Four Keys to Enjoying the Beatitudes

Some of Christ’s most familiar teaching is found in Matthew 5:3-12. These verses form the introduction to the largest body of teaching from Christ that we have in the New Testament, and are the gateway to the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. Most importantly, Christians are meant to enjoy and embrace these verses for themselves. Here are four keys for enjoying and embracing the Beatitudes:

1. The Beatitudes are not commandments, but gospel pronouncements

Notice what Christ says. He does not say, “Be poor in Spirit” or “Be a mourner”—he says, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit” and “Blessed are those who mourn.” In other words, Christ is pronouncing blessings over people who already espouse the characteristics and experiences outlined in Matthew 5:3-10. The Beatitudes are gospel pronouncements for those who are already disciples of Christ. They are not ethical exhortations for Christians.

The rest of the Sermon on the Mount will, of course, focus on the ethical directives that are to guide us as Christians in our pursuit of holiness. But it’s important to remember where Christ begins—with a blessing for those who recognize their need for God’s grace because of their spiritual bankruptcy (Matthew 5:3)! Christ begins with a blessing for those who hunger and thirst for a righteousness they don’t presently possess (Matthew 5:6)!

2. The Beatitudes express integral parts of Christian existence/experience

Some people believe the Beatitudes are like the spiritual gifts—granted individually to individual Christians. The thinking goes that some Christians are “poor in spirit” while others are “peacemakers” or “merciful.” This is a faulty way of thinking about the Beatitudes. In reality, all the characteristics and experiences found in Matthew 5:3-10 are found or experienced in some measure in each disciple’s life. The Beatitudes are like grapes—they are always found together in a cluster.

When we ask the question What is a Christian like? or What does a Christian experience? the answer is found in each beatitude. A true disciple of Christ is poor in spirit, someone who mourns over sin, someone who hungers and thirsts after righteousness. Because these characteristics are spiritual in nature, the Beatitudes are not describing what is native to someone’s personality—rather, they describe the effects of God’s grace upon the heart.

3. The Beatitudes counterculturally pronounce who are in a state of favor with God

Many people today believe that God is pleased with them because they have avoided the “big sins” or because they have lived a philanthropic life. What a shock, then, for modern ears to hear, “Blessed are those who recognize their spiritual destitution. Blessed are those who mourn on account of their sin.” According to Christ, only those who have acknowledged their need for God’s mercy (see Luke 18:9-14) are in a state of favor with God. Only those who mourn over their sins are blessed by God.

In this way Christ defied the understanding of his countrymen (as well as many Americans) and particularly the ruling class of his day (the Pharisees) who thought that favor with God was obtained through external righteousness (Matthew 23:25) or ceremonial cleanness (Matthew 15:2).

4. The Beatitudes tell us why Christ’s disciples are blessed

After pronouncing who are in a state of favor with God, Jesus states why his disciples are blessed. Why are Christians the happiest people on earth? Is it because we suffer less? Is it because we bypass the pains of existence in this fallen world? Not at all!

Rather, we are blessed because we presently belong to God’s eternal kingdom announced and then inaugurated by Christ! We address God as Father (Matthew 6:9) because we are sons of God (1 John 3:2). This is why Christ says in Matthew 5:3, 10, “…theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” We possess the kingdom presently and thus are most blessed of all people.

But we are also blessed because we have so many rewards of grace to anticipate in the age to come. The Beatitudes have a “now and later” flavor—notice that all the verbs from Matthew 5:4-9 are in the future tense [e.g. “they will be comforted [in the future]”]. Christian disciples are blessed because while we mourn here in this present evil age, an age is coming when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes (Revelation 21:4). We are blessed now because while we have an appetite for something we do not inherently possess, we will be satisfied in the age to come in Christ (Galatians 5:5). We are blessed because our sincere faith in God and pure desire to serve Christ will ultimately result in the beatific vision (Matthew 5:8; 1 John 3:2).

The Beatitudes are good news. Enjoy them, Christian. Be glad. They are blessings from Christ pronounced over you!