Over the past two days I have been discussing the importance of the Beatitudes. So far we have seen that the Beatitudes help us understand our salvation and that they form the basis for our spiritual formation. Today, I want to conclude this series by showing you that the Beatitudes also help us to understand our mission. If you have enjoyed these posts I hope you will purchase my book about the Beatitudes entitled “Cultivating A Gospel-Shaped Attitude.”
In the verses immediately following the Beatitudes, Jesus defined the mission of the church. In Matthew 5:13–16, He says,
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the word. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let you light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Jesus defines the mission of the church in terms of being “salt” and “light.” Salt had a variety of uses in the first century, but it is generally understood that Jesus uses this image to refer to the preserving or purifying effect of the church on the world. Sometimes the “salt” ministry of the church has been understood in terms of political or social activism, and certainly these have their place in the overall work of the church, but given what Jesus says in the Beatitudes, I suggest we should understand the image of salt primarily in terms of personal character and devotion to God.
There has been, in every age, a tendency for the church to conform to the world around it, but if we really lived out the Beatitudes, just the opposite would be true. The Beatitudes are diametrically opposed to the attitudes and values of the world. There is a lesson to be learned here: our greatest impact is not made by the ways that we are like the world, but in the ways that we are different from it. Martyn Lloyd-Jones summed this up when he said, “The glory of the gospel is that when the church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first.” Sometimes this concept of being separate from the world has been reduced to mere external factors such as styles of dress, worship preferences, or political views. But I want to show you that being different from the world begins with our attitudes, which are then fleshed out through our actions. As these actions are exhibited over time, they will eventually form our character.
The church serves as “the light of the world” as it proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. If we are to do the work of evangelism, we must first be transformed by the message of the cross. I have in mind here more than merely professing belief in the gospel. The genuineness of our conversion is not proven by what we say but by how we live. Genuine conversion always results in the transformation of people’s lives; therefore, it is the change in our lives that serves as the greatest evidence of our salvation. Second Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” The attitudes listed by Jesus in the Beatitudes reflect the changes that occur in the life of a believer as a result of the gospel. These inner attitudes manifest themselves as tangible behaviors, which in turn provide evidence of our conversion. The people around us will see these changes and will react in one of two ways: they will either hate us or be attracted to us.
There will always be those in the world who react to believers with hatred and violence. Jesus does not hide or downplay this reaction. In the final beatitude, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). In order to reinforce this statement, in verses11–12 Jesus adds, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kings of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward it great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” These verses serve to remind us that persecution and opposition are normal parts of the Christian life. If we follow Christ and live out the gospel in the midst of a sinful world, we will face persecution. But this is not the only reaction to the gospel: there is a second way people respond to Christian character and the preaching of the gospel.
While some will react to the gospel with violence, others will see our Christian character and respond with faith and repentance. In Matthew 5:16, Jesus says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” We cannot separate our attitudes and character from the preaching of the gospel, especially when we consider how jaded and skeptical many people in our culture have become toward Christians. We hate to admit it, but the truth is that when people look at the church today, they do not always hold it in high regard, and in part, we can’t really blame them. We all have witnessed the well-publicized and tragic scandals that have been far too common within the church over the past two or three decades. These scandals have caused many in our society to conclude there is no truth in the gospel. Sadly, these failures have come to define Christianity in the minds of many unbelievers.
There are basically three ways we can react to this situation. First, we could stick our heads in the sand and pretend people still think of the church the way they did in the 1950s. In other words, we can pretend nothing is wrong and hope the good ole days will come back. Many churches have embraced this option and have either closed their doors already or will within the next few years.
Or second, we could take the position that since the world is always going to oppose the church, we should just keep on doing what we are doing and spiritualize the problem. This is a tempting option and is partially supported by the Bible because, as we have already noted, the Bible tells us that the church will be persecuted. Unfortunately, this option can blind us to real problems within the church and cause us to ignore the biblical mandate to be both salt and light. Sadly, those who hold this view often develop a martyr’s mentality and refuse to listen to anyone who may challenge their behavior.
Finally, we can take the biblical position that through the gospel we must be transformed in our attitude and behavior in order to validate the message we preach. This is the position I am advocating in this book. With this in mind, let us turn our attention to the first beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1972), 28.