Tag Archives | Matthew

Does Matthew 5:48 Require Sinless Perfection?

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

This is often interpreted as a call to sinless perfection, something that Christians cannot attain prior to glorification. As such it’s used as a hermeneutical key to understanding the Sermon on the Mount as a whole. In this view, Jesus is not laying out the way of life for his followers. Instead, he is setting the bar so far out of their reach that they must turn to him for mercy and find acceptance in his righteousness.

I fully embrace the theological conclusions of this position: Christians cannot live sinlessly in this life and can only be accepted by God on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Jesus. However, I don’t think this text teaches that.

There are three reasons for understanding this verse as something that every Christian should and can obey.

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What Is the Righteousness Required to Enter the Kingdom?

When the Time Had Fully Come: Studies in New Testament TheologyJesus said in Matthew 5:20, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus here identifies a necessary condition for entering the kingdom, which is synonymous with gaining eternal life (cf. Mt 19:16, 23), so it’s important that we understand what “your righteousness” refers to.

Some believe that Jesus has in mind his own perfect righteousness, which is imputed to sinners by faith. It is often argued that no other righteousness could surpass the righteousness of the most religious people of that time. However, good reasons exist for understanding it a different way—as a reference to the internal, inherent righteousness of heart commenced at regeneration, continued in sanctification, and culminated in glorification.

Three points support the latter view:

  1. The immediately following context unpacks righteousness by contrasting false, external righteousness with true, internal righteousness.
  2. The other uses of righteousness in the Sermon on the Mount are best understood as righteousness of life.
  3. The Gospels don’t use righteousness to refer to imputed righteousness.

This interpretation coheres with Jesus’ teaching on the conditional nature of entrance into the kingdom (e.g., Mat 7:21; 12:50; John 15:14) and is theologically consistent with other Scriptural statements about the necessity of regeneration (John 3:3, 5), sanctification (Heb 12:14), and perseverance (Heb 10:36) for entrance into the kingdom—all of which intersect conceptually with righteousness.

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Book Deals at CBD

Matthew by Robert MounceCBD has some decent books on academic closeout right now. Here are a few examples:

All of the New International Biblical Commentaries are on sale for $7.99 $19.99 (hardbacks)—$5.99 if you buy 5 or more! The NT set (18 vols. covering the whole NT) includes volumes by some solid scholars:

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