Is it not possible that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was only applicable to those followers of His who lived prior to His sacrificial death and resurrection? Were they not under the Law as their temporary means of salvation, but after Jesus died for their sins, were then saved by faith, thus invalidating the theme expounded in this sermon?
This theory is a bad one. No one has ever been saved by his works. It has always been by faith, prior to and during the Old Covenant. Paul argues in Romans 4 that both Abraham (before the old covenant) and David (during the old covenant) were justified by faith and not works.
Moreover, it was an impossibility that any of Jesus’ audience could be saved by works, because they had all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (see Rom. 3:23). Only God’s grace could save them, and only faith could receive His grace.
Unfortunately, too many in the church today view Jesus’ commandments as serving no higher purpose than to make us feel guilty so we’ll see the impossibility of earning salvation by works. Now that we’ve “gotten the message” and have been saved by faith, we can ignore most of His commandments. Unless, of course, we want to get others “saved.” Then we can pull out the commandments again to show people how sinful they are so they will be saved by a “faith” that is void of works.
Nevertheless, Jesus did not tell His disciples, “Go into all the world and make disciples, and make sure they realize that, once they’ve felt guilty and are then saved by faith, My commandments have served their purpose in their lives.” Rather, He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20, emphasis added). Disciple-making ministers are doing just that.