Q&A: In the Sermon on the Mount

Matthew asks a series of questions prompted by verses in Matthew; Eschelbach’s answers are in bold:

Here are some of the verses that seem to contradict the idea that one is saved unless he turns to worldly things. This idea implies that we do nothing on our own part to be saved, and backs the notion that as a Christian, “You can’t have to.”

People live in the saving, redeeming work of God unless the corruption in their human nature succeeds in pressing its way out of God’s redeeming work ( a little different than just saying “turning to worldly things” since the corruption in our nature is constantly doing that to the day our body stops).

Matthew 5:20 “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The way I read this verse implies that there is a set standard of righteousness that each Christian must attain in order to be saved and thus enter the kingdom of heaven, as being saved seems to be a prerequisite of doing so. 

The standard Jesus is referring to is perfection, as He says, “Be perfect just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” How then would a person meet that standard? Impossible according to our corrupt human nature; thus the perfect life of Christ covers ours, His righteousness is imputed to us, our sin is forgiven; He regenerates our soul which is always perfect.

Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

I read this as: you ought to forgive others to be forgiven. How does this reconcile with “You can’t have to?” Also, if you ought to forgive others to be forgiven, how can this coexist with the notion that Jesus forgave everyone and thus saved them on the cross? Don’t you have to first forgive to then be forgiven? 

A soul regenerated by the Word and inspired by the Holy Spirit is already doing what the law commands before it hears the law. The corruption in our human nature is always rationalizing its disobedience and contradicting of design; hence the severity and clarity of the law – to stop every mouth. The law is an antidote to pretense, not a stick to make us do the right thing. Same thing with forgiving. Our regenerate soul does so perfectly. Our corrupt human nature is incapable of doing so. The law exposes our rebellion and crushes it down and under God’s forgiveness. The “if you, then…” is the language of condition that catches pretense and exposes it.

Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

A chain of thought led me to this question: Certainly a lack of free will implies that others are likely to follow a path based on their circumstances (i.e., intergenerational patterns of abuse/alcoholism vs. intergenerational patterns of steady, secure homes). God must be responsible for placing people in said circumstances. How then could he expect for people in poor circumstances to find a narrow gate? 

Great question. What is the nature of the narrowness of the gate? There is also an important difference between God placing us in such a place as such a person and God continuing to provide for procreation in spite of our corrupt condition. Hospitals continue to treat illnesses even though they are places full of germs and even though the people they treat are just going to die anyway.

In retrospect, this thinking advocates for the “unless you” model more than its contrary, but how can everyone be saved, yet the gate that leads to life (salvation and eternal life?) be narrow? 

What does it take to turn back the corrupt pretenses of our human nature?

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