Everyone then who hears these words of Mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it (Matthew 7:24-27).
When our children came into the world and made us a family, rather than a couple, my husband and I were like the foolish man who built his house on the sand. “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell” (Matthew 7:27). Our house fell daily. We were churchgoers. We were Bible readers. We prayed. Yet, how we struggled! As I shared this week, our struggles were based on conflicts with extended family, financial difficulties, and health-related crises and, at times, our marriage relationship was shaky. But the real problem lay deeper. We were hearing the Word, but we were not doing it.
It grieved us to struggle with the same problems over and over, and feel no progress toward a more godly family life. I felt a little hopeless and stuck. Have you ever been there?
Jesus tells us to build our house on a firm foundation, by hearing and doing His Words. The New International Version translates the verse this way: everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice (vs. 24). God’s Word is full of this directive: Be doers of the Word and not hearers only (James 1:22).
Here is where we must be careful. Let’s examine an age old controversy, Faith vs. Works. I bring this up because it crosses my mind when I think of hearing and doing His Word, and it may be crossing yours. So let’s talk about the elephant in the room in order to move on to a more productive place. Can we reconcile these two camps? Here is that famous passage: Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead (James 2:21-26).
Does the Bible contradict itself here? On one hand, we know that we are saved by the work of Jesus, not our own. We know that our salvation is a free gift, one we do not deserve – this is Grace.
- But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace (Romans 11:6)
So there is nothing we can do, in our own strength or by our own hand, to make ourselves right with God or righteous.
- For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:20-24).
We are saved by our faith, not works. But technically, we cannot even take credit for the faith that saves us…
- For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
But we see in the Bible, that Yahweh consistently requires obedience, the keeping of commandments. This sounds like “works”.
- You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his testimonies and his statutes, which he has commanded you. And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you, and that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers (Deuteronomy 6:17-18).
- Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments! (Psalm 112:1).
- I hasten and do not delay to keep your commandments (Psalm 199:60).
But, you may say, I am a New Testament Christian. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus, I am not under law, but under grace (Romans 6:14).
True. And yet, still, we cannot ignore the words of Jesus, Himself, about the importance of obedience:
- Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and my Father will love him, and We will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love Me does not keep My words. And the word that you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me (John 14:23-24).
- Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, he will never see death (John 8:51).
- Why do you call me ‘˜Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? (Luke 4:46)
- You are my friends if you do what I command you (John 15:4).
So I think we must come back to the words of Jesus for the answer to the confusion: I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing (John 15:5). We are saved, and we are changed, and we are able to do the work of God, because of the presence of Jesus Christ, in the person of the Holy Spirit, in our hearts. If He is in our hearts, He will be seen in our lives. Transformation works from the inside to the outside. Real relationship with Jesus compels us to do His work. As with a vine, the Body of Christ is a living thing and we are all part of it, if we belong to Him.
The explanation I have always heard is that works are the external evidence of our faith, and I do agree.
But I would propose something to add to the discussion: In Matthew 7, Jesus gives us a clear explanation of how to build a life on Him…by hearing His Words and doing them. I think for too long we have missed the message in this directive. He is teaching us how to grow. The Word of God is incorporated into our hearts and incorporated into our lives when we take it in, by hearing, and when act it out, by doing. This is both an internal process and external process at the same time. “Doing” the Word is the exercise, the strength and conditioning, of our faith. Works, in the sense of implementing a life built on the Word of God, strengthens the foundation of our faith.
I have shared often that the Word of God works as a change agent in our lives, especially in this post. I hope you find this knowledge comforting. The Word is powerfully relevant to each of us personally. As we weave the Word into our family life, our work life, and our thought life, by hearing and doing, true change takes place – not by our work, by because the Word is working within us, in the person of Jesus Christ. So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).
In the next few posts we will delve more into hearing and doing the Word and see how God’s plan for transformation of the individual, the family and the Church takes place.
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