No substitute for obedience

Matthew 7:13-14: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small (narrow) and the way is narrow (difficult) that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” NASB

In these verses, we find four contrasts:

Two Ways: There are two ways or paths we can take in life. One is the “broad way,” that leads to destruction. Then there is the “narrow way” that leads to life.

Two Gates: Next, Jesus said there are two gates! There is the “wide gate” that leads to destruction. Then there is the small, “narrow gate,” the way of Christ:

John 10:9 – “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved…” NASB

Two Crowds: Jesus also talks about two crowds, two groups of people. One is the group called the “many” who are traveling the broad path that leads to destruction. Then there is the group called the “few” who find everlasting life by following Jesus all the way!

Two Destinations: The broad way leads to “eternal destruction” in hell!  The narrow way leads to “everlasting life” in heaven!

In Matthew 7, Jesus clearly teaches us that “many” are on the broad road to destruction – tragically, most are unaware that they are. As a result, on the Day of Judgment, “many” will insist – very loudly – that the Lord should accept them – He will not!

Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” NKJV

Jesus teaches that we enter the kingdom through the narrow gate! How do we do that? By doing God’s will! No one can become a member of the church, be in a saving relationship with the Lord, and eventually enter heaven without doing the will of the Father.

There are three points from Matthew 7:21-23 that stand out above all others!

  1.  Words are no substitute for obedience

Matthew 7:21 – “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” NKJV

Notice that Jesus makes a distinction between the saved and the lost by contrasting the word “says” with the word “does.”

He begins by referring to those who called Him “Lord!” This is commendable, but calling Jesus “Lord” can never take the place of wholehearted submission to “Jesus as Lord.”

Even the demons acknowledged Jesus as “…the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24). After they made that confession, however, they were still demons.

Luke 6:46 – “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” NKJV

Though nobody is perfect, those who confess Jesus as Lord must “commit” themselves to keeping all of God commands to the very best of their ability, and commit to following Jesus, or heaven will never be their home!

We must have the attitude that says, “If God says to do it, that’s what I want to do!”

Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” NKJV

The grace of God is only extended to those who are obedient to Him: Hebrews 5:9 – “And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him…” NKJV

Biblical belief is more than something we confess with our mouths it’s something we confess with our lives – how we live!

Our words aren’t faith until they are expressed! Following Jesus requires movement! Our faith must have a story attached to it.

We express our faith by obedience: James 2:14-18: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” NIV

We express our love by obedience: John 14:15 – “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” NKJV

Obedience shows that we love God – if we have an obedience problem, then we have a love problem – if we love Him, we will obey Him! Matthew 12:50 – “For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” NKJV

1 John 2:17 – “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” ESV

Calling Jesus “Lord” is useless when the confession is not backed up by a commitment to do His will. Both our lips and our lives must be dedicated to Him! “We can’t just talk the talk – we must walk the walk!”

2)  Hearing is no substitute for obedience

In the final segment of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus referred to those who obey His words and those who do not obey them. He said that the first will stand when the storms of time and eternity hit, while the second will be destroyed.

Matthew 7:24-25: “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.” NKJV

Hearing God’s Word is important. In the Old Testament, Moses exhorted the people, “Hear, O Israel…” (Deuteronomy 6:4).

In the New Testament we read: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15).

Romans 10:17“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” NKJV

It is very important that we learn to listen to God’s word, to the voice of the Great Shepherd! Why? So that we won’t be deceived!  Jesus had just said: Matthew 7:15 – “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” NASB

He warns us in Matthew 24:11 – “…many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.” NKJV

It is possible that “People may live deceived, die deceived, and come before God in judgment deceived.” If you let yourself be deceived…

However, it is not enough to just hear God’s Word. In “The Parable of the Sower” (Matthew 13:1-23), all four categories of people heard the Word, but only one of the four bore fruit for God and were saved!

“Hearing without acting” on what we hear is nonproductive – it accomplishes nothing. Worse than that, in spiritual matters, it is counterproductive – it can damn the soul.

John R. W. Stott wrote that “the Bible is a dangerous book to read;” A. T. Robertson said, “Hearing sermons is a dangerous business!”

Dangerous, that is, when we do nothing about what we read and hear. We must hear the word, believe the word, and do the word! We must learn and then do:

James 1:21-25: “So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls. But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.” NLT

In Matthew 7:26-27, Jesus turned His attention to the foolish builder: “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” NKJV

There is no mistaking the meaning of God’s word on this subject – it is not enough to know what Jesus says in His Word; we must do what He says. It is not enough to admire His teaching; we must act on it. It is not even enough to teach and preach on what Jesus said. As important as preaching is, it can never take the place of practice. We must obey Jesus. That is how we come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of His words, and that is how we please Him.

The word translated “foolish” is the word from which we get “moron.” It means “dull, sluggish, stupid, foolish.” “Only fools and morons disobey the Lord!”

In the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus said the wise man is the one who acts on His words: Luke 6:48 – “It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built.” NLT

To understand the imagery, it may be helpful to know something about the terrain of Palestine. The land was dry most of the year and had many dry ravines, some of which had sandy bottoms. During the rainy season, these ravines would swell with rushing floods of water that would sweep away everything in their path.

Try to envision the turbulence of the scene – the house was battered by rain from above, floods from beneath, and howling winds and waves from the side.

“Wait a minute!” someone may protest. “This is the wise builder. This is the one who both hears and obeys. Surely, the wise and obedient are not subject to storms like the foolish and disobedient!”

Friends, those who follow Jesus have stormy weather just like those who refuse to follow Him. These are the storms of this life. Our lives can be battered by illness, disappointments, grief, betrayal, persecution, and death. The challenges of old age and the approach of death can threaten to overwhelm us.

Of greater consequence is what happens on the Day of Judgment: 2 Corinthians 5:10 – “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” ESV

When the two houses were hammered by the storms, the wise man’s house that was built on solid rock stood while the foolish man’s house that was built on sand fell!

Since the foolish man did not bother with a firm foundation, his house was probably built more quickly than that of the wise man. I can imagine him gloating as he said to the other builder, “I got my house built in half the time!”  But then the rains came down!

But Jesus wasn’t talking about actual house builders. He was not concerned about building houses, but about us building our spiritual lives on the Rock of Ages:

Matthew 16:13-18: “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” ESV

Ephesians 2:19-21: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” ESV

The sad fact is that every day the majority of people on earth (the many) emulate the foolish builder in attitude and action. People are very foolishly doing what they want to do or foolishly doing nothing at all, fully expecting God to be ok with it!

Sometimes people say, “I’m a good person. Won’t God accept me into heaven? Surely my good will outweigh my bad and I will be ok?”

Occasionally I hear Christians say things like, “Well, he wasn’t a Christian, but he sure was a good guy and I think people like that will surely go to heaven too.”

When we hold out this kind of hope that our non-Christian friends and family will make it to heaven, we actually reveal a huge and fundamental flaw in our understanding of the gospel: “Good people don’t go to heaven; saved people do!”

We often refer to people who are nice, easy to get along with, and helpful to others as “good” people. They may certainly do some good things. They may volunteer to feed the homeless, care for sick children in the hospital, and help little old ladies across the street. They may be generous and kind. They may not sleep around, do drugs, or even drink. But none of this makes a person “good.”

There is only one standard of “good”“…No one is good – except God alone” (Mark 10:18). NIV

If a person is not perfect, as God is, he or she is “not good.” God does not grade on a curve and He does not lower His standards just so we can meet them. He does not say, “Well, you aren’t perfect, but at least you’re better than some people.”

The reason no one is good is because everyone has sinned. We have all “missed the mark.” God created us for His glory and we have all fallen short:

Ecclesiastes 7:20 – “For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin.” NKJV

Isaiah 64:6 – “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags.” NLT

Romans 3:10-12:  “As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.” NKJV

Romans 3:23 – “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” NKJV

From Adam to Moses to David to Peter to Paul to every one of us, all have sinned: Psalm 143:2“…For in Your sight no one living is righteous.” NKJV

The whole point of the gospel is that man is incapable of washing his own sins away. If we have sinned – even one time – we have a problem that we cannot solve on our own. Doing a million good deeds will not erase a single sin. If it were possible to work off our debt of sin, Jesus would not have had to die.

The blood of Jesus is the only thing that can take away our sin and make us clean: Hebrews 9:22“…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” ESV

When we hold out hope that generous and kind people will go to heaven, we are really saying, “Maybe Jesus was wrong. Maybe people’s good deeds really do wash their sins away. Maybe people can save themselves from their own sins. Maybe Jesus didn’t have to die on the cross after all.”

The gospel is our ONLY” hope: Romans 1:16 – “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” NKJV

Jesus is the ONLY” way to the Father: John 14:6 – “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” NKJV

To say there is a way to avoid the punishment we all deserve and receive eternal life in heaven by any other way than through Christ, is to directly contradict Jesus (call Him a liar).

Christianity is not a “universalist” religion – the Bible does not teach that everyone will be saved. The only way to heaven is through Christ, if we want to go there, we must accept Him and His sacrifice and obey His word!

Those who refuse what Jesus offers and/or try to make it on their own will be separated from God for all eternity!

On the Day of Judgment, every man-made protection will be stripped away. Only those in Christ will stand, those not in Christ will stand defenseless before the mighty throne of God. Then those who are unprepared, will fall, and great will be their fall!

3)  Religious works are no substitute for relationship

Matthew 7:22 “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” NKJV

Jesus teaches us that on “That day” (Judgment Day), there will be a lot of religious people who will fully expect to go to heaven, but instead will be lost! Notice how these people defend themselves – “We prophesied, we drove out demons, we performed miracles.”

The examples Jesus mentions are somewhat surprising. They seem pretty impressive from where I sit. I’ve never driven out demons or performed miracles.

If they can’t get in with their list, there’s no way my list is going to get me into heaven! That’s exactly the point Jesus is trying to make.

He intentionally chooses the more dramatic and extraordinary spiritual achievements to make one thing perfectly clear – no matter how many good works you do, that’s not what makes you a true follower of Jesus!

To make application to us, we might imagine someone saying to the Lord on the Day of Judgment, “Lord, did I not attend all the services of the church, live a good moral life, and in Your name help many people?”

It makes me nervous to think of this, but I can even imagine a preacher saying, “Lord, did I not faithfully preach for You all those years, teach numerous Bible classes, write religious articles, and in Your name counsel many troubled souls?”

Whatever they had done, these people evidently thought their righteous acts and good deeds entitled them to special treatment. They thought wrong!

All these activities are commendable, but nothing we say or do will matter unless they result in us having a right loving conversational relationship with the Lord where we know the Lord and He knows us!

Matthew 7:23 – “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” NKJV

How can we be certain that when Jesus comes back, He will not say to us – “Depart from Me, I never knew you?” To put it in simple terms, “How do we know that we know Him?”

It is simple but demanding. If you want to know God, if you want to deepen your understanding of God, if you want to know the mind of God, if you want to turn your knowledge about God into knowledge of God, you must obey God, right now, without any question – obey Him again and again and again!  Those who know God are the ones who obey God! You grow in the knowledge of God by obeying God:

1 John 2:3-4: “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” NKJV

When we obey God in the simple little things, He begins to accomplish in us things only He can do (Fruit of the Spirit).

God begins to reveal Himself, unveil Himself, give us spiritual knowledge and understanding, we will begin to see God on a deeper, higher level, and we will begin to experience Him at work through us.

You grow in the knowledge of God by obeying – but if you expect God to give you some great understanding of who He is when you’re afraid to step off first base, He’s not going to do it.

You cannot stay where you are and go with God. You cannot continue doing things your way and accomplish God’s purposes in His ways.  You must adjust to Him. Luke 14:27 – “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” NKJV

4)  Conclusion

Matthew 7:28-29: “And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” NKJV

The Greek word translated “amazed” or “astonished” is a strong word. It means “to be struck out of one’s senses,” to be “made speechless,” to “be astonished.”

The crowds were amazed and astonished at His teaching. Have you been amazed and astonished? When they heard Him teach, the crowds followed Him! What about you? Are you willing to follow Him? Are you ready to commit yourself to do His will? You can live any way you want, but only those who obey Him will be blessed.

2 Thessalonians 1:7-10: “…when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.” NKJV

You may be a Christian who has stumbled and fallen – greatly – and you may be thinking “There is no way God could ever love or forgive me – I’ve gone too far, I’ve sinned too much, there is no hope for me!”

Jesus does set a high standard, but He never abandons those who are willing to try again. He loves His followers as a shepherd loves and values his sheep.

He’s concerned when even one is lost or stops following Him. When we fail Him and do a poor job of following, Jesus always wants us to try again.  Our salvation does not depend on our perfect performance, but instead is anchored in our constant willingness to follow:

Isaiah 1:18 – “Come, let’s talk this over, says the Lord; no matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can take it out and make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. Even if you are stained as red as crimson, I can make you white as wool!” TLB

1 John 5:1-5:Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” ESV

The only thing in life truly worthwhile is to know God.  If you don’t allow your study about God turn into obedience of God where you can be in a right relationship with God, you are wasting your life, and you are losing your soul!

1 John 5:12 – “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” ESV

John 17:3 – And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.” NKJV


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