The Sermon on the Mount stressed keeping the Law at an even higher level than the Pharisees, who were stricter about keeping the Law that most of the Jews. The Sermon on the Mount pushed keeping the Law at an even higher level than the Jews had done. Even Jesus' conclusion pushed doing what Jesus preached.

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock (Matt. 7:24, ESV)

How is this consistent with grace, especially how Paul taught it in his letters?

  • 3
    The strictness of the Pharisees was of a literal nature, oftentimes bordering on the absurd or ridiculous, as pointed out by Christ countless time in scripture; the higher level that Jesus is talking about concerns, first and foremost, a spiritual discernment of the divine intent behind the commandments, followed by a Spirit-led struggle along that (vertical, rather than horizontal) direction. The two are worlds apart.
    – Lucian
    Aug 6, 2021 at 10:22
  • In what way do you suggest this is inconsistent?
    – Dottard
    Aug 6, 2021 at 11:53
  • 1
    Jesus does not quote the law. 'but I say unto 'you' disciples . The blessed meek, poor in spirit, persecuted, who hunger and thirst (not their own but -) the righteousness. It isn't about law. It is about believing and following him. (But up-voted +1, in the hope we can make something of it.)
    – Nigel J
    Aug 6, 2021 at 12:07
  • I don't see any way to deal with this question without dealing with the purpose of the Sermon on the Mount,
    – Perry Webb
    Aug 6, 2021 at 15:20
  • It's an old question in Christianity.
    – Perry Webb
    Aug 6, 2021 at 15:23

7 Answers 7


The sermon on the mount was teaching Law. To its fullest extent. The Pharisees through their oral traditions had re-interpreted the Law so that it was actually able to be fully kept. And they (the Pharisees) had made themselves administers of that Mosaic Law.

But here Jesus was teaching that it was/is impossible to keep. That if you want to achieve righteousness via the Law that it is simply not possible. And if you try, the result of failing would be beyond payment.

MAT 5:29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

And, Jesus also taught them (the Jews) that they, via their forefathers, were bound by that Law. And we’re under it. But he had come to redeem them out from under it – on their behalf.

MAT 5:17 ”Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

And once ‘out’ from ‘under’ that Law, then Grace would/could be available to them. That righteousness would come via Grace, not via the Law.

MAT 6:33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

However they (the Jewish nation) rejected this, so Paul preached the message to the Gentiles. Nevertheless salvation will still come back to the nation.


Jesus stressed the importance of the Law in Matthew 5:

17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

How is this consistent with grace?

It is not and it is not meant to be. In this passage, Jesus wasn't focusing on grace but on the Law. In fact, the Law serves as a foil for grace. Grace is the hero; Law is the sidekick. The two contrast.

John 1:17

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Let's see how Paul make the connection between Law and Grace in Galatians 5:

2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.

In terms of judgment and justification, grace trumps the Law if one believes.

  • Grace trumps [morals] if one believes? Aug 6, 2021 at 14:52
  • Good point. I added to clarify.
    – user35953
    Aug 6, 2021 at 14:54

Jesus was speaking to people already in covenant relationship with their God – Israelites who already knew the written law of God, and who had been labouring under the detailed interpretations of how to keep that law, detailed to them by their religious leaders. Those ones kept a beady eye on the people, whilst priding themselves on keeping those interpretations meticulously. To the people, the law had become a chaffing yoke and a heavy burden.

Along came Jesus, who exemplified keeping the law but who did not allow man-made interpretations to creep into his keeping of it. He understood the spirit of the law, and that particular Sermon was geared to show people what keeping the law really was based upon – the spirit of justice, truth and holiness that God had called Israel into. We are told that this Jesus “was full of grace”, and it was clearly seen, not hidden under a bushel. John the Baptist declared of Jesus:

“And of his fulness have all we received, and grace upon grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:16-17).

Because Jesus was full of the grace of God, he spoke graciously to the humble, to the poor and to those sincerely seeking to please God. He reserved words of condemnation for any hypocrites who challenged him. And that is why he said what he did about rising above the level of hypocritical religious leaders:

“For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20).

Those who wish to appear righteous in the eyes of other people make a great show of doing what can be seen by the eyes of others, but God sees the heart, and knows our motives. Truly, as Jesus said, those ones get their reward in the here and now, not in heaven (Matt. 6:2), while those persecuted and suffering for righteousness’ sake have a great reward in heaven (Matt. 5:12).

Jesus exemplified and spoke of how to enter into the spirit of the law in order to seek first God’s righteousness and his kingdom (Matt. 6:33). That is the only correct motivation for obeying God and pleasing him. People back then who believed Jesus discovered the truth of exchanging the chaffing yoke and heavy burden of the self-righteous for the easy yoke and light burden of Christ (Matt. 11:29). That is why the Sermon on the Mount was so gracious – it showed the people how to enter into the kingdom of God, instead of standing on the side-lines striving to do things to merit entrance (which is the opposite of how God’s grace works).


Paul's grace doctrine also taught the keeping of the law of God (Gal 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love). The message of grace of the new covenant is liberation from the Jewish law or Mosaic covenant. None of those commands discussed in Matthew 5 are pertaining to the Jewish law, but are applicable in the new covenant too. The things like Sabbath, ritual washing etc. (Matt 12, Mark 7) are parts of the Jewish law, which are secondary to the God's law. Jesus ended and fulfilled the Mosaic law, but his teachings that gave immense stress on the obedience to the commands are eternal and preached by all the apostles. The corrupt Pharisees were finding ways to bypass the commands by using their tradition, and Jesus condemned them. The same can be said to the so-called Christians, who find ways to use grace from Moses law, as grace to sin, making Christ the minister of sin (2Pet 3:16-17). This maybe worse lawlessness than the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. John's epistles couldn't be more explicit in defining lawlessness, as other apostles also wrote.

1Cor 7:19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.

Jude 1:4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. ESV

1Cor 9:21 To the lawless, as lawless, (not being lawless to God, but subject to the law to Christ,) that I might gain the lawless, SLT

[Mat 16:27 ESV] For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.

[Rom 2:6-16 ESV] He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

[Rev 22:11-12 ESV] Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy." "Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.

[Rev 20:12 ESV] And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.

[1Pe 1:15-17 ESV] but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,

[2Pet 2:17-21 ESV] These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.

[2Co 5:10 ESV] For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

If you interpret the teachings of Paul, as grace from the law of God, i.e. grace to sin, or licentiousness, which all the apostles condemned repeatedly, then you are forced to reject Christ's commands as either obsolete part of the Mosaic law, or as sarcasm.

  • Note Romans 6 countering licentiousness.
    – Perry Webb
    Aug 6, 2021 at 19:21

Very nicely and neatly those words are connected with the notion of grace, for in order to fulfill the Law with a novel semantics introduced by the Giver of the Law Himself (for only the Giver of the Law can claim an authority to change the wording of the Law - "Moses told you this, but I tell you that" /cf. Matthew 5:38-48/), that is to say, in order not to commit adultery merely by sleeping with another woman than your wife, but even not looking at your own wife with a lustful eye, is possible only through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and impossible without.

To sup up: the Law in the Lord's interpretation is possible to be fulfilled only through Him, i.e. His grace operating in us (cf. John 15:5)

  • What you wrote is OK, but there is a bigger picture in it's purpose.
    – Perry Webb
    Aug 6, 2021 at 19:19
  • @PerryWebb Bigger purpose? sorry, picture? Aug 6, 2021 at 19:20
  • The tendency in the Midrash is to help make the Law achievable. What does the Sermon on the Mount do with respect to the Law? What need does it show?
    – Perry Webb
    Aug 6, 2021 at 19:27
  • 1
    @PerryWebb It shows that the Law in the Lord's interpretation is possible to be fulfilled only through Him, i.e. His grace operating in us (cf. John 15:5) Aug 6, 2021 at 19:49
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    @Lucian I would agree for the occasion when the relation is so long-term that both partners become wrinkled and lose all sexual attractiveness so as to repel and disgust Cupid with its burning arrows; however, it is impossible to reach angelic passionlessness towards naked body of an attractive woman, be she wife or not wife, without Christ helping through grace. It is impossible to enter angelic rank even in embodied state, i.e. be celibate, i.e. be sufficient in God even without longing for sex, and still be happy, without Christ's grace. Aug 7, 2021 at 12:10

The question presupposes that St. Paul's teaching on grace implies salvation does not require good works and avoidance of evil (in this instance, in a word, following the laws of Christ). This is not the case; nor does such comport with the fundamental purpose of the Law given by Christ on the Mount as the new Moses; He wouldn't given it unless it were to be kept, nor would He modify the Law temporarily for a few years during His ministry, only to then abolish the same modification entirely — if the latter was truly impossible to keep on all accounts, then making it more difficult to keep would not demonstrate the point any further.

Instead, St. Paul teaches that, if one attempts to go down the route of saving themselves by their good works, then they must commit to the extent that they never fail to do them perfectly, because shortcomings are no longer covered by grace.

In other words:

Romans 11:6 And if by grace, it is not now by works: otherwise grace is no more grace.

However, if shortcomings are covered by grace, one can keep the law, because what is meant by keep here then is 'always trying to keep, by the help of God.' Which is different to 'without the help of God; and not trying, but always doing it perfectly.'

According to the Holy Ghost, speaking through St. Paul, it is possible to walk in the laws of God blamelessly — it's how this is done that is the focus of St. Paul:

Philippians 3:6 According to zeal, persecuting the church of God; according to the righteousness that is by the law, conversing without blame.

Likewise through St. Luke, of Elizabeth and Zechariah:

Luke 1:6 And they were both just before God, walking in all the commandments and justifications of the Lord without blame.

Therefore, there is no inconsistency, since:

(1) Christ does not teach you can do these without grace, but rather:

John 15:10 If you keep my commandments, you shall remain in my love; as I also have kept my Father's commandments, and do remain in his love.

And in the same teaching:

...beareth much fruit: for without Me you can do nothing.

(2) St. Paul does not teach that grace excludes works, but rather:

Romans 2:6-8 [God] will render to every man according to his works. To them indeed, who according to patience in good work, seek glory and honour and incorruption, **eternal life:**But to them that are contentious, and who obey not the truth, but give credit to iniquity, wrath and indignation. Tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that worketh evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek. But glory, and honour, and peace to every one that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For there is no respect of persons with God.

There would be an inconsistency if St. Paul ever taught that grace precluded doing works — whereas he has only ever taught that it precludes doing works to get to heaven in such a way as to make talk of grace superfluous.

Far from both Jesus and the Apostles is the idea that grace is a "cloak for malice." Which it would be if it awayed with the necessity of doing good and avoiding evil! There is the responsibility to retain the good standing you have with God in Christ by not choosing the devil, pride, idolatry, pleasures over Him.

That is,

If you keep my commandments, you shall remain in my love

And doing this duty itself is by the grace of God, because:

...Without Me you can do nothing

Luke 17:7-10 But which of you having a servant ploughing, or feeding cattle, will say to him, when he is come from the field: Immediately go, sit down to meat: 8 And will not rather say to him: Make ready my supper, and gird thyself, and serve me, whilst I eat and drink, and afterwards thou shalt eat and drink? 9 Doth he thank that servant, for doing the things which he commanded him? 10 I think not. So you also, when you shall have done all these things that are commanded you, say: We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which we ought to do.

This is Jesus' version of Pauls' teaching (or rather vice versa) that:

Now to him that worketh, the reward is not reckoned according to grace, but according to debt.

That is, if it is the duty of the Christian, and not his choice, to be good, then salvation of necessity cannot be a payment for doing good, but rather a free reward by God which is not strictly due the person doing good (i.e. since it is his duty).

  • Good answer +1.
    – Dottard
    Aug 6, 2021 at 22:53
  • As if the works under the Mosaic law were not duty. Rom 4:4 the argument is against works of the law where faith (in Christ) is counted as righteousness without the law works. Free justification without the law.
    – Michael16
    Aug 7, 2021 at 9:02
  • St. Paul never says the Law was optional (nor have I). Instead he says, "by the works of the law no [one] can be justified." Not that it is not their duty to obey the Law (as if it were a suggestion), only that it is not their personal (and always imperfect) keeping of the law which saves them (so that God couldn't lift or add it again for example). He explains why: unless we keep it perfectly, it condemns us. And if we go the 'only the law' route, we spurn and forfeit grace; because when we admit grace, we have the New Testament kind of faith, and the benefit of the sacrifice of Christ. Aug 7, 2021 at 20:39
  • The NT doesn't teach that Christians aren't bound to do good and avoid evil to be saved—it teaches the opposite. It wasn't the works of the law which saved them in the Old Testament, yet they were expected to keep them in order to be saved nonetheless. Similarly, Christ expects us, clearly, to keep His New Law given on the mount, as the New Moses. In neither Covenant is it the works themselves that, without grace, save, but rather, the keeping of them by grace, saves, sin being accounted for (unlike without grace, by works alone). Aug 7, 2021 at 20:42

How is the Sermon on the Mount, Matt. 5:17-20 in particular, consistent with grace?

This is an old question addressing the heart of Christianity. There are many good ways to answer this question as you can see here. I had the challenge of choosing who had the best answer. Looking at weaknesses in how people can abuse different theologies isn’t how to approach differences. For example, Paul addressed the abuse of grace in Romans 6.

The test of a good theology is how well it matches God’s revelation in the Bible. I’m not a Dispensationalist and recognize how it can be abused, but want to discuss their answer because it wasn’t given here. We can see a common thread in all the answers, even if there are conflicting theologies.

It is a misguided use of Dispensationalism if dispensations are explained as God tried this and it didn’t work, so the next dispensation, and so on. Obviously, this ignores many of God’s attributes. The valid way to view dispensations is progressive revelation. All the Dispensationalists I know are Trinitarians. Dispensationalists see the Sermon on the Mount as in a different dispensation than Jesus’ later ministry such as his last week before crucifixion. Of course they would see this as Jesus using progressive revelation. John 16:12 supports this.

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now…. (ESV)

A rabbi would normally seek to interpret the Law in such a way to make it more achievable, yet keep the law. However, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus pointed out the intent of the Law not just the outward actions of the Law, but one's inward thoughts, making the Law impossible to keep through human ability.

The Commandment in which a desire becomes sin before acting on it was what got Paul’s attention.

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. (Rom. 7:7–12, ESV)

Jesus changed the “holy” in Leviticus 19:2 to “perfect,” showing a standard too high to obtain with human ability.

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt 5:48, ESV)

“Perfect” translates τέλειοι. It also mean complete; not in part.

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. (James 2:10, ESV)

Jesus’ elevation of standards most have seemed strange to the Pharisees who saw Jesus heal on the Sabbath, and his disciples pull off grains of wheat on the Sabbath. But Jesus rebuked self-righteousness.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9–14, ESV)

Of course Jesus did teach grace and forgiveness. He did it often through people.

36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:36–50, ESV)

Jesus also taught grace through faith.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:14–18, ESV)

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28–29, ESV)

Knowing a tree by its fruit implies that one’s actions demonstrates that a person in Christ (has faith in Christ) and the vine metaphor in John 15 illustrates Christ producing those actions in those who abide in him. Thus, salvation by faith alone does not mean faith doesn’t produce works.

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Matt 7:15–20, ESV)

Thus, the contrast of the Sermon on the Mount with grace is a matter of progressive revelation. The Pharisees, although living by the highest human standards, lowered the standards of the Law with their traditions. Jesus showed God’s standards as intended in the Law was even higher; impossible for people to achieve on their own. Thus, the need for grace and the indwelling Holy Spirit.

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