Last week I tried to say a couple of things: a) that God’s goal for us is to be like Jesus and b) that, if people see Christ-likeness in us, that will speak volumes even before we talk about Jesus.
But, can we really be like Jesus? Are you seeking to be like Jesus? Or, is it just nice words?
1 John 2:6 6 Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did.
If we look at that in context, the paragraph says:
1 John 2:3-6 3 We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. 4 Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.5 But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.
That paragraph is about obedience. We cannot say we know Jesus – or that we follow Jesus – but not do as He commands. That is nonsense. Obeying His word is evidence of real love for God.
Jesus Himself said that a couple of times in John 14
John 14:15 “If you love me, keep my commands.
John 14:23 “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.”
I read a book recently that said that God’s love language is obedience. The way we can express our love for God is by being obedient
How can we know that we are Christians? Twice in those few verses John answers that question. In v.3 he says that we know that we genuinely know Jesus if we keep His commands. In vv.5-6, he says, “This is how we know that we are in Him: those who are in Christ live as He lived.” Obedience is the way to love God and obedience is the sign that we are truly Christians.
Jesus modelled what He commanded, so, living as He lived is the same as obeying His commands.
Is that possible? Can you be like Jesus? The scriptures keep on talking about us being Christ-like. If Jesus taught something it was not just theory. It was to be put into action.
The Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5-7, is perhaps the most profound example of Jesus’ teaching. My plan is that we look at this sermon as we explore Living Like Jesus. But, to be honest, I am rather intimidated by it. Almost all of it does sound too hard to put into practice. Some of it sounds so radical that I am not sure how to understand it. Preaching on it is a bit scary.
There are two ways we can look at this material. One is that it is an ideal that is impossible to reach and so only makes us feel guilty. The other is that it is a description of the new life of the Kingdom of God which is radically different and is challenging but is the new, better life that God makes possible. It is possible to look at it as not God’s impossible standard but the description of Kingdom life that is really quite wonderful.
Let’s read Matthew 5:1-11.
Jesus begins with 8 statements about happiness. These 8 Beatitudes, begin with “blessed are…” The Greek word is “makarios” which means happy although it means far more than our word “happy”. The English word is derived from a word meaning “luck”. “Makarios” means “blessed by God” or “receiving God’s favour”. The Amplified Version of the Bible says, “happy, to be envied and spiritually prosperous – with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favour and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions”. Jesus listed eight things that result in the joy of being blessed by God.
Everybody wants to be happy. All advertising is ultimately aimed at making us happy. There are some people who like to be miserable but even they want to be happy. They’re happy when their miserable.
In the last few years, there has been much academic research into what makes people happy. Of course the message we are told so often, through the media and advertising, is that if we possess more and more goods, we will be happy. But it doesn’t seem to be working. In fact, with more things people might very easily be more dissatisfied. Hence academics question “Well what really makes us happy.”
There is an organisation called the Legatum Institute which is dedicated to trying to figure out how to make the world a better place. They measure happiness, although they call it “prosperity” which probably indicates something. To measure happiness they look at eight things: entrepreneurship, personal freedom, health, economy, social capital, education, safety & security, and governance. For the five years that they have done it, Norway has scored as the happiest country in the world. Last year New Zealand was ranked as the fourth happiest country in the world. Let’s compare their eight criteria with Jesus’ prescription for happiness. They are all about our circumstances. “I’d be happy if I had more opportunities to try things or if I had more freedom, or if I had more money.” In contrast, Jesus says blessedness depends on, not our circumstances but our character; not on what we have but on who we are.
Jesus’ sound counter-intuitive. Blessed are the poor. Really? Mourn. Really? Happy are those who are sad!? Does Jesus know what He is talking about? Will we go Jesus’ way or the world’s way?
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
What on earth does that mean? And how on earth does being poor make me happy?
The word used here means so impoverished that you are dependent on the help of others. Do you remember that Jesus said that He came for the sick, not the healthy? Spiritually speaking, nobody is healthy. Every one of us is weak and subject to sin. But some people think they are healthy. They don’t need any help. When Jesus said that He had come for the sick and not the healthy, it was in response to the Pharisees asking why He ate with tax collectors and sinners. (Mt 9:9-13) The Pharisees were proud of their righteousness. They were proud that they weren’t tax collectors and sinner and didn’t mix with such disreputable people. Jesus told a story about a Pharisee in the Temple who prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” In contrast, the tax collector beat his breast and said, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus’ conclusion was, “I tell you that this man (the tax collector), rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves before God will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
The Pharisee wasn’t spiritually healthy; he just believed he was and therefore he was proud. Which man, do you think, went home the happiest – the proud Pharisee or the tax collector who humbly confessed sin and was justified with God?
Being poor in spirit means knowing that we are sick and need help. It means recognising that I do not have the spiritual resources. It means saying “I can’t”. I can’t become a Christian. I can’t be a Christian. I can’t live the Christian life. I cannot resist sin. I am spiritually bankrupt. I need help. I need Jesus.” It is like a drowning man knowing that he is lost. He doesn’t have the energy to save himself. He is utterly dependent on someone else saving him. When we say, “God, I can’t” God says, “I can.” O what joy!
It is the opposite of feeling that we are good enough; that God will be pleased with me because I am a fine person; that I don’t need help. That is the prevailing attitude of our age. Sometimes I think “I can. I can do this without God. Surely, I don’t need to pray. I know how to do this.” Jesus said, “Without me, you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:16) I cannot do a single thing for God by myself. I always need to pray.
Being poor in spirit doesn’t mean being miserable and always talking about how bad you are. No, Jesus says these people are happy! It is not about beating ourselves up and feeling bad. There is no joy in that.
Jesus said the poor in spirit are happy because theirs in the Kingdom of Heaven. God opens the doors of His kingdom to those who are humble enough to seek His help. Those who are proud and self-sufficient find that the doors are closed but those who say, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner” obtain the Kingdom. To be forgiven; to be a child of God; to have an expectation of eternal life; to discover new freedom in Jesus; to know that God loves us and says that He will never abandon us, are fantastic. Those people aren’t miserable. Citizens of the kingdom are the happiest people on earth.
Being poor in spirit is not about saying, “Oh I’m a nothing.” It is not about poor self-esteem. In fact, those who are poor in spirit really are something. They are children of the living God.
Being poor in spirit doesn’t mean being spiritually weak. In fact, those who know they need help and who seek God are spiritually strong.
This lesson is very simple. Happy are those who know they need God because they are the very ones God embraces and welcomes into His Kingdom.
Remember I said that, to me, the Sermon on the Mount looks intimidating and impossible? Can I obey Jesus’ teaching? Can I do this?
The very first lesson in Christian living is about acknowledging that we cannot do it. It is true. The Sermon on the Mount is impossible, if I think I must rely on my own resources. So, I can give up or I can say, “God, I need your help.” When I say that, the resources of the kingdom are available to me. God enables us to do what we cannot do by ourselves. That is grace. Happy are those who find God sufficient.
Was Jesus poor in spirit? Did Jesus recognise that He needed help?
- He was a human being, dependent on God.
- He spent a lot of time praying
- Before He could start His ministry He was empowered by the Holy Spirit.
- He was severely tempted but relied on God’s word. Did Jesus feel weak in Himself but strong in God?
- He was willing to learn e.g. as a boy in the temple asking questions.
- He was led by the Holy Spirit. He was a humble follower of God’s leading. He wasn’t autonomous, able to make His own decisions. He was led.
- He was empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Lesson Number One in Living Like Jesus is saying, “I am spiritually impoverished. I cannot save myself. I cannot do what God wants. I am utterly dependent on Jesus – on the Holy Spirit.” When we say, “I cannot do it”, God says, “I can.” O what joy!
The Sermon on the Mount is impossible if we try to obey it by ourselves. It is humanly impossible. But God says, “This is the new life – the Kingdom life – that I make possible.”
- Do you agree that being poor in spirit isn’t about being perpetually miserable? Why?
- Do you agree that it is not about poor self-esteem?
- Do you agree that it doesn’t mean being spiritually weak?
- Imagine a scale of 0 to 10 where zero means “I can contribute absolutely nothing to being an effective Christian” and 10 means “I can be an effective Christian without any help from God” where would you place yourself?
- Other passages:
- Romans 7:14-25. Is Paul saying the he, in his own strength, is powerless but thanks be to God who delivers him by doing for him what he cannot do for himself?
- Matthew 19:25
- It is only when I say “I can’t” That God says, “I can”.
- Without God I can do nothing.
Today’s word cloud