Every true Christian wants to have a winning witness, a testimony that demonstrates Jesus makes a difference in their life. They want the world around them to see Jesus in them. But unfortunately, that is not always the case. All too frequently the image the world has of Christians is one of hypocrisy and compromise.
I have found many people today who profess to be Christians are living lives that are not significantly different from the world around them. I have read survey after survey, which demonstrates evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general. Divorce is more common among born again Christians than in the general American population. Noted Christian apologist Josh McDowell has pointed out sexual promiscuity of evangelical youth is only a little less outrageous than that of their non-evangelical peers.
As much as I would love to discredit these observations, I cannot. If my experience as a pastor has taught me anything, it has taught me this is true. You and I don’t have to look outside the church to find adultery, spousal abuse, crooked business practices, gossip, jealously, and strife. Sadly, all of these things are often found among God’s people. And it is so obvious that you don’t have to be on the inside to notice it. The world around us has become keenly aware of the inconsistencies in our witness.
You might say, “We’ll that’s fine and good pastor, but we’re not the only religion which has hypocrites, all religions have people who profess one thing and practice another.” And while you would be right, I would point out we are the only religion that has the truth. We are the only ones who serve a risen Savior who has the power to transform our lives, to enable us to overcome the world.
If the world around us does not see a difference in our lives, how are they to know that Jesus is real? If we don’t live a different life, a transformed life, what hope do they have that they can be delivered from sin, set free from its power and transformed into a newness of life? Is it any wonder that many people say Christians are the biggest reason they don’t want to accept Christ? Did Jesus know this would happen within His church? Interesting and prophetically, Jesus addresses this very issue in today’s text. Look with me at Matthew 7:24-29:
Therefore 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.’ When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
As we have discussed previously, every good sermon is geared towards application. It is not enough we should merely know truth; truth must be put into practice if it is to be beneficial to us. Remembering that we have not been given Scripture simply to make us smart, but primarily to instruct us in godliness, Jesus sums up His great sermon by calling us to action; by telling us the reason He has taught us is so that we might be obedient. He says hearing without doing is foolish and wisdom dictates we will practice what He has preached. There are three things we find in these verses that demand our attention.
1. Our reception to Jesus’ message
The focus here is on what we have heard Jesus say. There are a variety of things people want to attribute to Jesus, but as we look back over this sermon what have we heard Jesus say?
We have heard Him teach on how we are to live as Christians. The beatitudes show us we must become humble, or poor in spirit, we must mourn over our sin, meekly accepting God’s view of us as sinners in need of a Savior, we must hunger and thirst after righteousness and find that only Jesus can satisfy our hunger and thirst. Then, we will be filled, transformed by the renewing of our hearts and minds.
Jesus has taught us to let our light shine before men, so that they will see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. We have heard Jesus say that it is not keeping the law externally, but rather what goes on in our hearts that He sees. Sin is not something we merely do externally, but something that begins internally, in the realm of our thoughts and desires.
We have heard Jesus say our words matter and if we are His disciples, we will live our lives ever cognizant of the reality that God knows our hearts and sees our every action. We will be loving, forgiving, compassionate, faithful, trusting; and we will make His righteousness and kingdom the priority of our lives. This is what we have heard Jesus say.
There are many, however, who do not take what Jesus says seriously. They are like those in the parable of the seeds and the sower, who hear the Word but soon forget what they have heard; who allow other things, material things or temporal things, to drown out the words of our Lord.
Contrary to what many think of our Lord’s teaching, His message has not been one of lofty, warm fuzzy platitudes, but a serious call to discipleship; a message which calls us to abandon our selves and submit our wills, our hearts, and our lives to His Lordship. It is a solemn call to devout and committed discipleship that will separate us from the world around us. Make no mistake about it; this is what we have heard Jesus say. The call here is for a positive response, which brings us to our second observation.
2. Our response to His message
Throughout Scripture, we are commanded not merely to hear, but to obey. James 1:22-25 says, “Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the Word, but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” Notice, the emphasis is not on knowing, but on responding positively.
We know a lot more than we practice. Like those who are ever learning, but are never able to come to the knowledge of truth, there are many professing Christians who are ever learning, but because the knowledge of truth comes by applying the truth to their lives, they have never really come to understand it on a practical or experiential level.
It never ceases to amaze me how many of the Christians I read about in third world countries, who are fortunate to own a Bible, much less any other religious material, who are far more committed in their discipleship than western Christians who have vast libraries of biblical material at their disposal. The issue here is not on what we know, but on how we respond to or act on what we know.
Jesus says there are two responses to His message: (1) to hear and obey; (2) to hear and disobey. There is no middle ground; either we hear and obey, or we hear and disobey. Jesus makes it absolutely clear. Knowing is not sufficient, giving mental ascent to His message, in and of itself will not do, even being a church member is not going to get us to heaven. If we are really His disciples and if we really follow Him, we will do what He has said. That is the line of separation, the difference between those who authentically are His disciples and those who merely claim to be.
Those who hear and obey are likened to the wise man who builds his house upon the rock. When the rain falls, wind blows, and flood comes, his house stands. But those who hear and for whatever reason fail to obey, their lives will not stand. The rain, wind, and flood will destroy them.
The foundation of our lives is truth. This is the truth we find in the Word of God. The building blocks of our life are to be found in obedience to His Word. When our lives are transformed by His power, when the indwelling of His Holy Spirit forever changes our hearts, our actions will consequently change as well.
Those who hear and obey are building with solid rock. Those who hear and disobey are building with sand. The quality of the material with which we build our lives will always be tested and will ultimately be tested on judgment day when the books are opened and the truth of our lives are examined before all of creation.
Jesus is telling us here that the authenticity of our discipleship will be readily evident in how we respond to what He has told us. If we do not love our neighbors as ourselves, if we do not forgive as we have been forgiven, if we are hypercritical and judgmental, if we hold anger and resentment in our hearts, if we do not love as we have been loved, in spite of what we profess, irrespective of what we might claim, we are not His disciples. His disciples practice what He has preached.
They are not practicing what He preaches in order to become His disciples, but rather they are practicing what He preaches because they have been transformed; they love Him and have been enabled through His power to keep His commandments. Salvation is not through works, but is evidenced by our works.
Jesus is clearly calling for a positive response to His message. He is calling us to hear and to obey. He is asking us to take a long hard look at our lives to see where we are spiritually. Jesus is summing up His sermon by asking us to examine our lives, to see if we are building our lives on the solid rock of His truth or on the sinking sands of false philosophies. He does this because there are results or consequences to our choices. That’s the final thing I want you to note from this text. Jesus is calling us to a serious time of self-examination because the results of our response to His message are eternal.
Look again at what our Lord says in verses 24-27.
Therefore 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.
The results are clear. There is a stark contrast between those who hear and obey, and those who hear and disobey. Those who hear and obey have eternal life; nothing can take it from them. Their lives are built on the solid rock. Those who hear and disobey are building their houses on sand. Whatever they have built will not stand the test of time.
In the world in which you and I live, everyone is building something. Some are building lives that will last; they are walking in obedience to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. They are in constant fellowship with Him, sensitive to His Spirit’s voice, listening carefully, leaning not on their own understanding, but in all their ways acknowledging Him. Their lives are being built with solid, indestructible materials.
But others are building their lives with things that cannot last. Their houses may look similar, externally they may be similar in appearance to those built of rock, but structurally they are different. They are built upon a shoddy foundation, upon the ever changing sands of human efforts and self will.
There is a mournful danger in every age that men will hear Christ’s servants preach and will themselves read in His written Word, and stop at that, without doing anything about what they read or hear. Jesus is asking each of us, “Are you doing what I have said?”
To what degree are you and I obeying the teachings of our Lord, and to what degree are we making excuses for our disobedience? Upon what are you building your life today? Are you building your life on the solid rock of God’s Word? Are the building materials of your life made of acts of obedience? Will what you are building stand the test of time?
Or, perhaps you know, deep within your heart that there is a difference between what you profess and what you possess – that when all things are revealed, you will be found out to be a fraud. Perhaps you are reading these words and deep within your heart you know that you are not walking in obedience to what Jesus has said. Others may think you are a fine upstanding Christian, it’s not really that difficult to fool others. It is, however, impossible to fool God.
Right now, God is calling you to Himself. He is calling you to become a true disciple, an authentic follower of His. He is calling you to commit yourself to Him and to His kingdom.
Maybe you’ve never given your heart and life to Jesus and for the very first time, you want to confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you want to know forgiveness of sins and the peace that only He can give you. Or, perhaps there are some areas of your life where you know you are not walking the talk, not living the Christian life others think you live.
This is a time of decision, a time to do business with God. This is the hour, this is the day; the time for you to change your eternal destiny is now. Today, you can choose to hear and obey. If you need to give your heart and life to Jesus, I want you to do that.
Perhaps you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, but you need to be obedient and follow Him in some course of action He has been calling you to do. Perhaps you’re reading these words and the Spirit of God has convicted you, showing you there is a discrepancy between what you say and what you do. And He is leading you to say that you will recommit yourself to become the disciple Jesus has called you to be, to follow Him wherever He leads, to do whatever He says, to hold nothing back, but to follow Him with total abandon, to surrender everything you are and have to Him, to walk in perfect obedience.
This is a time for each of us to examine our own walk with God to see whether or not we have a winning witness or a waning witness: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5).