What sets you apart from the world as a Christian?
It’s not merely what you say you believe—plenty of people pay lip service to biblical theology without it penetrating their hearts. Others point back to an emotional event or a momentary confession as evidence for assurance of faith. And still others presume their good works will eventually outweigh the bad, and they will achieve God’s favor and forgiveness.
In the Beatitudes, Christ shatters those erroneous notions, and vividly describes the righteous character of those who truly belong to Him. In the final two Beatitudes, He highlights two godly characteristics that reflect how believers live in an ungodly world.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:9-12)
If we’re going to understand the full weight of what it means to be a spiritual peacemaker, we need to think beyond the kind of temporary peace the world settles for.
There’s a big difference between a truce and peace. A truce just says you don’t shoot for a while. Peace comes when the truth is known, the issue is settled, and the parties embrace each other. Stopping a war just makes it boil. Approaching peace that way may develop a far worse situation.
The peace of the Bible never evades issues. The peace of the Bible is not peace at any price. It is not a gloss. The peace of the Bible conquers the problem. It builds a bridge. Sometimes it means struggle, sometimes it means pain, sometimes it means anguish; but in the end, real peace can come. Biblical peace is real peace.  John MacArthur, The Only Way to Happiness (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1998), 169-170.
The peacemaking Christ describes in Matthew 5:9 is not aiming for momentary détente. It’s not about letting sleeping dogs lie or agreeing to disagree—it’s about solving the problem altogether. As John MacArthur says, “Being a peacemaker is not avoiding the issue; it’s diving right into the middle of it and trying to bring about a righteous solution.” The Only Way to Happiness, 175.
That doesn’t mean we should be looking for fights to get into, or stirring up strife on our own. Romans 12:18 plainly says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Hebrews 12:14 echoes the sentiment: “Purse peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” One of the requirements for godly leaders in the church is that they are not “pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable” (1 Timothy 3:3).
But in what initially sounds like a contradictory statement to the verses mentioned above, Christ told His disciples, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). Here’s how John MacArthur explains the apparent contradiction.
What He means is that He did not come to bring peace at any price. He knew there had to be strife before there could be peace. . . .
We have to be contentious about some things. So, we bring the gospel to bear, and it ruffles feathers; it convicts, and it brings contention and strife. But when the conflict is resolved by faith in Jesus Christ, there is real peace. We are not to abandon doctrine or conviction, and we are not to avoid bringing up truth just because it offends somebody.
On the contrary, we must bring it up and let it offend so the person can get to real peace. If you deal with truth, you’ll be a divider, a disturber, a disrupter. There is no way around it.The Only Way to Happiness, 170-171.
Every conflict we encounter is ultimately the result of sin. Therefore, any proposed solution that fails to deal with the underlying sin cannot truly solve the problem. In that sense, peacemaking isn’t about merely playing referee in a world filled with angst and strife. It’s about the work of the gospel in a world at war with God. It’s the work Paul described in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20.
Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal though us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
Christ promised a reward for such peacemakers: “They shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). Here’s how John MacArthur describes the depth of that rich blessing:
Have you ever considered what it means to be a son of God? God has a personal, eternal love for you. God bears with your weakness and your sin. God accepts your imperfect service. God provides for your every need, shields you from every danger, reveals to you His eternal truth. He forgives you and keeps on forgiving your every sin.
God makes you an heir to everything He possesses. God works everything for your good. He keeps you from perishing forever. And He gives you heaven. The Only Way to Happiness, 182.
Those rich rewards stand in stark contrast to the realities of life in this world. Christ’s final Beatitude looks ahead to a life of conflict with the world.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)
As Paul warned in 2 Timothy 3:12, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Peter told his readers, “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you . . . as though some strange thing were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). James was similarly blunt about the inevitability of trials (James 1:2-4).
Christians ought to expect persecution. Christ made that point clear in the Beatitudes. He emphasized it again to His disciples in the upper room:
If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. (John 15:18-19)
Our new nature in Christ and the Spirit’s transforming work mark us as targets in a world at war with God. As John MacArthur explains, living up to the standard of the Beatitudes is an offense the world cannot overlook.
All the virtues of the Beatitudes character are intolerable to an evil world. The world cannot handle somebody who is poor in spirit, because the world lives in pride, in a state of self-promotion and ego substantiation. The world cannot tolerate mourning over sinfulness. It wants to bypass sin altogether and convince itself that it’s all right. The world cannot tolerate meekness; it honors pride. The world cannot tolerate someone who knows he is nothing and seeks something that cannot be earned. The world knows little about mercy, about purity, about making peace. These characteristics flagrantly counter the system. The Only Way to Happiness, 185.
In that sense, our suffering at the hands of the world ought to be a great source of encouragement, and even assurance.
If you’re living the kind of life the world can comfortably ignore, you need to question whether you’re living up to the standard Christ described in the Beatitudes. Not every believer will be chased out of his or her town with torches and pitchforks, and we don’t want to intentionally irritate and provoke the wrath of the unbelieving world. But if you fit seamlessly into secular society, you need to consider what the testimony of your life says to others about your relationship to Christ—or if it says anything at all.
By contrast, the believer who lives the lifestyle described in the Beatitudes will stand distinctly apart from the world, and will likely draw its ire. The unbelieving world simply has no stomach for godly righteousness.
Scripture even identifies friction with the world as a blessing. In Philippians 1:28-29, Paul praised the faithfulness of his readers, that they were
in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.
In 1 Thessalonians 3:3, he wrote to encourage suffering believers, “so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this.” In fact, Paul knew that his suffering created further opportunities for God to be glorified. “I am well content with weakness, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
In His final Beatitude, Christ acknowledges that the righteous life will be marked with hardship and opposition. But He doesn’t focus on that temporary suffering—instead, He once again points us toward eternity. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great” (Matthew 5:12). As John MacArthur explains,
If we are willing to pay the price now, God says the glory that shall be revealed is incomparable. Double blessed are the persecuted, for theirs is the kingdom, and all that the kingdom could possibly contain. I think Christ is talking about the here and now when the living King dwells within us and reveals and gives us the fullness of kingdom life spiritually.
He is also talking about a millennial element when the physical fulfillment of kingdom life will belong to us in that wonderful, renewed earth. I also think He’s talking about the eternal kingdom, when we’re face-to-face with the Son of God in glory. He is saying all that the kingdom can possibly convey, all that there possibly can be of God’s great and glorious gift will compensate for our struggle. The Only Way to Happiness, 211.
There’s one more element included in Christ’s encouraging words at the close of the Beatitudes. He identifies our present suffering along with that of all the saints who have gone before us: “For in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:12). There is considerable comfort in knowing that the persecution and hardship we face is not unique to us, but that it is common to all God’s people, including the heroes of our faith.
And when you remember that the Lord’s emphasis throughout the Beatitudes was on the nature of true faith and assurance, there is perhaps no more encouraging way for Him to conclude His thoughts.
Persecution is a verification that you belong to a righteous line. Here is the believer’s security. Here is the climax of the Beatitudes. Jesus offers salvation and tells how to know you have it. It does not come from some theological prescription. It does not come from knowing that you made a decision way back when. Your security comes from knowing that you are living a confrontive life in the midst of an ungodly world and that you are being persecuted for righteousness’ sake. When that comes, not only will you be rewarded in heaven, but you also stand in the line of prophets of God who have received the same reaction through all of history.
In other words, the whole matter will become a testimony to you that you belong to God. The Only Way to Happiness, 215.