A Commentary by John Stott
Matthew 7:21-27 A Christian’s commitment: the radical choice.
Whether or not we were right in thinking that Jesus began his conclusion with verse 13, he certainly comes to it now. At this point he is not concerned to add further instruction, but rather to ensure a proper response to the instruction he has already given. ‘The Lord Jesus winds up the Sermon on the Mount’, writes J.C.Ryle, ‘by a passage of heart-piercing application. He turns from false prophets to false professors, from unsound teachers to unsound hearers.’ R.V.G.Tasker’s comment is similar: ‘It is not only false teachers who make the narrow way difficult to find and still harder to tread. A man may also be grievously self-deceived.’.
So Jesus confronts us with himself, sets before us the radical choice between obedience and disobedience, and calls us to an unconditional commitment of mind, will and life to his teaching. The way he does it is to warn us of two unacceptable alternatives, first a merely verbal profession (21-23) and secondly a merely intellectual knowledge (24-27). Neither can be a substitute for obedience; indeed each may be a camouflage for disobedience. Jesus emphasizes with great solemnity that on a thoroughgoing obedience our eternal destiny depends.
In this respect the two final paragraphs of the Sermon are very similar. Both contrast the wrong and the right responses to Christ’s teaching. Both show that neutrality is impossible and that a definite decision has to be made. Both stress that nothing can take the place of an active, practical obedience. And both teach that the issue of life and death on the day of judgement will be determined by our moral response to Christ and his teaching in this life. The only difference between the paragraphs is that in the first people offer a profession of their lips as an alternative to obedience, and in the second a hearing with their ears.
1. The danger of a merely verbal profession (21-23).
The people Jesus is describing here are relying for salvation on a credal affirmation, on what they ‘say’ to or about Christ. ‘Not every one who *says* to me’ (21). ‘On that day many will *say* to me’ (22). But our final destiny will be settled, Jesus insists, neither by what we are saying to him today, nor by what we shall say to him on the last day, but by whether we do what we say, whether our verbal profession is accompanied by moral obedience. Now a verbal profession of Christ is indispensable. In order to be saved, wrote Paul, we have to confess with our lips and believe in our hearts. (Rom. 10:9,10). And a true profession of Jesus as Lord is impossible without the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor.12:3). Moreover, the kind of Christian profession Jesus describes at the end of the Sermon appears – at least on the surface -to be wholly admirable. To begin with it is polite. It addresses him as ‘Lord’, just as today the most respectful and courteous way of referring to Jesus is still to say ‘our Lord’. Next, the profession is orthodox. Although to call Jesus ‘Lord’ may mean no more than ‘Sir’, the present context contains allusions both to God as his Father and to himself as the Judge, and therefore seems to imply more. Certainly after his death and resurrection the early Christians knew what they were doing when they called him ‘Lord’. It was a divine title, a rendering in the Greek Old Testament of the Hebrew for ‘Jehovah’. So from our later perspective we may say that this is an accurate, an orthodox confession of Jesus Christ. Thirdly, it is fervent, for it is not a cold or formal ‘Lord’ but an enthusiastic ‘Lord, Lord’, as if the speaker wishes to draw attention to the strength and zeal of his devotion.
Tomorrow: Matthew 7:21-27 A Christian’s commitment: the radical choice (continued).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.