How to Know Your Identity (A Study on the Sermon on the Mount)

Matthew 7:21-29

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian, was aware of the deception and delusion of his church tradition. He described their teaching as “cheap grace.” Although the church called for professions of faith and taught the importance of good works, many of the people were simply not born again. They were taught about grace, but not about the conversion experience.

In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, he wrote, “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.”

He also wrote, “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.”

As in Bonhoeffer’s day, so many today are deluded concerning salvation. Many think they are on their way to heaven, but are not. Many think attending church is enough or that making sure their good works outweigh their bad. They have been born in a Christian nation or home. They suppose God will just overlook their sin in the end.

I once heard a testimony from an older gentleman. His testimony was not about repentance or faith in Christ, but about how at a certain age he walked the aisle and joined the church. Many associate church membership with salvation, but they are not identical.

Those Jesus spoke to were deceived in two ways: through a mere verbal profession and through intellectual knowledge. Those to whom Jesus speaks are not pagans.

The Bible gives high standards by which to judge the Christian lifestyle. It also warns us against self-deception.

Several things can lead us into spiritual self-deception. Some have a false doctrine of assurance (they have walked a church aisle, taken a preacher’s hand, asked to join the church, said a prayer, been baptized, or performed some other action). Others have failed to examine themselves—their inner motives, their standards and desires to see if they bring glory to God. The Bible says, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Still, others concentrate on religious activity, such as attending church, reading the Bible, praying, and doing other good religious things. And some are deceived by the idea of fair exchange. If they do enough good things, things will balance out and hopefully outweigh the bad things they have done.

Salvation Is More Than Verbal Profession

Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’”

The term, Lord, was used for honor and respect. As used here, however, it was probably a substitute for Yahweh, the name for God that was too holy to speak.

That they had done so many things in God’s name implies they did more than just respect him. Jesus is speaking of those who have made a verbal profession. They claim to be his followers, which is evident by the many works they claimed to do in his name.

Jesus pictures a multitude standing before him, claiming to know him. He is the judge, and they are boasting about the many good things they have done. One group tells what they have done and are accepted by God. But some tell and are not accepted.

Not all who call upon God will be acknowledged by him. Those not accepted have entered the broad gate and walked the broad way. Their works are impressive, but their lives don’t bear out what their lips profess.

Verbal profession does not necessarily equal faith in Christ. How many times have we heard testimonies where someone tells of how they said a prayer, but realized later they were not Christians. How many have walked an aisle at a young age, joined a church, said a prayer, left at 18, and never returned?

Obedience is at stake, for a faith relationship with God involves this. Salvation and obedience go hand in hand. Those whose verbal professions have no substance will be told that they are not known.

“I never knew you” really means, “I have never known you as my disciple, 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.”

Christ claims they have practiced lawlessness. It speaks of continuous and regular action. This shows their verbal profession is empty and without meaning.

Martin Luther’s life was characterized by self-deception. He left a secular occupation to enter a monastery of Augustinian monks. He made progress and was ordained as a priest. He studied Scripture and obtained a Doctorate of Theology. Had you asked him if he believed in Christ, he would have said yes. He would also have said he believed in the death of Christ. But he did not know about being born again, and it wasn’t until he understood this that he became the great church reformer.

Salvation Is More Than Intellectual Knowledge

These are the ones who hear, but don’t do. Those who hear and do are like the wise man who built his house on an underlying rock foundation. Those who hear but don’t do are like the foolish man who built his house on sand. The wise man’s house survived the storm, but the foolish man’s didn’t.

Intellectual knowledge is not enough. Our lives must be built on the solid foundation of faith in Jesus Christ. Many who hear but don’t obey obviously think they are alright.

Similarities and differences exist between the builders. Both have heard the Gospel and the way of salvation. Both have built a house which represents their life. The wise man’s house is secure because his house is built on the Word of God. The foolish man thinks he is secure because he has heard the Word of God, been born in a Christian nation, been raised in a Christian home, etc. Both think their houses will stand, but one bases his confidence on God while the other bases his on himself or others. They built the same kind of house in the same location. The difference was the foundation.

Many think intellectual knowledge is enough. We must believe and do in addition to hear. We must be doers of the Word and not hearers only.

Building on the rock involves obedience, self-emptying, and hard work. Life on the sand is the opposite. It is built on self and is easy. Life on the rock will stand the storm of God’s judgment. Intellectual knowledge without faith is building on sand.

The old words are still relevant: “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.”

Photo by Nicole Geri on Unsplash
Martin Wiles
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