Published by DonDavidson on

Last week I referred to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which is in chapters five through seven of Matthew’s gospel. In those few chapters, Jesus lays down a tough standard for Christian behavior. For example, just in chapter five he says that we shouldn’t be angry or insulting toward others (not even on social media),[1] we shouldn’t get divorced unless our spouse commits adultery,[2] and we should show love and kindness toward everyone, including people we don’t like—and even toward people who are mean to us.[3]

Jesus goes on in chapter six to warn us not to make a show about how righteous we are—so we are to give secretly, pray in private,[4] and fast without letting people know that’s what we’re doing.[5] He also warns us to love God rather than money,[6] and to let God worry about providing us with the necessities of life.[7]

Chapter seven may be the toughest of all, for Jesus begins by telling us not to judge others—something most of us do without even stopping to think—but to worry about our own behavior.[8] And he adds that we are to treat other people the way we would want them to treat us.[9]

I have heard it argued—and I have heard myself making the same argument at times—that in his Sermon on the Mount Jesus was not so much laying down a code of conduct for Christians as he was demonstrating that God’s high standards are simply impossible for us to meet, and therefore how much we need God’s grace and mercy. Dietrich Bonhoeffer thought otherwise.

Bonhoeffer was a German pastor who lived in the time of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. He deplored the mutilation of scripture by the so-called “German Christians” of his time who sought to alter the Bible in line with German nationalism and Nazi anti-Semitism. Bonhoeffer wrote a book entitled Discipleship (published in America as The Cost of Discipleship) in which he discussed the Sermon on the Mount and argued that it was not some unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky standard that Jesus never expected anyone to take seriously, but was instead a goal toward which all Christians must strive. He criticized what he called “cheap grace,” which is the idea that Christians can do whatever they want, and live according to the world’s values, because Jesus has paid the price for their sins on the cross.

For standing up for Christ and for what he knew was right, Bonhoeffer suffered Nazi persecution, imprisonment, and ultimately, martyrdom.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of many faithful Christians whose lives I discuss in my next book, which will be available later this year.

[1]. Matthew 5:22

[2]. Matthew 5:31-32

[3]. Matthew 5:39-47

[4]. Matthew 6:1-6

[5]. Matthew 6:16-18

[6]. Matthew 6:19-24

[7]. Matthew 6:25-34

[8]. Matthew 7:1-5

[9]. Matthew 7:12


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