Sunday, June 22, 2014

Baptism, the Sermon on the Mount, and Hyper-Grace

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!

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