It seems we commonly make the mistake of handling Biblical truth as nothing more than facts. In teaching and learning, we must come to understand the differences between the two.

  1. Facts are passive; truth is active (e.g., it makes people free, it is alive and powerful).
  2. Facts are for our head, to be analyzed; truth is for our hearts, to be believed.
  3. Facts are accessible to the whole human race; the truth is accessible only to those whom God gives ears to hear and eyes to see.

The teacher and the student both have responsibility in this regard. I mention this here because, though I did my best to fulfill my part, the following would be easily read as facts. If one does not force themself to receive it as truth, the desired effect will not be achieved.

Therefore, I encourage you to exercise your spiritual ears with a heart desiring to believe. God promises that, if you do so, He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).

Though we may not think of it this way, the Sermon on the Mount is a carefully constructed sermon. As we have discovered, the Beatitudes come first and in a particular, purposeful order. In them, the first listeners (and subsequent readers) are astounded and perplexed by Jesus’ characterization of kingdom citizens. Three dramatic and dynamic descriptions of our relationship with the world quickly follow: we are to be persecuted (vv.11-12) as God’s gifts of proverbial salt (v. 13) and light (vv. 14-16) to the world and for His Father’s glory.

Having given such a radical description of kingdom citizens and their assignment in the earth, Jesus must have felt that it was important to reassure the disciples that God’s Law and the words of His Prophets were fixed and eternal. He did not come to change the Father’s purposes and plans in the earth; rather, it was His assignment to fulfill them.

Two Great Pronouncements

Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17-20

In this short declaration, Jesus establishes the foundation on which the remaining sermon will stand. In his book, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1971) emphasizes the two great pronouncements that Jesus makes in this passage:

  1. His teaching is in absolute harmony with Old Testament teaching.
  2. His teaching is in complete disharmony with the teaching of the Pharisees and Scribes.

Can you image what those listening might have thought about this? The wedge Jesus drove between the Old Covenant and those who were charged with protecting it must have left most stunned by His audacity and more than a bit confused by its implications. Of course, the Pharisees and Scribes would have been infuriated. Battle lines had been drawn. The old guard had been put on notice: the kingdom and its King were in their midst, and religious oppression was not His way. Indeed, He had come to set the captives free (Luke 4:18-19).

Two Surprising Revelations

Careful attention to this passage exposes two subtle, critical, and potentially surprising revelations. Together, they help us see beyond the facts and into some very deep truth about the kingdom of God and our responsibilities as kingdom citizens. First, we have Jesus speaking of the Law and Prophets as something to be fulfilled throughout the age – “til heaven and earth pass away”. This may come as a surprise to those who have been taught or assumed that Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets at His death. It leaves us wondering: How then will He fulfill them?

Secondly, there is the condition placed on those who would enter the kingdom of heaven (i.e., those desiring to be saved). Their righteousness must be greater than the righteousness of those recognized as the most righteous men on earth. Such a statement must have left the followers of Jesus with a sense of hopelessness (as it might with us). How is such a thing possible?

To answer these questions, we turn to three familiar passages:

For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:3-4

But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption… 1Corinthians 1:30

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2Corinthians 5:21

Jesus fulfills the Law and Prophets in and through those who walk according to the Spirit. Consequently, He is the righteousness of God for us, the righteousness which exceeds that of the Pharisees and Scribes. Essentially, Jesus’ life is the source of the righteousness that qualifies us for the kingdom of heaven, just as it is the source of the light that glorifies our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). This, of course, is not coincidental.

Doing the Impossible

It would be short-sighted to come this far and not consider how we might actually do this saying of Jesus. How do we walk according to the Spirit? How do we do even the least of these commandments and teach them in the righteousness that God requires?
The short answer might be “Let Jesus do it”, or “Let go and let God”. While these are true, they are not very helpful.

Indeed, living the exchanged life – where we have exchanged our life for Jesus’ – requires discipline. As, we have previously encouraged, God has given us a process to overcome our weaknesses. We know it as the process of faith. We can exercise that process in this way:

The Hearing of Faith: We must prayerfully listen to God’s instruction and/or correction. This may be a challenging command or His challenge regarding a command we have ignored. In this, we must believe the new reality of our redemption (e.g., we are a new creation, Christ is our righteousness).

Obedience to the Faith: We must reckon the truth of God to be our truth (e.g., that we are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus), trusting the Holy Spirit to transform us by the renewing of our minds, and offering ourselves as His instruments of righteousness.

The Work of Faith: We must desire and anticipate opportunities to be God’s vessels, instruments, and weapons of righteousness in our daily lives. Entreat God to stir up the desire He has placed in your heart for the good work He has created for us to walk in. As a side note, “walk” is a good and profitable word study.

Additionally, it would be helpful to search out this matter of the exchanged life (Romans 7, Galatians 2:20, 5:16-25 are good places to start). Do not allow the mystery of this life to put you off. We are called to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God (1Corinthians 4:1-2). The Holy Spirit is our supernatural teacher; He will not let us down. Those who humbly seek the truth will find it, and it will make them free.

God bless you with the wisdom and courage to make both the simple and challenging choices – to do the sayings of our Lord and Savior.

Humbly yours and forever His,


Lloyd-Jones, D. M. (1971), Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Company.