1412522380112According to the theological liberal, th[e] [S]ermon [on the Mount] is the essence of Christianity, and Christ is the best of human teachers and examples. But he is not divine, for his function is only a human one, to teach and exemplify ethics. Christianity is essentially ethics. What’s missing here? Simply, the essence of Christianity, which is not the Sermon on the Mount. When Christianity was proclaimed throughout the world, the proclamation (kerygma) was not “Love your enemies!” but ‘Christ is risen!” This was not a new ideal but a new event, what God became man, died, and rose for our salvation. Christianity is first of all not ideal but real, and event, news, the gospel, the “good news”. The essence of Christianity is not Christianity; the essence of Christianity is Christ. Even Christ’s exalted ethical teaching in this sermon is not wholly unique. One can find equivalents or near-equivalents for nearly everything here in some of the rabbis, and in Socrates, Solomon, Buddha, Confucius, and Lao Tzu. These profound men intuited from afar something of the high goal we are called to; but they did not know the way. Jesus not only knew the way but was the Way. He did not say, like Buddha, “Look not to me, look to my teaching (dharma).” He said the exact opposite: “I am the way . . . No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6). Jesus is a teacher, and the best one, although not the only one. However, he is the only Way, the only Savior, the only Jesus. Yet although Jesus’ ethical teachings in this sermon are not the essence of Christianity, they are essentially connected with it. The essence is Christ, Christ-for-us, our New Birth in Christ. But new birth is followed by new life, and this sermon describes that new life. Children’s lives resemble their parents’; and when we become children of God by faith and baptism, we begin to resemble him and our lives begin to resemble his life. Humanism tries to imitate the effect without acquiring the cause. It can’t be done; you can’t get blood from a stone. So humanism must either despair of attaining the effect or water down its difficulty. For we are simply unable to live this divine life by human power. The only way to “the imitation of Christ” is the incorporation into Christ; the only way to be like Christ is to be Christ. Only Christ can live Christian ethics. But he lives it in his body as well as in himself as our Head. ‘Without me you can do nothing”, he says; but his Apostle also says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” This sermon, like I Corinthians 13, describes agape. Agape is the nature of God (“God is agape“), but not the nature of fallen man. It is profoundly true that “all you need is love”, but the kind of love you need is not mere human need-love but divine bounty, agape, and that cannot come from a merely human source. Even if humanism perceives the radical difference between human and divine love, it does not know how to get divine love. Nowhere in the Bible do we find the humanist’s prescription of “try a little harder”. Man’s answer is “try”, God’s is “trust”. Faith alone opens the door of the soul to the divine Lover who impregnates it with his own life. The Sermon on the Mount describes that life, the fruits of faith. Humanism tries to grow the fruit without the root.

Peter KreeftBack to Virtue, pp 83-85