I have had the distinct pleasure of standing on the 'Mount of the Beatitudes'. Yes, reported to be the very place Messiah stood, sat, and taught those who gathered to hear what He had to say. I was with a tour group of devout Christians, most of whom were pastors and their wives, interestingly. At every place we toured, one of them would say a 'few words'. Immediately following a topic-specific prayer, our tour coordinator, who is a beautiful vocalist, would lead the group in the chosen and appropriate hymn. So it was on the Mount of the Beatitudes.
As I listened with half an ear to the pastor chosen to speak, I looked out over the expanse that gently descended from where we were gathered down a grassy slope, ending in a banana tree grove. Beyond that was the Kinneret itself, the Sea of Galilee, in all it's sparkling glory, the Israeli sun glinting off the surface like so much diamond dust. Lost in my own thought, I contemplated the words of Yeshua spoken to both student and local. How many times have I read this famous 'sermon on the mount'? Too many to count, I'm sure. But it is only just recently I have fully come to grasp the portrait so eloquently painted by the Messiah.
As I have walked as a believer, I have wrestled with the one question that no self-respecting Christian dares to ask. It is entirely possible that I am arrogant and cocky to even think the question. I mean, to even imply it causes the questioner to step into the role of judge and jury - perhaps even the very place that belongs solely to the Holy One. After all, shouldn't I be focusing on my own issues and weaknesses, and not on that of others? Even with the self-admonition, I still end up asking, if only to myself.
"Are they a believer or not?"
When hurtful things are said, when friendship is betrayed, or when expectations are woefully unmet. When the lies are discovered and human weakness is showcased. Or when pride, greed or self-protection rears it's ugly head only to leave the long shadow of compromise. Have you not asked the question? That question always leads me to another, more pointed one. I suppose in my rather logical and scientific way, I need specifics of what a believer acts like, so as to make a proper comparison. So, what are the characteristics of a believer?
I think the Messiah was giving us the answer right there on the grassy hillside overlooking the Kinneret. Clearly, we can enumerate the character traits of a true believer simply and succinctly.
"Seeing the crowds, Yeshua walked up the hill. After he sat down, his talmidim (students) came to him, and he began to speak. This is what he taught them:
"How blessed are the poor in spirit..."
A believer is poor in spirit, which is not to say that they lack chutzpah, most certainly. The Master is speaking of humility and a most proper view of man under his G-d. The Greek word pneuma, translated spirit, literally means breath or wind - which immediately brings to mind the moment the Creator breathed life into Adam. G-d is the giver of life, the giver of breath or spirit, and the believer knows that he cannot give or sustain life on his own. The one that is poor in spirit acknowledges that the Holy One is the one who controls life, no one else. Acknowledging that G-d is Master of all life and worthy of all exultation, praise and honor, I believe, would be considered poor in spirit. A believer exhibits the characteristic of humility and worship before his G-d.
"How blessed are those who mourn..."
The Greek word pentheo, to mourn, speaks of lamenting and grieving, even feeling guilt. Believers mourn, not only their own sin, but the sin all around them. Sin colors everything with death, and grieves the Ruach, most assuredly. Repentance, the confession of sin and the resultant turning away from wickedness, is the mourning of a true believer of the Most High.
"How blessed are the meek..."
In Strong's Concordance we read, "This difficult-to-translate root (pra-) means more than "meek." Biblical meekness is not weakness but rather refers to exercising G-d's strength under His control – i.e. demonstrating power without undue harshness." Thus, the word meek represents both a gentle and mild demeanor, while walking in the strength (righteousness, justice, power) of HaShem. From that we can conclude that a believer is gentle and mild towards others, yet confident that the LORD is sovereign, in control of all things.
I would like to suggest, also, that since since all of mankind is made in the image of G-d, the believer makes effort to put the needs of others above their own, as an act of service or a mitzvah (good deed), always to glorify the Father. This, again, speaks of humility and not thinking too highly of oneself in relation to others.
"How blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness..."
Well, this is a rather easy one, I'd say. A believer in the Most High longs for righteousness in a world where injustice and evil abounds. Servants of the LORD strive to be righteous themselves, seek to make righteous decisions and choices, and raise their children with a distinct knowledge of right and wrong. A believer faced with unrighteousness in others, even continued unrighteousness, is driven to desperate prayer on their behalf to the LORD, begging for righteousness, justice and mercy to prevail. But, let us not think that this is all the believer's own doing - not at all. The Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit, prompts, guides, and teaches the way of righteousness to every one who truly believes. The indwelling Spirit enables the believer to continue to walk in righteousness, even in the face of seemingly unchecked darkness.
"How blessed are those who show mercy..."
A believer of the Most High G-d shows mercy to the down-trodden, the hurt. To the lonely, he shows compassion and to the friendless, he comes alongside. As our LORD shows mercy and grace, so must we show mercy to not only those who are innocent victims of circumstance, but also to those who have sinned against us. Forgiveness and mercy go hand in hand - believers surely know that they will be forgiven as much as they have forgiven others. The believer is forgiving and merciful, leaving vengeance and justice in the capable hands of the One who knows the hearts of men.
"How blessed are the pure in heart..."
The heart is where one 'operates' from, the center of one's intentions or being. A pure heart is one that is not tainted or stained by sin, but in fact is a renewed heart of flesh given them by the Almighty Himself. A pure heart is prompted and driven by the ways of HaShem and it's heartbeat is a deep desire to obey Him without compromise. A believer has a pure, renewed heart of flesh that is compassionate, showing loving-kindness to others and is eager to do good deeds (mitzvot), always to glorify the Master.
"How blessed are those who make peace..."
Some of us are confrontational and don't mind a raucous confrontation and some are not, avoiding them if at all possible. But avoiding conflict would not denote the behavior of a believer nor a peacemaker. Seeking justice, showing respect to all parties, prayerfully coming alongside the struggling, and lovingly and honestly mediating conflicts are all ways of promoting peace. Ultimately, justice and righteousness bring peace when selfishness, greediness and pride are put aside for the good of community.
"How blessed are those who are persecuted because they pursue righteousness..."
The Greek word dioko, to persecute, is defined as 'to eagerly and aggressively pursue to overtake'. Blessed are those who are aggressively pursued by an enemy with intent to overtake any and all who desire the righteousness of HaShem. A believer has to accept the fact that the world in which they live is not going to understand G-d's ways nor will they be inclined to take the hard stand of G-d's standard of righteousness. Moreover, Scripture lays out clearly that believers have an enemy of their soul, the evil one (ha'satan), who is actively seeking to kill and destroy those that belong to the Holy One. A believer will continue to persevere, always advocating G-d's righteousness, as well as keeping to a righteous standard themselves, for G-d's name sake.
So, that was a long way around the bush to see the character traits of a believer. Let's step back and look at the portrait the Messiah has painted of a believer - these character traits should be more than evident in the behavior of a believer:
- their humility before HaShem, along with a deep desire to sincerely worship Him
- they are repentant of their sin and mourn the sin around them
- they are gentle with others yet confident in the power of HaShem and His sovereignty
- they long for G-d's righteousness both for themselves and those around them
- they show mercy and forgiveness, both to the hurting and towards those who have hurt them
- they have a renewed heart, evidenced by consistent righteous, as well as sincere and loving, behavior
- they are dedicated peacemakers, mediating love, justice and honesty towards all
- they are persecuted, mocked and ridiculed for their stand of G-d's righteousness
Yeshua, in His wisdom, also shared what awaits those who possess and exhibit the character traits of a true believer:
- for humility before the Almighty, the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs
- for repentance, they will be comforted
- for a gentle yet confident demeanor towards others, they will inherit the Land
- for longing for righteousness, they will be filled (satisfied)
- for being merciful, they will be shown mercy
- for those with a renewed heart, they will see G-d
- for those that seek just peace, they will be called sons of G-d
- for being persecuted for righteousness sake, the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs
The Holy One doesn't intend to leave His chosen forsaken, for the reward is great to those who are called and follow the commands in love and obedience. (I especially like that Yeshua sandwiches the whole thing with 'the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs' - what a fabulous promise! Life eternal with the Messiah on the throne, ruling and reigning in righteousness and sovereignty...it's almost too much to imagine!)
These character traits above are not individual groups for which we can pick one or another to be a part, ie. I want to be part of the meek group, or the merciful group (no one wants to be part of the persecuted group!) . To the contrary, they should all be viewed as one portrait - character traits, or perhaps we should call them fruit, that is habitually exhibited in the life of someone that is considered, or claims to be, a believer. Which brings me back to my original, albeit uncomfortable, question...how can we know someone is a believer?
Ultimately, the Holy One is the judge of all and only He knows the intentions of the heart. However,Yeshua is clear that we are to 'know them by their fruit', and also continues with the metaphor stating if the tree is good it will have good fruit, and if the fruit is bad, well...you know. And what would be bad fruit? I would suggest a habit or lifestyle of lies, deceit, cruelty or mean-spirited behavior, harsh judgment of others, self-righteousness and legalism, manipulation, hatefulness, abusive behavior, unrighteousness, heresy, injustice, blasphemy, or a life that is markedly different than what they espouse or teach. In my own life, there are those that I certainly assumed...er...presumed were believers. It was and continues to be a shocking and deeply disturbing disappointment to have to admit that I was naive and blind. Due to their continued unrighteous behavior not only to myself and others, my eyes have been opened, praise the LORD! I just didn't want to condemn, as it were, someone I loved...still love, as a non-believer, if only in my mind. I hate to read those words of Yeshua to those claiming their good deeds, "And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness'."
Unfortunately, lawlessness, in it's simplest form, means that you are not loving G-d because you are not loving your neighbor as yourself. Ah, now there's a twist; I contend that showing and giving love to others is the manifestation of G-d here on earth, and Yeshua's plan to be with us, even 'unto the end of the age'. I believe that you can say you love G-d all day, proclaiming it loudly, taking on all the trappings of your traditions and doing it well, but if you don't show and give love and compassion to your neighbor, it all means nothing.
And so, it all comes down to the greatest command, once again. The ultimate portrait of a believer is someone who loves G-d to such a degree that they want to serve Him with all their life. To that end, they pour out love, even sacrificial love, from the fullness of their regenerate heart. Their cup 'overflows' with the loving-kindness of the Father and the forgiveness and grace afforded by the sacrifice and atonement of the Messiah - they cannot help but to spill that love everywhere they go. No, nobody is perfect in all their endeavors and that includes believers, to be sure. However, if we are to believe the words of the Messiah, we should be able to know them by their 'fruit'.
"Likewise, when people light a lamp, they don't cover it with a bowl but put it on a lampstand, so that it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they may see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven".