Sermon on the Mount – What kind of people will receive eternal life?

This is the second in a series of articles that explain why, if Jesus said that “not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law” (Matt 5:18), the church council in Acts 15, a decade or two later, decided that Gentiles do not have to comply with the Law. The current article provides an overview of the Sermon of the Mount as the necessary context to answer this question.  The articles in this series are:

1. Jesus came to fulfill the Law.
2. Sermon on the MountCurrent article
3. Not the smallest letter shall pass from the Law.

SUMMARY

Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount to teach His followers what kind of people they must be. For example, He listed the types of people that are blessed, exhorted His followers to be “the salt of the earth,” warned against sins such as murder and adultery, and urged His hearers to be reconciled to their enemies and even to love their enemies.

In this way, Jesus taught His hearers what kind of people they must be to be saved and, therefore, to be rewarded with eternal life. This is implied by the many indications in this sermon to:

      • The end-time judgment;
      • The future “kingdom of heaven;”
      • Your reward in heaven” and
      • The broad way “that leads to destruction.” 

IMMORTAL SOULS

Many people from all religions believe that people have immortal souls and will, therefore, never die. However, Jesus’ statement that “the way is broad that leads to destruction” (Matt 7:13) implies that He did not believe that people have immortality. Rather, He said,

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” 

Jesus’ descriptions of hell, and the worm that does not die, must, therefore, be understood symbolically. See the article on Eternal Life.

JUDGED BY THEIR DEEDS

Since Jesus taught people how to live to be saved, He believed that people will be judged by their deeds. Many Christians believe that God saves people irrespective of what kind of people they are. They get this idea mostly from Paul’s writings. However, as a search on the word “deeds” will show, Paul, in various places, stated that “the doers of the Law will be justified” (Rom 2:13) by grace, we might add. Jesus similarly taught, “not everyone who says to Me, `Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (Matt 7:21).

– END OF SUMMARY – 

WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE THEY MUST BE

Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount to teach His followers what kind of people they must be.  For example:

He began the sermon by listing the types of people that are blessed, such as “the gentle,” and “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matt 5:3-12).

He then exhorted His followers to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matt 5:13-16). In other words, their influence on other people must be to preserve life.

After the verses on which this article focusses (Matt 5:17-20), He taught on sins such as murder, anger, insulting other people, adultery and divorce, making oaths, revenge, doing good things to be seen by other people, trust in earthly riches and a critical spirit.

In contrast to these sins, Jesus urged His hearers to seek to be reconciled to their enemies, to love their enemies (Matt 5:38-47), and to “forgive others for their transgressions” (Matt 6:14).

He also addressed the worries of this world and advised His hearers to trust God: “Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” “Will He not much more clothe you?” (Matt 6:25-34)

View The Sermon on the Mount for a good discussion.

TO RECEIVE ETERNAL LIFE

In this way, Jesus taught His hearers what kind of people they must be to be saved and, therefore, to be rewarded with eternal life. There are many indications in the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus’ focus was on the end-time judgment and eternal life. These include:

Judgment – “In the way you judge, you will be judged” (Matt 7:2; cf. 5:22, 25).

Enter Kingdom of Heaven – “Not everyone who says to Me, `Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (Matt 7:21; cf. 5:3, 19, 20).

Reward – “Your Father … will reward you” (Matt 6:18; cf. 6:1, 5, 6) and “your reward in heaven is great” (Matt 5:12).

Destruction and hell – “The way is broad that leads to destruction (Matt 7:13). “The way is narrow that leads to life” (Matt 7:14). That “destruction,” Jesus said, is in “the fiery hell” (Matt 5:22; cf. 5:29, 30). “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt 7:19). 

THE BOOK OF REVELATION

The striking similarities between Jesus’ sermon and the “new earth” (Rev 21:1), as described in the Book of Revelation, further support the conclusion that Jesus said all these things to prepare people for the final judgment:

He said, “those who mourn … shall be comforted” (Matt 5:4) and “the gentle … shall inherit the earth” (Matt 5:5). Similarly, on the “new earth,” God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes” and “there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” (Rev 21:1, 4).

The pure in heart … shall see God” (Matt 5:8). Similarly, on the “new earth,” “they will see His face” (Rev 22:4) and “God Himself will be among them” (Rev 21:3). 

The peacemakers … shall be called sons of God” (Matt 5:9; cf. 5:45).  Similarly, on the “new earth,” “I will be his God and he will be My son” (Rev 21:7).

Jesus said, “it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matt 5:29; cf. 5:22; 7:19). Similarly, in Revelation, the “abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Rev 21:8).

PEOPLE ARE NOT IMMORTAL

Many people from all religions believe that people have immortal souls and will, therefore, never die. Christians obtain this mostly from Jesus’ teaching on hell and from the book of Revelation, for example:

Jesus described “hell” as “the unquenchable fire … where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43-48).

However, as shown in the article on Eternal Life, Paul taught that only God’s people will receive eternal life. This is, actually, also what Jesus taught.  He said,

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” 

Jesus’ descriptions of hell, and the worm that does not die, must be understood symbolically.  Hell is to see your husband or wife and children and even your pets in perfect health and to know you must die because of the person that you have become. In the presence of the Lamb and His angels (Rev 14:10 – not in the presence of Satan), they will suffer when they realize God did everything in His power to save them to this eternal and beautiful life, but they refused to come to Him. Now, to protect the happiness of the universe, God must “destroy both soul and body in hell.

Those that remain will never forget this extreme emotional torment, symbolized by the “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever” (Rev 14:11). God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev 21:4), but they will never forget the ones they love.

JUDGED BY DEEDS

Since Jesus taught people how to live to be saved, He believed that people will be judged by their deeds.

Some Christians think that God saves people irrespective of what kind of people they are. This is another topic about which preachers get worked up. They get this idea mostly from Paul’s statements that man is not saved “by the works of the Law” (e.g. Gal 2:16) but by grace. However, “the works of the Law” refer to the ceremonial rituals of the Jewish Law. It does not describe what kind of person one is. 

In this regard, we find a fundamental distinction between “works” and “deeds” in the New Testament. As a search on the word “deeds” will show, Paul stated in various places that people will be judged by their deeds. (e.g. Rom 2:6; 4:6-7; 8:13; 2 Cor 5:10). “The doers of the Law will be justified” (Rom 2:13), but without deserving eternal life by their deeds. “The doers of the Law will be justified” by grace, we might add. This is also what Jesus taught. In this sermon, He said, “not everyone who says to Me, `Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (Matt 7:21; cf. 5:3, 19, 20). Remember also the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt 25:31-). Make no mistake, we will be judged by our deeds, but saved by grace. See, Man is judged by his deeds; not justified by the works of the law.

ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES

Jesus came to fulfill the Law. – A study of Matthew 5:17-18 – Jesus did not come to abolish but to fulfill the Law and the prophets. What are “the Law and the Prophets” and how did Jesus fulfill them?

Sermon on the Mount – Jesus taught His followers what kind of people they must be to be rewarded with eternal life. Jesus did not believe that people have essential immortality and taught that they will be judged by their deeds.

Not the smallest letter shall pass from the Law.  Jesus said that not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Why then did the Acts 15 Church Council, a decade or two later, decide that Gentiles do not have to comply with the Law? Paul’s letter to the Galatians explains the decision.

Articles on Galatians – Since Galatians explains the decision of the Church Council, these articles are, in a sense, part of the series on Galatians.

By grace through faith are people saved but God judges our deeds.

SUMMARY

THE DISTORTED GOSPEL

Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians to oppose Jewish Christians who told the Gentile Christians, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Their purpose was to force Gentile Christians to comply with the Law of Moses.  They argued that man is “justified by the works of the Law.” Their “Law” was the Law of Moses, as interpreted through their traditions. They used the Law both as the norm for human behavior and as the means of salvation.

WORKS ARE NOT DEEDS

Paul opposed the view of the Jewish Christians and wrote, “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.” However, Paul also wrote, “God … will render to each person according to his deeds.” There is a big difference between “works” and “deeds” in these quotes. “The works of the Law” was a technical term that the Jews employed to refer specifically to the rituals and ceremonies of the Law of Moses. The “deeds,” by which Paul wrote we will be judged, refer to moral behavior, or the absence of it.

DIFFERENT LAW

Law of Moses

Furthermore, the “Law,” to which the Jewish Christians referred was the Law of Moses while the “law” in the phrase “the doers of the Law will be justified” is “the Law of Christ.”  This refers to Christ’s explanation of God’s eternal moral principles, for example in the Sermon on the Mount.  It is against this “Law of Christ” that our “deeds” are judged.

The Acts 15 Church Council decided that Gentile Christians do not have to observe the Law of Moses.  God gave the Law to Israel to serve as their guardian, but only “until the seed would come.” It would, therefore, be wrong to strive to comply with the Law of Moses, except to the extent to which Christ incorporated the principles of that law into His teachings.

BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH

The Christian Pharisees and Paul, therefore, taught two different norms for human behavior. They also preached two different means of justification. While the Jews thought that man earns justification through the rituals and ceremonies of the Law of Moses, Paul maintained that “through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:20). Rather, Paul taught that man will be justified by grace through faith:

The doers of the Law will be justified” (Rom 2:13) but man does not earn redemption through his deeds, for man is unable to comply with the Law of Christ. Therefore, no person earns eternal life.  Rather, people are “justified as a gift by His grace.” This means that God’s judgment is subject to His grace, which is His merciful kindness.

In Jewish thinking, you don’t need God: You save yourself by what you do.  In contrast, faith depends on God. Grace means that your salvation will always be subject to God’s judgment.

God’s grace is available to all people, but only some are saved. There is, therefore, another factor in judgment that makes a distinction between people, and that is what Paul refers to as faith. People are saved, not by grace only, but “by grace … through faith.”  In this context, faith is not merely to believe something to be true. Rather, to have faith is to trust God. If we trust God, our deeds will reflect that trust. But we remain sinners. We continue to sin. Therefore, in grace, God does not judge our external deeds alone. Rather, in grace, He judges us by looking at what we want to do (Romans 7:14; 18-22). He is able to see the heart. “I am He who searches the minds and hearts” (Rev 2:23). Even though they often fail, God will save the people that want to comply with His law, which reflects their faith.

In salvation, grace and faith, therefore, are inseparable: Faith is the consequence of grace in the sense that God judges us by our faith, rather than by our real deeds, because of grace. 

CONCLUSIONS

      • The works of the Law” are the rituals and ceremonies of the Law of Moses. Gentile Christians do not have to observe the Law of Moses.
      • The Law of Christ” refers to Christ’s explanation of God’s eternal moral principles. Our “deeds” are judged against the “Law of Christ.
      • The doers of the Law of Christ will be justified—not because they earn justification through their deeds—but “as a gift by His grace,” which is His merciful kindness. We are justified “by grace … through faith.”  To explain: In grace, God does not judge us on our external deeds alone. Rather, in grace, He judges us by what we want to do, which is the product of our trust (faith) in God. This, only God is able to see.

In Jewish thinking, you don’t need God: You save yourself by what you do. Faith is an attitude of dependence on God for your salvation.

– END OF SUMMARY –

PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE

Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians to oppose “false brethren” (Gal 2:4)—including, “men from James” (Gal 2:12)—who taught a distorted “gospel of Christ” (Gal 1:7). These were Christian Jews who told the Gentile Christians, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). Their purpose was to force Gentile Christians to comply with the Law of Moses.

The purpose of the current article is to explain the difference between what Paul taught and the distorted gospel.

WHAT THE JEWS TAUGHT

These Jewish Christians justified their demand by arguing that man is “justified by the works of the Law” (Gal 2:16). Their “Law” was the Law of Moses, but there are indications in Galatians that the traditions played a large role:

Paul was previously extremely zealous for the Ancestral traditions (Gal 1:14).

Peter used to eat with the Gentiles, but after certain men came from Jerusalem, he withdrew and held himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision (Gal 2:12). This rule, that Jews may not eat with Gentiles, comes from the Traditions of the Elders; not from the Law of Moses.

The “bondage” (Gal 2:4) was, therefore, both to the Law of Moses and the Traditions.  The Jews interpreted the “Law” through their traditions.

But the point is that these Jewish Christians used the Law and the traditions as:

(1) Norm for human behavior and also
(2) Means of salvation, claiming that people are saved by “the works of the law.” In other words, they taught that a person must earn salvation.

PAUL’S TEACHING

Paul opposed this view and said, “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Gal 2:16). However, Paul also wrote:

The doers of the Law will be justified” (Rom 2:13; cf. Rom 14:10; Gal 6:2-8).

God … will render to each person according to his deeds” (Rom 2:5-6).

We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor 5:10; cf. 2 Cor 11:15).

It almost seems as if Paul contradicted himself and that he agreed with the Jews:

Jews: man is “justified by the works of the Law
Paul:
“the doers of the Law will be justified.”

So, what are the difference between their teachings?

WORKS ARE NOT DEEDS

Firstly, the Jews referred to “works” (the works of the law) while Paul referred to “deeds.” There is a big difference between these two terms:

The works of the Law” was a technical term that the Jews employed to refer specifically to the rituals and ceremonies of the Law of Moses.

The “deeds” by which we will be judged (e.g. Rom 2:5-6), as Paul used the term, refer to moral behavior.

Some further examples to show that we will be judged by our “deeds:”

If you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom 8:13).

We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor 5:10).

DIFFERENT LAW

Secondly, the “Law,” to which the Jewish Christians referred, was the Law of Moses while the “law” in the phrase “the doers of the Law will be justified” (Rom 2:13) is “the Law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).

Paul uses the word “law” often in his writings, but with different meanings:

Sometimes “law” refers to the first five books of the Bible; the books of Moses, for instance in the phrase “the Law and the Prophets” (e.g. Rom 3:21).

At times, the “law” was “the book of the law” (Gal 3:10) which Moses wrote up and put beside the ark.

And sometimes “law” refers to the Ten Commandments specifically (e.g. Rom 13:10). Another “law” that Paul referred to is “the Law of Christ” (e.g. Gal 6:2).

LAW OF CHRIST

Another example of “the Law of Christ” in Paul’s writings is where Paul wrote that he, himself, is:

not … under the Law … though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ” (1 Cor 9:20-21).

The Law of Christ is, therefore, God’s law, but it is not the Law of Moses. It refers to Christ’s teachings; namely, the “commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus” (1 Thess 4:2).

See the article Law of Christ for a discussion of this law. It refers to God’s eternal moral principles, which also form the foundation of the Law of Moses.

Jesus enacted “the Law of Christ” when He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations … teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus discussed the Ten Commandments and some other Old Testament laws, but then gave His own version of those laws, starting with the words, “But I say to you” (e.g. Matt 5:44). This is, in other words, how Jesus formulated His law.

It is against this “Law of Christ” that our “deeds” are judged.  Those that sin will die, for “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23) but those that “are putting to death the deeds of the body, … will live” (Rom 8:13). (See Eternal Life and Death in Paul’s Letters.)

LAW OF MOSES ABROGATED

In summary, we can interpret Galatians 2:16 as saying that man is not justified by the works of the Law of Moses but the doers of the “Law of Christ” will be justified.

As was also taught by Paul, the Acts 15 Church Council decided that Gentile Christians do not have to observe the Law of Moses.  See Theological Implications of the Early Church. God gave the Law to Israel to serve as their guardian to keep them on the right path, but only “until the seed would come” (Gal 3:19). Paul taught the “liberty which we have in Christ Jesus” (Gal 2:4) and “freedom” (Gal 5:1, 13). That liberty is freedom from the Law of Moses.

It would, therefore, be wrong to strive to comply with the Law of Moses, except to the extent to which Christ incorporated the principles of that law into His teachings. For example, people that want to keep the Sabbath must be able to justify that on Christ’s teachings. See Jesus taught more about the Sabbath than all the other nine commandments put together.

DIFFERENT MEANS OF JUSTIFICATION

So far, this article has made distinctions between:

The “works” by which the Jews said we are justified versus the “deeds” by which Paul said we will be judged.

The “Law of Moses” versus the “Law of Christ” against which our “deeds” will be measured.

The third difference is that the Jewish Christians and Paul preached two different means of justification:

The Jews thought that man is justified by the rituals and ceremonies of the Law of Moses.  For the Jews, the law was their means of justification.  They taught that man is reconciled to God through the blood of sheep and goats. 

To argue against this error, Paul responded that man is not justified by the works of the Law.  He maintained that “through the Law (of Christ) comes the knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:20). Metaphorically, “sinful passions … were aroused by the Law” (Rom 7:5). The law gives power to sin (1 Cor 15:56) and is completely unable to justify man. 

Rather, Paul taught that man will be justified by grace through faith:

BY GRACE

The doers of the Law will be justified” (Rom 2:13) but man does not earn redemption through his deeds, for man is unable to comply with the Law of Christ, which is God’s norm. Paul wrote:

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace” (Rom 3:23-24).

We will be judged by our compliance with God’s Law, which is the Law of Christ, but the judgment is subject to grace. Because no person is able to comply with God’s eternal moral principles, no person deserves to live. God’s people are, therefore, justified by grace, which is God’s merciful kindness:

Eternal life is “the free gift of God … in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23).

By grace you have been saved” (Eph 2:5).

In summary, justification by the “works of the Law” means that one earns justification by complying with the ceremonies and rituals of the Law of Moses. In other words, you don’t need God: You are saved by what you do. In contrast, faith is an attitude of dependence on God. Grace means that your salvation will always be subject to God’s judgment:

If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works” (Rom 11:6)

So, if people are saved merely by grace, why was it necessary for Christ to die?  Could God not have forgiven people, simply in mercy?  Please see Why Jesus had to die.

THROUGH FAITH

God’s grace is available to all people, but, while we are all sinners (Rom 3:9), only some are saved. There is, therefore, another factor in judgment that makes a distinction between people, and that is faith. People are saved, not by grace only, but “by grace … through faith” (Eph 2:8; Rom 5:1).  So, what role does faith play in justification?

FAITH IS THE ALTERNATIVE FOR WORKS

Firstly, faith replaces works in the Jewish thinking of salvation. It is the alternative for works. One is either saved by works or by faith. For example:

Referring to the Jews, Paul wrote, “they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works” (Rom 9:32).

A man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom 3:28).

Gentiles … attained righteousness … by faith; but Israel … did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works” (Rom 9:30-32).

FAITH IS INTERNAL

Secondly, faith is internal, while works are external: “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). God judges the heart; the inner being. 

FAITH IS WHAT WE WANT TO DO.

Thirdly, because we are unable to meet God’s standards, He judges us by grace. And because it is by grace, God judges our faith. And our faith is reflected in what we want to do rather than what we actually do.  God will save the people that want to comply with His law, even though they often fail:

The good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want” (Rom 7:18-19; cf. 21-25)

Such people are regarded as “doers of the law” (Rom 2:13). The person that does not want to comply with God’s law, will die (Rom 8:13). In this way, God judges man’s inner being. To say that man is justified by his want to do good is the same as saying man is justified by faith.

GRACE AND FAITH ARE ONE SINGLE CONCEPT.

Fourthly, grace and faith, therefore, cannot be separated. To repeat, because God justifies humans by grace, He evaluates their faith, rather than their literal deeds.  Therefore, grace and faith are a single concept:

It is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace” (Rom 4:16)

We can, therefore, explain Romans 2:13 as that the doers of the Law ‘do’ the Law by their faith, which is something which God is able to see, and which is reflected in what they want to do.

CONCLUSIONS

Paul taught:

A different law (Law of Christ versus the Jewish Law of Moses) and
A different means of justification (by grace through faith versus the Jewish “works of the Law.”)

SELF-JUSTIFICATION IS FOUND IN ALL AGES.

The error of the Jews is relevant at all times.  In all ages, man is inclined to assume that one is saved by what you do.  This is the way by which everything else works in this life, and we make the mistake of assuming that God’s kingdom is like this world. 

We also see this error at the time of Luther, when the church taught that man is redeemed by complying with a set of rules, such as financial contributions to the church and self-deprivation, and even self-mutilation. 

GOD’S ELECT

If “the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13), does that contradict the indications in the Bible that God elects certain people?  Jesus, for instance, said, “for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” (Matt 24:22, cf. 24:24, 31), and Paul asked, “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?” (Rom 8:33)

It is proposed here that God does elect certain people, but not independent of what they are or do, as is taught in the Reformed tradition. He elects people for what they really are, which is something that only God is able to see. God judges man’s heart; his faith, motives, and desires. These things people are unable to judge. The Atonement series of articles shows that the War in Heaven is exactly about God, judgments and that Christ’s death demonstrated the rightness of God’s judgments.

Job serves as a good example.  He was God’s elect, but Satan refused to accept God’s judgment and requested permission from God to test Job thoroughly.  For a discussion of this, see Why Satan thought he could succeed.

For mp3 discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the excellent Pineknoll website.

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