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Christian Perfection by Grace and Works
Perfection According to Jesus
John the Baptist preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). This can be thought of as, “Overcome sin, for the kingdom of Jesus Christ is coming soon.” It was also the first message preached by Jesus (Matthew 4:17).
From the time of John the Baptist, until the events of Matthew 12, the kingdom of heaven was forcefully advancing.
Matthew 11:11-13 NIV I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (12) From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. (13) For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John.
John preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus began his preaching with the same message (Matthew 4:17). Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, which is all about holiness. The kingdom of heaven must have holy men to rule in it. The kingdom cannot come until enough of those who will reign with Christ have repented and have overcome all their sinful habits.
A pastor and good friend of mine once told me that the message of Jesus, preached in the Sermon on the Mount, and in the parables, changed at the cross. He believed that Christ’s message was for the older dispensation, or the old covenant, and that everything changed at the cross. That’s because he understood that the gospel of Jesus requires personal holiness but the gospel of Paul does not. Books have been written about the apparent discrepancy between the gospel of Jesus and the gospel of Paul. But Christ’s sermons and his parables are not about salvation. They are about holiness and about the forceful advancement of the kingdom of heaven. The cross, on the other hand, is about salvation. Christ's gospel has not changed.
Jesus performed many miracles so that the people would listen to his gospel of the kingdom. The miracles also testified that Jesus was the Son of God, but Jesus downplayed this. He didn’t want this to get in the way of his message of holiness. Jesus needs disciples who are committed to holiness, disciples who will reign with Christ, before the kingdom can literally come here on the earth.
As people repented, the kingdom was forcefully advancing. It was not that they were “getting saved.” They were repenting of their sins. They were becoming holy, but many people simply wanted to see more miracles and were not responding to the message of the kingdom.
Jesus said that from John's preaching until “now,” the kingdom has been forcefully advancing. But “then, Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent” (Matthew 11:20). He said the cities of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom would rise up to condemn the cities that had seen the miracles, but did not repent. In other words, these people of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom will be raised up in the millennium. Christ has died for them so they can be resurrected.
At first, Jesus did not speak in parables about the kingdom. It was a message of holiness, in preparation for the kingdom of heaven to come. The Sermon on the Mount is a good example. It is clear-cut language. It begins with the beatitudes.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Literally, in the Greek, it says "blessed are the spiritual beggars." Those who beg for spiritual holiness will receive the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). By context, this verse is talking about those who mourn over their own sins. When we repent of our sins, God comforts us.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5 ESV). Does this verse say the meek inherit heaven or the earth? Those who are spiritual beggars, and who mourn over their own sins, are the meek. Pride stands in the way of holiness. Those who are meek will inherit the earth. They will be kings and priests in the earthly kingdom that's coming. Those who are prideful, even prideful Christians who believe in Christ Jesus as Savior, will not inherit the earth.
Look at this from the Jewish perspective. Remember that Jesus was preaching to the Jews of that day. They believed the when the Messiah comes, Israel will rule the world. It’s not ruling in heaven. It’s ruling in a natural way, here on earth. It’s a real kingdom. When Jesus spoke of the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, the Jews would have understood this to be the Messianic reign when Israel will rule the world, as is prophesied in the Old Testament. Jesus is saying the meek will rule the nations of the earth. The first will be last, and the last will be first.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). The meek, who beg for spiritual holiness, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, will find righteousness. They will overcome sin. True spiritual beggars do all they can do to overcome sin. But they still need God’s help. Those who are prideful, however, see themselves as already being right with God. They don’t beg. And they don’t overcome their sinful nature. They have this religion that says their sins have been atoned for, and so the overcoming of sins is not important for them. For them, sin blinds them so they don’t even know they are “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17 ESV). Those who do not hunger and thirst for righteousness will not inherit the kingdom. They will be saved by the blood of Christ. But they won’t inherit the kingdom. Those who will inherit the earth are the truly meek and thus overcome their sinful habits through a discipleship (Lordship) relationship with Jesus Christ.
After you overcome the sin of pride, and begin to hunger and thirst for righteousness, you begin to look at God and at your neighbors with love. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will obtain mercy” (verse 7). Those who love their neighbors, and show them mercy, will be given righteousness by God. One of the best ways to overcome sin is to be active in a ministry that helps your neighbor. As we build God’s house, and as we build the kingdom of heaven, He will build our spiritual house. (This is not the prosperity doctrine. He builds up our soul, not our possessions.)
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (verse 8). Hebrews 12:14 NIV says, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” Those who are pure in heart are holy. When we are literally born again into spiritual bodies we will be able to see God. However, those resurrected into natural bodies will not at that time be able to see the Lord.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God" (Matthew 5:9). Those who are peacemakers today certainly have a godly quality. It’s when we get our spiritual bodies, however, that we will literally be sons of God. When we are literally born again, into spiritual bodies, those bodies will be from the Holy Spirit. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). When we are literally born again, with spiritual bodies, we will literally be sons of God. The sons of God, during the millennium, are the peacemakers. Christ will rule as the prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6). We will then rule with Christ. It will be an age of peace, in the kingdom of heaven, under the rule of the sons of God, who will have overcome sin (Revelation 2:26-27).
"Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:10). During this present age, those who obtain righteousness will be persecuted. It will be turned upside down in the age to come. Those who are persecuted in this age will inherit the kingdom, and will rule over the persecutors. God loves even those who persecute us. The purpose of that rule will be for us to bring righteousness to the persecutors in God’s love.
“Blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake” (Matthew 5:11). Our reward is in heaven. We will be kings and priests in the kingdom of heaven. The beatitudes commence with being a spiritual beggar, and have now progressed up to making comparisons with Old Testament prophets, in verses 11 and 12. It’s all about holiness.
Verses 13-16 are all about being the light of the world. Just as the life of Jesus is our example for holiness, our lives of holiness are examples for the world. This is especially true when considering the age to come. In this age, people persecute the holy ones. In the age to come, those same people will remember our examples. Of course, we also hope that people in this age will see our examples of holiness and will strive to become holy themselves before they reach the grave. They too will then inherit the earth.
In verses 17-18, Jesus said that he did not come to abolish the law or the prophets, but to fulfill them. The heavens and the earth eventually disappear, but nothing from the law will disappear until everything is accomplished. Many view the cross as the time where everything is accomplished. The cross, however, only provided reconciliation for everyone. It did not immediately bring everyone into justification that is credited with righteousness. It did not bring everyone into holiness through sanctification. This will not be accomplished until the heavens and the earth disappears, after the messianic reign of Christ.
From this verse we can see that the millennium is vital and included in all that will be accomplished. The high majority of all who will accept Christ's reign over their lives will do so in the millennium. But many will remain lost. At the end of the millennium, a countless number will march against Jerusalem when Satan is released again to deceive the nations (Revelation 20:7-9). Surprisingly, even then, many will reject Christ even after living under Christ’s reign.
Verse 19 affirms the commandments. Anyone who breaks the least of the commandments, or teaches others do so, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and keeps the commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. By the context of verses 21-22, and 27-28, we can see that Jesus was primarily talking about the Ten Commandments. Jesus is bringing them to a deeper level. Anger is like murder. Lust is like adultery.
It’s all about holiness. We must be clean on the inside as well as the outside. In verse 20, Jesus says that if our holiness does not surpass the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Does this mean that salvation is determined by holiness? No, salvation is only by God’s grace and through faith. The work of salvation was completed on the cross. Nothing that we do can earn our salvation. But to enter the kingdom of heaven requires holiness. And that requires obeying God's commandments. It requires works.
Many people read this verse and dismiss it by saying we have Christ and the Pharisees did not. Therefore, Christ's holiness is imputed upon us by the cross. They think even if we still hide a lot of sin on the inside, we are forgiven because of the cross, and thus we will enter (or inherit) the kingdom. Satan always has tricks for dismissing Christ's words. Jesus said unless your holiness surpasses the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will not enter the kingdom.
The trick that Satan uses is to equate salvation with inheriting the kingdom. Unless you reject Christ's salvation, you will be resurrected when Christ returns. But you won't inherit the kingdom. And you won't have eternal life. You won't reign with him over the nations. Only the truly meek will inherit the earth. Only the true spiritual beggars will inherit the earth. Only Christ's true disciples, who take Christ's words to heart and act upon them, will inherit the kingdom.
“Do not murder” (verse 21). Jesus brings this to a deeper level. “Anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (verse 22 NIV). Of course anger could lead to murder. Anger is on the inside of the cup. Murder is on the outside. Being subject to judgment does not necessarily mean you go to hell. It means you are not resurrected with eternal life. It's a resurrection of judgment. This type of anger grows and consumes us on the inside. It's an anger that is not released. It's an anger that has no forgiveness. And it eats us up on the inside.
Matthew 23:25-26 ESV "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. (26) You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
If our cup is clean on the inside, what we do on the outside will be clean. Anger is on the inside. Murder is on the outside of the cup. We believe that if we are good on the outside, then we tend to believe we are clean before God. But God sees what we are like on the inside. God knows our thoughts. We can have filthy-sinful thought habits. These habits can be overcome through Christ's blood. I believe that when we inherit eternal life and spiritual bodies, everybody will know and see what we are like on the inside. We will not be able to hide. We must become clean on the inside before we can inherit spiritual bodies, and before we will be completely clean so that we can reign with Christ over the nations.
“Anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (verse 22 NIV). Often our mouth reflects what we are like on the inside.
Matthew 12:34 ESV You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
Matthew 15:11 NIV What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.'
Matthew 15:17-18 NIV "Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? (18) But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.'
If our thoughts and our minds are pure (clean), then what we say will be pure (clean). Don’t think of your mouth as being a filter between what you think and what other people believe you think. Have nothing to hide. Change your heart so that if people could read your thoughts, instead of just hearing your words, you would have nothing to hide.
Jesus tells us to reconcile things with our brother (that’s anyone) before giving an offering at the altar (verses 23-24). The emphasis here is that God knows our hearts. We must cleanse our hearts before each other before we can expect to cleanse our hearts before God.
Verses 25 and 26 are about the same thing. If we have financial disputes with others then they must be settled. We must be pure before others as well as God.
If we have lust in our hearts, it’s like adultery (verses 27-28). God sees that lust. Men must not have thoughts and emotions in our hearts that would be a problem if women could read the minds of the men. Lust can be very difficult to overcome. But I can testify that it can be overcome.
Lust causes us to lead double lives. We go to church on Sunday, but during the week we allow the temptation of Internet porn sites to overtake us. Again, if we had spiritual bodies, and if everyone else in our community could see every thought we had, would the sin of lust be a problem? If your spouse could see the lust in your heart, would it be a problem? We must be pure and clean in our hearts. Nothing can be hidden. Only then are we in the light. We must have hearts that would be of no embarrassment to other men and women of God, even if they could know our every thought. This means we must completely overcome lustful sexual fantasies if we are to inherit spiritual bodies and rule the world with Christ.
If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away (verses 29-30). This is hyperbole, which is a rhetorical exaggeration to make a point. Literally cutting out your eye or cutting off your hand would not make you stop sinning. The problem is in the heart. It’s in the way we think. Jesus is placing emphasis on just how important this is. This is especially true in the Jewish culture, even today, that believes sin involves only actions and not thoughts.
Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’ (verses 34-37). We must have hearts, minds, and thoughts such that truth is our only nature. People who know us should have absolutely no doubt that anything we say is the truth to the best of our knowledge. As we become pure on the inside, people will start seeing us as honest and truthful. There should never be a need for giving an oath. Giving an oath is only done when people may doubt what we say because of our character. Our hearts must be pure for everyone to see.
Divorce is adultery (verses 31-32). Don’t take this verse out of context. In some situations divorce is necessary. But this is only after a sinful heart has caused the marriage to become unrecoverable. If both hearts of a marriage can be cleansed, then the marriage can be cleansed. Your spouse, more than anyone, knows the true nature of your heart. An impure heart and thought life can lead to divorce. We must have a heart, and thoughts, that would offer no embarrassment if our spouse could read our every thought and know our every secret.
The Father "makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (verse 45). We pray for our enemies so that we may become the sons of the Father in heaven (verse 44). Right now we are sons of our earthly parents, with our natural bodies, because our parents gave birth to us. We will literally be sons of God when we have spiritual bodies. This will be done so that during the millennium we can lead to righteousness those who persecute us in this present age. We will be leading our enemies to God, because God loves our enemies. In order to do that, we must also love our enemies.
Everything that has been said so far in this sermon is about overcoming sin, so that we will be perfect. Can we really be perfect? Even after we have our spiritual bodies, we will continue to make mistakes. But we can get to the point where our thoughts are clean. Jesus told the disciples that they were clean because of his words (John 13:10, 15:3). (Of course Judas was an exception.) So we can be clean in our thoughts. This is being perfect like the Father is perfect.
Does this mean you must be perfect in order to be saved? The Sermon on the Mount is not about salvation. It's about holiness. It's about inheriting the kingdom. The meek will inherit the earth. You must become a kingdom seeker, working your way through the beatitudes, in order to become perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect, and thus become part of the Bride of Christ.
The beatitudes is a progression that we must all take towards holiness. It's a progression towards becoming "perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect." We begin with spiritual begging. Later we become peacemakers. As we continue to be a disciple of Jesus, we become clean because of Christ's words. We become clean because we take the teaching of Christ seriously and his words become the most important thing in our lives. We become clean by daily looking to the cross and daily praying for holiness. We become clean by confessing our sins one to another. But there will be times when we have to go back to being a spiritual beggar.
There is one other place in Scripture where Jesus talks about being perfect.
Matthew 19:16 Behold, one came to him and said, "Good teacher, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?"
At first, Jesus simply tells the rich young ruler to keep the commandments. But take careful note that Jesus didn't say this would give him "eternal life." Jesus only said this would allow the ruler to "enter into life."
Matthew 19:17 He said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but one, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments."
But the rich young ruler persisted and said, "All these things I have observed from my youth. What do I still lack?"
Matthew 19:18-20 He said to him, "Which ones?" Jesus said, " 'You shall not murder.' 'You shall not commit adultery.' 'You shall not steal.' 'You shall not offer false testimony.' (19) 'Honor your father and mother.' And, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' " (20) The young man said to him, "All these things I have observed from my youth. What do I still lack?"
Jesus responds by telling him how to be "perfect." In other words, you can simply "enter life" by keeping the commandments. But in order to be perfect, you must devote your life exclusively to being a disciple of Christ.
Matthew 19:21-22 Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." (22) But when the young man heard the saying, he went away sad, for he was one who had great possessions.
The rich young ruler was given the option to become poor in this age and have treasures in heaven in the age to come. The topic of having treasures in heaven comes up next, in Matthew 6, in the Sermon on the Mount. We will cover that below. But first, we need to closely examine what Jesus taught us about discipleship through this encounter with the rich young ruler. What does it take to be "perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect?"
Matthew 19:23-25 Jesus said to his disciples, "Most certainly I say to you, a rich man will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven with difficulty. (24) Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God." (25) When the disciples heard it, they were exceedingly astonished, saying, " Who then can be saved?"
Why are the disciples astonished? The basic Jewish culture, as taught by the Old Testament, is to simply obey the commandments. But the disciples have now been told that to receive "eternal life" you must undergo a very intense discipleship training with Jesus Christ. And there can be nothing else in your life, such as possessions, to get in the way. At that time, relatively very few people were following Christ to be his disciple. Was Jesus saying that everyone else, including the rich young ruler, would not be saved?
No, the rich young ruler will be saved. Jesus had already told him you can "enter life" by obeying the commandments. The disciples were confused because they did not as yet understand that Jesus had to die on the cross in order to fulfill salvation even in the Old Testament. At that time, they didn't understand that it is "impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Hebrews 10:4). Because the disciples didn't as yet understand about the cross, they didn't understand the difference between simply "entering life" and "inheriting eternal life." The blood of Jesus Christ reconciles us so that we will "enter life" if we don't reject Christ or God. But we must become perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect in order to inherit the kingdom and eternal life.
Nobody can obey all the commandments perfectly for their entire lifetime. All have sinned, and one sin causes you to go to hell. In other words, they basically invalidate what Jesus told the rich young ruler, that he could "enter life" by continuing to obey the commandments in the same way that he had done all his life. Some conservative evangelicals argue that Jesus left out covetousness and any rich person will covet. But was Jesus really giving the man a trick answer? Any reasonable person of the time who heard Jesus' answer would not have understood Jesus as saying the rich young ruler is bound for hell.
Please don't misunderstand what I'm saying. There is no way to the Father except through a discipleship relationship with Jesus Christ. There is no other name under heaven by which a person can be saved. The rich young ruler will be resurrected. But he will not have eternal life. He simply "enters life" in the age to come, at the time of the resurrection. Jesus will literally be King over all the nations of the earth. The government will be on his shoulders. At that time, the rich young ruler will no longer have his possessions. So his possessions will no longer be in the way of him becoming a disciple of Christ, to become perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect. If he is willing to do so at that time, he can inherit eternal life.
If today a rich man were to knock on the door of a conservative evangelical and ask him how he can inherit eternal life, what would be his answer? Would the evangelical tell the rich man to sell all his possessions? Or would the evangelical tell the rich man to simply say the sinner's prayer, believe in Jesus, and start coming to church? The rich man would do so, and would then continue his life focused on his possessions.
Matthew 19:26-30 Looking at them, Jesus said, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." (27) Then Peter answered, "Behold, we have left everything, and followed you. What then will we have?" (28) Jesus said to them, "Most certainly I tell you that you who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on the throne of his glory, you also will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (29) Everyone who has left houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, will receive one hundred times, and will inherit eternal life . (30) But many will be last who are first; and first who are last.
Read verse 30 carefully. The rich young ruler was among the first in that day. Jesus is saying he will be last in the age to come. Those who have sacrificed everything to follow Jesus will be first. That's because in sacrificing everything, they are doing the works of the Father. The Holy Spirit comes and helps them in doing the works. As they live for Christ, and do the things that Christ would do, the teachings of Christ cause them to become clean. The things of this world are pushed out. They no longer have lustful thoughts. They no longer have consuming anger. They love their neighbors and they love the Father. In doing so, they become perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect.
Those who do not become perfect will still be saved. They will be resurrected to live in the nations. Christ and his Bride will reign over the nations, teaching others who are willing to come to this same level of righteousness. Eventually everyone must become perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect in order to inherit eternal life. Those who refuse this teaching will eventually die the second death (Revelation 2:11, 20:6, 20:14, 21:8).
Revelation 2:26 He who overcomes, and he who keeps my works to the end, to him I will give authority over the nations.
Think about all that Jesus said in light of a literal kingdom here on earth with the righteous being the kings and priests of that kingdom. What does it mean to store treasures in heaven? Does it mean that we will receive rewards when we get to heaven for our good deeds done here on earth? That’s not the way the ancient Jew would have understood what Jesus was saying.
Their focus was on the resurrection. They didn’t believe they would go to heaven right after they died. They believed that after they died they would await the resurrection when the Messiah comes. Then they would rule the world with the Messiah. To store treasures in heaven is to do things that that will be of value here on earth in the age to come. In other words, in the age to come the Messiah will reward those who do good deeds during this present age. The entire message of this sermon is to seek holiness and to store treasures in heaven. We do so in order to have riches in the age to come.
This is not just metaphorical riches. We are talking about literal wealth in a literal kingdom to come. Those who rule in the age to come will have literal riches in the eternal kingdom of God that far outshines the wealth of the nations.
What is the converse of storing treasures in heaven? It would be storing treasures in this present age. People who build up wealth in this present age will not be able to keep it in the age to come. And this present age is only temporary. Jesus said the last will be first, and the first will be last. The rich people of this age are first in this age. They will be last the age to come. So all their possessions and wealth in this present age will be destroyed in the age to come.
Does this mean you shouldn't work to earn a living? Of course not. Even people in full-time ministry are working to earn a living. Full-time ministers might or might not be storing treasures in heaven. The best way to store treasures in heaven is to be directly involved in a ministry. We must all be doing the works the Father has for us. Find time outside your normal work to be involved in a ministry. We can give up TV, sports, computer games, or even hobbies. Find a ministry that excites you and make it your passionate hobby.
We are kingdom seekers. We seek holiness. We further the kingdom by spreading the gospel, leading people to the Lord, and helping the needy. Christ will remember and will reward us when the kingdom of heaven comes. These rewards involve literal positions as rulers and priests in the kingdom to come. Our treasures are thereby stored in heaven (Mat 6:19-20).
What other places in Scripture does Jesus talk about storing treasures in heaven? Other than the Sermon on the Mount, the only recorded time that Jesus mentions treasure in heaven is with the rich young ruler, as discussed in the previous section. (There are, however, other places that speak of rewards in heaven.) Matthew 19:21, Mark 10:21, and Luke 18:22 all record this encounter with the rich young ruler. All three accounts record Jesus saying he could store treasure in heaven by selling all his possessions, giving everything to the poor, and following Jesus. Only Matthew's account says this would make him perfect. Mark's account and Luke's account both say "one thing you lack" instead of "if you want to be perfect."
Also, Matthew is the only gospel that records the Sermon on the Mount including, "be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." Perhaps this is because Matthew, being one of the disciples, was present when Jesus preached this long sermon. Mark and Luke recorded events using other sources. They were not part of the original twelve disciples. I think Matthew, being a tax collector, uniquely understood the relationship between storing your treasures in heaven and becoming perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect. Becoming perfect involves both striving to overcome sin and doing the works of the Father.
In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us not to do acts of righteousness so that people will notice us (Mat. 6:1). When we give to the needy, it’s to be done quietly (6:2). When we pray, it’s to be done in closed rooms (6:6). We are not to pray with ongoing words, as through continuous repeating will help (6:7). Spending time with God and furthering the kingdom in secret builds holiness. However, doing these things for show only builds pride. Such pride stands in the way of holiness.
We are not to worry about money. Nobody can serve two masters (6:24). If we devote ourselves to getting money all the time, or to the love of money, then that becomes our master. Where our treasure is, our heart will be also (6:21). We can build up treasures in heaven for the age to come, by focusing on holiness. Or, we can focus on building treasures in this age by focusing on money. You can’t do both. You can’t serve two masters. The wise will seek treasures for the age to come because those treasures are far greater and will last forever.
People will say they strive to earn money so that they can donate some of it to worthy causes. But this is only an excuse for the love of money. We must be directly involved in the purposes of our lives.
As we become holy our faith builds. We worry less about the things of this world, such as money. Our Father feeds the birds of the air that do not sow or reap (6:26). Our Father clothes the lilies of the field who neither labor nor spin, and they are better clothed than Solomon (6:28-29).
The eye is the lamp of the body (6:22). This verse is in the middle of all the verses about treasures in heaven and money (6:19-34). So it must be interpreted in that context. The eye represents our interest. The eye looks at the desires of our heart. If our heart is for treasures in this present age, then our whole body is full of darkness (6:23). But if your heart is for holiness, then our whole body becomes full of light (6:22). We become the light of the world in this age and even more so in the age to come. Being in the light is living without sin. Those who seek holiness in this age will shine like the brightness of the sky above and will turn many to righteousness in the age to come.
Daniel 12:3 ESV And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.
The entire Sermon on the Mount is all about holiness. We seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness. We spend time with God to become holy. We focus on the kingdom in order to become holy. We do the Father's works in order to become holy. The kingdom to come must be far more important to us than the world of this age. As we become holy, we store treasures in heaven.
All this sums up the law and the prophets (7:12). In other words, the law and the prophets focused on being holy. Being holy requires loving both God and neighbor. As we learn to love God and our neighbor, we become better kings and priests to rule during the millennium. We are then in the position to teach love, holiness, and salvation through Jesus Christ to all the nations.
“Don't judge, so that you won't be judged” (7:1). Will we ever officially judge others? We must first take the log out of our own eye before we can see clearly enough to take the speck out of our brother’s eye (7:3-5). We will never judge others from the perspective of determining everlasting life or eternal condemnation. But those who overcome sin will rule the nations (Revelation 2:26-27). We will be kings and priests over the nations (Revelation 5:10, 20:6). Our purpose in being judges is to lead the nations into righteousness.
During ancient times, a king was also a judge. The kings who ruled the world acted as judges. Ideally, it was the purpose of the priests to teach righteousness. Ideally, it was the purpose of the kings to enforce righteousness. During the millennium, those living in the nations will be living under the judgment of Christ, and by His authority, under the judgment of the Bride of Christ. The point being made here is that we must become holy before we are qualified to judge the nations. We must remove the log from our eyes before we can shine like the brightness of the stars and lead the nations to righteousness.
Holiness is the narrow gate (7:13) into the age to come. Few will find it. Of course, people from every nation, tribe, people, and language (Revelation 7:9) will find it during the coming Great Tribulation. But that’s still few as compared with all people in all nations through all times. The narrow gate is not about salvation. Few find perfection and holiness in this age, but that does not mean that few will ever find salvation.
Of course to receive eternal life requires holiness through faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Those who enter the age to come through the narrow gate will receive spiritual bodies and eternal life. Therefore, the narrow gate definitely leads to eternal life (7:14).
The wide gate leads to destruction (7:13). If people stay on that path throughout the age to come, they will be eternally condemned. Sin can also be destructive in this age. Sins separate us from God. Due to the blood of Christ, however, only the rejection of Christ will ultimately lead to eternal condemnation.
In the context of the Sermon on the Mount, is the destruction of the wide gate referring to the destruction of the soul? Or is it talking about the destruction of possessions and wealth? Jesus has just spent lots of time teaching us to seek holiness instead of money, so that we will have treasures in heaven. Those who primarily seek treasures in this age enter the age to come through the wide gate. Their treasures of this age will be destroyed. But it’s not a gate into hell. It’s a gate into the Messianic age to come. The wide gate is a gate of destruction simply because all the personal wealth of this age will be destroyed.
We are saved by grace and through faith, and not judged by our good and evil deeds. To interpret the wide and narrow gates as being about salvation would be to say salvation is about good and evil deeds. That’s because the issue of good and evil deeds is the context of the entire sermon. The wide and narrow gates are not about salvation. The narrow gate is about entering the kingdom of heaven. The wide gate is about just entering the age to come as part of the nations.
Again, we must interpret the wide and narrow gate in the context of the Sermon on the Mount. The wide gate is all about seeking treasures in this present age instead of seeking treasures in heaven. Jesus is saying treasures obtained in this present age will be destroyed. So the wide gate leads to destruction. As Jesus told the rich young ruler, you can continue obeying the commandments and being a good person. Your cup is clean on the outside, but not on the inside. Those going through the wide gate continue to sin on the inside with sins like lust and consuming anger. You can "enter life" through the wide gate. But you will not inherit eternal life. And if you continue down this path in the age to come, you will eventually die the second death and wake up in the lake of fire.
The narrow gate, on the other hand, is for those who seek treasures in heaven and in doing so become perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect. As Jesus told the rich young ruler, if you want to be perfect, you must forsake your earthly possessions and follow Jesus. You must become a true disciple of Christ so that your cup is clean on the inside as well as the outside. This means that you don't sin even in your heart and mind. If others could read your mind, you would still be in the light, having nothing to hide. The narrow gate leads to eternal life.
Of course this doctrine is a bit different from the traditional interpretation of the wide and narrow gates. The narrow gate is traditionally interpreted as finding salvation, even though the Sermon on the Mount is not about salvation. With traditional interpretation, the narrow gate is easy to find. All you need to do is confess that Jesus is your Lord and Savior. But that's only the beginning of what it takes to be a disciple of Christ. That's only the beginning of what it takes to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect. That's only the beginning of what it takes to find the narrow gate. Yet most preachers would simply tell the rich young ruler exactly what they tell everyone else. They say to find the narrow gate by confessing Christ, and then that's all there is to it. The overcoming of sin becomes a good thing, but not really necessary in order to enter the narrow gate. The very next verse is about false prophets. Read it in the same context.
Matthew 7:15-20 "Beware of false prophets , who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves . (16) By their fruits you will know them . Do you gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? (17) Even so, every good tree produces good fruit; but the corrupt tree produces evil fruit. (18) A good tree can't produce evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree produce good fruit. (19) Every tree that doesn't grow good fruit is cut down, and thrown into the fire. (20) Therefore, by their fruits you will know them.
In the context of the Sermon on the Mount, what is good and bad fruit? What is a wolf in sheep's clothing? Verse 15 starts out warning against false prophets. A prophet is anyone who proclaims the word of God. In this context, a prophet is any preacher, Sunday-school teacher, or even a small group leader. In this context, anyone who teaches the Bible is a prophet. False prophets usually don't know they teach false doctrine. False prophets have themselves been taught by false prophets. So they can be very honest people. But they unknowingly teach false doctrine, passing it on from generation to generation. Think of false prophets simply as false teachers. They don't know or believe they are teaching false doctrine.
Jesus is saying we will know false teachers not by their doctrine, but by their fruit. In other words, we don't have to judge their doctrine. We know their doctrine is false if their disciples are not becoming holy and perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect. The disciples of Jesus became "clean" because of his words (John 13:10, 15:3). But today there is very little difference in holiness between people who go to church every Sunday and the rest of the world.
Most pastors avoid the topics of sin, holiness, and money. Yet these are the primary topics of the Sermon on the Mount. These are the primary topics that Jesus taught throughout his ministry. Again, I'm sure most pastors are honest and good people. But if they are not producing perfect and holy people, they are not producing good fruit.
Most pastors say that nobody is perfect. If you ask them about being perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect, or if you ask them about becoming perfect by selling your possessions and following Christ, they will probably say that Jesus didn't really mean perfection, or that it was simply an unreachable goal. They often say that they have never met anyone who is perfect, and thus their claim that nobody is perfect is used to invalidate this interpretation of Jesus' words. The problem is that when this becomes accepted doctrine, then even people who are clean on the inside will continue to think they are sinning. And this doctrine tends to prevent people from overcoming sin when temptations come. Christian perfection does not mean that you never make mistakes. It means that you are in the light and have nothing to hide, even if people could read your mind.
There are many ways to interpret Scripture. I think Satan tries to distort our understanding of Scripture by finding ways to make the topics of holiness, overcoming sin, and storing our treasures in heaven become less important.
Matthew 7:21-23 Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (22) Many will tell me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, didn't we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?' (23) Then I will tell them, 'I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity.'
These ministers truly believe they are preaching for Christ. In this context, these ministers are the false prophets and the wolves in sheep clothing (7:16-20). They actually believe that Christ knows them. They actually believe they are serving the Lord. Surely, they believe that Christ rose from the dead. Surely they confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord. So they are saved. They will be very surprised when Christ says he doesn't know them.
By their fruits we can know who they are (7:20). This is not a fruit of many followers. It's not a fruit of numbers because Jesus explicitly says it's good fruit or bad fruit. Good fruit comes from a good tree and bad fruit comes from a bad tree. Therefore, good fruit must be church-goers who overcome sin and bad fruit must church-goers who are like the rest of the world. Does the preacher lead others to Christ’s holiness? Or do they say that salvation is all that is necessary?
Compare this verse in Matthew 7:22-23 to a similar verse in Matthew 25:11-13.
Matthew 7:22-23 Many will tell me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, didn't we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?' (23) Then I will tell them, 'I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity.'
Matthew 25:11-13 Afterward the other virgins also came, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open to us.' (12) But he answered, 'Most certainly I tell you, I don't know you.' (13) Watch therefore, for you don't know the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.
The only difference between the wise virgins and the foolish virgins is the amount of oil they have. Both are asleep when the Master comes. Both are waiting for the Bridegroom. Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that he was raised from the dead and you will be saved. The foolish virgins say “Lord, Lord.” Certainly they confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord. And since they are waiting on the bridegroom to return, they certainly believe he was raised from the dead. But Jesus says, “I never knew you” because they have not had a discipleship relationship with Christ.
At the Last Supper, when Jesus went around the table to wash the disciple’s feet, Peter said "You will never wash my feet" (John 13:8). Jesus said that if I don’t wash your feet, you cannot be my disciple. ("If I don't wash you, you have no part with me.") Why did Jesus say this? He explained it when he said, “No servant is greater than his master.”
John 13:14-17 If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet . (15) For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. (16) Most certainly I tell you, a servant is not greater than his lord, neither one who is sent greater than he who sent him. (17) If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
If we don’t serve others, we cannot be Jesus' disciple. We are still saved because he is the Savior of all people, especially those who believe (1 Timothy 4:10). But we have to do more than just believe in order to be a disciple of Christ. We have to do the works that the Father has given us to do. And as we love our neighbor, serving others because we love Jesus, walking as Jesus walked, we overcome sin. When Jesus says, “I never knew you”, he is saying the person did not become his disciple. Jesus is a servant. No servant is greater than his master. So we must be servants in order to be disciples. Servants do work.
Those who say “Lord, Lord” but don’t do the works of the Father are not really his disciples. They are saved, because salvation is not about works. You cannot earn salvation. But without works, you cannot be his disciple because no servant is greater than his Master. There is nothing you can do to earn salvation. But inheriting the kingdom requires a lot of work.
Are these ministers condemned to hell? Are the foolish virgins condemned to hell? No, because they have not committed the unpardonable sin. They have not hardened their hearts against Christ. Nevertheless, they are still sinful. They enter through the wide gate. Consequently, Jesus will not give them the reward of ruling during the millennium. When Christ says he never knew them, it means they have not matured in a discipleship relationship with Him. They have not become a true disciple. It does not mean they are condemned to hell.
The wise man builds his house on the Rock. The foolish man (or foolish virgin), builds his house on the sand. (In the Old Testament, the Rock is Christ.) The wise are those who will rule in the millennium. The foolish are the middle group, which will be saved, but are not a part of the Bride of Christ. The wicked will not be raised. They no longer hear Christ’s voice. They do not have a gate to enter into the age to come, because Christ is the gate (John 10:1-18).
Whether they are lost sheep or believers, Christ’s sheep hear his voice (Psalm 95:7, John 10). But the wicked, who do not have eyes to see or ears to hear, can no longer hear his voice. They see the miracles of God but attribute them to Satan. Or they explain them away by other means. At the resurrection all who hear Christ’s voice (Christ’s sheep) will be raised (John 5:28-29). The wise, who enter through the narrow gate, have a resurrection of eternal life. For them, there is no longer a judgment (John 5:24). They will have spiritual bodies that do not die. But for the foolish who enter through the wide gate, and are still doing evil, it’s a resurrection that’s still under judgment (John 5:29). Their bodies will be natural bodies that could eventually die again.
The wise put all their focus on Christ. They build their houses and treasures in heaven. They enter through the narrow gate. The foolish build their treasures in this age. They focus on the present age. They enter through the wide gate. When the rains come, the things of this world come crashing down. When the rains come, the treasures of those entering through the wide gate will be destroyed. But the foolish are still Christ’s sheep.
The Sermon on the Mount commences with the beatitudes, and concludes with this parable of building your house on Christ. The beatitudes are about holiness. Building your house on Christ is about discipleship. But neither holiness nor discipleship is required for salvation. How much holiness would you need to be saved? How much discipleship would you need to be saved? The sermon is not about salvation. It's about inheriting the kingdom of heaven.
We must not allow this sermon to be watered down by confusing it with salvation. We must not lower the bar of holiness by mistaking it for the free gift of salvation. We must build our houses, our whole lives, upon the Rock of Jesus Christ. To seek the kingdom of heaven and his righteousness, we must build our houses on the Rock, no matter the cost.