Thursday, May 21, 2015

Is the Sermon on the Mount the way to happiness?

Not long ago, I was sitting in a Christian coffee shop in Iowa with my husband. We ended up in conversation with a man at the next table who also happens to be a writer. Naturally, the man asked me what I write.

In a Christian coffee shop, expecting that I was probably talking with a Christian, I answered, "Contemporary Christian fiction." (I usually answer "Christian fiction" without getting more specific, because in other settings, that's generally all someone needs to know. Since this coffee shop sold Christian fiction, it stood to reason that a patron would know there are different kinds to choose from.)

But the man wasn't a Christian and seemed somewhat surprised by my answer. He said that he and another writer friend were recently talking and came to the conclusion that living by the morals taught in the Sermon on the Mount was the way to be happy.

To an extent, he's right, I suppose. At the end of the sermon, Jesus says, "Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise" (Matthew 7:24, NLT). I believe that God's commands are for our good, so following them should benefit us in general.

But not far into the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, "But I warn you-unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of the religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!" (Matthew 5:20, NLT) He goes on to tell us that we can be guilty of sin if we think about the wrong things or harbor the wrong emotions. That is an impossible standard.

So, trying to attain happiness simply by following the law outlined in the Sermon on the Mount is a hopeless cause. Maybe you'll do a little better on Earth while you're here, but what about after? You're bound to fail in your application of the Sermon on the Mount and, in so doing, you'd know you were going to miss out on Heaven.

Thankfully, the teachings of Jesus didn't stop at moral law. In John 3:16, Jesus says, "For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." (NLT) Now knowing you have eternal life with Jesus... That will lead to a happy life.

Not that Christians shouldn't be trying to follow the moral teachings of Jesus-we need to! But thank God He's done for us what we cannot do for ourselves. The moral teachings of Jesus without the sacrifice of and belief in Jesus is no way to live.

Belief in Jesus is the key to eternal hope, but he never guarantees that our lives on Earth will be easy or "happy" in the way the man in the coffee shop meant. Quite the opposite in fact. Jesus himself was crucified. His disciples were martyred... Even today, believers are losing their businesses and lives for their faith. In fact, at the start of the Sermon on the Mount itself, Jesus says, "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account" (Matthew 5:11, ESV).

But, because believers don't stop at the moral teachings, because they rely on Jesus Christ, they do not face these hardships alone or without hope for a life after this one-an eternal life spent with their God. That allows us to have joy that surpasses any other happiness.

Your Sister

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