Christian Counterculture

January 15, 2018

Seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them. Matthew 5:1–2

This sermon of Jesus, found in Matthew 5–7, is as relevant and striking in the modern world as it was when the Lord first delivered it. It is His instruction on how His people are to live. Jesus points out over and over again in this sermon that His followers are to be entirely different from others. They are not to take their cue from the world around them, but directly from the Lord Himself and so prove that they are genuinely the children of their heavenly Father, living in a way that pleases Him and draws the attention of the world.

British evangelical leader John Stott excellently defined the essence of the sermon:

“There is no single paragraph of the Sermon on the Mount in which this contrast between Christian and non-Christian standards is not drawn. … The followers of Jesus are to be different—different from both the nominal church and the secular world, different from both the religious and the irreligious.” (John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7): Christian Counter-Culture (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1978), 19.)

The Followers of Jesus Are Different

My heart resonates with that. Whenever the Lord is at work in someone’s life, there is always a unique distinction, a transformation that takes place, a “radical” change.

Stott went on to say: “No two words sum up [the sermon’s] intention better, or indicate more clearly its challenge to the modern world, than the expression ‘Christian counter-culture’” (Ibid). The word “culture” refers to the way people and people groups do life. The people of Jesus will do life much differently than others do, that being “counter-cultural.” They will think differently, they will talk differently, and they will live differently, and in doing so, they will bring the culture of the kingdom of Christ into the present world, making this world a better place.

The Sermon on the Mount

The sermon begins with what are commonly called the “Beatitudes,” a word meaning something like blissfulness. The Beatitudes are found in Matthew 5:3–12 and are a description of what a person becomes once they experience the saving grace of Christ.

The word “blessed” means “to have the favor of God upon one’s life.” It is often translated “happy,” and although it has that idea, it means more than happy, inasmuch as happy is a state of mind; “blessed,” rather, is a state of soul and spirit.

Children and Citizens

Following the Beatitudes, Jesus then moves into a series of teachings beginning in Matthew 5:13 and going through to chapter 7:20 on how we are to conduct ourselves as children of God and citizens of His kingdom. It’s important that we understand that in this sermon Jesus is not teaching, “Live like this and you will be a Christian.” Rather, He is teaching that because we are Christians, this is how we will live. The Sermon on the Mount isn’t a new list of commandments or a series of ethical teachings that we should try our best to live by. Jesus is describing what a Christian is as a result of the Spirit’s work in one’s life.

Finally, in Matthew 7:21–27, Jesus concluded the sermon with a strong warning that we are not only to hear His words but to do them. All the components for God to do a great work in our hearts are within this sermon. May it be so in us as we study them in the weeks to come.