At the high point of Jesus’ popularity in His earthly ministry, He dealt with many people who believed they were part of the God’s kingdom. His work attracted followers who were awed by His miracles and wanted to share in the blessings of His work. Many of these followers also believed that because they were Jewish, or because they identified themselves with Jesus, they were part of His kingdom. In response to this, Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7). In it, He defined what it really means to be part of God’s Kingdom. Those who are in the kingdom of heaven recognize their sin, see God’s perfection, have a pure heart, and conduct themselves with a proper fear of God.
Jesus’ words in Matthew chapter 5 show that true believers are not only those who want to be part of the kingdom, nor those who identify themselves with biblical teachings; true believers recognize that they don’t belong in the kingdom. Jesus’ first point in this sermon is that true believers recognize their own sin, their need for a savior, and their own inability to make themselves right with God. True believers are poor in spirit (Matt 5:3). Being children of God requires the humility to see our own sin and to turn to Christ for mercy and grace, running after Him with a hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt 5:6). Kingdom citizenship brings a two-faceted desire to be in a right relationship with God, and to live a life that honors Him in every way.
SEE GOD’S PERFECTION
God is ultimately concerned that we recognize His standard: perfection. Jesus uses the Jewish religious leaders to illustrate this necessity in Matthew 5:20, saying, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Unless you live more righteously than the most righteous of all people on earth, you will not enter the kingdom. Nobody gets into the kingdom unless they are poor in spirit, because God’s standard is perfection—and no sinner can ever measure up to that standard. We must come, poor and brokenhearted, seeing ourselves rightly, and giving glory to God for His grace.
This is the gospel we must preach. It’s the gospel we must embrace to have a place in the kingdom, and it’s the gospel that compels us to live righteously from hearts that long to please God. In Galatians 3:24, Paul writes that God gave the law as a tutor—a teacher to help us understand, on an elementary level, what God’s standards are. In Matthew 5:21–22, Jesus says, “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court.” The law sets requirements for our external actions, revealing some aspects of God’s good plan for life in the world, but the full scope of His perfect standard runs much deeper.
HAVE A PURE HEART
God’s people must live in light of His infinite grace shown to us in Christ. Those who are in the kingdom produce more than outward actions. Matthew 5:8 says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” It is as sinful and worthy of eternal condemnation for a believer to have an angry heart, or to express that anger to the people around them, as it is for a non-believer to do it. But for a believer, Christ paid the penalty in His death on the cross.
Never forget who you are, never forget who your Father is, and never forget that His standards have not changed. As your father, He will discipline you because He loves you. This is different from the way He deals with the rest of the world. He allows them to accumulate for themselves as much wrath as their deeds demand. God’s people must live in light of His infinite grace shown to us in Christ. We must be pure in heart, for then our deeds will be pure as well.
CONDUCT YOURSELVES WITH FEAR
Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:17–18, “If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers.” Jesus’s perfect life is the standard for citizens of God’s Kingdom, for children in His household. God isn’t revealing this high standard and our inability to meet it with the goal of discouraging us; He is helping us see the depth of His requirements so that we conduct ourselves with fear during our time on earth. To enter the kingdom, we must be poor in spirit. We must recognize ourselves as sinners and live like the children of God He has called us to be.
Jesus said that unless our righteousness surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees, we can’t expect to be part of the kingdom of heaven. Why? Because God is concerned with more than our deeds in themselves. It goes beyond the way we speak and reaches far beyond to our attitudes. It goes all the way down to the way we view God and understand our own sinfulness. God is not interested in you honoring Him with your lips if you do not honor Him with your life. As we strive to understand God’s perfect, holy standard, let us work to live humbly out of a heart of love for our savior, remembering that we can do nothing to please God on our own.