How We Miss Out on Grace: Skin Deep Spirituality


Have you heard of the Sermon on the Mount? Many people consider these three chapters in the Gospel of Matthew some of the most profound spiritual teachings in all of history. This includes both followers of Christ and others who do not adhere to the claims of Jesus.

One of the primary themes of the Sermon on the Mount is skin deep spirituality. Jesus exposes the tendencies we have to choose a certain set of actions by which we justify ourselves before God, while at the same time, our inner lives, our hearts, are still far from God.

For example:

  • We serve the poor at Thanksgiving, but our hearts never got close to a compassionate consideration that those same people may need help in the middle of January.
  • We show up to a church service, but we know full well that we are holding hatred in our heart for someone because of a recent dispute, maybe even someone sitting in the same row!
  • You’ve not committed adultery, in terms of sleeping with another person, but you have a regular habit of fantasizing over people on the internet.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus put it this way, “You have heard that it was said…” and then He would quote some religious command that everyone knew about, for example, don’t kill anyone! (Matthew 5:21). But then He said something to reveal whether our hearts and inner lives are actually above judgment: “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:22). Jesus even goes on to say that you’ll be judged even if you call another believer an idiot.

Is it anger, or a little harmless name-calling? Really, what’s the big deal!? Jesus’ point was that duplicity is seen even when we are obedient to the easy, BIG commands, but in our hearts we are still judging, hating, or lusting. Again, His words to the religious leaders are,

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” (Matthew 23:25)

Maybe you are realizing that you have the same issue. What’s your next step? Should you move into a season of self-loathing or a little bit of good old fashion guilt? By no means!

The mercy and kindness of God means there’s an open door for us to humbly apply the Gospel of grace. It’s a good day when we bring ourselves, with our imperfections and sin into His light. It means we have more reason to rejoice in the Gospel, and more reason to come, like the lost son in Luke 15, into the redeeming, receiving, restorative arms of our heavenly Father.

God loves us so much that He has put in motion a gracious transformation in our lives, best experienced from the inside out. The apostle Paul said,

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17,18 NIV).

What great news! It’s God’s intent to set us free from the issues that keep us in captivity, and to change us from within by His Spirit.

Is there an area of sin or vulnerability that you can bring to the Lord today, asking Him to bring greater transformation? Is there some area of character that you can share with a friend, asking for their help, as you trust God’s forgiveness and His ability to change us?

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