The Damning Deception of Empty Words and Empty Hearts (Video)
Preacher, John MacArthur
With complete transcript
We all understand that false religion is damning deception, we know that. We also know that Satan is an angel of light, at least he’s disguised as an angel of light, and his minister is disguised as well, as angels of light; and that is to say that he operates in the realm of religion. That is why false religion is called doctrines of demons in the Scripture. And the Bible repeatedly warns about doctrines of demons, it repeatedly warns about false religion. It warns about its presence: it is ubiquitous, it is everywhere all the time. It warns about its purveyors, or its prophets, those who propagate it. And most specifically, the Bible warns about its peril. Nothing is more ultimately terminally perilous than false religion.
And the world, of course, is easily drawn into false religion. The world readily drinks its fatal poison. And you might ask why false religion is so attractive to the world. Why do people have so little resistance to false religion? Why is false religion so globally dominating and all-encompassing? And the answer is this: because, “The whole world lies in the lap of the Evil One,” as 1 John 5 says.
The whole world belongs to the kingdom of darkness. Jesus said this is in John 8. He said, verse 43, “Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word.” Why? “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me.” And then Jesus said this: “He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.”
The reason that the world is so susceptible to false religion is because by nature sinners cannot hear the word of God. They are resistant to the truth. They’re not resistant to lies, they follow their father the devil who is a liar and the father of lies. For all who are in his kingdom, they have no resistance to the lies. And so the whole world believes religious lies and is not able to reject the lies, because it cannot reject the liar.
That reality stands behind the text that we want to look at today. My concern is not how easily people are led into damning religion, my concern is how hard it is for people to embrace true religion. It is easy for the unsaved people to fall into damning religion, that’s natural to them. It is hard for unsaved people to embrace God’s true religion, it is not natural to them. It is, to say it another way, easy for people to follow the lies of Satan to hell, it is very hard for people to follow the truth of God to heaven.
In the Sermon on the Mount, this famous sermon that occupies Matthew 5, 6 and 7, our Lord is contrasting true religion with false religion. And I need to say at the outset, the false religion that He contrasting with the true religion is not some form of pagan religion, but rather it is religion that claims to be based on Scripture. What it is is a false form of Old Testament religion. This is the direst of all deceptions. When you’re that close to the truth you’re dealing with the actual revelation of God, but you have twisted it into a false religion. False religions are not always labeled. False religion can be labeled Judaism. False religion can be labeled Christianity. False religion can even be labeled evangelicalism. False religion can even talk about Christ and the gospel.
The Sermon on the Mount is designed to unmask the false form, the adulteration of true biblical religion that was practiced by the Jews under the leadership of the Pharisees and the Scribes; and the clear, distinct point of the sermon is found in chapter 5 and verse 20. “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” The scribes and Pharisees were the purveyors of Old Testament religion, at least by their definition. But they had turned it into a religion of works righteous where you earn your way into the kingdom of heaven. The scribes and the Pharisees were the most fastidious legalists on the planet. They based everything they did on the Old Testament, the divine revelation from God. And as righteous as they were, they didn’t have the kind of righteousness which would allow them to enter the kingdom of heaven. And so our Lord says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Well, just how righteous do you have to be? At the end of chapter 5 He puts it this way, verse 48: “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” You want to enter the kingdom of heaven by works? Then be perfect. How perfect? As perfect as God is. To earn your way to heaven you would have to be as perfect as God. False religion of Judaism was that you could earn your way into heaven by your righteousness, by your works, by your religious activities.
The sermon is designed to show the folly of that. And Jesus systematically attacks all the aspects of that false Judaism and dismantles all of them and crushes them under the weight of their shortcoming. And essentially, He tells them, “Instead of being proud about your religious achievements, you need to see yourselves as poor in spirit. You need to mourn. You need to be meek and humble. You need to hunger and thirst for righteousness you don’t have. You need to be merciful. You need to be pure in heart. You need to be peacemakers.” Those are all the Beatitudes. Instead of being proud and feel like you have attained the standard that God requires to enter His kingdom, you need to be broken and crushed under the reality that you will not enter His kingdom by your works unless you’re as perfect as God is; and that’s not true of anyone. So really from chapter 5, verse 1, all the way to chapter 7, verse 12, our Lord contrasts the false religion of the Jews with true religion. The religion of works is over against that of faith.
Then He comes to a final warning in chapter 7, verse 13 – this is the end of this great sermon – and He begins by saying this, verse 13: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
Here He points out that it’s hard for sinners to come out of the lies of false religion. It’s hard for those who have been deceived and had their minds blinded by Satan to come to the truth. It is difficult. Why? Well, you can see what we just read: “There are few who find it.” It isn’t immediately visible. It’s hard to find. And not only that, the gate is small. It’s hard to enter. And not only that, but when you do enter, the way itself is hard. It’s hard to find, it’s hard to enter, and it’s hard to follow.
So few find it, few enter, few walk that narrow way. They’re kept out by their own sin, they’re kept out by their own blindness, and they’re aided and abetted in that by false prophets who are immediately introduced in verse 15. They are the ones selling tickets on the broad road that leads to destruction. “False prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing,” – and they come to you dressed in wool like a prophet; they proclaim themselves as true prophets – “but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. Look closely at them, you’ll know them by their fruits.” He says it again in verse 20, “You’ll know them by their fruits.” Look at their lives. False prophets should be easily unmasked; look at the corruption of their lives.
Now I just want to remind you again that this is not a comparison between Judaism and Islam, or pulling it forward into the rest of the New Testament. This is not us comparing Christianity with Hinduism. This is looking at false religion as compared to true religion when both claim to be biblical. So you can be around the true religion of Judaism, you can be around the true religion of Christianity and be on the broad road that leads to destruction.
Now having said that, we come down to verse 21, which is where I want to focus our attention. Our Lord warns, starting in verse 21, about two unacceptable possibilities. Number one, mere verbal profession, just words, verses 21 to 23. And, secondly, verses 24 to 27, mere intellectual knowledge. And He shows that verbal profession even concerning the truth, and intellectual knowledge even related to the truth don’t necessarily save. In fact, in this case, He points out that empty words and empty hearts do not save. The two paragraphs that bring this great sermon to its conclusion present the same issue, the only difference being one deals with verbal profession and the other deals with sort of intellectual knowledge. Verbal profession is not enough to save, and intellectual knowledge of the truth is not enough to save.
What are we saying here? It’s not what you say and it’s not what you know that saves you. The Lord is speaking again not to irreligious people, He’s speaking to men and women obsessed with religion. In the case of the scribes and the Pharisees though, there would be others who were obsessed with religion. They were the ultimate of the obsessed. They are religious, but they are on the way to judgment. They believe the Old Testament is the word of God, but they are headed for damnation. In Paul’s words, they had a form of godliness with the reality, without the power. They are presented in the New Testament as not only deceivers, but as self-deceived.
That is still a reality today. People like the Pharisees and the scribes connected to the right religion, connected to some form of Christianity, but utterly void of the true righteousness of God that comes through Christ. We have multitudes of deceived souls in the churches and on the Jesus bandwagon who think because they have made some profession, some verbal claim to be attached to Christianity or to Jesus, and because they know a few facts about Him, all is well. Our Lord realized the deadliness of this deception, and that’s why, that’s why the first sermon laid out on the pages of the New Testament is this one warning how close you can be to the truth and be still headed for eternal destruction on the broad road.
Now what is shocking about this is bound up in the word “many.” Look at verse 21: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”
Many, many will show up at the final judgment in a state of utter self-deception. They are the same many back in verse 13: “The gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.” Many go into the way of destruction, many walk the way of destruction, and many show up at the end of the way of destruction. And what do they say at the end, “We didn’t believe in You, we rejected You”? No. They say, “Lord, Lord, we did all this in Your name,” only to hear, “I never knew you.” This is the most terrifying of all possibilities, that you are that close, and you are lost. Many. Few, on the other hand, find the narrow way.
Could we conclude just by the Lord’s use of those words that most people who have some attachment to Christianity are deceived, since many will claim Christ but be unknown to God, and few will actually find the narrow way? I think that’s a fair conclusion. Many are like the virgins in Matthew 25, waiting for the Bridegroom to come. And when He came, they weren’t prepared; they didn’t have oil in their lamps. They thought they were safe; they were part of the wedding party, they were selected to be there. Judgment day for them was a terrifying surprise. I think most people who say they’re Christians or have some connection to Christianity fall into the category of the many. True Christians are the few.
Now how do people get lulled into this deception? It’s good to think about that because we want you to do some self-examination. What lulls people into the deception that they are Christians, that they are saved, that they have a true relationship with God when they don’t? There are several things.
First of all, a false sense of assurance; and what I mean by that is drawing your assurance that you’re a Christian because you prayed a prayer, or because you felt emotional when somebody talked to you about Christ, or you saw a film about Jesus and you felt emotional about the way He was treated; or somebody told you, “If you just say these words, pray this prayer, ask Jesus to come into your life, if you’ve done that, you’re a believer.” And somebody might even say to you, “If you’ve prayed that prayer, you’re saved, you’re in; don’t doubt that.” So you’ve been told that it’s that simple, and you have had some well-intentioned person certify your prayer as sufficient. “As long as you say you believe in Jesus and you say you believe that He died and rose, and you want Him to be your Savior, everything’s okay. Don’t ever doubt that, be assured of that. You prayed the prayer, you made the move; that’s all it requires.”
It does require that. It does require that you believe the gospel. It does require that you believe in the true God, Christ, His death and resurrection; it does require that. But salvation is not based on a formula. It’s not based on a prayer. It’s not even based on a creed. It’s not even based on an accurate theology. You can say all the right things and be lost forever. Beware of a false assurance.
Secondly, people are lulled into this false sense of safety by a failure at self-examination, a failure at self-examination. The Lord gave us an ordinance in the church and that is His Table, the Lord’s Supper. And the apostle Paul tells us when we come together as a church and we come to that Table, we are to examine ourselves. It is not just a memorial. It is not just a remembrance. It is not just remembering the death of Christ, the body and the blood of Christ; it is that. But it is also looking inward to our own hearts and doing an honest evaluation of our condition. Not to do that is to eat and drink in an unworthy way; and that brings down divine judgment.
In 2 Corinthians 13:5, Paul says, “Examines yourselves whether you be in the faith.” First Corinthians 11, he says, “Let a man examine himself, and then let him eat and drink.” We don’t think about self-examination like that, we tend to be so grace-oriented. We tend to be told that God loves us so much, and the gospel is so free, and grace is so abundant that all we have to do is just reach out and say we want this and it’s ours. And once we’ve done that, we have the false sense of assurance. Why would we become introspective? Why would we do a heart-searching self-examination? That might be offensive to God, some would say, because it calls His grace into question.
Well, as you examine yourself, you’re looking for this: “What are my affections? What are my loves? What are my desires?” and “What are my motives?” If they are all godly, then that’s the work of the Holy Spirit. If they’re worldly and sinful, no matter what you claim, no matter what anybody thinks of you, if self-examination reveals a heart that desires sin, loves the world, is motivated by personal desire and lust, no matter what you’re attachment to Christianity is, no matter what prayer you prayed, you haven’t been changed.
Another thing that lulls people into this is a fixation on religious activity. Maybe you go to church. Maybe you go to a Bible study. Maybe you even have conversations about the things of Scripture. Maybe you adhere to a certain ethical standard that is associated with the Christian religion. That’s very common. That’s been common in the history of our own nation, a sort of Christian, Judeo-Christian ethic dominated our culture for – really for many years. No longer does; but once it did, and people thought about morality in Christian terms, and church was much more a priority than it is now. But a fixation on church and religious activity is a good way to be deceived.
Another one is what I call a fair exchange approach. People are deceived because it’s pretty common for people to assume that their good deeds outweigh their bad ones. So basically, people think, “Well, I’m not as bad as some people.” You can always find people worse than you are. If you don’t know them, you can find them on Wikipedia. There are always going to be people that are worse than you. And most people think, “Well look, we balance off our bad with our good. And since, you know, we’re probably not doing bad things as frequently as we are doing good things, we’re going to make it because our positives outweigh the negatives.” God never judges anyone like that. And by the way, it would only take one negative to send you to hell forever, because that sin is enough to condemn you eternally. People are lulled by this sense of balancing off the good and bad in their lives.
Another thing I think that lulls people into this deception of thinking they’re believers when they’re not is indifference to the Scripture, indifference to the Scripture. They don’t really care about reading the Scripture. They’re not particularly interested in hearing the Scripture. They’re not particularly interested in learning the word of God, they don’t have an appetite for divine truth. They may have a Bible, but they don’t really read it; they don’t need to read it, they’re not drawn to it; it’s not their bread, it’s not their soul food. And because there is indifference to Scripture, there is ignorance about Scripture, and there is resulting disobedience to Scripture. This is where you have people who say they’re Christians, but they’re gay-affirming, or they’re LGBTQ-affirming, or they don’t like churches that take a position against that, or they’re for abortion, or whatever it is. Maybe they’re for premarital sex or fornication in some form as long as you love each other. But they’ll call themselves Christians because the have some sentimental attachment to one they think is Jesus.
But they’re indifferent to Scripture and on the levels that I’ve sort of laid it out. They don’t really have an interest in it. They don’t have a hunger for it. It isn’t their soul food. They don’t delight in its truths. The don’t have a desire to dig into its truths so that their lives can be profoundly enriched. They don’t know what it says, they really don’t care what it says. In fact, they are offended by some of the things that are in the Bible that they choose to reject.
If that’s how you feel, you may call yourself a Christian, but you are self-deceived. If you ignore Scripture or if you reject portions of Scripture, or if you argue with Scripture or twist it or manipulate it, you may well not be a Christian at all. It all comes down to – the sum of it is this: you’re only a true Christian if you came through the narrow gate, if you came through the narrow gate.
What is the narrow gate? Well, it’s like a turnstile: you can’t come with any baggage, you can’t bring anything through it. You come through with an attitude of repentance, spiritual bankruptcy, the Beatitude attitude: meek, humble, broken, confessing your sin, coming in contrition, coming with no baggage, empty-handed like the old hymn, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.” You come penitent because your inner man, your heart is broken over your sin. It isn’t that you just want to add Jesus to your life to make your life happier. There’s no greater insult than to say, “Lord, Lord,” fervently and to be a hypocrite. The reality is you only are on the narrow path that leads to eternal life if you came through the narrow gate.
The deceived people come in several categories, by the way. Some are superficial. They call themselves Christians because they believe in God or they, quote-unquote, “accepted Christ.” But they are ignorant and uncommitted and indifferent to Scripture, and therefore disobedient to Scripture. And then there are not only the superficial, but there are the involved. They’re all through the church, and Jesus called them tares, and they’re hard to distinguish from true believers because they know the language and they talk the language, and they know about the gospel and they know about the Bible; but there’s no humility, there’s no brokenness, there’s no practical godliness, there’s no pattern of obedience.
So you have the people who are superficial, the people who are involved; and then you have the downright hypocrites. They know they’re not believers, but they hide it for whatever reason: to win friends, keep their marriage together, make peace in the home, some personal advantage. They’re not deceived. All of these kinds of people are in and around the truth.
So how can the deceived know they’re deceived? How can we spot that kind of person and be of some help? I can suggest a few things. Look for people who seek feelings and blessings and experiences and healings, people who are more interested in the byproducts of the faith than the author and finisher of the faith – Christ, who are more interested in the gifts than the Giver. Look for people who are more committed to a denomination, a certain church, a certain religious group, a certain gathering, maybe more social than spiritual. Look for people who are involved in theology only at a sort of academic level. Seminaries are full of these kinds of false Christians who look at theology as some kind of an academic interest, but have no real relationship with the Lord.
How do you spot those you need to help? Look for those who are over-indulgent in the name of grace, those who are over-indulgent in the name of grace – so those who lack penitence. They lack that brokenness, that humility. And then look for those who see God’s role as to give them whatever they want. You see God as the fulfiller of their desires rather than themselves as the ones who must bow to God’s desires, which are, in the end, the best. All of these kinds of people may be deceived and very likely on the road to destruction, but they think they’re going to heaven.
So our Lord then addresses the folly of empty words. Let’s look at verse 21: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who’s in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy or preach in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”
Here’s the folly of empty words. They are the sayers, but not the doers. Their claims are deceitful. They say the right things, they don’t live the right things. Jesus is explicit even about the claims. “They say” – verse 21 – “to Me.” He says it again in verse 22: “Many will say to Me on that day.” All their religious efforts are directed at Him. But their final destiny will not be based on what they say – what they say now or what they say on that day, verse 22. Their final destiny will not be based on what they say, as good as it sounds.
And look at it: “Lord,” Kurios. The first time it’s plight, it’s respectful: “Master.” We might say it the second time, “Lord,” is now orthodox, fundamental, a divine title. And to say it twice, “Lord, Lord,” is fervent and zealous and reflects some sense of devotion and even some passion. And three times in verse 22 they say, “in Your name, in Your name, in Your name.” These people’s entire activity has been directed at the Lord Jesus Christ, “in Your name.” Sounds so good.
In the name of Christ they came, claiming Jesus as Lord, with courtesy, with orthodoxy, with fervency in private devotion and public ministry. It sounded so good. But, verse 23, “They made a confession; let Me make one,” – homologeō, confession – “let Me make a confession,” drawn from Psalm 6:8. “My confession is this: I never knew you. Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” Literally, “You who do always work lawlessness.”
Antichrist is the man of lawlessness. They are more connected to Antichrist than the true Christ. Profession is valueless. This is a kind of profanity, taking the Lord’s name in vain: “Lord, Lord.” It’s worse than the street cursing. The blasphemy of the sanctuary is more awful than the blasphemy of the slum. It’s a Judas kiss to say, “Lord, Lord,” and then live lawlessly. Many will call Jesus, “Lord, Lord,” and never submit to His lordship, “never” – as verse 21 puts it – “doing the will of My Father who is in heaven.”
People in the kingdom do His will. Ephesians chapter 2 says that, “We have been saved by grace through grace unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.” Listen to James chapter 1, verse 22: “Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” Self-deluded: hearers, sayers, not doers.
The only possible way to manifest true Christianity is to practice the Law of God: good works. James puts it this way in chapter 2, verse 14, “Faith without works is dead.” All religious activity, no matter how fervent, no matter how orthodox that doesn’t result from obedience to the lordship of Christ is lawlessness. He says, “Your preaching, your casting out demons, your supposed miracles – all lawlessness. You did it in My name; it is lawlessness. Not for a single moment” – the Greek would say it – “not for a single moment have I acknowledged you as My own, or do I know you intimately. You are forever expelled from My presence, you workers of lawlessness. I don’t care what you say, it’s what you do.”
Prophesying can be preaching, casting out demons, some activities of exorcism. “Mighty works” is actually the final word: “Mighty works.” It’s translated “miracles,” but powerful works. It could refer to any kind of powerful, spiritual work. They claim to have done all those things.
Were they legitimate? Was their preaching the real thing? Was their effort to cast out demons the real work of God, or were they like the sons of Sceva? Were the mighty works that they did works of God? Of course not, because they are lawless.
Just because someone speaks well of Jesus, can recite an orthodox creed, seems fervent and open and professing or even preaching Christ claims to have done works in the name of Christ is no proof that they belong to Christ. It’s no proof that they’re not under judgment from Christ, the One they profess, “in Your name, in Your name, in Your name,” and He says, “I don’t know you. You may think you’re acquainted with me; I don’t know you.”
Jeff O’Hara wrote, “Why call Me Lord, and do not the things I say? You call Me the Way and walk Me not, you call Me the Life and live Me not, you call Me Master and obey Me not; if I condemn you, blame Me not. You call Me bread and eat Me not, you call Me Truth and believe Me not, you call Me Lord and serve Me not; if I condemn you, blame Me not.”
We’re talking here about Christian confession, Christian profession. Don’t be deceived. Are you just talking empty words and you have no real relationship with Christ? If you did, it would show up in obedience – loving, grateful obedience to the Law of God. Empty words.
Then He moves to empty hearts to conclude: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.” There’s the transition. “If you hear My words and act on them, you’re the wise man.” It’s not profession, it’s not saying something, it’s doing what demonstrates the transforming power of God in your life.
“The rain fell,” – verse 25 – “the floods came, the winds blew and slammed against that house; yet it didn’t fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, the floods came, the wind blew and slammed against that house; and it fell – and great was its fall.” Please notice: the difference is whether you do, whether you do. “Everyone who hears these words of Mine” – verse 24 – “and acts on them.” Verse 26: “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them,” – and here He introduces the folly of empty hearts, empty hearts.
Again, this is such a powerful conclusion to His sermon. Both hear His words. Look at verse 24: “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts.” Verse 26: “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act,” that’s the distinguishing reality, not that you heard, not that you even professed to believe; it is a contrast between obedience and disobedience, between obedient hearers and disobedient hearers.
“Both hear these words of Mine.” Professing Christians and possessing Christians both look alike, they both look alike, they’re both building a spiritual house here. They’re both doing essentially the same kinds of religious things. They belong to the visible church we could say. They read the Scripture. They attend the meetings. They may preach. They may go against the kingdom of Satan. They may claim that God is powerfully doing things through them. They’re both making the same profession and the same claim: They say they hear the word of God. The issue is not whether they hear it, it’s not what they say, its’ what they do.
And by the way, as our Lord said, “When you see the wheat and the tares growing together, don’t tear them apart, because you can’t distinguish them,” we’re again reminded of that here. Only the storm will reveal the true condition. The houses look the same. The people looking at the houses wouldn’t know the difference until the storm came. The storm will manifest the truth. Similarities are obvious: they both build a house, the life of religious activity. They build it with the same materials, no doubt, and in the same location. The same location is obvious because the storm that comes, it’s both of them.
So they build with the same materials, they build the same kind of religious house, they build it in the same place, and they somehow build in the same way, because the only distinction between the two houses is the foundation. Here’s the issue: one builds on petra, rock bed; one builds on ammon, sand, sea sand. A man is a fool who builds on sand, because when the storm comes, the house collapses. The man who builds on rock, when the storm comes, stands firm.
So what does it mean then to build on the rock? Is the rock God? Is the rock Christ? You could argue, as some have, that the rock is God – from Deuteronomy 32, Psalm 18, Psalm 89. Some would argue the rock could be Christ – several passages. But pretty clear to any reader is the rock is “these words of Mine, these words of Mine.”
Verse 26, “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, is like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.” It’s building on the word. Verse 24, “Everyone who hears these words of Mine.” Building on the word: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” Paul says to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, “I’m giving you the word which is able to build you up.” A life of obedience built on the word of God: that is the proof of real salvation. Knowing the word, loving the word, obeying the word: this is the recognition of true submission to the lordship of Christ.
And it really sums up the whole sermon. Our Lord has been showing the Jewish leaders and the Jewish people that they need to have a biblical attitude toward themselves in the first part of chapter 5; and then biblical attitude toward the world around them; and then a biblical attitude toward the word of God, even talks about it specifically in chapter 5; and then a biblical attitude concerning true morality, which goes not only from the behavior, but back to the heart. And then a biblical attitude toward their words, chapter 5; their deeds, chapter 5; their motives in religion, chapter 6. And then in chapter 6, a biblical attitude toward money, possessions, people. Unless those biblical attitudes are demonstrably evident in how you live your life, you are deceived, you are deceived, and you may not be able to be distinguished from anybody else until the storm comes. You want to build on the rock, you build on the word of God.
Now look at some differences: one built the easy way, we could surmise; and the other, the hard way. It’s easy to build on sand – not much to prepare, you don’t have to dig. It’s like the wide gate, the broad way.
Why do people build on the sand? Why would they be in a hurry, take a shortcut, quick results? Fools are always in a hurry: “Make haste, get it fast. Pray this prayer. Keep it moving.” No time for soul conviction. No time for deep digging. No time for profound repentance, heart searching.
You build on sand when you’re in a hurry. You build on sand when you’re superficial. It’s shallow references to Christ. They want to get an instant pass on hell, an instant upper from Jesus. They want Jesus to fix their life. If there’s ever been mass building on sand in the history of the church, we’re seeing it today. Christianity’s become so superficial: no deep plowing, no real spadework in the heart, no foundation, exercises. If I’ve never mourned over my sinfulness, I have no solid ground for rejoicing over forgiveness.
But the people who build on rock, what do they do? They’re not in a hurry. You dig deep. No quick conversion, no light confession. Luke 14 says there’s a deep and heart-searching counting of the cost. There are people who think they’re saved before they’ve even known what it is to be lost. Those who build on the rock give maximum effort. They count the cost. They understand they have to hate their father and their mother, and sister, and brother, hate their own life.
The disciples said to Jesus one day in Luke 13, it was so hard, there were so few people coming onto the narrow way, they said, “Can anybody be saved? Can anyone be saved?” There was almost a sort of hopelessness about salvation because there were so many on the broad road. And our Lord responded to that. They said in verse 23 of Luke 13, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”
That might sound like a strange statement. You rarely hear anybody say to someone who’s not a Christian, “If you want to be a Christian you need to strive, you need to agonize,” – that’s the word – “to agonize. You need to struggle. You need to deny yourself, take up your cross. You need to separate yourself from the world and from sin and from the people that hold you in their grip. You need to abandon everything. You need to cast away all that is of the realm of darkness.” This is heart-wrenching work. But that’s the kind of thing that happens in the soul of one who is building on the rock. A lot of houses on the sand.
What is the storm? Storm is the final judgment. The one who built on the rock emptied himself of self-righteousness, self-sufficiency, knows he has nothing, nothing to commend himself to God, overwhelmed with sin, and makes the maximum effort in the Lord’s strength to place the word of God in his heart that he might not sin. He’s interested in genuine love, relationship with his Lord. He is humble. He is loving. He is obedient. He doesn’t build on visions and experiences, he builds on the word of God. He builds for the glory of the Lord, not for his own satisfaction.
The day of judgment comes – the testing, the trial, the final test – and his house stands; while the house of those who build on sand, who are the same people as the many who say, “Lord, Lord,” and the many who say, “We did this and that in Your name,” are going to find everything collapsing. They may be respectful of Christ. They may have orthodox theology. They may be fervent. They may be active in public religion. They may be busy building a religious life, adjacent to others who are true believers, only to have it all smashed in judgment attest they fell, because there’s no foundation. And the foundation is “obedience to these words of Mine.” They live a biblical life.
I hope you can say with the hymn writer – I’ll change it a little bit: “My house is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but holy lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.”
Proverbs 30, verse 12 says this: “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet are not washed from their filthiness.” So look at your own heart and ask, “Where am I? Am I one of those who’s building on sand because I am not building on the word of God and a life of obedience to His word?”
This is an invitation, and it is a warning; and it was stark, and it should be. And the response, verse 28: “When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed,” astonished, awed, dumbfounded, bewildered; literally struck out of themselves. To say it in the vernacular what He had said: blew their minds, blew their minds. Why? “He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”
He had authority because He was God, and this is His message. This was the first sermon recorded in the New Testament, in the gospel of Matthew. This was what was on Jesus’ heart: “Don’t be around the right religion, but eternally lost.” Come through the narrow gate with nothing to offer the Lord but your own desperation. On to the narrow road, which is a road of obedience, and the end is eternal life. Let’s pray.
Father, the word is alive and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, and it pierces and it cuts. Thank You for telling us the truth. Thank You for the love that loves enough to warn. And, Lord, thank You for laying it on my heart that we should look at this passage today not knowing all the folks who have joined us in this unusual fashion.
But You know hearts. May there be genuine self-examination, heart examination; and may everyone see the truth. Lord, that can only happen if You enlighten their hearts for Your glory, Your own namesake. Shine the light of the glory of the gospel into the hearts of those who are deceived, that they may become not just those who say, but those who do, whose lives are built on obedience to Your word out of love for You. That would be our prayer. We give You all the praise. Amen.