My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you.
(Galatians 4:19)

There came a moment when Leo Tolstoy balked. 
And so did Gandhi.
And so did Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
And so did Howard Thurman.
And so did Martin Luther King Jr. 

They all balked at an idea that became dominant 400 years earlier—their own gospel fact-checking challenged the notion that the Sermon on the Mount cannot be practiced and that even trying to practice Christ’s teaching denied the grace of God in favor of salvation by works. As if trust in and obedience to the “law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2) is but a failed attempt to earn our way home. 

They balked because that’s not what Jesus taught. 
They fact-checked because it’s not what Paul wrote.
Their doubletake was based on Jesus’ own words and Paul’s central premise.

What did Jesus say? Having preached his fundamental message for three chapters (we could summarize it as “Believe me, follow me!”), Jesus’ own summary is that the wise person whose house is built on solid rock is the one who “hears these words of mine and puts them into practice.” 

And who is it that hears the message of Christ and obeys him but all those who aspire to be Jesus-followers? 

How? By God’s grace, of course. But what does that mean? 
Paul tells us! The saving, sanctifying, and empowering grace of God IS Christ in us

The promise of God is that by the Spirit, Jesus Christ—crucified, risen, and ascended—dwells in those who follow Jesus. We can’t and won’t follow Jesus apart from grace. Christ-in-us IS the grace at work in those who follow him. 

To imagine that Jesus-followers might try to follow him apart from grace seems to me a denial of Christ-in-those-who-follow. Paul insists, “For me to live is Christ… yet not I, but Christ who lives in me.” The gospel is that by grace, we follow the One who lives in us and leads us. The error was that following Jesus, obeying Jesus, trusting Jesus, and actually doing what he says is not possible or practical and therefore, you are only saved when you accept that you can’t do it. But that presupposes that Christ is NOT in us. 

With Jesus and Paul’s premise in mind—that we follow (trust and obey) Jesus by the grace of Christ-in-us—we can notice a striking truth about the Sermon’s opening section, AKA the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes describe the cruciform life and character of Christ himself being formed in us (Galatians 4:19). The Beatitudes ARE, in that sense, veiled description of Christ-in-us. The Beatitudes are a picture of God’s grace, transforming us from the inside out in real life. As I noted in A More Christlike Way (CWR Press), they are not a new legal code but rather, Jesus’ version of the fruit of the Spirit of grace. 

I propose we follow these historic figures in leaving behind every notion that the Sermon on the Mount cannot be lived and that, somehow, not living them is proof of grace. Rather, Jesus showed us that his Way IS very much to be lived by the grace of Christ in all those who would follow him.

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