Is the amount of sub-Christian behavior it tolerates and still happily calls the practitioners ‘Christians’. Things that are now ‘ok’ with Disciples of the Crucified and Risen Lord are (in no particular order)
- premarital sexual relations
- premarital pregnancy
- marital infidelity
- premarital cohabitation
- failure to participate in worship
- failure to contribute to ministry
- failure to pray
- failure to read the Bible with any regularity
- failure to share the Gospel with neighbors and friends
- failure to show the decency and compassion which Jesus requires (cf. Mt 25)
In short, you don’t have to believe, do, or be anything which is the hallmark of Christian belief. All you need to do is call yourself a ‘Christian’ and, voila, you are one… Or so you would think…
Which is why it’s helpful to remind our contemporaries of a simple pronouncement of Jesus:
‘It is not anyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” who will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven. When the day comes many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, work many miracles in your name?” Then I shall tell them to their faces: I have never known you; away from me, all evil doers! ‘Therefore, everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and hurled themselves against that house, and it did not fall: it was founded on rock. But everyone who listens to these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a stupid man who built his house on sand. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and struck that house, and it fell; and what a fall it had!’ (Matt. 7:21-27)
If you aren’t going to obey him, don’t bother to identify with him.
via The Most Shocking Thing About Modern Christianity… — Zwinglius Redivivus
Commentary Matthew 7:21-27
Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” (7:21–23)
A Jew could use the term lord simply as a title of respect and honor, given to any political, military, or religious leader, including teachers. But for those people to say, Lord, Lord, suggests much more than human respect, as their following comments make clear. That they claimed to have prophesied, cast out demons, and performed miracles in Jesus’ name indicates they acknowledged Him as Lord in a supernatural way. Lord was a common Jewish substitute title for Jehovah, or Yahweh, which name they considered too holy to utter. Therefore to address Jesus as Lord was to address Him as the one true God. To address Him as Lord, Lord was to add a spirit of intense zeal to demonstrate strength of devotion and dedication. In verse 22, the three references to your name are emphatic and convey the significance of who He is. Jesus is therefore talking about those who make a profession of faith in Him.
These people claim to be followers of the God of Israel, the Creator and Lord of all earth. Not only that, but they acknowledge Jesus Himself to be divine, because they will say to Me [that is, to Jesus] on that day, “Lord, Lord.” And the fact that they have claimed so many outstanding works in His name tells us they are especially fervent religious workers.
The final judgment, on that day, is presented here in general, without reference to the distinction between the separate tribunals for believers (2 Cor. 5:10) and for unbelievers (Rev. 20:11–15). That day is a frequently used reference to the era of divine judgment known throughout Scripture as “the day of the Lord” (Isa. 2:12; Joel 2:1; Mal. 4:5; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10; etc.). Matthew uses that day here and in 24:36, where it refers to the second coming of the Savior. It is noteworthy that the second coming parable of the ten virgins (Matt. 25:1–13) makes reference to those virgins who are shut out of the kingdom as crying out, “Lord, Lord,” to which He also replies, “I do not know you” (vv. 11–12). These few passages together reveal that Matthew has in mind the unspecified season of judgment that will accompany the return of Jesus Christ.
That some of the ones Jesus is talking about here are true believers is shown by His saying, Not everyone and many. The same many who entered the wide gate (v. 13) are now at the end of the broad way facing the Judge. For some people, however, the claim Lord, Lord will be legitimate, because Jesus will have indeed been their Lord on earth and they will have served Him genuinely.
If Jesus is speaking about the great white throne judgment, many professing believers who are not genuine will already have spent centuries in hell awaiting their final judgment (see Luke 16:23–26; Acts 1:25). Because they were so zealous and active and diligent in religious work—in the Lord’s own name—they are incredulous that they are even standing before Christ to be judged. Even at that time they will address Christ as Lord and speak to Him in desperation with the greatest respect and sincerity. Their words and their works will seem impressive to them, but their lives will not support the claim of their lips. In Luke 6:46 Jesus said, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”
It is not the one who simply claims the Lord, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven who is saved. The issue is obedience to the Word of God. “If you abide in My Word, then you are truly disciples of Mine,” Jesus said (John 8:31; cf. 6:66–69; Matt. 24:13; Col. 1:22–23; 1 Tim. 4:16; Heb. 3:14; 10:38–39; 1 John 2:19). Salvation and obedience to the will of God are inseparable, as the writer of Hebrews makes clear: “He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation” (5:9; cf. Rom. 1:5; 6:16; 15:18; 16:19, 26; 1 Pet. 1:2, 22).
Jesus’ word to the disobedient claimers will be, I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness. All their words of respect and honor and all their works of dedication and devotion will be declared empty and worthless. They may have had God’s name in their mouths, but rebellion was in their hearts.
His saying, I never knew you, does not, of course, mean that Jesus was unaware of their identity. He knows quite well who these persons are; they are deceived professing Christians whose lives were spent in the practice [of] lawlessness.
“To know” was a Hebrew idiom that represented intimate relations. It was frequently used of marital intimacy (see Gen. 4:1, 17; etc.; where “had relations” is literally “knew,” as in the KJV). It was also used of God’s special intimacy with His chosen people Israel and with all of those who trust in Him. In a unique and beautiful way the Lord “knows those who take refuge in Him” (Nah. 1:7). The Good Shepherd knows His sheep intimately (John 10:1–14).
Jesus therefore will say to those who claim Him but never trusted in Him, I never knew you. “I have never known you as My disciples, and you have never known Me as your Lord and Savior. We have no intimate part of each other. You chose your kingdom, and it was not My kingdom.” Depart from Me is the resulting final sentence to hell, and is identical in thought to the judgment of Matthew 25:41 at the Lord’s return: “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.” The lake of fire awaits all false professors (Rev. 20:15).
Practice lawlessness is a present participle in the Greek, indicating continuous, regular action, and identifies the unforgiven sin and unrighteous life patterns of those claimers of salvation. You continually and habitually practice lawlessness is the idea. Profession of Christ and practice of lawlessness are totally incompatible. A good tree cannot bear that sort of fruit (Matt. 7:18; John 3:4–10).
A good tree not only can but will bear good fruit, and a life that professes to be Christian, but in no way reflects Christ’s righteousness, has no part in Him. That kind of profession comes from the kind of faith that has no works and is dead (James 2:17). It is the demon faith James refers to (James 2:19), which is orthodox and accurate, but unholy. In the ultimate and most tragic sense such a false profession is to take the Lord’s name in vain. “The blasphemy of the sanctuary,” G. Campbell Morgan observed, “is far more awful than the blasphemy of the slum” (The Gospel According to Matthew [New York: Revell, 1929], p. 79). Mere professed devotion to Christ is but another Judas kiss.
The Lord knows well that even His most faithful disciples will fail, stumble, and fall into sin. Otherwise He would not have told us to pray, “Forgive us our debts” (Matt. 6:12). And when “we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). No Christian is sinless, but the fact that we continually confess our sins, seek the Lord’s forgiveness, and long for righteousness (Matt. 5:6) is evidence that we belong to Him. God’s will may not be the perfection of the true believer’s life, but it is the direction of it.
Those who continually practice lawlessness, however, give evidence that they do not belong to Christ. They do not recognize or confess their sins or hunger for righteousness, because they have no part of Christ. All religious activity, no matter how orthodox and fervent, that does not result from obedience to the lordship of Christ and the pursuit of His glory is rebellion against the law of God, which demands heart conformity.
This passage is all the more amazing when one considers the impressive works that those professing believers claim to have accomplished. They tell the Lord, Did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?
As already mentioned, we know from verse 21 (not everyone) that some of these claims will be made by genuine believers. And because Jesus does not question the factualness of the claims, it is possible that actual prophecies were made, demons cast out, and some kind of miracles performed even by those who were not genuine believers.
There are three possible explanations for the claim of the false believers. It may be that they were allowed to do those amazing works by God’s power. God put words in Balaam’s mouth, even though that prophet was false and wicked (Num. 23:5). King Saul, after he became apostate had the “Spirit of God [come] upon him mightily, so that he prophesied” (1 Sam. 10:10). The wicked high priest Caiaphas unwittingly and unintentionally “prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation” (John 11:51).
A second possibility is that those amazing acts were accomplished by Satan’s power. Jesus predicted that “false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Matt. 24:24). The unbelieving sons of Sceva, for example, were Jewish exorcists, who made their living casting out demons (Acts 19:13–14). Mark 9:38–40 tells of someone outside the apostles casting out demons. Paul promises false signs in the last days, lying wonders of Satan (2 Thess. 2:8–10). Acts 8:11 describes the work of a satanic sorcerer. Today there are miracle workers, healers, and exorcists who claim to work for Jesus Christ but are satanic deceivers.
A third possibility is that some of the claims were simply false. The prophecies, exorcisms, and miracles were fake and contrived. No doubt all three will be represented.
But whether the works themselves were done in God’s power or not, the people who did them did not belong to Him and did not truly recognize Him as Lord, despite their profession. They had no part in His kingdom or its righteousness, and those works, whether genuine or false, divine or Satanic, would stand them in no good stead before the judgment seat of Christ.
The words of an engraving from the cathedral of Lübeck, Germany, beautifully reflect our Lord’s teaching here:
Thus speaketh Christ our Lord to us, You call Me master and obey Me not, you call Me light and see Me not, you call Me the way and walk Me not, you call Me life and live Me not, you call Me wise and follow Me not, you call Me fair and love Me not, you call Me rich and ask Me not, you call Me eternal and seek Me not, if I condemn thee, blame Me not.
Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock. And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them, will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall. (7:24–27)
The second evidence that the many (vv. 13, 22) who are in the broad way will not enter the kingdom is that their lives are not built on the foundation of Christ and His Word. Again Jesus picks up the theme of man’s own righteousness, the righteousness that is totally unacceptable to God and that will in no way qualify a person for His kingdom (Matt. 5:20).
In the first illustration (vv. 21–23) we see a contrast between the true and false verbal professions of faith and good works. Here we see contrasts between obedient and disobedient hearers. Both groups hear God’s true Word, but some hear and obey, and some hear and disobey; some turn their trust to God’s righteousness, and some continue trusting in their own, though that does not become visible until the judgment.
The implication is that even those who disobey believe that they belong to Christ and make a convincing profession of faith in Him. They hear God’s Word and recognize it as God’s Word, but wrongly believe that simply knowing and recognizing it are enough to please God and guarantee them a place in His kingdom. Like those who say, “Lord, Lord,” and do amazing religious works but really “practice lawlessness,” the false hearers build their religious house, but are self-deceived as to its viability.
In the illustration of those who make false professions, the true believers are mentioned only by implication (“not everyone who says to me,” v. 21). In the illustration of the hearers and builders, however, both the true and the false believers are clearly described. In these two groups we see many similarities but also some radical differences.
First of all, both builders have heard the gospel. Everyone who hears these words of Mine applies both to the wise man (v. 24) and to the foolish man (v. 26). They both know the way of salvation.
Second, they both proceed to build a house after they have heard the way of salvation. The wise man builds his house, which represents his life, on these words of Mine. The implication is that the foolish man, although he does not act upon Christ’s words, thinks that his house is secure simply because he has heard and acknowledged the words. He believes the life he lives is Christian and therefore pleasing to God. He does not intentionally build a house he thinks is going to fall. Both builders have confidence their houses will stand; but one man’s confidence is in the Lord and the other man’s is in himself.
Third, both builders build their houses in the same general location, evidenced by their apparently being hit by the same storm. In other words, the outward circumstances of their lives were essentially the same. One had no advantage over the other. They lived in the same town and possibly attended the same church, heard the same preaching, went to the same Bible study, and fellowshipped with the same friends.
Fourth, the implication is that they built the same kind of house. Outwardly their houses were very much alike. From all appearances the foolish man lived much in the same way as the wise man. We might say they were both religious, theologically orthodox, moral, served in the church, supported it financially, and were responsible citizens of the community. They seemed to believe alike and live alike.
The differences between the two builders and the two houses they built were not noticeable from the outside. But they were immeasurably more important than the similarities. The key is to understand that one does act upon God’s Word (obedience) and the other does not act upon His Word (disobedience). One builds using the divine specifications, the other uses his own.
By far the greatest difference between the specifications of these builders and the way they build is in the foundations they laid. The wise man … built his house upon the rock, whereas the foolish man … built his house upon the sand.
Petra (rock) does not mean a stone or even a boulder, but a great outcropping of rock, a large expanse of bedrock. It is solid, stable, and unmovable. Sand, by contrast, is loose, unstable, and extremely movable. The land agents selling lots on the sand are the false prophets Jesus has just warned about (vv. 15–20).
The scribes and Pharisees had a complex and involved set of religious traditions which they regarded as having great value before God. But all those traditions were external, superficial, and unstable. They had no spiritual or moral substance or stability. They were shifting sand, composed entirely of the opinions, speculations, and standards of men. Those who created and followed them took no account of obedience to God’s Word, purity of the heart, spirituality of the soul, or integrity of behavior. Their only concern was for appearance, the compelling desire to be seen and “honored by men” (Matt. 6:2).
As Arthur Pink says of such people,
They bring their bodies to the house of prayer but not their souls; they worship with their mouths, but not “in spirit and in truth.” They are sticklers for immersion or early morning communion, yet take no thought about keeping their hearts with all diligence. They boast of their orthodoxy; but disregard the precepts of Christ. Multitudes of professing Christians abstain from external acts of violence, yet hesitate not to rob their neighbors of a good name by spreading evil reports against them. They contribute regularly to the “pastor’s salary,” but shrink not from misrepresenting their goods and cheating their customers, persuading themselves that “business is business.” They have more regard for the laws of man than those of God, for His fear is not before their eyes.
But the wise man builds his house upon a rock, and I believe the rock spoken of here is God’s Word—these words of Mine. This builder is one who hears Jesus’ words … and acts on them. Building on the rock is equivalent to obeying God’s Word.
After Peter confessed, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus said, “flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church” (Matt. 16:16–18). This “rock” (petra) is the same rock as that in Matthew 7:24–25. It is the bedrock of God’s Word, His divine revelation. It is the divine revelation such as was given to Peter by the “Father who is heaven,” and is the only rock on which the Christian life can be built.
The mark of true discipleship is not simply hearing and believing, but believing and doing. The true disciples of Jesus Christ, the only true converts of the gospel, are those who are “doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was” (James 1:22–24). In other words, a person who professes to know Christ but does not obey Christ, has no lasting image of what the new life is all about. He glimpses Christ, and glimpses what Christ can do for him, but his image of Christ and of the new life in Christ soon fade. His experience with the gospel is shallow, superficial, and short-lived.
“By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments,” John declares. “The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:3–6). Paul powerfully and convincingly asserts the same thing: “To those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed” (Titus 1:15–16).
To profess knowledge of God and His truth but not follow God obediently and live His truth is to be deceived. It is to have entered by the wide gate and to be walking on the broad way that leads to destruction. It is to have a house built upon the sand.
The only validation we can ever have of salvation is a life of obedience. That is the only proof Scripture mentions of our being under the lordship of Jesus Christ. Obedience is the sine qua non of salvation.
The house built on the rock is the life of obedience, the life Jesus has been explaining throughout the Sermon on the Mount. It is the life that has a scriptural view of itself, as described in the Beatitudes. It is the life that has a scriptural view of the world, and sees itself as God’s means for preserving and enlightening the world while not being a part of it. It is the life that has the divine view of Scripture and that determines not to alter God’s Word in the slightest degree. It is a life that is concerned about internal righteousness rather than external form. It is a life that has a godly attitude toward what is said and what is done, toward motives, things, money, and other people. It is a life of genuineness rather than hypocrisy, and of God’s righteousness rather than self-righteousness.
The house built on the rock is the life that empties itself of self-righteousness and pride, that is overwhelmed by and mourns over its own sin, that makes the maximum effort to enter the narrow gate and be faithful in the narrow way of Christ and His Word. Such a builder does not build his life or place his hope on ceremony, ritual, visions, experiences, feelings, or miracles but on the Word of God and that alone.
The sand is composed of human opinions, attitudes, and wills, which are always shifting and always unstable. To build on sand is to build on self-will, self-fulfillment, self-purpose, self-sufficiency, self-satisfaction, and self-righteousness. To build on sand is to be unteachable, to be “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7).
To build the house of one’s life on the sand is to follow the ultimate deception of Satan, which is to make a person believe he is saved when he is not. Because that person is under the delusion that he is safe, he sees no reason either to resist Satan or to seek God.
Besides the great difference in the foundations they lay, the wise man builds his house the hard way, whereas the foolish man builds his the easy way. The one chooses the narrow gate and the other the broad. The one searches carefully for a solid foundation of rock on which to build; the other simply finds a section of sand in a desirable location and starts to build.
The easy way is attractive for several reasons, the first of which is that it is quick. The foolish person is always in a hurry. His first desire is to please himself, and he takes the shortest route to that end. In church work he wants the quick, easy solution, the one that causes the least controversy and hassle, with no consideration of how the solution may square with Scripture. He is for easy evangelism, easy believism, and easy discipleship, because they bring quick results that are simple to see and measure. He has no time for searching the Word for the right truth with which to witness, or for soul-searching or sound conviction. He sees a verbal profession, a card signed, or a prayer prayed as sufficient to bring a person to Christ. He is perfectly willing to declare a person saved without his having any awareness that he is lost.
The foolish person also likes the easy way because he is basically superficial. That which is superficial requires little planning, little effort, little care to detail, and little concern for quality or standards. The person who is superficial looks for what is pleasing rather than for what is right, for what is enjoyable rather than for what is true, for what satisfies himself rather than what satisfies God. He looks to Christianity for instant results, instant pleasure, and instant rewards. He cares much about spiritual “highs” but nothing about spiritual “depths.”
Of his own day Charles Spurgeon wrote,
Want of depth, want of sincerity, want of zeal in religion—this is the want of our times. Want of an eye to God in religion, lack of sincere dealing with one’s soul, neglect of using the lancet with our hearts, neglect of the search warrant which God gives out against sin, carelessness concerning living upon Christ; much reading about Him, much talking about Him, but too little feeding on His flesh and drinking of His blood—these are the causes of a tottering profession and a baseless hope. (Cited by Pink in An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1974], p. 423)
In His parable of the sower Jesus spoke of the person who “hears the word, and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away” (Matt. 13:20–21). He receives quickly and falls away quickly. He likes God’s promises but not His requirements.
The foolish man always has excuses when Jesus makes demands on his life. When he first hears the gospel he says to the Lord, “I will follow You wherever You go.” But when he hears, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head,” he suddenly remembers that he has to bury his father (that is, await his father’s death in order to receive the inheritance) or “say good-bye to those at home.” Such a person who puts his hand to the plow and then looks back, Jesus says, is “not fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:57–62).
The rain, the floods, and the winds do not represent specific types of physical judgment but simply sum up God’s final judgment. The storm is the ultimate test that the house of every human life will face. As the angel of death in Egypt passed by the blood-sprinkled homes of Israel’s children while slaughtering all the first-born in the rest, so the same judgment that harmlessly passes over the house that is founded upon the rock of Christ and His Word will utterly destroy the one that is built … upon the sand—which is anything other than Christ and His Word.
Whether one’s religion is true or false, one day it is going to be tried. And that trial will prove with absolute finality what is wheat and what is chaff, who are sheep and who are goats, who have entered by the narrow gate to walk the narrow way and who have entered by the wide gate to walk the broad way.
Those whose houses are on the rock of Jesus Christ and His Word will be delivered “from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10), and will only have praise from God, says Paul (1 Cor. 4:5). That wrath is ultimately poured out at the judgment at the great white throne, which John describes in Revelation 20. “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.… And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (vv. 12, 15).
The only difference about the storm in regard to the wise and the foolish men is in the way it affects their houses. The house of the wise man may have been shaken, yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock.
But when the same adversity came upon the house of the foolish man it disintegrated—and great was its fall. It was utterly demolished, leaving its builder with absolutely nothing. That is the destiny of those who build on the sand of man’s ideas, man’s philosophies, and man’s religions. It is not that such people will have little left, but nothing left. Their way is not an inferior way to God, but no way to God at all. Always and inevitably it leads to destruction; its absolute destiny is to fall.
The greatest problem in evangelism is not follow-up but conversion. Right follow-up is not nearly so difficult as right conversion. Follow-up is the hardest when conversion is the easiest, because easy conversion is frequently no conversion. It results from seed falling on rocky soil, where it springs up quickly and dies just as quickly. The unconverted are indeed hard to follow up, whereas those who have truly come to Christ are eager to learn from His Word and associate with His people.
I heard of a large church that one year claimed 28,000 conversions, 9,600 baptisms, and 123 additions to the church! After reflecting on those figures, one of the church staff members decided that something was terribly wrong and decided to minister elsewhere. It is quite impossible that so many true conversions would produce so few Christians who would want to identify with their new brothers and sisters in the Lord.
The wise man builds carefully, because there is substance and great importance to what he is building. In the parallel passage in Luke, Jesus says, he “dug deep and laid a foundation upon the rock” (6:48). He is not satisfied with superficial confessions of faith, with quickie conversions that involve no repentance, no mourning over sin, and no despairing of self.
Knowing that he owes everything to the Lord, this man desires to give Him his maximum effort. After he does everything his Lord commands he declares that he has only done his duty (Luke 17:10). Yet he does not consider his work for the Lord burdensome. For one thing, the work we truly do for the Lord is the work He does through us. For another, the work that is truly done for the Lord is done out of love, not out of compulsion or fear. As the anonymous writer of the hymn “How Firm a Foundation” says, the Lord promises this man:
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake!
The most tragic difference between the builders is in their final destinies. Jesus’ unequaled and unparalleled sermon masterpiece ends with a devastating warning of judgment. Its final words are: and great was its fall. The bottom line of the gospel for those who reject Christ is not that they forfeit a great deal of blessing or even that they forfeit a life of eternal bliss with God in heaven—though those things are absolutely true. The bottom line for those who reject Christ is that they are destined for everlasting torment, destruction that keeps on destroying forever. To reject Christ is to look forward to being “cast into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:47–48). Because of this inevitability every professing Christian needs to hear the words of the Holy Spirit through James: “Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22). As we learn from Proverbs, “There is a kind who is pure in his own eyes, yet is not washed from his filthiness” (30:12).
In the final verses of the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus Christ has been warning his hearers against the things that can hinder a listener from going on to that full commitment to Christ that is the true gate to salvation. He has warned against the idea that salvation can come to a man in the normal course of things, that is, without true personal decision and conversion. He has warned against the false teachers and their doctrines. Now Jesus turns to a danger that lies within the heart of the individual himself. It is self-delusion, or deception.
Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matt. 7:21–23). This means that the listener to the gospel must not count on a mere belief in Christ’s person on the one hand, or the performance of great works in his name on the other hand as proof of his own salvation. These things will not save him. Rather, he must assure himself of his relation to Jesus Christ personally.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew the reality of this kind of self-delusion in the Lutheran Church in Germany in his day, and “cheap grace” was his term for describing it. Here was a church, like many of the denominations in America, in which the profession of faith was present and in which good works were done, but in which most of the people had simply not been born again. They were taught “grace,” but it was grace without conversion. As Proverbs says, there are “those who are pure in their own eyes and yet are not cleansed of their filth” (Prov. 30:12).
In The Cost of Discipleship Bonhoeffer writes, “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
This is precisely what we find in many large sectors of the so-called church of Jesus Christ in our day. Several years ago Arthur W. Pink declared, “Never were there so many millions of nominal Christians on earth as there are today, and never was there such a small percentage of real ones. … We seriously doubt whether there has ever been a time in the history of this Christian era when there were such multitudes of deceived souls within the churches, who verily believe that all is well with their souls when in fact the wrath of God abideth on them.” And then he added, “And we know of no single thing better calculated to undeceive them than a full and faithful exposition of these closing verses of our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount.”
In the light of these truths, it is evident that Christ’s words are a particularly pertinent warning to those who blithely believe a few doctrines, or who perform a smattering of so-called good works and yet have never entered into that kind of true commitment to Christ which results in increasingly costly obedience and in true discipleship.
Does that describe you? Are you one who is correct in doctrine but who has never come to the point of knowing the Lord personally? If you are, the Lord Jesus Christ is speaking to you when he says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
What does that mean? Well, the address, “Lord, Lord,” is actually a confession of faith. The word “Lord” (both in Hebrew and in Greek) is a word that denotes divinity. In the Old Testament, “Lord” is the word “Jehovah,” a name for God. In the New Testament the word for “Lord” is kyrios, by which citizens of the Roman Empire were required to confess the godhead of Caesar. Thus, Jesus says that there will be those in the history of the church who will confess his divinity but who will never have entered into a true personal relationship with him. Such persons will be found throughout the church, and even, unfortunately, in its pulpits.
Someone will say, “Can that be? Can a man come out of seminary and still not be born again?” He certainly can. Moreover, a man can sit in the pews of a local church for years firmly believing that Christ is God, that he died on the cross, and even that he is coming back one day to judge the world, and yet never come to the place where he trusts that same Jesus Christ as his Savior.
That was the case with Luther. Luther was so concerned for his soul that he left his training in a secular occupation to enter the monastery of the Augustinian hermits in Erfurt, Germany. Erfurt’s monastery was popular and respected. There Luther soon made good progress and was ordained to the priesthood. He studied Scripture, becoming a doctor of theology. He lectured on the Psalms, Romans, Galatians, Hebrews, and Titus. Now, if anyone had asked Luther at this point in his life, “Do you believe in the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ?” he would have answered, “Of course, I do. I have always believed it.” If you had asked him, “Do you believe that Jesus died on the cross and that he died for your sin?” he would have answered, “Yes,” even though he did not then understand what that meant and was not born again. If you had asked, “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is coming back again to judge the world?” Luther would have answered, “Yes, I do, and I tremble at the thought.”
Yet at this point in his life Luther did not know the Lord personally. Jesus was God, but not his God. Jesus was Lord, but not his Lord. Jesus was Savior, but not his Savior. Before the peace that he craved became his and before he could be used of God as the great Protestant reformer, he had to confront Jesus Christ himself.
Because a man can believe certain Christian doctrines with his head and yet not be converted, there always will be counterfeit or nominal Christians in church circles. Some of them will be dangerous, for they will be planted there by the devil to deceive the unwary, like tares in field of wheat. Others will only be self-deluded. Whatever the case, however, the world will be able to point to them and say, “Ah, look at those hypocrites; that’s why I’m not a Christian.” Do not be discouraged by that. Just be sure that you are not one of them. Ask the Lord to reveal the state of your own heart before him and allow him to lead you to the fullness of belief in Christ and commitment to him.
Doctrine is only the first area in which many persons find a false spiritual confidence. There is a second area also; that is works (v. 22). There will always be somebody to say, “It’s not just that I believe these things and hear sermons about them, I really serve Christ. I prophesy in his name. I cast out demons. I do wonderful works.” Now Jesus says that it is quite possible for a person to be baptized, to be confirmed, to take communion, to serve on a church board, even to be a missionary, and still never have been born again. So he says, “Examine your heart, you youthful reformers, you church members, you servants of the church, you preachers. Are you born again?” The Bible says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8–9).
This latter verse does not mean that there are not to be good works in Christianity, for there certainly should be. However, good works have to be those that come forth out of the life of Jesus Christ within. That is why, for instance, in theology the phrase “faith and works” is used. Faith is not mere intellectual assent to certain doctrines, the kind of belief that Jesus warned about earlier. It is commitment, or personal trust. Thus the phrase means that there must be personal commitment, and then, growing out of that, there must be good works. These are the two oars of the ship that are meant to propel it forward. If only one oar is present, there will be trouble.
In one of the great battles that took place between the Greeks and the Persians just prior to the Greek Golden Age, there was an incident that perfectly illustrates this principle. The Persian fleet had sailed from the Bosporus out along the Macedonian coast and then down the edge of Greece to Attica. It finally met the Greek ships in the bay of Salamis just off Athens. The Greek ships were lighter and quicker; the Persian ships were cumbersome. So, in the battle that followed, the Greeks made short work of the Persians. In one particular encounter a Greek ship managed to sail close to a large Persian vessel and brush by its side. Because it had done this quickly, the Persian oarsmen did not have time to draw their oars in, although the Greeks did. The result was that the Greek ship broke off all of the oars on that side of the Persian vessel. Few on the Persian ship realized what had happened, and because the oarsmen on the other side continued rowing, the ship swung around in a circle leaving a fresh set of oars visible to the Greek captain. The Greeks then reversed their ship, trimmed off the other set of oars, and sank the enemy.
It must have been a humorous sight, the great ship going around in circles. But it is an illustration of what happens when there is faith without works or works without faith. Oh, we can generate a big storm with one oar. We can get attention. But we will just be going around in circles spiritually. Real Christianity is a personal relationship to Jesus Christ through faith resulting in a new life that goes forward and that is increasingly productive of good works.
Becoming a Christian
At this point you may be quite ready to say, “Yes, I acknowledge that the personal relationship you are talking about is necessary, and that I must have it. But how does Jesus become my Savior personally?” It is quite simple. To begin with you must stop what you are doing and listen carefully to his voice. It is quite easy to do the opposite. John R. W. Stott, minister of All Souls Church in London, writes in Basic Christianity: “It is tragically possible to turn a deaf ear to Him and to drown the insistent whisper of His appeal. Sometimes we hear His voice through the prickings of the conscience and sometimes through the gropings of the mind. Now it is a moral defeat, now an inexplicable spiritual hunger, now sickness or suffering or fear, through which we detect His pleading. We can listen to His call through a friend or a preacher or a book. When we hear, we must listen.”
Second, when he speaks to us we must acknowledge that the things he is saying, however difficult to accept, are true and that he alone has the answer to our problems. Jesus is kind, but he does not pull punches. He will spell out the problem. Whatever form your sin may have taken, whether the sin of Abraham, or David, or the rich young ruler, or Paul—whatever it may be—he will reveal that sin to you. He will tell you why it is serious in his sight, why sin must be dealt with, and why the solution to the problem had to be his death on Calvary.
There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin;
He only could unlock the gate
Of heaven, and let us in.
Finally, there must be an act by which you open the gate of your heart and admit him. Or, to put it another way, you must pass through the narrow gate to salvation. This does not mean that you are responsible for your own salvation. If you do open the door, it is because he is there beforehand moving you to do it. And yet, from your own point of view, the act itself is absolutely indispensable.
- S. Lewis, the great Christian apologist, writes of his own personal conversion: “I was going up Headington Hill on the top of a bus. Without words and (I think) almost without images, a fact about myself was somehow presented to me. I became aware that I was holding something at bay, or shutting something out. Or, if you like, that I was wearing some stiff clothing, like corsets, or even a suit of armor, as if I were a lobster. I felt myself being, there and then, given a free choice. I could open the door or keep it shut; I could unbuckle the armor or keep it on. Neither choice was presented as a duty; no threat or promise was attached to either, though I new that to open the door or to take off the corset meant the incalculable. The choice appeared to be momentous but I was also strangely unemotional. I was moved by no desires or fears. In a sense I was not moved by anything. I chose to open, to unbuckle, to loosen the rein. I say, ‘I chose,’ yet it did not really seem possible to do the opposite.”
Later, in his rooms at Magdalen College in Cambridge, Lewis made the final decision. “In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”
It does not matter in the slightest whether you feel the dejection of Lewis, the peace of Luther, or the joy of countless others. What matters is the reality of your own personal commitment to Jesus. Are you a Christian? That is the question. Is it real? The answer to that question does not depend upon your intellectual beliefs (“Lord, Lord”) or upon your good works (“Did we not prophesy in your name?”) but upon your relationship to the Lord Jesus. Have you ever asked him to be your Savior? Have you ever said, “Lord Jesus Christ, I want you to enter my heart”? If you have never done that, then you must know that you are at the gate to salvation. If you have said that, then you can be assured that he has entered your life. For he has said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matt. 5:6). He says, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37).
The House on the Rock
We come now to the last words of the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus Christ pictures the difference between those who hear his teachings and do them and those who hear his teachings and do not do them. He draws a picture we all know, a picture of a wise man, who builds his house upon a rock, and of a foolish man, who builds his house upon sand. Most of us have sung about this, in one hymn or another, since we were children.
Basically, it is a matter of foundations. Let me illustrate the importance of having a firm foundation for a building by means of this contrast. Toward the end of one summer, after having spent several months in Europe, I returned to the United States on a student ship that sailed to New York from Rotterdam. I thought when I boarded that it was probably the smallest ship allowed on the ocean. Perhaps I was right, for it was certainly slow and very light in high seas. We boarded it at night, and the next morning we were sure we could still see Holland. By the end of the third or fourth day we were just passing Land’s End, England. All in all, the crossing took nine days.
The difficulty, however, was not only the length of time. The hurricane season had arrived, and a number of storms had managed to churn up the ocean midway between England and Newfoundland. We arrived at New York harbor after days of tossing about like a cork in a bathtub, and our first calm was the calm we felt as we entered the harbor in the middle of the night. Because I did not want to miss seeing the harbor, I spent most of the night on the deck, watching the ship slowly maneuver into place in the channel, drop anchor, and stop. Then I saw the gray spires of lower Manhattan emerge like mountains in the constantly brightening light of dawn. I thought how firm they appeared and what a contrast they were to the way I had been spending the last nine days.
One summer several years later, my family and I visited Venice, where we received a very contrasting impression about foundations. We arrived about 12:30 at night. Cruising along peacefully under the warm Italian night sky, we took a motor launch down the Grand Canal to the Piazza San Marco, where our hotel was located. Venice is like New York in some respects. They are both great ports. They are financial centers. But I knew, even as I gazed at the great Venetian buildings, that Venice was slowly sinking into the waters of the Adriatic sea. The difference between Venice and New York is that Venice has no foundations such as New York has.
That is a bit whimsical, perhaps, but it illustrates in vivid, contemporary terms what Jesus is talking about in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says that a man builds a life the way designers build cities, and his point is that the factor that determines what will remain and what will not remain is the foundation. “Therefore,” he says, “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matt. 7:24–27).
In these closing words of his sermon, Jesus stressed the importance of an adequate foundation. What is your foundation? On what do you build?
Christ Is the Rock
That is a most profound question, and it is a good one to come to at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. For, you see, it is quite possible for a man to have heard all Jesus’ teachings and to have said, “It is true. These are great sayings. They are the key to morality. I’ll just go out and try a bit harder.” But if you are thinking that way, you have missed the whole point of what Jesus is saying. He says, “I am not asking you to go out and try harder. You will never be able to do it. To go out and try harder and to try to construct that kind of character in your own strength is like trying to build a mansion upon sand. Actually, you will only achieve that kind of character when you build on me.”
This is really the first and most important point of these verses. Jesus Christ is the foundation. He is the rock. I know, of course, that not all Scripture passages that use the word “rock” or “foundation” imply this, but certainly it is the only true sense in this passage. It is true that in 1 Timothy 6:17–19, Paul speaks of works as a good foundation; “Command those who are rich in this present world … to do good … In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age” (1 Tim. 2:19). But these are exceptions, and for each of these texts there are many more which apply the same imagery to Jesus himself or (in the Old Testament) to the Messiah.
Thus, Isaiah writes, “So this is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation’ ” (Isa. 28:16). Paul writes, “[you are] built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20). Shortly after the Resurrection Peter told the Sanhedrim, the highest court of the Jews, “He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone’ ” (Acts 4:11). He wrote in his first letter, “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame. Now to you who believe, this stone is precious” (1 Peter 2:6–7).
That is the true sense of Christ’s teaching. He is saying, “If you want a construction that will last for this life and for eternity, build on me.” Are you doing it? If so you can sing:
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
Christianity is Jesus Christ. Thus, the life of blessing promised by Christianity must be constructed on him.
The House Will Stand
The second important point to be seen in these verses is this: A life built upon Jesus Christ will stand. That is a simple point, of course, but we need to have it clear in our thinking and to get it planted deeply in our minds. A life built upon Jesus Christ will stand. It will stand even in the midst of the tribulations of this life or the judgments of eternity.
We are going to have tribulations. They are the common lot of man, but only the Christian who is building upon Christ and whose mind is captive to the will of God can triumph over them gloriously (Rom. 5:3). In the Book of Job there is a passage in which one of Job’s comforters says, “For hardship does not spring from the soil, nor does trouble sprout from the ground. Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:6–7). The image is highly poetic. It tells us that each generation of men can be compared to a stack of cordwood that is placed upon the burning embers of the past. That is our destiny, to pass through fire and in due time to be released forever. Every child of Adam—you and I and countless millions of others—will experience sorrow, pain, suffering, disappointment, and eventually death.
What is the solution? Not escape certainly, for escape is impossible. The solution is to build upon a sure foundation. So Jesus says that although the rains will fall, the floods will rise, and the wind will blow, the life that is constructed upon him will survive.
That is true. It was true for Job. It was true for Moses and David and Isaiah and Jeremiah and all the other great Old Testament figures. It was true for Peter, James, John, and Paul.
Let me give you a more contemporary illustration. Dr. Joseph Parker, a noted English preacher, who for many years proclaimed the Word of God in the great City Temple of London, tells in his autobiography that there was a time when he gave too much attention to the modern theories of his day. Men were undervaluing the Word of God, and he found himself, as he read their books and mingled in their meetings, losing his grip upon the great fundamental doctrine of salvation through the atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. At this point there came into his life a great sorrow. His wife, whom he loved deeply, became sick and died within a few hours. He was unable to share his grief with others, and walking through the empty rooms of his home with a breaking heart, he felt for some footing in the theories of his day and found none. “And then,” he said, addressing a company of his Congregational brethren, “my brethren, in those hours of darkness, in those hours of my soul’s anguish, when filled with doubt and trembling in fear, I bethought myself of the old gospel of redemption alone through the blood of Christ, the gospel that I had preached in those earlier days, and I put my foot down on that, and, my brethren, I found firm standing. I stand there today, and I shall die resting upon that blessed glorious truth of salvation alone through the precious blood of Christ.”
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
Precious Stones or Stubble
There is one last point here, and it is a point for Christians. What are you building, Christian? Oh, you are on the foundation all right. Christ is your Savior. But do you know that it is possible for him to be your foundation and yet for you to go through life building things that are worthless and will not remain as fruit for eternity even though you will be saved personally? Listen to Paul, “If any man builds on this foundation [Jesus Christ] using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Cor. 3:12–15).
I believe that there are really only two mistakes that a person can make here in regard to Christ’s teaching. There is the error which says, “I need no foundation at all; I’ll just drift.” Many people are drifting today, especially the young. But the trouble with drifting is that you go downstream. Water always flows downstream. You can never drift into happiness. A drifter needs a foundation.
There is also the error which, I suppose, is more generally committed by the older generation today. They say, “Yes, we all must build upon a firm foundation,” but they do not see that it is possible to build wrongly upon the foundation. Thus, they do not enjoy true happiness or security either.
What are you building? The precious things of God? Or things that may dazzle now but will soon pass away into nothing? If it is the latter, you may find yourself on the day of judgment in the ridiculous position of Ozymandias, that legendary Persian king about whom Shelley wrote a poem. According to Shelley, the great statue of Ozymandias lay prone in the desert in the midst of thousands of square miles of rolling sand. The inscription said, “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.”
What are you building upon the foundation that is given you by God? Are you living for yourself? It is entirely possible for Christians to do that. Or are you living for him?
Quite a few years ago William Borden went to Yale University as an undergraduate and afterward became a missionary candidate planning to work in China. When he made his decision to invest his life in this service, many of his friends thought him foolish. He had come from a good family. He had wealth and influence. “Why are you going to throw away your life in some foreign country,” they asked, “when you can have such an enjoyable and worthwhile life here?” But William Borden of Yale had heard the call of God. While in Egypt, on the way to China and even before he had much of a chance to do anything, he became sick. Soon it was evident to everyone including himself that he would die. At this point Borden could have said to himself, “What a waste. My friends were right. I could have stayed in New Haven.” But Borden did not think this way. As he lay on his death bed in Egypt, he scribbled a farewell note to his friends that was in some sense is epitaph. The note said, “No reserve, no retreat, and no regrets.”
How could Borden of Yale write such a statement? Simply because he had learned to build upon a firm foundation. And he was prepared, as we all should be prepared, to pass confidently into Christ’s presence and to hear his warm welcome: “Well done, good and faithful servant! … Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matt 25:21, 23).
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 1, pp. 477–487). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Boice, J. M. (2002). The Sermon on the Mount: an expositional commentary (pp. 258–268). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.