Thanks for the reminder, Bob! I’ve intended to look at that but didn’t get to it before. I’ve been reading it this evening/morning, and it is very relevant to what I’m trying to unmuddle my thinking about – especially your list of the different viewpoints in the section: ALTERNATIVE VIEWS: How Jesus and Paul’s Teachings on Salvation are Related.
I appreciate all the replies so far, and would welcome more!
I asked my husband earlier–if he remembers what he said about Matt 5, and if he could elaborate on it. He says the point of Jesus’ speech is to tell us that we can’t do it on our own and that we need to “turn to Christ” (in quotes because that’s a “Christianese” phrase, the meaning of which I’m unsure of in this context). I asked where in the text he was getting that from, and he said he couldn’t remember, but it’s there. I didn’t pursue it any farther with him, so I don’t know if he’s jumping to “imputed righteousness” or righteousness enabled by the Spirit.
I would agree that we can’t achieve righteousness apart without the help of the Spirit, but I just don’t see it as the point of that particular text–or even stated in that text. Is there something obvious that I’m missing? Am I being overly particular about this?
I’m guessing it’s the last verse of the chapter that’s giving rise to this idea: “Therefore you shall be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” The thinking being that it’s impossible for us to be ‘perfect’ (since we all know that ‘to err’ is the defining quality of humanity ) so therefore we can’t achieve the righteousness that He’s just been telling us we must. But he does promise us that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be satisfied.
To me, it’s irrelevant whether we can or cannot do it be perfect “on our own”–the point is that it’s required of us, whether we “can” or not–and we can never really be said to be “on our own” anyway, since we are made and are being made by God. Only we must help in our making by doing what he tells us. The point, in my view, is: “This is true righteousness, God’s righteousness” and our part is to say: “Okay, Lord, I’ll do my best to live right.”
If I think to myself “it’s impossible” I would have no reason really to try, no reason really to strive and reach beyond myself–how can there be motivation without hope? “Where there is no vision the people perish.” This is why this attitude is so troubling to me–to read this grand and noble call to be true and righteous from our hearts, in the same way that God is! --and then tack onto it a perfunctory and confident: “Of course, it’s impossible.” …It just doesn’t seem right.
Thanks, all, and more replies are very welcome!