“The Sermon on the Mount produces despair,” Oswald Chambers said. But he saw that as something good, because at “the point of despair we are willing to come to [Jesus] as paupers to receive from Him.”

When we ponder the Sermon on the Mount, we might well be tempted to despair. Jesus seems to stand reality on its head. Let’s look at just the first of the sermon’s three chapters.

Be happy when you’re persecuted? (Matthew 5:11-12). Anger is as bad as murder? (Matthew 5:22). Lust equals adultery? (Matthew 5:28). Don’t resist an evil person? (Matthew 5:39). Love your enemies? (Matthew 5:44). And if we think we can live up to these standards, we suddenly crash into this: “You are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). What?

At that point we may think the only hope we have is to redefine perfection. But there’s a better way. Consider this statement from Jesus: “I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose” (Matthew 5:17). And what is that purpose?

The apostle Paul may help answer this. He once pointed out how the church in Galatia misunderstood the law’s purpose. “After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” he asked (Galatians 3:3). Then he added, “Does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ” (Galatians 3:5).

Paul explained, “The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith” (Galatians 3:24). Instead of despair, we can come to Jesus in the humble realization that we can’t do it apart from Him.

NLT 365-day reading plan passage for today: Exodus 40:1-38