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How Does Christ's Kingdom Transform us from the Inside Out?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?
- Matthew 5:43-46, ESV
The first chapter of the Sermon on the Mount completely exposes all of our unrighteousness. By the time we get to the stunning conclusion, "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect," we're done - or, rather, completely undone. It's almost as if Jesus is trying to lead us through the moral law in such a way that we'll end up right back at the beginning of the sermon: Blessed are the poor in spirit. In other words, Jesus is trying to show us our spiritual bankruptcy.
In the space of a chapter, we're told by the King of kings . . .
- that if we call someone a fool, we're in danger of hell
- that if we look at a woman with lustful intent, we've already committed adultery in our hearts
- that we should not resist evil people who try to take advantage of us
- that we must love our enemies
- that we must be perfect
No one with any ounce of self-awareness can come to the end of Matthew 5 without being convicted of sin and being exposed before the perfect standard of a holy God. But then, broken under conviction by our sin and stripped of all self-righteousness, we can see something else Jesus is doing besides exposing our spiritual bankruptcy.
Jesus wants us to see that His kingdom righteousness works from the inside out. The letter of the law works from the outside and ultimately cannot change us where we most need to be changed. The Holy Spirit works from inside to transform our hearts.
This is the real difference between legalism and a heart that honors God: Legalism seeks an external standard, a checklist, that we might demonstrate how well we measure up against it. A heart that honors God knows its own spiritual bankruptcy and is being transformed into a heart of real love, humility and obedience. It's not content to hate people as long as it doesn't actually kill them or to lust as long as it doesn't actually have sex outside of marriage or to hate and despise people, as long as we can classify those people as evil and our enemies. A heart that is being transformed by Christ's kingdom, by the Holy Spirit, knows that we must love everyone and abuse no one, to bless and not to curse, to keep our word even to our own hurt and to serve even those who abuse us.
Heavenly Father, keep transforming our hearts by Your Holy Spirit, Our only source of real love is You. Our only hope for a life lived to please You is as You live Your life in us. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Prayer Based on Psalm 12:
O Lord, how desperately we need Your salvation! If we look around us for righteousness from other people, we won't find any, for
"the faithful have vanished from among the children of man.
2 Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak."
We even deceive and flatter ourselves with our own internal double-hearted speech. Ultimately, neither the words of other people nor our own words are reliable.
Lord, who can we trust?
The words of the Lord are pure words,
like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.
As the Apostle Peter said, "Lord, where else can we go? You alone have the words of eternal life." You alone are the One who keeps every promise, never flattering or deceiving. You alone will save and keep Your people, and so we ask that You would save us. Save the poor from the oppressor and save Your people from our enemies who seek our harm. Save me from my own heart and save Your church from falling in love with the world.
In Jesus' name and for His sake, Amen.
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