Matthew 5:43-48 ESV
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers,[i] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Do you see the standard the Lord has for his people?
Jesus clearly believes that there are good things happening out there in the world. People are loving their neighbors—their literal neighbors, their families, and people they work with, go to school with and so on. People are taking care of their families. People are taking care of those in their close communities. And Jesus says, that’s all well and good, but there’s nothing special about it. Everyone does that. Everyone takes care of their own.
And from the get go, we have a point of reflection. As I began writing this, I had to wrestle with this idea. Look around. We can see Jesus is right. My literal neighbors get up and go to work every day to take care of their families. Their kids are dressed well, and I see Moms walking their kids to the bus stop to keep them safe. I see neighbors congregating in the homes of fellow neighbors. There’s love in my neighborhood.
So, I had to ask, ‘Am I even loving the people in my life as good as the world does?’ Let’s not get into Jesus’ standard for love yet. Am I even loving other people as well as the world around me? As a Christian, does my love for my neighbors (my literal neighbors, my family, and anyone else in my life) does my love match up to those in our community that are not even Christians?
Maybe, maybe not. It really doesn’t matter because Jesus doesn’t stop there. Jesus’s point is that he wants us to love better than the world around us. Jesus wants his people to be so loving that we are countercultural. We tend to blend into the culture around us, but Jesus wants us to stick out in the crowd—not as the weirdos, but as those who love beyond the basic love that humans have for other humans.
And that can be hard, because we live in a humanistic society, where we have tons of non-Christian organizations really trying to love people in fantastic ways. We’re supposed to top that. So, Jesus says,
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48, ESV)
It’s not enough to say, ‘Look what good I have done!’ Jesus calls us to do good in all things.
You know, we say things like, ‘He’s a really good guy.’ Or, ‘She did a lot of good things in life.’ ‘They’re just such good people.’ Maybe you’ve said, ‘I think there’s a little good in everyone.’
Well, Jesus would agree, I think. It’s part of being human to want other humans to do well. But, are people actually good? And if people are good, then where do bad people come from? And how good does someone have to be, to be considered a good person?
Well, Jesus seems to say pretty clearly that there is no such thing as good enough. He says we ‘must be perfect.’ There’s no doing enough good to be called good by God. To be good enough you must be perfect. And that’s a bit troubling, isn’t it?
Are you a good person?
Yeah, I think I’m a pretty good person.
Are you perfect?
Well, no one’s perfect!
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48, ESV)
So, we’re wrapping up our short series called Thinking Eternally today and then we’ll get back to the book of 1st Corinthians. We’re looking at one final facet of eternity that influences the way we live now. Obviously, there are more than the three we’ve covered, but I think these are the most profound.
We talked about the ethnic diversity of the Eternal Kingdom. We talked about our ongoing worship in the Eternal Kingdom. And today we’re talking about thinking eternally, by thinking with eternal perfection in mind.
Now, we know no one is perfect. I think this is why. The Bible teaches that we have an…
That isn’t to say that people never want to do anything good. It’s just that our disposition, from birth, is to do that which is not godly and good. Now, you may not agree with that. Consider this:
According to the State of Theology Survey, 64% of Christians believe that, although everyone sins a little, most people are good by nature. Although everyone does things that are wrong sometimes, people have mostly good intentions. Even though humanity is somewhat broken, we are primarily good. Even though there are a few bad apples out there…you get the idea.
Would you agree with that? Do you believe that people are inherently good?
According to the same survey, 73% of Christians believe that small sins don’t make a person deserve eternal damnation. In other words, some of the everyday kind of sins—stretching the truth a bit, fudging some numbers on your taxes, watching questionable tv-shows or movies, drinking a little too much at a party—those kinds of sins don’t get punished with hell. Hell is for murderers and pedophiles.
Or, if you can justify your sin in some way, then it’s not as bad as unjustifiable sin. If you catch your spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend with another person, and then you yell vulgar things or do something to hurt them back, then you feel justified as if it’s not that bad of a sin. Or maybe it’s just something small, like you got extra change back at the grocery store after standing in a long line and you feel justified taking it as if the long lines make it OK.
Do you think that’s OK? Can you escape eternal damnation if you only commit small sins?
Here’s the problem with this kind of thinking. If you believe that there are small sins that don’t affect your status as a ‘good person,’ and you believe that small sins don’t result in eternal damnation, then you believe that good people go to heaven even when they don’t know Jesus.
If you believe that there are small sins that don’t affect your status as a ‘good person,’ and you believe that small sins don’t result in eternal damnation, then you believe that people can get to heaven without knowing Jesus.
I probably don’t need to quote to you Romans 3:23, but Paul says,
…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23, ESV)
The Bible teaches undeniably that all people sin and sin separates us from God, no matter how small it is.
But, my statement wasn’t just that all people sin—most people believe that—but that people have a preference, a natural preference, for that which is evil. That’s quite a bit more extreme. Look what Paul says, quoting Psalm 14:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
(Romans 3:10–12, ESV)
Do you still think people are good?
Apparently, there isn’t one person alive who naturally does good, because the natural preference of people is actually evil deeds.
And I think the key to this all is tied up in the simple statement, ‘No one seeks God.’
If by nature we do not seek God, then why does it really matter whether we do good or not.
People aren’t doing evil deeds because they are trying to escape the presence of God.
We are born already outside of the presence of God. Our sin merely evidences that we are not in the presence of God. And by nature, we choose evil because, by nature, we don’t want to be in the presence of God. No one seeks God. That’s what the Bible teaches.
This is the Kingdom orientation we have talked about many times. We are born into the Kingdom of this world not into God’s Kingdom. We serve this world, but nature, not God. And unless someone rescues you from your natural tendency to pursue ungodliness, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God or be in the presence of God. Listen, unless someone rescues you from this world, you won’t even want to be good.
So, 64% of Christians believe that, although everyone sins a little, most people are good by nature.
You just can’t agree with that! Our nature isn’t good. We aren’t godly or God-seeking by nature. Our nature is to seek that which is not God.
And 73% of Christians believe that small sins don’t make a person deserve eternal damnation.
But, life isn’t a test where we live in limbo, and at the end, God decides if we go to heaven or hell. We don’t wait until the end to find out if we earned life or death. We are born on the side of death. We are born into the Kingdom of the world. And this world will one day be cast into the pit, the eternal lake of fire. We are conceived with a destiny for hell, eternal damnation.
People are not born good, and there are no good people. We all have an earthly preference for evil.
I understand why we believe things like this though. We all have a friend or a relative who doesn’t want anything to do with Jesus or church, and we can’t fathom that person we love so dearly suffering eternal separation from God and everything good in hell, especially when that person seems like a really good guy or gal.
I totally get that. But, that anguish for your loved ones shouldn’t cause you to compromise what the Bible teaches so that you can have peace of mind. The answer to your concern for friends and family is not to believe something else. Instead, that anguish should give you an urgency to see your loved ones come to know Christ.
Your anguish for your loved ones who don’t know Jesus should cause your prayer life to increase. It should cause your personal holiness to increase. It should cause your personal witness about the things Jesus is doing in your life to be on your lips all the time so that they might come to know Jesus as you do.
It’s not easy, though. If you start to live a holy life of prayer and you zealously obey God and you tell people how Jesus has changed your life, you can expect one of two reactions. Hopefully, they will come to know Jesus. But, there’s also the possibility that they will rebel against what you say. And that’s really hard. Look what Paul says,
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed. (2 Timothy 3:12–14, ESV)
If you desire to live a godly life, you will be persecuted, and the people you try to bless are going to go against you at times. Maybe you don’t feel like you are persecuted for your faith. It might be that you are blending into the culture instead of standing out as the one who loves justice, the one who lives righteously, the one who believes in the power of prayer, and the one who loves Jesus.
Remember, Christianity is the only fair religion because it’s the only religion where everyone gets what they want. Those who want Jesus get Jesus and all of His goodness for all eternity. And those who don’t want Jesus will spend their lives separated from Jesus and His goodness for all eternity.
Are you living like you want to spend eternity with Jesus, now?
This is the sad reality that the sins of humanity have brought into our world.
But, notice Paul’s charge—and this is my charge to you as well. He says, ‘as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed.’
Don’t compromise what the Bible teaches. All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. No one is righteous. No one does good. By the sins of man all die. Continue in that truth.
There is no other way, but through Jesus.
I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6, ESV)
Jesus makes a way to the Father and His goodness and perfection. Jesus is the truth in the midst of all the lies. Jesus is life in a world filled with death and despair. Continue in that truth.
And the truth can seem kind of bleak. But, if we know Jesus, then we will have an…
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48, ESV)
Notice that Jesus ties our need for perfection to the perfection of God in heaven. There’s something about God and His perfection that means we must be perfect if we are going to be with Him in His eternal place. John takes this apart for us a little bit. He writes,
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5, ESV)
See, John says the same thing Jesus said, just as a metaphor. There is no darkness in God; God is perfect. And then,
If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. (1 John 1:6, ESV)
In other words, if you say you’re a Christian, but you live like the devil, then you aren’t just a sinner, you’re now a liar because Christians don’t claim righteousness in Christ and then walk daily in intentional patterns of unrighteousness. We don’t say we love Jesus on Sunday and then practice lawlessness during the week. If you do, John says, you’re a liar.
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7, ESV)
In other words, if we live righteously like Jesus, then we prove we are Christians. Remember, it’s hard to live righteously when the world around us is not. It’s easy to be light in the light, like when we gather here to worship on Sunday. I can be light here.
It’s hard to be light in the dark, though.
It’s easier to be dark in the dark. When we’re out in the world during the week, it’s so much easier to just walk in the shadows and hope we don’t cast off too much light so that no one notices us. It’s easier to practice maybe just a little lawlessness, a few small sins, a few broken things, so that we blend in with the world. No one wants to tell their friends they didn’t see a movie because they thought it was sinful. It’s easier to just watch it.
It’s easier to be dark in the dark. It’s hard to be light in the dark.
We have a saying, we say, ‘Like Father like son.’ This phrase isn’t talking about genetics, though. It’s talking about learned behaviors. Sons inevitably pick up the traits of their fathers, for better or worse. And we use the saying in two ways. When the Dad’s a bully, and the son turns into a bully, we say, ‘Well, … Like Father like son’ as we shake our heads.
But, we use it in the positive too. When I see my son’s creativity, when he’s building robots out of cardboard tubes and paperclips, I think, [PROUDLY] ‘Like Father like son,’ because I used to do the same exact thing and I cherish his creativity.
The idea is that you can tell who your father is based on how you live. If we live like our Father in heaven, then we prove we are His sons. When we believe in Jesus and walk in full allegiance to God’s law, we can have great confidence that our sins have been washed away. We have been cleansed from all sins.
But head John’s warning:
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8, ESV)
If you say, ‘But, I’m a good person,’ and continue to walk in darkness, patterns of intentional sin, then you deceive yourself because the truth is not manifest in you, the truth hasn’t taken hold of you, God’s grace hasn’t gripped your soul to move you into paths of righteousness.
You see, the good news about Jesus is not just that he died so that you don’t have to suffer for your sins. It is that. But, the good news about Jesus is that you can be freed from your sins entirely. In Jesus you are free to live righteously, free to seek God, free to know God, free to experience God.
The Gospel is that, where you once didn’t care about God, now you can enter freely into His presence to live like He lives and love as He loves. The Gospel is that you are being made perfect.
And I think we sort of abstractly get that heaven will be a place of perfection like that. Of course, we will all walk in the light when we are in heaven. Of course, we will always do what is right and good. Of course, we will love everyone when we get to heaven. Of course, we will be perfect as God our Father is perfect.
But, we are charged to pursue that perfection even now. We aren’t supposed to just wait for perfection. We are charged to…
Lean Into Eternity
In his letter to the Philippian Church, Paul writes this,
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12–14, ESV)
Paul is committed to making perfection His own because Jesus has made Paul His own. This is what we have been talking about the whole time. Because Jesus has provided a way for Paul to experience the Father, Paul now strives—he presses on—to be perfect as God is perfect.
How does he do it? How does Paul pursue perfection?
Paul says he does one thing. Just one thing.
Can you do one thing? Will you do one thing this week? It’s not an easy thing, but it is simple. Will you do one thing?
For Paul, it’s a mind game. The one thing is in your head. Perfection is a state of mind. This is the one thing. Paul forgets what lies behind and looks to the future, towards the heavenly goal. That’s it.
Paul doesn’t worry about all his past failures. He doesn’t worry if those things are going to catch up to him some day. He doesn’t worry about the people in his past or even in his life right now. He doesn’t worry about what anyone will think. He doesn’t worry about wealth, or retirement funds, or how he will live in the days to come. He doesn’t worry about anything.
Instead, he looks to heaven. This is what we’ve been talking about for the past three weeks. He looks to heaven, and he moves towards heavenly perfection in everything he does. It’s just one thing. Whenever he does something—whatever it is—Paul filters it through this one thing.
When Paul gets up in the morning and he brushes his teeth, he thinks about his heavenly perfection. When he opens his mouth to speak, he looks to heaven and he chooses his words accordingly. When he gets dressed, he thinks about heaven. When he buys something, Paul looks to eternal perfection.
Are you going to watch that movie? Would you watch it in heaven?
Are you going to buy that car? Would you buy it in heaven?
Are you going to eat that cheesecake? Would you eat it in heaven? Maybe you will, that’s fine.
Are you going to tell that lie? Would you tell it in heaven?
Maybe we don’t talk about the need for righteous living enough. But, we need to be people who pursue moral perfection. We need to be people who pursue perfection in our personal lives because Jesus commands us to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect.
But, the perfection of heaven is so much more than just moral perfection. Paul said the same basic thing, but a little different when he wrote to the Colossian church. He wrote,
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (Colossians 3:1, ESV)
When I read that verse, I think it could have been a theme verse for this series on ‘Thinking Eternally.’ This verse forces you to paint a picture of heaven in your mind and ask, How can I get that now?
Two weeks ago, we talked about the presence of the nations in heaven. Christ is seated right now at the right hand of the Father, where the nations will be present in multitudes. Are we pursuing the ethnic diversity of heaven, in life now?
Then, last week we talked about worship. We will forever worship God. Everything we do will be a demonstration of honor and glory and praise to Christ. Are you training yourself to worship Christ now?
And there’s so much more. There won’t be hungry people in heaven. When we see hungry people, what do we do about it? That’s an opportunity to seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
There won’t be orphans and widows in heaven because everyone will have each other. What are we doing about kids without parents? What are we doing about our seniors who don’t have family nearby? These are opportunities to seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
I don’t even know how to plead with you because it just seems so obvious to me. When I’m not living for the Kingdom, it’s so obvious to me. When I start thinking in patterns that are self-pleasing and worldly, I just feel dirty. And, honestly, God doesn’t ever allow sin to feel normal to me. Sin always torments me. Like David said, ‘My sin is always before my eyes.’ I never get rest from it, except that I stop doing broken things.
But, when I have my eyes set on Christ and the perfection of the eternal Kingdom, and I make the decision to do the hard things in life that truly reflect Christ’s eternal perfection into this world, that comes with an inexplicable satistfaction.
Let us be a people who thirst for the perfection of God’s eternal Kingdom in our personal lives now, in our church now, and in the community around us now.
If you know Jesus and your loyalty is to Jesus Christ, then set your eyes to Him as He is right now seated on His throne in the heavenly places.
- Let Jesus be your eyes, your vision.
- Let Jesus rule your heart, rule your desires.
- Let Jesus consume your thoughts day and night. Set your mind on Him.
- Let the light of Jesus guide your life, no longer walking in the darkness.
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