Our new lives in Christ are just beginning. We are changed; but we are eternally far from finished. “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12). We will not be finished until even our new lives are fully laid down before Christ; and that cycle of blessing, crucifixion, and resurrection will continue until the day we meet Christ face to face.
More often than not, I value my comfort more than I value obedience to God. I want to hang on to the good things God’s given me, and pester him for more. As I do this, I reject the One who blesses me in favor of his blessings. Romans 1 speaks to the end of this condition, if not halted: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:21–22a).
I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Sermon on the Mount the past few months. (You will too—but that’s getting a little ahead of ourselves.) At the time I’m writing this, I’m dwelling on the first half of Matthew 6—and it’s been dwelling on me, too. Specifically, there’s this rhythm Jesus repeats over and over, to the effect of: “And when do this good thing, do not call attention to yourself like the hypocrites do, so that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have already received their reward. But when you do this good thing, do it not so that it may be seen by others but so it is seen by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (see Matthew 6:1–4, 5–9, and 16–18).
“They have already received their reward.” Sometimes it’s OK to need reassurance or confirmation, but we need to move away from our dependence on it. God has given us many good things—and yes, sometimes as the result of the good things we’ve done in obedience to him—but sometime in the next handful of decades, I’m going to stand before God. How horrific it would be to hear, “You’ve already received your reward. I’ve provided for you, allowed your work to be recognized, even given you the joy of accomplishment. What more were you expecting? After all, you did it all for you.”
Now mind you, I am putting hypothetical words in God’s mouth here. But the fact remains, many of the things we do for God are done with an eye toward how God will bless us, and how others will recognize it. (Virtual street corners count too, by the way.) Even if I’m doing it solely for the sake of eternal reward, my self-satisfaction about that, too, can become my reward.
God does promise us rewards and blessings as a result of our obedience to him. But we need to take a step further up—to learn to do things purely for God’s glory. That, truly, is its own reward. As we learn to do this, God can trust us to do the right things with the blessings he bestows upon us. Our Father is in secret. We must learn to become God’s spies in this world—as much as, if not more than, become “God’s spokespeople” or “God’s personal ambassadors.”
In case we still don’t understand, Jesus punctuates, and clarifies, all of his previous warnings to us with this:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19–21).
Teresa of Avila put it this way: “Spiritual maturity and its reward do not consist in spiritual delights, but rather in the increase of love.” This is where we need to head; and God help us, we will.
Lay It Down Today
Before getting to your assignment, I want to reemphasize that in the course of this larger “Eternal Life Starts Now” section, I’m introducing practices you can do well beyond this study—because, after all, laying down your life doesn’t end once you stop reading this book. We don’t get days off from the lives God has given us.
This week, we’re focusing on prayer, and providing the context Jesus wants us to have for our prayers. Thus, it’s your turn to spend time in the Sermon on the Mount.
Every day this week, read Matthew 5–7. One hundred eleven verses won’t kill you, but they will convict you.
As you read through these chapters each day, be sure to linger on The Lord’s Prayer, located dead-center of this sermon (Matthew 6:9–13). Where is Jesus’ sermon hitting you right now? Which parts of this prayer do you most need to experience or respond to? Don’t move on to the second half of the sermon until you’ve wrestled with this each day. As the Spirit brings up specific matters—in every part of this sermon—stop and lift each of them up to God. Then act on them, as needed. Forgive your enemies—in person, if possible. Set your eyes aside to deal with your lusts. Repent of your need to have your good works noticed and praised.
You could spend a lifetime dealing with what Jesus brings up here. And you will. Eternal life starts now.