Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. And its collapse was great!” (Matthew 7:24-27)
Last week’s post made the point that Jesus’ parable of the builders is about taking action on what he taught, and that doing so doesn’t move us into a place of trying to earn our salvation by works.
Rather, as believers in Christ we are privileged to live by what Scripture calls the “law of Christ,” or the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.”
This is part of our identity and our calling. Believers in Jesus are not “lawless,” as though grace had removed any need for law at all. Rather, we are directed by a different kind of inward law as we become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).
Paradigm Shift: From Salvation to the Kingdom
With this understood, we can now start to talk about “works” in a very different sense. We are absolutely called to works, but works are not about our salvation. They are about living out the reality of the kingdom of God.
This is what the entire Sermon on the Mount has been about. If you recall, the opening salvo of Jesus’ message was “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!” (Matthew 4:17).
Jesus then began the Sermon with the eight blessings of the kingdom. The kingdom is given to the spiritually impoverished. God himself is drawing near the hurting, depressed, and oppressed, and bring peace. He has come to put everything right.
All of this comes with the kingdom, and the kingdom, Jesus is saying, is now. It’s at hand. It has come, or it’s about to come.
(On which it is—“come” or “about to come”—we’ll talk a lot more as we proceed through Matthew! For now let’s just say it’s both.)
It’s clear from everything Jesus says that we don’t receive the kingdom by earning it. Or, to use more familiar “church” wording, we aren’t saved by works.
But “saved” is not the point. For that matter, “sanctified” is not the point. The point is new creation. The point is entering the kingdom and living as kingdom people, kingdom citizens.
The point is receiving a law written on our hearts and living and acting by it. The point is transforming and being transformed, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18).
“But as for me,” Paul says in Galatians 6:14-15, “I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world. For both circumcision and uncircumcision mean nothing; what matters instead is a new creation.”
But that’s getting way ahead of ourselves.
The Role of Works in the Christian Life
We’ve explored a lot in this post and the last one. But we come back again full circle now, back to that familiar fellow building his house on a rock while his neighbor builds one on sand.
Hopefully by now we can dismiss the idea of “getting saved” or “accepting Jesus into our hearts” from this passage and come back to see what it’s really talking about.
As Christians, we can build our lives one of two ways.
We can build them on the teachings and commands of Jesus, on the law of freedom and love written in our hearts and described in the New Testament.
Or we can disregard what Jesus has to say and build our lives on something else. Anything else, really.
Jesus’ point is that only one lifestyle, only one way of building, will withstand the storms that come to challenge and test us. A life lived Jesus’ way will stand strong.
A life lived some other way will not.
This means if we want to live good lives, strong lives that matter and remain in some eternal sense, here in this world, we need to take the way of Jesus seriously.
We need to get real about sin, and especially about anger, lust, disdain for others, and greed. We need to confront fear and worry and exchange them for trust and peace. We need to exchange judgment and vengeance for forgiveness and release. We need to engage with prayer and other spiritual disciplines. We need to learn to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek, and to embrace authenticity and receive God’s blessings in our weakest areas.
We need to put the Lord’s Prayer at the very center of our lives: living and working for the “kingdom come,” forgiving those who sin against us and receiving the forgiveness of God. This is how we manifest the kingdom. This is how we change the world.
In other words, as kingdom people, we need to live like kingdom people. Jesus gives us a massive head start in doing this by laying out, in one place, so many of the key principles and life-ways of the kingdom of God.
Like I said last week: The Sermon on the Mount isn’t about how to go to heaven. It’s about how to live.
Living these teachings out takes work. Real work. We have to change the way we think, and from there the way we feel. We have to swap out old identities for new ones. We have to act in ways that are hard and may feel unnatural at first. And we have to learn new actions, reactions, and habit patterns.
All of this takes concerted intention and action. But again, none of it is about “getting saved.” It’s about learning to be human, in a spiritual, Spirit-filled, righteous, and God-glorifying way.
Ultimately, it’s about becoming what we were always created to be.
We may never get it down perfect while we’re in this world. But I don’t think that’s the point either.
Whether we build on rock or we build on sand is our decision. Our “houses” may look quite different, depending on many factors (including our individual callings and situations in life). But the foundation is the same.
We don’t get to opt out of the storms. Let’s make a good choice, the good choice, and do the work of a kingdom life.
This is Part 96 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)
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