The Sermon on the Mount is not only didactic, teaching us what the Kingdom of God looks like, and not only salvific, leading us to God’s grace, but is pragmatic: we’re expected to actually live this way. Not all Christians believe this, but I am confident. Here are three reasons why.
- The final words of the sermon indicate that foolish listeners will hear and disregard what Jesus teaches. The wise listener will actually do the things Jesus says. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
- The New Testament elsewhere makes unmistakable reference to the practical living out of what Jesus teaches here. Romans 12-13, for instance, reaffirms many of the specific instructions, as do James 4, Peter 3 and 1 John 2. (There’s four independent apostolic communities right there.)
- I think this one is most important. Jesus lived the Sermon on the Mount. The entire Sermon on the Mount is, in fact, Christological. Jesus taught his followers not to strike back when struck on the cheek, but to assert their personhood and dignity without retaliation. He did the same during his Sanhedrin trial. Jesus taught his followers to pray for their enemies and to forgive them. Jesus prayed as he was crucified for God to forgive his enemies. Jesus taught his followers that as a city on a hill cannot be hidden, we should expose our light for everyone to see. He was crucified, naked, on a hilltop: exposed for everyone to see.
This goes on and on, but the point is that Jesus’ teachings and lifestyle were the same, and that he wanted his followers to take up crosses and follow him. I just can’t see the Sermon on the Mount merely as an impossible ideal to drive us to repentance. It is the kingdom lifestyle. Christ lived it perfectly, and calls us (in Mt. 7 and elsewhere) to imitate it. What does discipleship include, if not that?