I remember the first sermon series I heard on the Beatitudes, the opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:2-11). The pastor spoke about every characteristic Jesus lists with great conviction—but something didn’t sit right. Every message followed the same basic pattern: each week one or two characteristics were described and then we were challenged to be more meek, be more pure in heart, work harder at making peace and so on.
The problem, I realized later, is this isn’t what Jesus was trying to tell us in the Beatitudes. This well meaning pastor was looking at these verses as commands—as imperatives to obey.
But Jesus didn’t give us these words as more rules to obey.
“The Beatitudes are not commands; they represent the profile of a Christian, the profile of someone who has already come to understand God’s grace and is growing in that understanding,” pastor and author R W Glenn explains in Crucifying Morality: The Gospel of the Beatitudes.
This is why every approach to the Beatitudes that turns them into commandments to keep, mandates to fulfill, or imperatives to obey turns them into something contrary to what Jesus intended.
Over the book’s 10 short chapters, Glenn unpacks a vision of the Beatitudes that challenges the false ideas we may hold about these verses and points us to our only source of hope: the gospel.
Like Martyn Lloyd-Jones and D.A. Carson before him, Glenn understands that the gospel is at the heart of the Beatitudes. It’s really, really important that we get that.
Why does a gospel vision of the Beatitudes matter so much—especially when so many people are content to turn this passage into a checklist?
Simply, you can’t make sense of them without it.
The Beatitudes are a representation of the upside down world of the Kingdom of God. “Jesus says you are to be congratulated—sincerely congratulated—if you are the object of people’s scorn, ridicule, and violence, because you know that God’s blessing is on you,” Glenn writes. The idea of blessing coming from scorn… we don’t like that very much.
It’s not fun. But there it is; that’s “radical reality of the Beatitudes” as Glenn puts it.
The gospel, though, helps us make sense of this reality. In Christ, we see how scorn really does lead to blessing, how meekness leads to great inheritance and how our hunger and thirst for righteousness is satisfied.
But it’s more than this—a gospel vision of the Beatitudes protects us from their impossible standard.
“The Beatitudes are all about what happens to people when their hearts are gripped with the unmerited favor and undeserved acceptance of God,” Glenn writes. If you were to try to attain each characteristic with a checkbox mentality, where would it lead you?
You’d wind up little more than a blubbering puddle of yuck, crushed under the weight of your failure.
When looked at from this perspective—when we see the grace of God at work in the Beatitudes, when we recognize that they’re the characteristics of a renewed heart and mind in Christ—then we truly begin to see them as cause for rejoicing.
Crucifying Morality is a tremendously helpful book, whether you’re a new believer or a seasoned vet. We’re all prone to take the Beatitudes and moralize them or turn them into a rule book for “nice” living. But, as Glenn reminds us, “You cannot put the mind-altering, world-shattering nature of the Beatitudes into neat categories. Jesus won’t let you.”
Take these words to heart, give Crucifying Morality a careful read and work through it’s implications.
Title: Crucifying Morality: The Gospel of the Beatitudes
Author: R W Glenn
Publisher: Shepherd Press (2013)
Buy it at: Amazon