The Decisive Issue in Following Christ

Matthew 7

21“Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but they still won’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The decisive issue is whether they obey my Father in heaven. 22On judgment day many will tell me, ‘Lord, Lord, we prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Go away; the things you did were unauthorized.’ (Matthew 7:21-23, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Matthew 7 is part of a larger discourse known as the Sermon on the Mount, which begins in Matthew chapter 5.

In this section of scripture, Jesus gives many well-known teachings related to the theme of righteous living.

In this particular passage, Jesus highlights a key characteristic of those who claim to be His followers. “The decisive issue”, Jesus says, “is whether they obey my Father in heaven.”

Think about it. Many people today claim to be Christians and devout followers of Christ. Yet Jesus explicitly says that there will be many people who called Him ‘Lord’ who will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. How is this possible? Don’t people simply have to confess Jesus is Lord and then they’re saved from the punishment of hell?

Yes, and no.

Yes it’s true that we cannot be saved unless we put our trust in Jesus. But Jesus is saying that just because someone makes the claim that Jesus is Lord doesn’t mean that He really IS their Lord.

If Jesus is your Lord then that means He is your master. And if Jesus is your master then that means you are His slave, or as Paul puts it, His bondservant. If Jesus is the master and I am the slave, then that implies that what He says goes. Jesus makes the rules and He is the ruler. We are subservient to Him AND His rules.

Yet according to Jesus, many people who call Jesus Lord are not really obeying the Father. They have a duplicitous nature, claiming that Jesus is Lord, but not fully obeying Jesus and the Father.

The critical issue in following Jesus is obedience. Unfortunately, many people who go to church and act religious are not truly following. In today’s culture, it is quite common for people to claim to be Christians but not do what Jesus says. There may be no area more apparent with this issue than the sexual arena.

You might be thinking, “well nobody is perfect! How can we possibly be expected to live up to some idealistic standard?”

We’re not meant or expected to live up to some ideal. We will sin. That’s not really the issue. Jesus has paid for sin and we can experience ongoing forgiveness by bringing our sin to the cross and confessing it. See my blog post “Walking in the Light Simplified.”

The issue is when we deny that we’ve sinned. In 1 John 1:10 (from my post “Walking in the Light Simplified”), John says:

“if we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word has no place in our lives.”

The problem is when we change the rules so that we don’t agree that what we’re doing is sinful. In this scenario, we don’t confess our sins to Jesus because we no longer believe these actions or attitudes are sinful.

This is what I refer to as “Salad Bar Religion”, which I wrote about here. Salad Bar religion occurs when we pick and choose the things we want to obey while discarding the things we don’t want to obey.

Jesus’ words may seem harsh to some but He’s crystal clear on this: we are not authorized to change His rules and guidelines for what constitutes righteous living. Those who do change His rules in order to suit their own personal preferences may find themselves in the unenviable position of being rejected by Jesus when the time comes to give an account of our life and our choices.

Reflection

In what areas of Scripture do you find it most difficult to obey? What are some of the “rules” that you are most tempted to neglect, ignore or change?

What is your response to the thought that Jesus may reject entrance to the Kingdom of heaven to some people who have claimed to be Christians in this life?

If obedience is the decisive issue, how do you account for the fact that all of us as Christians still disobey God at times? How would you explain to someone who argues that you are being legalistic by setting up an impossible standard that cannot be met?

What steps can you take to ensure that you are not a follower with a duplicitous nature, claiming to follow Jesus verbally but internally, following your own preferred rules of living?

 

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Is it Always Wrong to Judge Others?

Matthew 7

1“Stop judging others, and you will not be judged. 2For others will treat you as you treat them. Whatever measure you use in judging others, it will be used to measure how you are judged. 3And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? 4How can you think of saying, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? 5Hypocrite! First get rid of the log from your own eye; then perhaps you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.
(Matthew 7:1-5, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

“DON’T JUDGE ME!”

Have you ever heard someone say this? It’s become fashionable to criticize others for being judgmental, which is ironic because when you criticize someone for judging, you are, in fact, exercising a judgment against them.

Many Christians have concluded, largely based on this passage, that we’re never to judge others. EVER. To do so would be un-Christlike and a violation of Jesus’ clear teachings.

But is that true? I don’t think so. Let me explain why.

First of all, it’s not possible to eliminate all judgments, at least not in the technical sense. To make a judgment is simply to form an opinion or conclusion based on your own personal evaluation. We do this hundreds of times a day as we make decisions.

We form opinions (judgments) about others based on our personal interactions with them and other relevant data that gives us a window into their character and their personality.

Typically, when people “feel judged”, what they usually mean is that they feel criticized or shamed for something they have done or some viewpoint that they hold.

Is it always wrong to “judge” people or be critical of their actions or their viewpoints?

Clearly, the answer is NO. If that is true, then Jesus himself violates his own teaching as he often had encounters with religious leaders in which he was critical of their teachings and their practices. So Jesus must not be saying that you can NEVER confront, rebuke or correct someone for something they’ve done or said.

Then what is Jesus saying exactly?

The key word in this passage is “Hypocrite”. Remember that we said that Jesus often had encounters with the Pharisees, whom he accused of being hypocrites on numerous occasions.

The word “hypocrite” was an acting term. Actors would play several parts in a live play and would simply wear different masks to take on different parts. So, to be a hypocrite is to wear a mask; to project an image of yourself that doesn’t match the true self.

The Pharisees were hypocrites because they made a living out of pointing out every small flaw in others while giving the impression that they were living sinless lives.

The problem with the Pharisees was their attitude. They were extremely self-righteous, thinking that they were completely blameless, while pointing out to others even the smallest infractions.

Jesus is warning against the kind of religious sanctimony in which you are critical of others for the very things of which you yourself are guilty.

This is clear from the outset as Jesus says that whatever standard you judge others by is the same standard by which YOU will be judged. If you have a standard of judging others that points out every flaw or indiscretion while giving yourself a pass on all the little things, then this is an incongruent application of standards. Jesus points out that this is hypocrisy.

So what’s the solution?

The solution isn’t to NEVER look to correct other’s bad behavior or to NEVER point out another person’s indiscretions or errors.  The solution is to confront and correct others in a way that is not hypocritical. We do this by correcting our own behavior first and by being open to examining our own errors first.

We call this humility.

By having an attitude of humility you’ll gain the respect and attention of others and they will be more likely to listen to you and value your feedback.

If we’re not humble in our approach toward others, if we are unloving or condescending as we point out their faults and indiscretions, it is less likely they will pay attention to anything we are saying to them. More than likely, their defenses will immediately go up and they probably will curtly respond, “DON’T JUDGE ME!”

Reflection

What are some situations you’ve been in that made you feel judged? What was it about that situation that caused you to feel judged?

What reasons could you give to demonstrate that Jesus clearly doesn’t mean that we should never confront others for their actions or be critical of the things they say or believe?

Based on the passage, how would you explain Jesus’ teachings on judging?

What are some things you can do to ensure that you’re not being hypocritical in your actions and encounters with others?

 

Photo by Alesia Kozik from Pexels