Anyone who’s spent any time on the Internet knows there is a growing sentiment of hatred towards religion. Spend a few moments perusing Digg or the Huffington Post and you’ll find droves of people decrying the evils of religion, religious thought or faith in general. In fact, one of the most common forms of this criticism is an ad hominem argument that equates Islamic fundamentalism with Christian fundamentalism and then denounces them both. It’s this sort of thinking that I want to address in this journal entry. This is by no means a systematic theology, but it is a simple breakdown of the basic teachings of Jesus, taken from his sermon in Matthew 5 through 7.
1. A follower of Christ looks for complete satisfaction in heaven. The comfort or peace we have in this life comes from our hope of reward in the next. So if we mourn in this life, if we hunger and thirst, if we are lowly, if we are merciful, if we do not fight, if we endure persecution—in other words, if we do not find complete satisfaction in this life—we have hope for resolution in the hereafter. That’s why faith is an essential part of being a Christian; you are hoping in something that has not yet come. Matthew 5:1-11
2. A follower of Christ influences the world around them. Specifically, Jesus said that we are to be salt (a preservative) and light (guidance). Those that expect Christians to bury their heads in the sand or hide their beliefs beneath the floorboards have a fundamental misunderstanding of our calling. Matthew 5:17-20
3. A follower of Christ doesn’t indulge in anger, lust, divorce, lying or retaliation. In fact, Jesus specifically says that we are to love those that do wrong to us. He even goes so far as to say that if someone tries to misuse us, we are to offer them more. Remember, Jesus himself was falsely accused and put to death for doing nothing wrong. Matthew 5:21-48
4. A follower of Christ is not a hypocrite. We are to give to those in need and pray often, but we should do so without calling attention to ourselves. Anyone giving, praying or fasting in such a way that draws attention to themselves would be like a Pharisee, the group of people that Jesus spoke out against most harshly. Matthew 6:1-18
5. A follower of Christ does not serve money. This goes back to the idea that our hope is not found in this life. Whatever holds value for us holds our heart. If that value is in our bank account, our hope is placed in the fragile hands of a bank or an earthly institution. Anyone who values money more than people is not following Christ in that regard. Matthew 6:19-24
6. A follower of Christ is not consumed by worry. This is overlooked by many who claim to follow Christ. Jesus rebuked his disciples for being afraid in a boat on the stormy seas. If our hope is found in something beyond this life, we should not be shaken no matter the circumstances. This is referred to in other parts of scripture as peace that passes all understanding. Matthew 6:25-34
7. A follower of Christ deals with problems in his own life before trying to deal with other people’s problems. Far too many people try to pass judgement on someone else while being blind to their own sins. Deal with your own demons before trying to cast them out of someone else. Matthew 7:1-6
8. A follower of Christ trusts in and depends on him. The theme of future hope resurfaces near the end of the sermon. The promise of good to come helps us endure what may be a not-so-good present. Matthew 7:7-11
9. A follower of Christ treats people the way he would want to be treated. Some have called this the Golden Rule. It could best be summarized as the climax of the sermon; in fact, Jesus himself says that this simple rule encapsulates all of the Law and the Prophets. Interestingly enough, he follows up the Golden Rule by reminding us that it is a path that few take; but it does lead to life. Matthew 7:12-13
10. A follower of Christ is genuine and discerning. Jesus warned about people who would claim to represent him but didn’t actually live as a follower of Christ; he called them ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing. He makes the chilling statement than not all who wear the Christian name tag are actually on the guest list. Further evidence that one of the things Jesus hated most was hypocrisy. Matthew 7:15-27
Jesus concludes the sermon with a poignant story about two men: one who built his house on a rock, the other who built on sand. When the storm came, the house with no solid foundation was washed away. I couldn’t think of a better illustration to convey the purpose of this sermon. These principles are foundational; they shape who I am and how I live my life. I’d be fine without them, just as the man who built on the sand probably had some really good days showing off his beach front property; but when the storms come—and they will come—it is the solid foundation that keeps me from being swept away.
Some will argue that people have done terrible things in the name of Christ. And while it is true that people wearing the name tag have committed unspeakable acts, they did so in violation of the clear and basic principles he taught. The selfless, sacrificial message of Jesus stands in stark contrast to the dark, violent actions of those do not truly follow him.