None of us really WANTS to ruin our lives. Yet we often do, James Bryan Smith contends, because we don’t build our lives on the teaching of Jesus and let him shape our character. In this book, the second in his Apprentice Series, Smith takes us through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. His foundational contention is that the gospel of the kingdom Jesus preaches is not about getting us into heaven but rather getting heaven into us, the transformation of our lives as Christ’s new creations, which is what this sermon is all about.
Along the way, Smith takes some reads on the sermon that might be different than you’ve heard before. This begins with the beatitudes, which he argues describe the people who are included in the kingdom. In the command concerning murder and anger, he argues we often live with False Imperative Narratives such as “I need to be perfect all the time” that are sources of fear and anger and that trust in Christ in our brokenness is key to being liberated from anger’s destructive power. Similarly, living in the joyful gratitude for our desires liberates us from lust’s power. Our trust in the security of the kingdom’s promises means we needn’t lie but can tell the truth. We love and forgive our enemies as the apprentices of a Savior who did the same thing from the cross.
One of the most challenging chapters for me was the chapter on vainglory–the practice of doing things to be seen by people. In this, as all chapters throughout the Apprentice Series, Smith includes Soul Training exercises. For this one it was the exercise of secret service, of serving others without letting other, or even the person served, know if possible. The Soul Training exercises throughout provide very practical ways to begin allow Christ to form his character in our lives. In his chapter on avarice and the choice of two masters, money or Jesus, we are encouraged to practice de-accumulation by getting rid of five things. In the chapter on worry, he gives a very specific exercise for turning worry into prayer and releasing this to God. His challenge in the chapter on judgment is to live a day without gossip!
The concluding chapter comes back to where he began, the vital importance of building our lives on the teaching of Jesus in intimate fellowship with him. He shares with us Madame Guyon’s advice to her daughter on living a day devotionally as a means of helping us to develop a “rule” for our days–practices that help us remain in the presence of Jesus throughout each day.
I worked through this book with a group, which is Smith’s recommended way to use this book. I actually had previously read the book but found that working through this deepened my engagement with the practices he commends and provided for many significant conversations with each other on living the good and beautiful life that drew me closer to five others as well as to the Lord whose teaching we were considering.
I also reviewed the first book in this series, The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows.