Why Should We Study the Beatitudes? Pt 1- They Help Us to Understand Salvation

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 4.21.03 PM Sunday, May 5th will mark the official launch of my new book “Cultivating A Gospel-Shaped Attitude.”  You can pre-order a copy of the book now by clicking on this link to Crossbooks.  It is also available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle format.  Over the next three days, I want to share with you some excerpts from the book that answer the question “Why should we study the Beatitudes?”  I hope you enjoy and will consider purchasing the book for a deeper study of Matthew 5:1-11.

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The Beatitudes Helps Us to Understand Our Salvation

Many commentators have noted the way the Beatitudes outline a believer’s response to the gospel.[1] We see this especially in the first four beatitudes, which outline the basic attitudes necessary for repentance and faith in Christ. Jesus began the Beatitudes by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) This is the starting place for anyone who wishes to receive salvation. To be “poor in spirit” means to acknowledge our spiritual poverty before God. It means we admit that we are sinners and have no righteousness to offer before God. This attitude was expressed by the hymn writer, Augustus Toplady, when he wrote, “Nothing in my hand I bring; Simply to thy cross I cling; naked came to thee for dress; Helpless, look to thee for grace; Foul, I to thy fountain fly; wash, my Savior, or I die.”[2] Before anyone can come to Christ for salvation, he or she must first lose all sense of self-dependence and self-righteousness.

For most of us, this is the hardest step we take in the path to salvation. Our sinful pride naturally leads us to justify ourselves, clinging to the delusion we are not really all that bad and can somehow earn our own salvation. This is the essential difference between the gospel and religion. Religion appeals to human pride and says we can be made right with God by performing good works. Religion says if we do the right things, such as keeping the Ten Commandments or observing the sacraments, we will earn our way back into God’s good favor. But the gospel stands against this sin-filled delusion. In Romans 3:20, the apostle Paul says, “For by the works of the law, no human being will be justified in his sight, since, through the law comes knowledge of sin.” Those who are poor in spirit accept the biblical testimony of their sinfulness and forever abandon being justified by their own works of righteousness. In simple terms then, being poor in spirit means to recognize or acknowledge our sin.

The second beatitude deals with the next step in the process of salvation. It is not enough to simply acknowledge sin; we must also mourn over its consequences. In 2 Corinthians 7:10, the apostle Paul distinguishes between what he terms “godly grief” and “worldly sorrow.” Paul makes the distinction between these two attitudes to demonstrate that merely acknowledging our sin is never enough to produce repentance. In other words, feeling sorry about getting caught is not enough to produce genuine repentance. To truly repent of sin we must go further and develop a sense of “godly sorrow” over the consequences of our sin. This is what Jesus is getting at when He says, “Blessed are those who mourn.” (Matthew 5:4) The mourning He has in mind is caused when we take full account of the consequences of our sin. The result of this kind of mourning is always repentance.

The third beatitude says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Mathew 5:5) Once again, this is an essential attitude for salvation. Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it this way: “Meekness is essentially a true view of oneself, expressing itself in attitude and conduct with respect to others. The man who is truly meek is the one who is truly amazed that God and man can think of him as well as they do and treat him as well as they do.”[3] Meekness refers to the humility resulting from a proper understanding of our own sinfulness and God’s grace. As we will see later, meekness carries with it the idea of submission, which is essential for salvation because part of our conversion experience is yielding or submitting ourselves to the lordship of Christ.

The fourth beatitude expresses the “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” (Matthew 5:6) which characterizes every genuine believer. As we abandon every attempt to establish our own righteousness and mourn the consequences of our sin, we will be driven by a desire to see God’s righteousness established both in our own lives and within society. Genuine believers never claim their own righteousness, but rather cling to the righteousness of Christ, whereby we are declared not guilty on the basis of Christ’s finished work at the cross. But this legal aspect of righteousness will always work its way out through our behaviors, producing a desire for personal moral purity as well as the pursuit of societal righteousness. Having been declared righteous by the finished work of Christ, believers naturally hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God to be established in every arena of life.

Related articles

[1] MacArthur, The Beatitudes, 56.

[2] Augustus M. Toplady, Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me” (No. 463) in The Baptist Hymnal (Nashville: Lifeway Worship, 2008)

[3] Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 56.

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