Beware of thinking of our Lord as a teacher first. If Jesus Christ is only a teacher, all he can do is tantalize me by holding up a standard I can’t meet. What’s the point of presenting me with an ideal I can’t come near? I’d be happier not knowing about it. What’s the good of telling me to be pure in heart, perfectly devoted to God, and willing to do more than my duty?

If the teachings of Jesus are going to be something more to me than ideals that lead to despair, I must know him as a savior first. When I am born again of the Spirit of God, I discover that Jesus Christ did not come only to teach; he came to make me what he teaches. The redemption means that Jesus Christ is able to put the disposition that ruled his own life into any life. All the standards God sets for us are based on this disposition.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7) produces despair in those who haven’t been born again of the Spirit. This is the exact thing Jesus means for it to do. As long as we have a self-righteous, conceited idea that we can follow our Lord’s teaching without knowing him as our savior, we will despair. God will allow us to wander in ignorance until we meet some insurmountable obstacle and come to him in poverty, ready to receive.

The bedrock of Jesus Christ’s kingdom is poverty—not possessions or making a decision to follow Jesus Christ, but a sense of total futility, a knowledge that we can’t even begin to follow God’s teaching on our own. That is the entrance; that is when Jesus says, “Blessed are you.” It does take us a long time to accept the fact that we are poor! The knowledge of our own poverty brings us to the moral frontier where Jesus Christ works.

Wisdom from Oswald

To those who have had no agony Jesus says, “I have nothing for you; stand on your own feet, square your own shoulders. I have come for the man who knows he has a bigger handful than he can cope with, who knows there are forces he cannot touch; I will do everything for him if he will let Me. Only let a man grant he needs it, and I will do it for him.”
The Shadow of an Agony