The Common Good
August 2006

A Manual for Living

by Glen H. Stassen | August 2006

The Sermon on the Mount is one of the gems of the New Testament, comprised as it is of the spare beauty of the Beatitudes and the solemn pleas of the Lord’s Prayer.

The Sermon on the Mount is one of the gems of the New Testament, comprised as it is of the spare beauty of the Beatitudes and the solemn pleas of the Lord’s Prayer. It is also, as Glen Stassen writes in Living the Sermon on the Mount, a “practical hope for grace and deliverance”—that is, a manual of sorts for living in the presence of God. Following is an excerpt:

To know God as Son is to affirm that in Jesus Christ, God has revealed God’s will for human interaction. Much of the work done in Christian ethics in the 20th century avoided extensive reference to Jesus’ teachings. It frequently defined Christian living in abstract terms such as love or forgiveness, not on the basis of careful biblical exegesis but according to the dominant secular theories of the day. By contrast, when we look for God’s will revealed in Jesus, we find a specific social vision drawn from the Old Testament prophets and embedded in concrete practices: delivering the poor from poverty, opposing those who oppress the weak, ending violence, and welcoming outcasts into community. If the God of all creation is revealed in Jesus, then the Sermon on the Mount has something to say about how we perceive and respond to our world.

By contrast, some split the world into inner attitude and outer action, or being and doing, which Jesus never does, and then they limit Jesus’ teachings to the inner self as if he says nothing about action, about doing, about practicing what he teaches. This is self-deception, convincing myself inside that I am a follower of Jesus while my actions show that I am following some economic or political theology.

Jesus says, “You will know them by their fruits. ... Every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.” He teaches that the deeds, the outcomes in action, are the test of whether a tree is good. Some people reverse the emphasis, putting all their emphasis on the inner being of a person and not on outer action. They say, “Make the inner self good, and good outer actions will follow naturally.” There is, of course, some truth to this. But the danger is then splitting the inner self from outer action and focusing only on the inner. Then a person feels righteous because she or he has a good attitude, even though the person’s actions do not differ from anyone else’s. Jesus does not split inner self from outer action. Jesus emphasizes the actions as the test of the self. The fruits are the indicator of what the roots are like. The whole tree produces the fruits. It is holistic.

Excerpted from Living the Sermon on the Mount: A Practical Hope for Grace and Deliverance, by Glen H. Stassen. Copyright 2006. Reprinted with permission from Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint.

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