committed his life to Christ. Today, he was marking that commitment with baptism. The liturgy was good because it was about God spiritually strengthening him from now until Christ comes back. It was a beautiful part of the service.
The pastor preached about the Sermon on the Mount. That stood out to
me because I was listening to a couple of things about the Sermon on the
Mount yesterday. I was listening to a couple of hyper-grace teachers, who said
that the Sermon on the Mount was part of the Old Covenant and was
basically Jesus telling Israel what God’s law was truly about,
presumably challenging Israel that she could not live up to God’s high
standards. And I listened to Dr. Michael Brown’s arguments against
that particular viewpoint. The hyper-grace view made sense to me, but,
as I read the Sermon on the Mount in church, doubts about that view
emerged in my mind. Jesus was preaching the Sermon on the Mount to his
disciples (even though there were crowds listening to him by the
Sermon’s end). Why would he give his own disciples a temporary message?
Still, I can identify with where the hyper-grace people are coming
from because I have long struggled with the Sermon on the Mount. God
doesn’t forgive me if I don’t forgive others? How is that free grace?
What does forgiveness mean, anyway? Do I have to re-enter a
relationship with the person who wronged me? What if I just can’t stand
being around that person? What does it mean for me to leave my gift at
the altar and to go and be reconciled with someone who has something
against me? That I can’t worship God until I reconcile with someone
else? My shyness is a bit of a barrier to that! And will I go to hell
for lusting after a woman, or for being angry at someone? Moreover, why
does Jesus appear so exclusive, saying that it is the narrow way that
leads to life, and that most won’t find it?
The pastor at church was saying that we are utterly dependent on God
to keep the Sermon on the Mount. That explains a few of the beatitudes,
particularly the ones about being poor in spirit (humble) and hungering
and thirsting for righteousness. Still, my pastor was not touching on
the really hard parts of the Sermon: the parts about hell and
destruction and not being forgiven and not entering the Kingdom unless
my righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees.
I told my pastor after church that I enjoyed his sermon, and I did,
since it put things into perspective. I told him about hyper-grace
preachers, but I may have misrepresented what they taught: I said that
they say that the Sermon on the Mount is part of the Old Covenant, and
thus we don’t have to keep it. But I wonder if that is truly the case.
Granted, they don’t believe that God operates according to the Sermon
on the Mount—-that God withholds forgiveness from us if we don’t forgive
others, to use an example. This is the age of grace, as far as they
are concerned. Still, I am very hesitant to conclude that they dismiss
the principles of the Sermon on the Mount (forgive, reconcile, love
enemies, don’t hate or lust, etc.).
That said, I told my pastor that I liked his balanced approach: the
Sermon has rules, and yet we are absolutely dependent on God’s power and
love to fulfill it. I think that my pastor understood where I was
coming from, even if I did not explicitly say it: that the Sermon on the
Mount is hard for me, and that applying it harshly and legalistically
does not bear much fruit in my life, for I need God’s love and grace.
Anyway, I’ll continue to listen to that grace podcast. I will also
listen to Michael Brown and other critics of hyper-grace. When I am in a
sugary sweet mood and want to bring my emotions down a but, I will
listen to John MacArthur. Hey, it worked yesterday!