The “How” Question
How can we live out Jesus’ high demand of righteousness?
In many ways, this brings us to the crux of the matter. As we have seen, anyone who is serious about studying Jesus’ commands realizes rather quickly that he calls us to a more bracing form of righteousness than merely being nice to others or avoiding various lifestyle vices.
How, then, are we to follow him faithfully? Those who are honest with themselves while reading the Sermon on the Mount will readily admit their consistent failure to live up to Jesus’ standards. This is actually prophetically unexpected, given the prophets’ wildly optimistic descriptions of the righteousness lived out by the returned-from-exile, new-covenant people (e.g.,Isa. 60:3; 62:1–12; Jer. 50:4–5; Ezek. 36:26–27).
However, the reason for the dissonance between these expectations of a radically transformed remnant and the persistent failure of Jesus’ followers is to be found in Jesus’ surprising teaching regarding the inaugurated coming of the kingdom. That is to say, rather than the much-anticipated, cataclysmic in-breaking of God’s reign, by which he would climactically heal and transform his people, Jesus affirms that the kingdom has come only in part. It is here, “advancing forcefully” (Matt. 11:12), yet susceptible of being missed (Matt.13:31–33). It is only inaugurated.
The payoff of this for our understanding of discipleship is rather significant. Rather than being completely transformed in the consummated kingdom, disciples of Jesus today have merely experienced the inauguration of the kingdom’s transforming power. Though the Spirit has been poured forth in our hearts, we continue to be divided in our affections and struggle to keep in step with the Spirit (Gal. 5:17, 25). How then are disciples in this inaugurated state of transformation to live faithfully in relation to the King’s summons?
The answer once again comes to us from the covenantal framework of the Old Testament. It is obvious that within the economy of the Mosaic Covenant, the Jews were to live in a recurring pattern of remembrance, reception, and response. Throughout their calendar year, regular festivals, celebrations, and Sabbaths jogged their collective and individual memory to reflect on and receive afresh the grace of God to them as a people. Only then were they to respond to God’s call to righteousness. For example: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day” (Deut. 5:15; cf. Deut. 15:11–15; 16:2–3;16:12; 24:17–22; Josh. 1:13; 23:3–11; and many others).
Ideally, they lived within the covenantal dynamic of the reception of prior grace that empowered them to respond to God’s demand of righteousness.
This, then, supplies us with the answer to our third question. Since we who inhabit this era of the inaugurated kingdom are not yet fully transformed, we continue to need the same sort of grace that initially ushered us into our covenant relationship with God.
And we need this daily.
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