“The Path to Purpose” and God’s will for our lives: A conversation with Dr. Ryan Denison

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“The Path to Purpose” and God’s will for our lives: A conversation with Dr. Ryan Denison

April 10, 2023 -

Dr. Ryan Denison is Sr. Editor for Theology at Denison Forum.

Dr. Ryan Denison is Sr. Editor for Theology at Denison Forum.

Dr. Ryan Denison is Sr. Editor for Theology at Denison Forum.

Dr. Ryan Denison joins Dr. Mark Turman to discuss church history and heretics, the book he coauthored on the Sermon on the Mount, The Path to Purpose, and the meaning behind Jesus’ preaching.

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Podcast show notes:

Dr. Ryan Denison discusses his love of church history, how heretics are formed, and the book he partnered with his dad Dr. Jim Denison to write, The Path to Purpose (2:07). They discuss the meaning behind the title of the book, which covers Jesus most famous sermon, The Sermon on the Mount while giving the broad points behind the sermon (19:39). Dr. Ryan Denison talks about the context and the importance of the beatitudes for framing Jesus’ teachings (30:44). They consider the holistic purpose behind the sermon, why it’s not meant as a spiritual scorecard, and why it remains relevant to our lives today (39:30). Dr. Ryan Denison closes by sharing what he hopes readers will get out of the book—a deeper relationship with God (55:40).

Our newest book, The Path to Purpose, takes a closer look at the Sermon on the Mount and how Jesus’ timeless truth can help you discover God’s will for your life.

Resources and further reading:

About the hosts

Mark Turman, DMin, is the executive director of Denison Forum. He received his DMin from Truett at Baylor and previously served as lead pastor of Crosspoint Church.

About the guest

Ryan Denison is the Senior Editor for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions. He holds a PhD in church history from BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University. He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.


Transcribed by Otter.ai

Mark Turman  00:10

Welcome back to the Denison Forum Podcast. I’m Dr. Mark Turman, Executive Director of Denison forum and host for today’s conversation. The Denison Forum Podcast is about conversations regarding faith and culture that matter. We hope that this is beneficial and edifying to you, as well as equipping you to be an influential Salt and Light follower of Christ in your areas of influence. Today we’re having a conversation about a new book called The path to purpose with Dr. Ryan Dennison, who co wrote this book with his father, our co founder, Dr. Jim Dennison. Dr. Ryan Dennison is the senior editor for Theology at Denison forum. He contributes writing and research to many of our many of our works. He is a PhD in church history from the BH Carroll theological Institute, and also holds a Master of Divinity from truites. seminary and graduated prior to that at Dallas Baptist University with his bachelor’s degree. So we’re excited to have him as a part of our conversation today. You may remember him from earlier podcast about a book on spiritual gifts that he helped to produce, as well as some other conversations and you can find more of Ryan’s articles at Denison forum.org. Well, Ryan, or should I say, Dr. Denison, welcome back to the DF podcast we’ve had you on before talking about some other work that you’ve done. But we want to talk today about this most recent book, the path to purpose, but sometimes when I’m talking to folks on our podcast, the way to kind of help them connect to our voices is just to tell them tell them some things that they wouldn’t know from, you know, reading the official biography or resume that they can find on our website or through some other means. So tell us a little bit about Ryan Dennison, that we don’t read in the formal release of information.


Ryan Denison  02:07

I guess I’ve been working on this in forum for, off and on since it started. And I’ve loved my time here, the thing I love most about is that I get to write on a lot of different subjects, which kind of keeps each day interesting. And I get to do bigger projects like this book, I also get to the articles. It’s just, it kind of lets me scratch that itch whenever it comes up as a certain part of the culture, whether it’s writing on sports, which it’s kind of like, those are the ones that I always love the most, to be able to research because that’s a passion of mine. But it also just gives me the chance to like if there’s something that I feel like God laid on my heart, or that he’s been working with me on that I can talk, or I can write about that. And it gives me kind of a reason to delve deep into whatever direction it really feels like the Lord is leading me to go. And so that’s I love the flexibility that I get with that. And it allows me to kind of, I don’t know, double dip to an extent, I guess, in terms of just growing in my own walk with the Lord and then seeing if God wants to use that in some other ways as well.


Mark Turman  03:11

Yeah, well, it’s in some great stuff that people can find weekly at Denison forum.org, as well as through the book that we’re going to talk about and some other books that you’ve collaborated with your dad about. Some people may have caught on that you are a PhD in church history. What What drew you Where’s, where’s the passion for church history come from? And when did you first kind of sense that that was something that was really interesting to you.


Ryan Denison  03:40

I’ve always kind of just loved it, because of the stories that go along with it. And especially with church history, how it just had so much context to whether its theological teachings, or just the way the church developed, that we can kind of take for granted like knowing just being able to look back on it and learn with the Catholic Church, for example, like it, it didn’t, the papacy didn’t rise, because there was a group of people that wanted to dominate the church, it was a response to heresy, a lot of the church hierarchy and just things like that just just give a context to things that I grew up learning that I’ve really always just appreciated. Initially, I’d actually planned on kind of going and getting a PhD in philosophy of religion. And over the course of kind of looking into that study, some more God kind of showed me that, while that’s an interest, I, it’s not something I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing. And so that kind of took me back to the drawing board a little bit, which is when God kind of brought a woman named Karen Bullock into my life, who was my supervisor at BH Carroll, amazing church historian, and she just kind of talked to me a bit about what kind of was able to answer some questions about what your degree in church history would look like. And everything about it was just, I feel like God was kind of using those conversations to say, Yeah, this is the right direction for you. And it’s been awesome. I love that. It just again, it goes back to just, it provides so much more context for all the, all the teachings that just in a way that makes them make sense in a way that they don’t always.


Mark Turman  05:14

Right. And, and, and an expression of how Christians over 20 centuries have been trying to really walk out and live out all that Jesus was about right and all that happen through not only what the Old Testament pointed to and brought about in the coming of Christ, but just that as the central experience the presence of Christ here on Earth and Christ as the center of all things. I’m just curious, you know, not everybody loves history, like you and I do I, you know, I’m the guy in my family that we go to see something historical, we go to a museum, they have to drag me out. Whether it’s whether it’s in a biblical context, or an American history type experience, something like that. I’m the I’m the guy that’s reading all of the plaques, and, and all of that, but not everybody is that way I’ve found. But, you know, I definitely believe in this idea, heard one historian say, you know, we look to the past so that we can see the future better. And that certainly applies to the study of church history. But just curious, is there a section of church history, you know, a few centuries, either that like the first 300 years, many people that you and I would would be able to talk about focus on the Reformation? Is there is there a section of church history that really is of particular interest to you, probably the early


Ryan Denison  06:39

church the most. And just kind of the first three to 400 years, and especially kind of that latter transition around, kind of when the church became more legalized under Constantine, and then eventually grew into becoming a social power and everything that goes into that. But I mean, I agree, like one of the one of the things I love most about history is that it’s just, it’s encouraging to look at all the, it’s easy to look at all the problems we’re facing today, and come to the conclusion that these are unique to us. And looking at all the ways that most of our problems, go back to human nature, which hasn’t really changed over since God created Adam and Eve. And so all of that just in history just gives me it gives me hope for the present, that I can’t always find in other ways, because I can look back and say, Yeah, this is pretty awful. Especially in the early church, like they faced awful things too. And God brought him through it, God redeemed it and got that amazing things through. And that gives me hope for when the culture seems to turn against us. In some ways, it gives me hope for when Christians dropped the ball. It’s, it’s if you can’t look at church history, and it’s very humbling to look at church history and the failures of people constantly, and to still look and see that God still brought good out of that, and God still use that to advance his to advance His purpose and His Kingdom. And it’s kind of encouraging to let us know that no matter how big we feel, now, it’s it’s ultimately not one of the ones driving all of this. And I think you see that, especially in the early church, but also, those lessons are just kind of come up every during every period of church history.


Mark Turman  08:24

Yeah, and you get you get a sense that we really are about something or involved in something that’s just exponentially bigger than what we think that this really is a God sized adventure and mission that’s going on. I mean, we talked about the redemption of all things as you can’t get any bigger than that. And so, so a two part question, then we’ll get more into the book in just a second, which is, do you have a favorite biblical character? And then do you have a favorite character out of those first two or three centuries of the early development of the church? That those are just people that okay, these, these people are really kind of heroes to me? And if the answer is no, that’s okay, too. But just wondering if you have a biblical hero, and then someone out of that early part of church history.


Ryan Denison  09:15

My biblical hero would probably be a pretty minor character in the grand scope of scripture. But my favorite passage in scripture is when Mark nine where there’s the father of an epileptic child who comes to Jesus and asked if, if Jesus can heal his son, and he says, like, if you can heal, and please do and Jesus says, if all things are possible, through if you have faith, and his response is, I believe, help my unbelief. And that’s kind of my life version a lot of ways. Just because I’ve always I’ve my Pastor Chris lake here, and Tyler has said, essentially, he gets about 85% sure that Christianity is true. It’s kind of like his ceiling and that’s probably I have a similar thing. Similar story where it’s just every now and then after I remind myself why I believe what I believe. And if I look back over the way that God has worked throughout my life, I mean, those conversations always come back to saying, yeah, it is far more reasonable to believe in the gospel, and to believe that Jesus is who he says he is, than to believe otherwise. And like my faith is strengthened by those conversations. But there’s still like, if I look back on my life, doubts have always been part of my story with God. And so that father’s prayer, he’s probably my, my hero in Scripture, because he voiced a prayer that for far too long, I was afraid to voice I think, because Jesus honors that request, he hills, the sun. And I think what we see from that is that Jesus doesn’t expect us to have God doesn’t expect us to have this perfect faith in order to find us, in order to love us in order to respond to our, our needs, our prayers. And that’s been very encouraging to me. And I think, as far as Christian history goes, I, there’s not necessarily one person that jumps out. I don’t know if this is a good or bad thing, I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot in my heart for the heretics. And so that’s part of the result of the early churches, because I think he looked at a lot of those early church charities, and they weren’t started by people that just woke up one morning and decided, You know what, I think it’d be fun to try and lead people away from God today, there were people that a lot of them were like, they knew just enough about God, to be able to do some damage, and but for the most part, they thought they wanted to help people know God better, they wanted to make the faith, more appealing to their culture. So they would contextualize it, they would add stuff to it. And while they were absolutely wrong, to do so, and did great damage to the church, and to God’s mission in the process, like, I think they can get a bad rap of people kind of overestimating the degree to which they had malicious intent there. And so I think, while they’re by no means heroes, they are some of my favorite characters, and my favorite people in church history, just because they remind me of a temptation that I struggle with myself to look for ways to accommodate the gospel to the culture, to help more people believe, but it can be really easy to lose sight of where that line is between crossing into heresy. When you do that, and going too far. And they, their stories remind me the importance of keeping track of biblical truth and knowing, okay, where where is that line where I’ve now I’m now doing harm to the Gospel, this is no longer the gospel that I’m presenting. And I think that’s a very important thing for us to keep in mind, especially in our culture today.


Mark Turman  12:43

And, and like said that, you know, still very pertinent to our own struggles, you know, both, as you mentioned, you know, the struggle that I think most of us have, when we’re honest with ourselves about our own sense of question and doubt, that goes on. But as you said, you know, people trying with it most of the time with, with good intent, to help people to connect to Christ and to connect to the gospel, and, and then not even really realizing that you can get to a place, and that we’re probably all tempted to become so accommodating for ourselves. And then for others, starting with people that we really know and care deeply about, we want to try to make this as, as palatable as it can be, so that so that they can get across that bridge of belief. But then we have to hold ourselves accountable to the clearest teachings of Scripture, even when they’re really hard. And when they’re really difficult for us to embrace fully, and to communicate clearly. We so want to be able to believe and then the people around us to share in that belief, it’s natural for us to sometimes get tempted down that road of accommodation, and compromise and it’s so good to come back and to realize no, I just if I’m not giving them the the full and true expression of the gospel, I’m not really giving them what they’re going to most need. Right? And, and we’re shortchanging them or robbing them. So great, great conversation that’s so much about what both scripture and history and the walk of other people in the life of faith has been about. And now the baton is in our hands. And you know, people will have some things to say about what we did with it as well. If if Jesus delays his his return, for sure, but this is this book you’ve written about? One of the core teachings of Jesus, if not what many would call the core teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount Matthew five, six and seven is where it’s recorded. The book is called the path to purpose and is a collaboration between your you and your dad. Some people might want to know well, what is it like to collaborate with Jim Dennison? On the creation of a book like this? Tell us your bird’s eye view as much as you can get away with, and, you know, still be acceptable at the next family gathering for dinner? What’s it like to do something like this with your dad?


Ryan Denison  15:28

I honestly, it’s been great. Um, so much of it is I read just on I guess, growing up, him being my pastor, in addition, my father for most of my life, growing up, and especially my formative years, he’s always been someone that I could talk to about the weather, I had faith questions when I just had Bible questions or questions about anything. And so it’s a lot of ways working on a book like this, it’s just an extension to those conversations. And so I’m especially kind of when we were planning it out, organizing it, kind of just getting his has taken on like, Does this make sense, and was invaluable. And then being able to just, I don’t know, I guess he just kind of the love the way, he just kind of trusted me with it, to kind of take a lot of the stuff that he’s written in the past. And a lot of the material that he spent his entire career, like so much of his career, and his life and ministry, developing and then be able to use that to help develop this book. And then it’s just, it was great, I enjoyed every bit of it, it I felt the freedom to, to kind of take it where God was leading me, knowing that I always had a safety net, to fall back on as well, where if I had questions, I could go to him and talk and relied so much on the things that he that he’d written and that God had worked on with him in the past. And it was it was, it was a fun process. I really enjoyed it.


Mark Turman  16:54

Yeah, well, I like that idea of just continuation of conversations that have their roots way, way back into some of the earliest expressions and understandings of your own faith and just love that. And so let’s, let’s talk a little bit about what the book is all about. And talk about, first of all, just how is it that it came to have the title, the path to purpose? what’s the, what’s the idea behind that?


Ryan Denison  17:22

Was the one of the the title was a collaborative effort with many people in our ministry, because while I enjoy writing, coming up with titles is not my strong suit. But I think it encapsulates the ideas of the book. Well, in terms of one of the main, I think, purposes for the Sermon on the Mount. The reason that Jesus gave it was to show what it means to live as his disciple, it’s, I think, Agustin called it the system, a systematic ethic for the Christian life. And so much of that, I think, goes back to this idea of Jesus kind of telling his disciples, because the first verses in Matthew five, make clear that the primary audience for the sermon on the mount is those who have already chosen to follow him. And I think that that context is incredibly important for understanding how to live it out. Because if you haven’t already made that commitment, then actually living in the way that he described in the sermon will be impossible, if just not just nonsensical mean, so much of what He requires of us, you would not do unless you were already unless your highest priority was serving Him. And I think, as such, it does become an issue, like an issue to understanding our purpose as Christians, and what it looks like. Because if we’re serving, serving God has to be the primary purpose of our lives if we’re to do it well. It can’t just be something that we do on Sundays, it can’t just be something we do in it’s easy. It has to be the lens through which everything else we look at everything else. And so the idea of the path, the purpose, I think, had a dual meaning to it in terms of it’s the sermon on the mount is God’s path. I think Jesus’s path to helping us understand what our purpose is. But it also that sense of purpose is a gift. It’s one of his blessings as well. I think one of the things so many people are looking forward today as a reason for why their lives matter. And what becomes clear throughout the sermon on the mount is that Jesus requires this high standard of us because we are so important to him. And because he’s blessed us with the opportunity to participate and expanding his kingdom and helping people come to know Him better. And not like there could not be a higher purpose in life than that.


Mark Turman  19:39

So it just reminds me of some things that I learned a good while ago. One is is that each of the biographers of Jesus, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, each of them had a particular audience in mind and a particular goal Matthew, in this case, really wanting to help the Jewish community to see Jesus As the fulfillment of the promise of a Messiah, that He really is the fulfillment of God’s promise in the Old Testament, multiple promises, to be a savior and to be a Messiah and a king. And one of the things that’s unique about Matthew is his gospel can be seen in arrangement as a collection of five of the greatest teaching times of Jesus, this being the first one. But if you look at it in that way, and scholars for two centuries or two millennia have been saying that this is the most important thing that Jesus ever said there could probably be conversations around that. But it’s been described as his manifesto. The Manifesto of the kingdom is another way that it’s described. But putting in that context of purpose it is it fair to say that the Sermon on the Mount gives you a as a believer as a follower of Christ. It gives you a real clear picture of why God has left you here on earth for a season of time after you became a believer that your purpose is not only to know him yourself, but through the way the way and experience of you knowing him, you become that salt and light that Jesus talks about early on in the sermon in the message, and that he wants you here to be, as I sometimes say, salty, bright, so that others can be influenced toward his love and toward the good news of this gospel message. And that’s the reason if you’re wondering, why am I still on earth? You know, and I hear this from people when they’re facing, you know, perhaps a serious illness or they’re getting up in their years of age. Why is God still got me here? Why, why? What’s the purpose of me being here? Isn’t that really encapsulated in in this idea that Jesus is saying, this is your purpose? If you live out like this, your life with God, then you’re becoming that signpost that point people to him is that is that what we’re getting at? That’s what you’re getting at in this idea of the path to purpose.


Ryan Denison  22:12

Absolutely. And I, Paul kind of encapsulates that idea. Well, when he talks about how he wishes he could be in heaven, but His purpose, His constant has a purpose for his time on Earth. And so until he gets to go be with Jesus forever, he’s going to keep telling people about Jesus here. And I think that’s just an extension of what you’re talking about with Christ. The reason that Christ gives us a sermon on the mount, the reason he gave his disciples the Sermon on the Mount. And I love that you brought up the, it’s the first teaching, because I think it really does set the stage for a lot of what follows in Matthew’s Gospel, kind of this idea that to be a follower of Christ is not easy. And it is not the life we would choose unless it served a higher purpose. And one that really is that warranted the sacrifices it requires of us and do the thing about that. The Salton light passage is that it ends with just as called to do everything to the glory of God, and to be sought to be like for God’s glory. And I think that’s one of the things you see that runs throughout the sermon on the mount is just this reminder that we are not called to serve God, because it for primarily to receive blessings for ourselves. We’re not called to serve God, because it’s the path to an easier life. We’re called to serve God to bring God glory, and to glorify His mission and to help others know him. And I think that keeping that part of the purpose in mind as well, I think there are the sermon is important to understanding what he’s really taught what Jesus is really asking of us.


Mark Turman  23:42

Right? And that, as you said, it’s, it’s, it’s not easy to follow Jesus. In fact, when you get into all that Jesus is saying in this message, it’s actually impossible. On your own, it is utterly in in completely impossible to live this way that Jesus describes. And there’s, there’s one line of interpretation around the sermon on the mount that says, Well, Jesus never really intended that anybody would ever actually do it and live this way, that it was always going to be simply an idealized version or an aspirational pursuit and that nobody was really ever going to be able to pull it off when when I hear that Ryan, I started thinking, so God is setting me up for failure. Is that Is that what’s going on here? He’s just going to constantly remind me how short I fall of what the kingdom of God is really supposed to be like, that’s, that’s not really what Jesus is after here. Is it setting us up for failure?


Ryan Denison  24:44

No, not at all. And I mean, I think he, he gives us this instruction, knowing that there will be times we fail. But the idea that this is an ethic that will never see fulfilled this side of heaven, I think is I think it shortchanges what Jesus was looking for, and he would not have gone into this much as much detail as he does, if that was the case. And I think the key to kind of combat that I think is at the very end of the sermon where Matthew talks about how the crowds were amazed because of the authority with which Jesus spoke. And I think if, if they got to, essentially the sermon on the mount is the God of the universe, telling us what he’s looking for from those who claim to be as followers and to try and downplay that, or write it off as, like, basically, a guide for some future day is, I think, a pretty audacious move on our part, if it’s motivated, just because it seems like it’s too hard. And I mean, it’s, there’s nothing, nowhere does Jesus say that being his disciple is going to be easy. That’s not part of His purpose for us. And I think everything in it also, I think, shortchanges how much practical wisdom exists within the sermon itself. If we write this off as just an aspiration for a future time, rather than a requirement for our lives in the present, then we’re not going to have the commitment necessary to actually live this out well. And I think it also gets us dangerously close to the way the religious leaders were approaching the law by their point, they took it kind of in the opposite direction, where they saw this law as being unattainable. And, for example, like in chapter two of the book, we, we talked about the part where Jesus compares the the righteousness of the religious leaders with the righteousness that God is looking for. And so much of that goes back to this idea that the religious leaders were pursuing a righteousness that was achievable by human means. And as a result, they de emphasized the most important parts of following the law to place the greatest emphasis on the parts that they could actually attain, it’s why the Sabbath laws have come to become had become so important to them. Because it’s like, we may not be able to solve our issues with anger, but Gosh, darn it, we can not work on the Sabbath. And so we’re gonna make that and measure that. And it’s why they had so much conflict with Jesus over those laws, because I think Jesus is trying to tell them that’s like, no, you’ve taken, you’re missing the point. And I think if we want to make that move, to try and mitigate the immediate relevance of the sermon on the mount for our lives, then we missed the point of why Jesus gave it to us, it’s, it’s okay to fail at times, like he knows we’re going to, but the inevitability of our failure should never be an excuse for accepting it. And I think that’s kind of where you end up, if you write off the, the sermon on the mount is this ethic for a future time.


Mark Turman  27:35

Right. And so speak to that, unpack that a little bit further from the standpoint of how this how this message of Jesus so fully points back to the, to the fundamental and humbling reality, of relationship with God. That there there is literally in as in all things with the Christian life, there’s just no hope, that this is something that can become a reality for us consistently. Unless it’s about real relationship of daily dependence upon the Lord in in with the Holy Spirit. If it becomes as your dad likes to use the terminology transactional, then that leads us down the road of a performance kind of faith performative faith, built on some kind of attempt by us to create a contract with God, I’ll do this, if you’ll do that. I’ll do this if you do that. And I would say many people probably read Scripture and read the sermon on the mount that way. But what Jesus is trying to lead us into is an understanding of a lot of things that are both internal before they become external in terms of behavior. And the first of those is that of relationship with God. That that has to be fundamental informative for this, this kind of a life to actually be something that grows and develops within within us, right. Can you unpack that part of it a little bit more?


Ryan Denison  29:19

Sure. And I think you’re right on with that a big part of I think what Jesus is trying to do is get people to focus again on their relationship with God rather than on the laws. Going back to the religious leaders, I think that was one of the mistakes they made was basing their understanding of righteousness on keeping the letter of the law, when the reality is that God is looking for relationship with us. And the ironic part of that is that we’re actually more likely to keep God’s laws and to do everything that we are hoping for when our focus is on is on being in a right relationship with the Lord when our actions are motivated from our love of God from our love. or for God, rather than a fear of his, of doing something wrong. Or if you’re screwing up, it’s it’s a difference between like keeping our focus on not sinning versus keeping our focus on obeying the Lord. And the latter is always going to lead to lesson. Because we’re, I think God wired us to, to work better when we’re motivated by, by love than and by a desire to, to please Him than by desire to avoid his anger. And I think it’s really easy to cross that line and make mistakes. And when we’re, when our goal becomes a more transactional form of righteousness.


Mark Turman  30:44

Well, yeah, well said, Just motives of love and gratitude, so much more effective, more pleasurable. And in every way more honorable than that of like you said, Fear. And, and this kind of transactional kind of understanding you do this, I’ll do that kind of faith. The books laid out in eight sections kind of give us a little sense of the flow of, you know, I think you can sit down just about anybody can sit down, read the Sermon on the Mount three chapters, Matthew five, six and seven, about 20 minutes or less, I think is the last time when I sat down to actually read it out loud, and to try to get some sense of hearing it the way the people might have heard it. And that’s a discussion in and of itself, right. Some people think that this is exactly the way that it was spoken, you know, beginning to end. The chapter and verse divisions obviously came later, we’re not a part of, of how Jesus expressed this, some people think it was exactly the way it was first spoken, some people think it’s actually a compilation of maybe several teaching moments that might have happened there at the north end of the Sea of Galilee, out just out there in the area near Capernaum. But regardless, if you just sit down and try to listen to it, or read it out loud, which is, by the way, a very productive thing, I would say, to read it out loud, or to listen to it out loud, because that’s the way perhaps 1000s of people were receiving it in this experience. But how is it that you came to kind of lay this out in eight sections and kind of just walk us through your approach to that.


Ryan Denison  32:31

I like that you brought up like kind of the discussion around if this was all, if this was originally given in one in one setting, or if this was a compilation, because I think it’s important to remember that either way, this is how God intended all of us to receive it was this one sermon, because that’s how we inspired it to be written goin. And I think one of the things that we wanted to do with this and the way, the reason we broke it up into kind of eight sections as we did was because there’s so much depth, like every small part of the sermon that can be easy and is often treated, whether it’s in sermons or Bible studies, each individual teaching is often focused on as being this independent thought, in a way that has a lot of value, but can kind of it can be easy to lose sight of the larger context and larger movement within the sermon. And so one of the things we wanted to do is highlight the way that the sermon does build on itself, and how there are these themes that run through it, especially run through sections that can kind of change the way we look at it. And sometimes those chapter breaks came at natural points of transition. For example, like the break between chapter one and two, where it goes from the salt and light to Jesus’s weren’t words about righteousness. There’s a clear break there. Same with two and three. But when you get into the, you’ve heard it said statements, for example, like there’s six of those, and we divided them up as we did, because we felt like the first while each of those whether it’s with anger, lust, divorce in the first six section, which we called kind of more private sense. Now, because they’re sins that you don’t see in public, but because for the most part, people understand that, especially with anger and lust and kind of treated divorce as a continuation of the last conversation, and a lot of ways but with most people understand that anger and lust are not, not emotions that you should act on. And so a lot of times a sinful part of that is going to be kept private, until it naturally bleeds into our actions. Whereas with the latter three on a kind of owes on retaliating when you’re wrong than on and that whole movement of the section those we call those more public sins, because those are the ones that are more easily defensible. It can be you can twist, it’s easy to kind of look at those who say, Well, yes, I understand. Technically, this is what Scripture saying, but look at what happened. I’m not sitting when I act on when I act this way. And that allowed us to kind of look at that section through the lens of You’re right you have you have every right to retaliate when you’re wrong. someone slaps you on the cheek. Every culture throughout history has said that you are justified in responding to that. And in like manner, and what Christ called us to do was like, Jesus never says that we don’t have the right to respond to that situation, he just calls us to set that that right aside, in order to better serve Him in order to prioritize our witness. And so for example, like dividing that section up into that, let us look at how that theme plays into those three, those three aspects that would normally be treated kind of as individual sections. And there was a lot throughout the book where we tried to do, or we tried to take that approach of just kind of highlighting themes that run throughout and give added context to passages that are often treated, kind of as a standalone.


Mark Turman  35:53

But thanks, thanks for that. Ryan, take us back to the beginning. Because I’ve heard your dad say on a number of occasions that if you don’t get the first part, right, kind of the introduction to this what is historically been called the Beatitudes eight statements that actually you and your dad put together a previous book, around just that part of the sermon that people can get a hold of through our website, but tell us how the first statements called the Beatitudes really set the foundation for where this is going to go and, and tell me if I’m right when, when I hear that portion, I always go all the way through this very familiar passage, or part of Matthew chapter five, verses 1617, about being salt in light. To me, that’s all that’s the end of the first kind of section of the material. What’s so significant about that part?


Ryan Denison  36:51

Yeah, um, I think that what the Beatitudes do is they show the character of what it means of what God is looking for. So much of the rest of the sermon focuses on how to act and what God expects from us in terms of the way that we live out our faith. I think the big what the Beatitudes do, and the reason that you started there is they really emphasize the character of what God’s looking for. And that’s important because it doesn’t matter, even if it was possible, to live out to live a perfect life, and to live out every bit of what Jesus teaches in the rest of the sermon, which, without also reflecting the character of Christ, which I don’t think it is possible. But if it was, that still wouldn’t be enough to be righteous in God’s eyes. And I think so much of what you see, with him combating the religious leaders was this attempt to focus so much on right action, that being in a right relationship with the Lord was downplayed. The importance of having a big having a heart that genuinely pursues God that reflects his was minimized and its importance to an extent, I think, the reason Jesus start with the Beatitudes, as he’s saying, this is, if you can’t get this part, right, like my dad says, If you can’t get this part, right, it doesn’t matter what follows the rest, you’re not going to be where you need to be. And you’re not going to be able to experience the life that God wants for you the life that gives us access to the blessings that He already longs to provide like we don’t, I think the other thing I like about the Beatitudes is that reminds us that we don’t earn God’s blessings necessarily, there he is. He’s a good father, who was inclined to bless us who wants to bless us. But he’s not going to do that. Unless we’re living a life that he can’t bless, because he won’t reinforce that behavior. And he won’t reinforce that character. And I think what the Beatitudes do is they show us they show us the heart that God’s looking for, and the character that God’s looking for. And when we get that, right, when our hearts start to reflect Christ, when our when we accept that, okay, this is what it means to, to follow after the Lord, then that sets us up to be able to actually live out our faith well. So that’s why we kind of started with the whole book on the Beatitudes is to be able to really flush that out what, understand what that looks like. And, at the same time stopping kind of with the Beatitudes, and with the call to be salt and light always felt like we left it a little unfinished. And so that’s why we wanted to come back with the Sermon on the Mount, to look at the sermon on the mount as a whole. But it’s also why the first chapter of this book goes back over the Beatitudes, and it’s a lot of those same principles is that if we, if we can’t get that right, then it doesn’t matter. We’re not going to it doesn’t matter what comes up. What comes after that.


Mark Turman  39:30

Yeah, it’s such a to me such a needed thing in our culture today, because we’ve really diminished the role of character in so many aspects of our culture. I was listening to some teaching in this area just recently where they were indicating the documented evidence data that shows that we’ve eliminated much of the vocabulary of around character and virtue out of our conversations in Out of our thinking, and therefore we’re not focused on it. And we become much more practical minded in terms of getting a certain task accomplished or achieving a certain result, usually through expressions of power and abuse, abusive expressions of power, toward domination and control, rather than on character when there is mountains of evidence, both anecdotal and measurable, that putting character first and you know, a statement that your dad likes to attribute to your mom, right, which is you need to live a life that God can bless, which is really what these early statements are about. It’s, it’s not setting up for us. eight steps of okay, you need to go, you go go achieve each one of these eight things in order of, you know, being meek and being humble, of having a hunger and a thirst for righteousness of being a peacemaker. Sometimes we read it and we read it like, Okay, well, those are my eight first task. And if I can accomplish that, then I can move on to the next part. But that’s that’s what you said, Not it all the way that should be read. This is what God wants to bloom in us, as we relate to him in a trusting faith, right? Am I Am I on the right path with


Ryan Denison  41:26

you? Absolutely. And I think the other Another thing that’s important understand what those is that we don’t get to pick and choose which ones of those characteristics we’ll pursue. I think all of us are naturally more inclined to some than others, some are going to come easier than others. But so the temptation can be to think that, okay, there’s this threshold of character that God’s looking to develop. And if I can really emphasize these four than maybe the other, that’ll make up for being deficient in the other four. And that’s just, that’s not what Jesus intended. He intended he all of this to be what it means to have the character of a Christian. And we can’t just, we can’t, we can’t minimize or kind of choose some say that, okay, I’m, I’m, I know that I’m deficient here. But I’ll make up for it somewhere else, because that’s just not what God wants. It’s not what it wasn’t the purpose behind it. And understanding that also, I think, reinforces that this is going to be something that is going to be, it’s going to be something we have to work on for our whole lives. Because because not all of these traits are going to come naturally to us. Some will require more work than others. And circumstances might make it easier to exhibit some at certain points in our lives. But we need to pursue all of them equally, as an see all of them as equally important because Jesus did. That’s why He gave them to us.


Mark Turman  42:50

And to see them for, you know, this well rounded a whole holistic expression of what it really means to be countercultural in our world that is hostile to God to be to use the word dissident this to live this way is to really be a dissident, to our culture. And to say, this is a different way, this is a beautiful way, actually the most beautiful way that you can live. And as you said that some of them may at different seasons of our lives seem to come earlier or come easier to us and but we can’t ever step back and say, Well, you know, I’m good at being humble. And I really do have a hunger for God and for his way, but I’m just not a forgiving person. And God knows that he’s, he’s gonna be okay with me not being a forgiving person. You just can’t read it that way. And and it’s about it’s about positioning yourself in a place where you say, God, I want this whole thing I want all of this picture in this beauty of the kind of life that you can create in a human being I want all of it, not just some of it, I want all of it. And that’s the only way that it’s, it’d be it’d be like saying, Okay, well, I’m gonna go and get the most perfect diamond from the jewelry store. But I’m okay, if it has a really bad flaw over here on the right side of it. You nobody would do that if they were going to pick the best diamond they could pick right now.


Ryan Denison  44:20

And it just having deficiency in one area just, we can’t hide it with others, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if if you have a big flaw, it’s going to be known, it’s going to be evident it’s going to play out in other areas of your lives. These are not things that we can hide. We often deceive ourselves into thinking we can or will write it off as some of my passion crystal has talked about is how it’s there’s a lot of people that say like, well, that’s just who I am like I speak the truth. I may be brash, but that’s just who I am, is like well, that doesn’t mean it’s right. That just means that you’d know where you’re supposed to be working on this. And I think one of the things that the Beatitudes remind So is that it’s not a God doesn’t Never Let us settle for anything less than being perfect as he is perfect. As he says later in the sermon, God doesn’t let us settle for a lesser faith and he wants for us a lesser character than he wants for us. And it’s very tempting to try, but we never we can’t, because those those flaws will always show up.


Mark Turman  45:23

No. And like we said before, you know, it’s, it’s not about setting this up as a scorecard so much as saying, Am I Am I relating to God in a way that I’m cooperating with him, for him to bloom these characteristics, these qualities of character and virtue into my life? am I allowing that, you know, Paul, David Tripp said, One time he said, you know, most of the time people come to church, and what they hear is, God is good, try harder. And that’s not the message here. The message is not God is good, that part is true. You just need to try harder. No, it’s about moving toward that idea of relationship, which is where the sermon kind of goes, and as your layout really starts to talk about in terms of authentic discipleship in the pieces that come after this introduction, in the first 16 or so verses, start talking about and describe this chapter as what it means to be an authentic or a full disciple, what it means to follow. And it starts to intersect with many of Jesus’s conflicts with the religious leaders that you’ve referenced, that they by the time Jesus shows up, they have interpreted the law of God through Moses into some 613 applications or interpretations and applications. And Jesus starts to challenge many of those, right? Because they’ve turned a dynamic and personal faith into simply a scorecard of rules that they could measure. And all of us want to do that, because we, you know, we, we always have this tendency to measure everything, especially American believers. We want to know, okay, well, am I at seven with God today? Or am I gusting up to an eight and a half? Did I fall back over the weekend? Two or three? Were How am I supposed to score my relationship with God? Right. And they had done that by the time Jesus showed up in enormous ways, right?


Ryan Denison  47:28

Absolutely. Well, we see that throughout the sermon, I think the part that talks where Jesus talks about divorce, kind of falling right or lust I just one of the clearest examples of it. You mentioned, because by the time, like Rabbi Akiva, for example, he was by that time Judaism had become it becomes so important to them, to be able to check off that box that scorecard that they would begin to reinterpret scripture in ways that made it easier to be fulfilled. For example, like with divorce, Rabbi Akiva interpreted Deuteronomy 24th one where it talks about if it’s divorced, permissible, she finds no favor in his eyes to mean that it’s permissible for a man to divorce his wife if you find someone else more attractive. And while that seems crazy to us today, I would hope it seems crazy to us today. If you look at it in the context of okay, well, I know lust is one of the big things I’m not supposed to do. I find I’m lusting after this woman. But if I marry her, then she’s no longer law. She’s my wife. It’s like, okay, well, then I’ll just divorce my wife marry her and my problems with lust are solved. It’s like that was kind of, in a lot of ways that kind of epitomizes what Jesus was writing against is just that. And that’s an extreme example, but I think we still see similar something similar play out a lot today where it’s this idea of, okay, I know, this is my big sin. So let me figure out how to stop acting on this sin, even when doing so means reinterpreting or mitigating or basically misunderstanding something else in Scripture, like reinterpreting scripture in a way that makes it easier to accomplish this larger purpose that I want


Mark Turman  49:08

to let. So let’s create a workaround. Yeah, yeah. So we’re good at, you know, okay, this is my problem. And I don’t really want to deal with the problem at its core, I would rather just create a workaround and like you said, relative to the way that they approach lust and divorce, they’d come up with some really, with a really ingenious way of doing this. Which tells you just how creative we can be at justifying ourselves and getting to the place where we want to get while at the same time, you know, appeasing our conscience and convincing ourselves deceiving ourselves that God is good with our plan. Right?


Ryan Denison  49:48

Absolutely. And I think it’s important when we look at that to remember that they were not trying to make to drive people away from God in the process. They were trying to justify their own sin and they legitimately thought that this is what God wanted from them was to keep the letter of the law to keep especially the big commandments like that. That’s what it meant to be in right relationship with God, they were so afraid of going back to the kind of sin that led to the exile, that they basically set up all the safeguards that were intended to keep people from sinning, and just drove them further into it. Because they drove them further from the Lord, but they had the best of intentions of doing so for the most part. And I think that’s kind of that’s important for us to remember today is that these are, it can be easy to kind of see the religious leaders as the bad guys are having these evil intentions, when that was not the case, they just, they got their priorities mixed up. And over the centuries, that had some really, really bad consequences. And that that’s just as true for us today. There, if we lose sight of the essentials of what Jesus asking from us of what it means to be a Christian, then we’re just as capable of making that mistake and emphasizing the wrong things. Now as they were then. And I think that’s that’s why it’s I think that’s why Jesus tackles it so aggressively throughout the sermon and throughout his ministry is that he knows this is a problem that humans are tempted to this wasn’t just the first century religious leaders, this is a human issue. And all of us, if we’re not prioritizing our relationship with God as our primary motivation, then we’re going to be tempted to make those same mistakes, maybe in different ways. But the mistake itself, at its core will be the same.


Mark Turman  51:28

Right? Just a few more minutes to chat today, but just wanted to get you to comment a little bit about that idea of motive. And that when you look at the law of God, whether it’s in the Old Testament or the new, you’re looking at it in different ways, through Jesus’s eyes in this sermon, that the idea of motive and of looking for principle behind the law is so important. So that you don’t go down this path of, of being well intentioned, or at least initially, in some ways well intentioned, but ending up going down some of the same pathways that the Pharisees got to that ended up really perverting and twisting and warping what God had always desired for people. Talk about that a little bit this the way that Jesus elevates both motive and intention being a good starting place, but that you have to stay anchored to Scripture and to the relationship all the way through.


Ryan Denison  52:34

Absolutely. I mean, I think that’s why he starts with character. Because if we’re, if our characters right, if we’re if our primary purpose is to glorify God, and to rely on a relationship with him to do so then we’re going to be better safeguarded against that, but kind of going back to a lot of the You have heard it said statements, a lot of those, especially the first two about anger and lust deal with emotions that all of us feel. And one of the things I do that we did in the book is the focus, like look at the Greek of what those what he’s really talking about there. And I think it’s important, but there that comes up throughout, especially kind of in the past, where he tells us to love our enemies as well, it’s, it’s important to remember that God never commands us how to feel, he just commands, he just gives us instruction on what to do with those emotions. Because you can’t, like even Jesus felt anger, all of us feel anger at times, you can’t avoid that. And anger is not a sin until you act on it, or until you foster it. And going back to the idea of motivations. That’s a lot of what he’s talking about with that. You have heard it said. But I say to you about angers, this idea that it’s about fostering a grudge, it’s about feeling that emotion holding on to it and letting it kind of fester and grow in your heart. And that’s where the sin is. That’s where the sun comes from. And the reason that sinful is because it, it changes the way that you act with people, it changes the way you approach people, and it changes your motivations in doing so. But ultimately, we’re never going to be able to get that right unless our primary motivation is on serving God and bringing him glory. And on loving Him the way He loves us. And if we can get that part right, then if that can be our guiding motivation for everything, then that’s the only way that actually living. The kind of life Jesus talks about in the Sermon on the Mount is achievable. But it is achievable. Like on any given moment. There’s never, we’ll never face a moment in this life where sin is inevitable. We always have the choice of whether or not we will sin or whether or not we will serve God. But when our motivation is serving the Lord rather than avoiding sin, then it’s a lot easier to make that right choice.


Mark Turman  54:40

Yeah, what a good word. So, such a powerful insight to hear. You know that God doesn’t ever command our feelings. He just tells us that we can respond to those feelings in honorable ways that bring Him glory and honor in that are for our best good or we can can choose to go Another direction which is so, so profound in a culture like ours, where we’ve elevated feelings to being the essence of what truth is for so many of us, as your dad and others have talked about that, you know, we’ve we’ve decided that truth is really to be measured how we feel, rather than by any other standard. And that’s where Jesus is so helpful to get us on to a better track. Last question, which is, is there? Is there one thing that you’re hoping that people get out of this that you haven’t already expressed? I think I know what it would be. But is there one kind of summary statement that you’re hoping when people get to the end of this work, they would say, This helped me in this way?


Ryan Denison  55:43

I guess the main thing would be, I just hope it encourages people to pursue a relationship with God, but also to be encouraged in the process of pursuing a relationship with God, to know that this is something that God desires of us, it’s not going to be easy. And we shouldn’t expect it to be easy, we should expect to fail along the way, but that there’s grace when we do and just to encourage people to try. And actually just to see their relationship with God is something that is more than just doing the right thing. But that that’s still, it’s still important to do the right thing. And to encourage them in that process to understand what use is really talking about and what he means behind so much of these. It’s why we try and get into the Greek where the Greek is relevant. And because I think there’s a lot that gets lost in translation at times. Right and but just at the end of the day to to put this down and feel challenged, but also encouraged would be my main hope.


Mark Turman  56:40

Yeah. Fantastic. Well, Ryan, thank you for your work on this and for your conversation today, helping people to get an overview of what this resource is all about. Again, it is called the book is called the path to purpose. A look at Jesus’s Sermon on the Mountain, Matthew five, six and seven, you can find that at our website, Dennison forum.org. And you can find other writings by both Ryan and myself in that environment as well. Thanks for being a part of the Denison Forum Podcast today. If this has been helpful to you, please rate review us on your podcast platform and share this with your friends so that they can be a part of the conversation as well. Dr. Ryan Dennison, thanks for joining us today.


Ryan Denison  57:22

Thank you for the opportunity


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