Jesus pronounced a series of eight blessings on a certain kind of person (Matthew 5:1-12).
These eight blessings (which we call beatitudes) present in logical, interrelated sequence the character qualities of normal Christianity.
They offer a description of true followers of Jesus. If this seems like a tall order to place on the beatitudes, I ask who it is that Jesus described? Is this just a random list of commendable qualities? No.
If you meet someone who claims to be a Christian, but shows little evidence of these qualities (of this fruit of the gospel), either he or she has accepted mediocrity in commitment to Christ or the absence of these qualities indicates that the tree is bad because there is no fruit.
Such a person is not to be understood as a true believer, but more likely belongs to the group of people who profess Christ but do not bear the fruit expected with their profession.
This is the large group of self-deceived people (Jesus described in Matthew 7:21-23) who (at judgment) will be shocked when the Lord rejects their professed association with Him.
It’s a plain fact that Jesus outlines in these beatitudes essential character qualities of true Christians. This is normal Christianity. These are the people identified as salt and light (see: Matthew 5:13-16).
Jesus said, “you are the salt…” and “you are the light…” and we must not lift these two identity markers from their context. Those described in the beatitudes are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Character proceeds influence.
Look more closely at true followers of Christ through the lens of the beatitudes
It all starts here – “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3).
The journey with Christ begins with poverty of spirit. It’s a recognition of emptiness that comes from the humbling truth that I have nothing to commend myself to God. The Christian life begins where this beatitude. There is no salvation from God apart from poverty of spirit. We know that God “resist the proud and gives grace to the humble” ( I Peter 5:6).
The one who is poor in spirit has become aware of his spiritual emptiness and complete dependence on the grace of God. He stands empty handed and without pretense before God. He is like the tax-collector who beats his chest and pleads for mercy as a self-confessed sinner (see: Luke18:10-14). Coming to such an awareness is a sources of sadness. It leads to mourning and sorrow over sin. This experience of brokenness has led to a spirit of meekness, a different outlook toward others.
- “I am amazed that God and man can think of me and treat me as well as they do” (Lloyd-Jones).
There is a gentleness that now shapes all my relationships. Recognition of my poverty of spirit over which I have mourned has left a vacuum in my soul. So I find that I have a hunger and thirst for what God says is right. It is an unquenchable passion to be right with God and live right for God.
Yet I feel a strong inward pull in two directions. The flesh sets its desire against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh (cf. Galatians 5). This inner turmoil often causes me to groan (sigh) within myself as I eagerly await the redemption of my body (cf. Romans 8). Sometimes I give in to the flesh, but I cannot totally yield the members of my body as instruments of unrighteousness (Romans 6). They are now instruments of righteousness. “God is at work in me to will and to do His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
I cannot ignore this hunger and thirst. It is not just a desire to “do a little better next time.” God’s Spirit now compels me and works in me this hunger and thirst to be made into Christ’s image (cf. II Corinthians 3:18). The prayer: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is the driving force and focus of my life.
I cannot fill myself with what I long for. I must be filled. So I turn to God and to His word which he has inspired and is profitable for training in righteousness (II Timothy 3:16). This is “the word of righteousness” (Hebrews 5:13) that reveals the will of God for which I hunger.
I turn to God and I am satisfied but I am compelled to turn again and again. If there is a period of my life where I fail to seek him through prayer and his Word, I feel a dryness, and emptiness – a longing to return to His righteousness in all I say and do.
Perhaps you have noticed in the first four beatitudes how I have stood in need before God and reached certain conclusions about myself. The awareness of what I have recognized about myself before God has caused me to hunger and thirst for His righteousness.
I now lift my eyes out across the horizon of humanity and see people entirely differently than before. I see people with an eye of mercy. I see them now with these same spiritual needs before God. I see the multitudes as my savior did when “…he felt compassion for them because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)
Being a follower of Christ leaves no part of life unaffected. Recognition of my spiritual poverty has led to mercy for others; mourning over sin has led to purity of heart; meekness provides a disposition for peacemaking; my hunger and thirst for righteousness is so compelling that I am persecuted for that righteousness.
- The final blessing on those who are persecuted, “seems to be rather different from all the others in that it is not so much a positive description of the Christian as an account of what is likely to result because of what has gone before and because the Christian is what we have seen him to be. Yet ultimately it is not different because it is still a description of the Christian. He is persecuted because he is a certain type of person and because he behaves in a certain manner. The best way of putting it, therefore, would be to say that, whereas all the others have been a direct description, this one is indirect. ‘This is what is going to happen to you because you are a Christian’, says Christ” (M. Lloyd-Jones).
Persecution comes precisely because the other character qualities are present. And Just as we would not say, “Only some Christians are poor in spirit,” or, “only some Christians are meek,” or, “only some Christians are merciful and peacemakers,” so we would not say, “only some Christians are persecuted.”
In the eight blessings on a certain kind of person (Matthew 5:1-12), we observe a sequence of interrelated character qualities and experiences of normal Christians. Soul searching before God would be wise if your experience and character lacks this description.