“Character, Not Behavior”
Matthew 5 begins with Jesus seeing a crowd gathering, and retreating to a mountain (hillside) to teach His disciples. This section of Scripture (Matthew chapters 5-7) is known as the “Sermon on the Mount.” Today is an introduction to His sermon.
Jesus’ teaching in this sermon focuses on the character of a Christian and all the blessings of God to those who have put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and are born again. It’s not a list of “do’s and don’ts”; not rules to live by; not a constitution for governments to enforce and it’s certainly not behavior to earn salvation or to receive a blessing or benefit from God.
In essence it’s the expression of the kingdom of heaven lived out in the lives of those who are led by the Spirit of God.
Only those who are born again can “walk in the Spirit” and not “gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Galatians 5:16). Only someone who has put their faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and believe in Him for salvation has the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. This does not mean Christians are perfect but we are being perfected (becoming more like Christ) as we mature in our faith. Christians can (and do) gratify the desires of the sinful nature. When we do, we grieve the Holy Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:30). The desire to sin may still be there but we will not gratify those desires when we walk in the Spirit.
Romans 6:9-14 says to followers of Christ, “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”
Anyone who has rejected Jesus Christ and instead follow themselves or the false god of another religion cannot (and will not) walk in the Spirit or live according to the Spirit. 1 Corinthians 2:14 says, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” Romans 8:7 says, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.”
Any attempt to live out Jesus’ teaching without the Holy Spirit will only produce external behavior without an inward change. While that might have a wonderful impact on those around you and you may find some temporary satisfaction in how good you are doing compared to how bad you once were, you will inevitably bankrupt your soul. You will either be proud of yourself for doing “good” or self-destruct in failure and defeat. Either way, you will be far from God and certainly far from living out the Sermon on the Mount.
In Jesus’ day, the scribes and Pharisees (teachers of the law) had a “moral” externalism that made their entire spirituality focused on behavior without an inward change in character and attitude.
Jesus said to them in Matthew 23:25-26, “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 that wasn’t enough, Jesus goes on to say, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
It’s easy for non-Christians to get this wrong but sadly many Christians do as well. Any obedience to God I have in my life, any “behavior” that matches up with the teachings of the Bible, any sin that I defeat, any good in me that is seen by others or that I experience in my thoughts and attitudes is ONLY the work of the Holy Spirit in me. What I “bring to the table” is my sin, rebellion and resistance to God’s leading by nature. That is my default setting apart of God’s work in my life.
But because I am born again and have the Holy Spirit, I do not have to gratify those desires anymore – desires that are still there but do not control me when I walk in the Spirit.
Those desires become less and less desirable the more I live according to the Spirit and I reap the blessing of walking with God in the midst of a dark, cruel world.
A few months ago when I was teaching on what it means to walk in the Spirit, I thought of a pipe that is clogged up with junk. If I were to shine a light through it, you might be able to see some light from the other side but you’ll have a hard time finding it. If I were to run water through it, you might see a trickle but the junk will hinder the flow. As I mature in my faith, I stop clogging the pipe and in turn God cleans the inside of the pipe. He even removes the plaque that built up so His Spirit can flow through me without being hindered by my junk.
What is really amazing is that the light and water are His. I’m just a conduit for His light and His living water to flow through. Even my desire to keep the pipe cleared of junk is from Him. Oh, and the pipe is His too!
When God has full access to a believer’s life and His Spirit can flow in and through someone, behaviors change! Addictions are a thing of the past. New godly desires come in and old habits are left behind. We have victory over sin that used to hold us captive and instead we enjoy a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Remember, these are fruits of the Spirit and not behaviors that we try to live out!
There will be times of struggle and defeat. We will grieve the Holy Spirit by adding junk to the shiny pipe that God cleaned out. But praise God we can turn from that junk and begin to walk in His Spirit again and become a clean conduit for Him to flow through so we can be fruitful once again.
I look forward to diving into this Sermon on the Mount and learning from my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Father, thank you for your sanctifying work in me and for patiently transforming me from the inside out. I want you to have free reign in my life so reveal those things in me that grieve your Spirit and hinder the flow of your presence in my life. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!
Thank you for reading my Daily Bible Journal!
Reading, reflecting and writing from the Bible has so radically impacted my life in Christ, it’s as if I’ve been on auto-pilot when reading the Bible in the past. There’s something about “sitting with the text” and through prayerful reflection, sharing what comes to mind. Because I’m posting online for others to read, I consider my words carefully and try to be clear and accurate.
This daily process enhances my understanding of God’s Word and embeds it into my conscience. It literally gets “hidden in my heart!”
I hope this encourages others to be in God’s Word every day.
For God’s Glory,