Matthew 5:3-11 :: Do the Beatitudes Describe All Christians or Just a Select Few?

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Matthew 5:3-11 :: Do the Beatitudes Describe All Christians or Just a Select Few?

The Question

Are the beatitudes a description of all Christians or just a select few among the Christians? There are two questions underlying this question:

  1. What defines a Christian?
  2. To what degree must these qualities / characteristics / traits define a person before they are "blessed" in the Beatitude way?
What's a Christian, Anyway?
 
First, most generally, a Christian is defined as one who is saved from their sins. By what are we saved? By grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-10). So, the work is God's: grace. But the evidence of that work is faith. So what is faith? "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb 11:1)." Faith is an assurance and conviction, not merely knowledge. As we see in the verses following Hebrews 11:1, faith has action accompanying it, proving it. Faith is not demonstrated by the ability to recite a doctrinal creed only or even at all; faith is defined or proven by the way that it effects itself in our lives like in Abraham's, "By faith, Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac (Heb 11:17)" because he believed the promises of God. His actions were consistent with his creed.

We see this same logic in James 2:10-17:

10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. 14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

 
Verses 10 and 11 can be summarized as "All are guilty of transgressing (breaking) the law (sin); therefore, under the law all are going to get punished." Romans 6:23 describes that punishment, "The wages of sin is death:" Hell. And then James makes a statement that is supposed to logically follow, "So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under [grace] (James 2:12)." How does that logically follow? "You are are guilty and are going to die; therefore, act like you aren't going to be judged?" There is an assumption between verses 11 & 12. Do you see it? The assumption there is that the recipients of the letter do not think that they are going to be held accountable for their sins. That is the chief belief that defines Christians. We believe that we are wretched sinners deserving Hell because of our sin, but by grace, that sin was placed on Christ and His righteousness was placed on us (Romans 3:23-25); therefore, we will enjoy an undeserved eternity in God's presence: eternal life (Romans 6:23b). That is how we define faith, right? If you believe that, you are a Christian. So James says, "So act like you believe that." If you don't act like that, you prove that you don't really believe it. If you don't really believe it, you don't have faith and then neither do you have grace. But if you do believe it and prove that belief through your actions (being merciful) you have faith and therefore grace. If you don't really believe it, no matter how well you can explain the doctrine, you won't be merciful and you won't have grace: "For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy."

James then drives the point home with an absurd illustration. Now that we all have been reminded of the infinite debt that Christ has paid on our behalf, wouldn't it be stupid to selfishly act like what we have is ours to keep and hoard. Add to this the fact that James has already said that every good thing that we have is a gift from God anyway (James 1:17). How short-sighted and faithless would we be if we weren't willing to give something as small and easy as clothes and food to somebody without them? How ridiculous!? I'm ashamed to say that I do it all the time. James says that if our faith allows us to not be moved to merciful giving then our faith is dead; it is useless; it isn't faith at all. This is the same point that Jesus makes in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18:21-35. Pretty absurd from God's perspective, but when we think apart from faith, it doesn't seem so absurd. O, how much I need to have my worldview educated by God's view!

One of the beatitudes seems to be echoing that argument in James (in actuality, I'm sure James was echoing Jesus): "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. (Matthew 5:7)." I believe, after considering each of the descriptions of the blesseds in the Beatitudes, that for each one of the beatitudes a similar argument could be made: To not be poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, a peacemaker, persecuted and reviled for righteousness' sake would be inconsistent with your "faith" making your faith not-faith. And if you have these characteristics based on your faith, you have proven your faith. Therefore, these descriptors are descriptions of all Christians, not a select few.


Do I have to be perfect?

So do we have to perfectly define these characteristics in order to be secure in our salvation and lay hold of these blessings? Like Paul, I really want to be described by these beatitudes, but I keep seeing myself fail at every turn: "21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin (Romans 8:21-25)" My hope, like we've said before, is not my own ability to keep the law but on Christ's ability to keep me. This body that I'm in, that I'm held liable for keeps me sinning, or rather, for as long as I'm in this body, I will be sinning. I think that the second beatitude, "Blessed are those who mourn," is probably the most helpful on this point. If we are mourning over sin, like Paul, we will be longing for the day when we can perfectly reflect these traits. These marks of a true believer will be ever-increasing and the marks of a sinner will be ever-decreasing. But perfection is impossible until we are free from this world, but as adopted sons (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:1-7) we cry out longing for that day when we can act as we believe as Romans 8:22-25 says:
 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Therefore, we don't assume because we say that we believe that we are Christians. We don't assume that because we name ourselves among the elect that we are elect. We don't rest in our own ability to even portray these traits to prove our salvation. Instead I "work [my] own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in [me], both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil 2:12-13)."

Conclusion

So, in conclusion, these beatitudes are a description of all believers and the blessing associated with them are the blessing to which all believers can look forward. These traits must mark us generally and in an ever-increasing manner (2 Peter 1:8) and are wrought in us by grace as an evidence of our faith.

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Title: Matthew 5:3-11 :: Do the Beatitudes Describe All Christians or Just a Select Few?
Date posted: 06 June '05 - 15:25
Category: Exposition and Exegesis
Wordcount: 1482 words
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