Let’s never overlook the Scriptural truth that righteousness (kingdom living) is important to the heart of God. Four passages in the Sermon on the Mount are discussed here.
In this series we have defined the kingdom of God as his sovereignty, rule, authority, reign, and power. What would life look like for you when you completely surrender to it?
Jesus made a remarkable statement—even a little intimidating, if you examine yourself even for five seconds. “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (same as the kingdom of God in Mark and Luke). Those two groups were concerned with law keeping to maintain social morality and their morals before God. They understood that Israel went into exile five hundred years ago and were now under Roman occupation because Israel had not pleased God with law keeping that he revealed through Moses. Serious oversights indeed.
So what kind of righteousness is Jesus seeking? Teachers of the law and Pharisees were concerned with external behavior. Keep the Sabbath by not working—observable behavior. Don’t make an image of other gods—a visible object. Honor your parents, but how? By doing—observable behavior—by doing right by them. What about covetousness, which outworks to be observable behavior, when you actually seduce your neighbor’s wife, and now she’s with you. Now who cares about inner thoughts if they don’t impact your neighbor in a real-life way?
In contrast, is it possible that the righteousness that Jesus demands begins in the heart? Let’s see, by interpreting these four passages by kingdom principles. They are, after all, demands or requirements, which adds up to the same as commands or imperatives.
1.. The Principle against Anger
Jesus said in Matt. 5:21-22 that murder is wrong and liable to judgment, surely enough. But he also went right into the heart. If a kingdom citizen is angry with his brother so that he calls him contemptable names, then he is also liable to the court and even fire of Gehenna (a burning dump outside Jerusalem, which became a symbol of hell). So God looks at the heart and uses the severe warning of Gehenna to wake up kingdom citizens—even scare them away from deep-seated anger (yes, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom). In the Sinai Covenant (Exod. 19) God uses severe punishments, like the death penalty, to indicate how seriously he took these sins and crimes, but rarely were they carried out. In any case, kingdom citizens who have already surrendered to the reign of God don’t let bitterness and grudges fester to the point of visual anger, behavior that can be seen. Kingdom citizens purged out the anger before it erupts.
2.. Principle of Sexual and Relational Purity
In Matt. 5:27-28 Jesus said adultery is wrong, but if a kingdom citizen looks lustfully on a woman, then he has committed adultery in his heart (not by outward behavior). How do we interpret this tough demand? The Septuagint (pronounced sep-too-ah-gent) is a translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, from about the third to first century B.C. In the two passages of the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20 and Deut. 5), the exact wording in the tenth commandment (prohibition against coveting) is spoken by Jesus here. The Greek verb for looking covetously or lustfully is epithumeō (pronounced eh-pea-thoo-meh-oh), so clearly Jesus is referring to the tenth commandment. Jesus calls his kingdom citizen not to look lustfully at or covet his neighbor’s wife. He must cut it out at the very beginning, taking serious action against it in his mind. Plus, the wording says that he is looking at her for the purpose of lusting, which is different from just looking, as any human would do. The kingdom citizen sees her as being made in the image of God, not a sex object, so lust leading to adultery won’t progress one step farther (Jas. 1:14-15).
3.. The Principle of Honesty
In Matt. 5:33-37, Jesus said that teachers of the law and Pharisees urged people to keep their oaths and not break them. Don’t swear by heaven (God’s throne), nor by earth (God’s footstool) nor by Jerusalem (the city of the Great King). However, kingdom citizens should not even swear an oath at all, but let their word by yes or no, and anything more than that comes from the evil one. In those days, devout Jews would place themselves under oath to reveal their honesty and good will (all inner convictions). They could swear on different objects by degrees of their holiness, and that’s why Jesus listed those three things. It would be possible to squirm out of an oath without guilt. In contrast, if a kingdom citizen had to take a series of oaths before his word could be trusted, then the game or business transaction is up. Things had already gone too far, and he was entering into the evil one’s territory by casuistry (questionable or false application of dealing with cases of morality). The kingdom citizen’s simple and straightforward word was good enough.
4.. The Principle of Love
In Matt. 5:43-44, Jesus said that is commonly believed that people should love their neighbor and hate their enemy. But he taught a higher way: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” First note that this statement is in the kingdom community, not international relations. Second, the context is persecution from religious leaders. How does the kingdom citizen reply to persecution? Love is not merely an emotion or a feeling. Love is active and outworks in behavior. Therefore the kingdom citizen must pray for the persecutors. In fact, Jesus had already said that we must rejoice when they say false things against kingdom citizens and persecute them. So once again, the answer starts with the heart that has the gumption and maturity to start the difficult prayer and even rejoicing when they slander you. Please note that Jesus also said we can flee persecution (Matt. 10:23). So how about this? Pray and rejoice, while you are fleeing government injustice! What ever kingdom citizens do, they must not hate the persecutors. Unforgiveness, it has been wisely said, is like a poison pill that you take, wishing that it will poison the person who offended you. How does that make sense?
5.. The Principle of Forgiveness
In Matt. 6:12, in the Lord’s Model Prayer, Jesus said to forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. In this case the debt is moral, not financial. People offend or transgress against the kingdom citizen, and he does the same to them. He must release his grudge and anger. In Matt. 18:21, Peter asked Jesus if Peter should forgive seven times. He must have thought seven times was a full number. Jesus replied, no, but seventy times seven. It would be difficult to forgive the same offense seven times (spouses can testify to this!). But 490 times or all throughout the citizen’s life? That’s impossible! Yet kingdom citizens should be willing to live in a perpetual mental state of forgiveness. No matter what happens to them, they must let it go, like water off a duck’s back. They mustn’t hold a perpetual grudge or be touchy.
How does this post help me, as a kingdom citizen, grow in Christ?
Kingdom righteousness is impossible to carry out, when the world does not surrender to the king. But you have chosen to surrender to the kingdom and to him. So how do you live by the high standard of kingdom righteousness?
First, Jesus said to seek his kingdom and his righteousness first (Matt. 6:33). It’s a seeking or process. It is not an arrival.
Second, God gives what he demands. He gives us grace. Without it, we could not even come close to working out kingdom righteousness (= kingdom living as citizens).
Third, the Spirit causes us to be born again, and at our new birth, we enter the kingdom, as the previous article said. Only the Spirit living in us can empower us to smile during persecution or forgive anyone, like a spouse, who offends you 490 times in a year (or a week or a day!).
Fourth, Jesus said we must pick up our cross daily and follow him (Luke 9:23). We must live the surrendered life. We surrender to his rule, power, sovereignty, authority and reign—his kingdom. Upon our surrender, we do not keep a death grip on our own strong will but give it to him. We live each day as he leads.
Fifth, have you ever prayed for your weakness—that God would give you the inner strength and anointing and power not to fold or flag during satanic or your broken human attacks? If not please start now.
Sixth, each principle (and there are many others) are issues of the heart. God moved kingdom righteousness from externals to internal attitudes. Pray that your heart will remain strong so that you can live as kingdom citizens.
Seventh and finally, when you fail and repent, God is gracious and kind to forgive you. Mic. 7:19 says that he treads on your sins and hurls them into the sea. So don’t brood on your recent failures. Just pick yourself up and say, “I’m still a kingdom citizen, and the King still loves me!”
ARTICLES IN THE SERIES
8 Righteousness of the Kingdom
At that link, look for Ladd.