A widespread false teaching in the evangelical church today is that you can accept Jesus as your Savior, but that obeying Him as Lord of your life is optional. Those who promote this teaching mistakenly think that they are preserving the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith, apart from human works. They do not deny the importance of submitting to Christ as Lord, but they do insist that it has nothing to do with saving faith. And so they teach that it is possible for a person truly to believe in Christ as Savior even though he never submits to Him as Lord.
I believe that this teaching rests on a mistaken notion of the nature of saving faith and that it gives false assurance to many who think they are Christians, but are not truly saved. Scripture is clear that without holiness, no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). Genuine saving faith always results in a life of progressive godliness. If a person claims to be saved, but has no hunger for God’s Word, no growing hatred of sin, and no growth in godly living, he needs to examine whether he is truly in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5).
As Jesus comes to the end of a sermon in which He has said some difficult things, He drives home the necessity of obeying what He has taught. He asks pointedly, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” Then He concludes with His familiar parable of two men building separate houses. The first lays a foundation on the rock, so that his house stands firm when the flood bursts against it. The second foolishly builds his house without the proper foundation, so that it is destroyed by the flood. In the parable, the foundation is obedience to Christ’s teaching. The man who did not build on the foundation heard Jesus’ teaching. He agreed with it superficially, as seen by the fact that he calls Jesus “Lord.” But he did not obey Jesus’ teaching, resulting in tragic loss. Thus Jesus is showing us that …
Obedience to Christ is not optional because it is at the very foundation of the Christian life.
Some may say, “Now, wait a minute! I thought that faith, not obedience, is the foundation of the Christian life.” After all, we are saved by grace through faith apart from works (Eph. 2:8, 9). The one who believes in Jesus has eternal life (John 3:16). So how can you say that obedience is foundational?
The answer centers on the nature of saving faith. Saving faith inevitably and necessarily results in a life of holiness and good deeds. Many who quote Ephesians 2:8-9, that we are saved by grace through faith, not as a result of works, fail to go on to quote verse 10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Those who quote John 3:16 fail to go on to John 3:36, which states, “He who believes the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
Many other New Testament verses virtually equate saving faith with obedience and unbelief with disobedience, because the connection is inseparable (see Acts 5:32; 6:7; Rom. 1:5; 2:4-10; 6:16; 10:16, 21; 15:18; 16:19, 26; 2 Thess. 1:8; Heb. 3:18, 19; 5:9; 11:8, 31; 1 Pet. 1:2, 22; 2:8; 4:17). As we saw in our last study, the nature of the tree determines the type of fruit. If a person has received a new nature through faith in Christ, that new nature will bear good fruit. We are saved by grace through faith apart from works, but the faith that saves always results in good works.
Also, at the outset we must be clear that Jesus was not teaching that His followers can be sinlessly perfect in this life. If the requirement of getting into heaven is perfectly obeying all that Jesus taught, no one will be in heaven. Not even the most devoted Christian loves God all the time with every fiber of his being. No one perfectly loves his neighbor as himself. The apostle John tells us, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Thus Jesus is not teaching that we must achieve sinless perfection in order to enter His kingdom. Rather, He is teaching what James later underscored in his epistle, that faith without works is dead (James 2:17, 26). Genuine faith is not simply intellectual assent. Genuine faith submits to the lordship of Jesus, resulting in a life of progressive holiness.
Jesus here shows three reasons why obedience to Him as Lord is not optional: first, because it is the true test of professing Christ (6:46); second, because it is the foundation that will withstand the tests of time and eternity (6:47-48); and, third, because those who do not obey Christ face sudden and final destruction (6:49).
If we call Him our Lord, we prove it by doing what He tells us to do in His Word. Note that Jesus unequivocally asserts His rightful position as Lord. He does not say, “Don’t call me Lord. Only God is Lord.” Rather, He assumes that He has the rightful authority to be Lord. His lordship governs all of life, down to our very thoughts. Thus obedience to Jesus as Lord is not just an option for some who want to be more committed. It is part and parcel of the Christian life. Those who do not submit to the lordship of Jesus have good cause to question whether they are truly Christians.
Implicit in Jesus’ words is the fact that there is the real danger of a false profession of allegiance to Christ. In the parallel in Matthew 7:21, Jesus says, “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.” He goes on to cite examples of those who even have done impressive things in His name, but who will be rejected at the gate of heaven because they also practiced lawlessness. Outwardly these men would have seemed to others to be righteous, but God tests the hearts. God knew their selfish motives, their lustful thoughts, and their greedy desires. So even though they had prophesied, performed miracles, and cast out demons in Jesus’ name, they were turned away from heaven. Outward obedience is not enough; God demands that we judge our evil thoughts and attitudes, bringing every thought into submission to Christ. If we name Jesus as Lord, we must enthrone Him as Lord of all our lives, even down to the thought level.
We will miss the thrust of Jesus’ words here if we do not recognize that He is giving us a strong warning. His warning implies the danger of deception. This is a matter where we could be faked out. These men who did all these things in His name are shocked when Jesus tells them that He never knew them and commands them to depart from His presence. Further, He is addressing His warning to those who call Him “Lord,” not to those who do not. If you asked these folks, “Are you a Christian, a follower of Jesus?” they would have responded, “Oh, yes! Amen! Jesus is Lord!” But, they were sadly deceived. Not only did these folks call Jesus “Lord,” they called Him Lord with feeling and with emphasis. That is the implication of the double vocative, “Lord, Lord.” They didn’t lower their voices and mumble when they said it. They would have strongly asserted that Jesus was their Lord. And yet, as Jesus’ parable goes on to show, they were heading for major destruction because their profession was superficial and false.
Thus Jesus’ warning is addressed to most of us. Most of us here would say, “Yes, I’m a Christian. Jesus is my Lord and Savior.” But Jesus is saying, “Examine your heart! Do you really seek to obey Me, beginning on the thought level? Do you judge your sin in the light of My Word? Or, could you be fooling yourself? Are you excusing your disobedience by claiming to be under grace? Are you justifying yourself by thinking, ‘Everyone does this’?” Obedience to Jesus on the heart level is not optional, just for the super-committed. It is the true test of whether your faith in Christ is genuine or counterfeit.
Jesus goes on to show by His parable of the two house-builders further reasons why obedience is not optional. First He shows us the necessity of obedience by a positive example, and then by a negative one. He ends His sermon abruptly with the negative example, leaving us to think about the tragic scene of a house destroyed by the flood.
The first home-builder represents the man who not only hears, but acts upon, Jesus’ words. He goes to the trouble of digging deep into the soil until he hits bedrock. He anchors his foundation to the bedrock, so that his house rests on a solid foundation. When the storm hit and the flash flood burst against that house, it stood firm because it was well built.
The house represents our lives. We’re all building a house. The question is, are we building our lives on the sure foundation of obedience to Jesus or are we building it on the sand of empty profession? To build a house involves a lot of time and expense. It’s not like throwing up a shed, where you don’t plan to spend much time inside and it isn’t expected to last. In a new home, you can install the finest hardwood cabinets. You can spend extra money on brass doorknobs and crystal chandeliers. You can put in a custom masonry fireplace. But if the house is not resting on a solid foundation, you’re throwing your money away. If you build the house of your life without obedience to Jesus on the heart level, it’s like wasting your money on a house without a foundation.
When you build a house you can be sure, no matter where you build it, that storms will come to test your foundation. The geography and climate of Palestine is much like that of Arizona, subject to sudden flash floods. Dry streambeds can quickly turn into raging torrents that sweep away almost everything in their paths. If you’re building your home near such a streambed, you had better make sure that it has a solid foundation.
The flood refers both to the trials of this life as well as to the flood of future judgment when we all must stand before God. The context in Matthew emphasizes more the future judgment, while Luke focuses more on the trials of life. But neither passage refers exclusively to one or the other. The person who has built his life on obedience to Jesus Christ has a solid foundation that will carry him through both the floods of this life and the future judgment. The person who professes to know Christ, but who is not walking in obedience, will be wiped out when trials hit in this life. And, he will be totally ruined when he stands before God at the judgment. There are only two final results: the one house stands, while the other house falls. There is no middle possibility of sustaining just a bit of damage. This points to the fact that there are two and only two final destinies, heaven and hell. Those who truly believe in Jesus as revealed by their obedience to Him will be in heaven. Those who profess to believe in Jesus but deny Him by their disobedient life will go to hell (Titus 1:16).
Before the flood, both houses would look the same to the casual observer, but there was a vast difference between them after the flood hit. One stood firm, the other was a shambles. The difference was in the hidden part, the foundation. Foundations aren’t very glamorous, but they are absolutely essential if you want a building to stand over the long haul. The foundation of obedience enables a Christian to stand firm when trials hit.
What are some of those inevitable floods that test our faith? There are the trials that we all face—disappointments, setbacks, sickness, loss of loved ones, the loss of a job, being let down by family members or friends, etc. There are the certain floods that go along with growing older—the loss of health and strength, being confined by the limitations of our bodies. And, of course, there is the steady, relentless approach of our own death. All these trials test whether we are true disciples of Jesus Christ or just fair-weather followers who were not sincere in our faith.
Further, there are the floods of temptation that come at us from the world, the flesh, and the devil. This evil world, under the dominion of Satan, presses on us relentlessly, often in subtle ways we are not aware of. It may be an enticement to cheat on an exam in school, to steal, to indulge in immorality, to set our minds on the fleeting pleasures of riches. When those blue-collar workers recently won the world’s largest lottery jackpot, most of us were tempted by the greedy thought, “What would I do if I won all that money?” Some may have yielded to the temptation of buying a lottery ticket, hoping to strike it rich. Few of us thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to win all that money so that I could give it all to the Lord’s work!”
The point is, if you’re not establishing the habit of obedience to Jesus every day, taking every thought captive to Him, confessing and forsaking all known sin, you are building your life on sand. When these inevitable temptations come, they will sweep away any profession of faith that you have made.
Of course, the final trial we all must face is to die and stand before God. He knows everything about us (Heb. 4:13). If we have been hypocrites, putting up a good front before others, claiming to be Christians, but all the while living in disobedience, it will all come crashing down in the flood of God’s judgment. The Bible is abundantly clear that that day is both certain and final. Everyone will be called to account before God’s throne. Those who may have fooled everyone on earth will not fool God in heaven. Only those who have lived in obedience to God’s Word, constantly examining themselves by it, judging their sin, seeking to be pleasing to God, will stand. Those who have said, “Lord, Lord,” but who have not sought to obey Him, will be ruined finally and forever.
That leads to the final reason Jesus gives that obedience is not optional. It is not optional because it is the true test of professing Christ; it is not optional because it is the only foundation that will withstand the tests of time and eternity.
As you consider the man who built his house without a foundation, you have to ask, “Why would he do such a dumb thing?” There could be several reasons. First, it involved a lot of time and hard work to dig by hand down to the bedrock and the foolish man was lazy. It was much easier to throw up the house without all the hassle of putting in a proper foundation. So he followed the path of least resistance. If you’ve ever done home improvement projects, you’ve come across situations where the previous owner “fixed” a problem by doing it the easy way, but it wasn’t right. In the long run it would have been better to do it right in the first place, because you have to tear apart his botched up easy fix in order to really fix the problem.
There’s a spiritual parallel. Disobedience is usually much easier than obedience, and it seems at the time like it will get you where you want to go more quickly than the more difficult path of obedience. The guy who threw up his house without a foundation was sitting inside sipping lemonade while his neighbor was out in the hot sun dripping with sweat as he dug his foundation. You young men see a guy who is living with his beautiful girl friend, enjoying all the pleasures of sex with seemingly no consequences. Meanwhile, you’re in the trenches battling for moral purity in obedience to Jesus, and you wonder, “Why am I digging this foundation while that guy sits in his comfortable house with his girl friend on his lap?” Wait till the flood hits and you’ll know the reason!
Another reason the guy didn’t bother to dig a proper foundation is that he wanted the immediate benefits of the house without the necessary labor and time to build it correctly. He had a roof over his head and all his furniture nicely arranged while his neighbor wasn’t even above ground yet. Spiritually, a lot of people come to Jesus for the benefits He offers. Seemingly, they’re instantly enjoying the blessings of salvation even though they have never repented of sin and they are not daily judging their sin by His Word. They enjoy the good feelings of singing praise songs and swaying with the music. They like the love and fellowship of the body. But in their private lives, they are not digging the foundation of obedience to God’s Word. The flood will hit and their spiritual house will come crashing down.
A third reason this guy didn’t bother to put in a foundation is that he was short-sighted. He was living for the here and now, without thought for the future. It wasn’t raining when he threw up his house. The riverbed was dry. Flood? What flood? A flood was not in his thinking. He just wanted to get inside his new house and enjoy the comforts it provided. Spiritually, we are fools if we do not live in light of death and the judgment to follow. This very day your soul may be required of you, and then where will you be? If you profess to be a Christian, but you’ve been living all these years for self, with no regard for furthering the kingdom of God, your life is built on sand. It will collapse when the flood of God’s judgment hits.
When you peel away the outside, so many professing Christians, even many who are engaged in ministry, are just living for self. What motivates their Christian service is not the glory of the Savior who gave Himself for them. They’re not doing what they do because they love the Lord Jesus. They’re motivated by the strokes they get from serving. They love the affirmation. But if their service goes unrecognized or someone else gets the credit, they get angry and quit. Their motive was to please self, not to please the Lord. They were not laboring with a view to the future judgment when they would hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
What can we do to make sure that our house is built on the rock of obedience to Christ, not on the sand? Jesus mentions three things (6:47): Come to Him, hear His words, and act on them.
First, you must come to Jesus. This implies a personal, one-to-one relationship between Jesus and you. In the parallel passage in Matthew, Jesus says to the hypocrites who had done all their impressive works in His name, “I never knew you” (Matt. 7:23). Do you know Jesus and does Jesus know you? Christianity is not a system of rules where you decide you will start working on the list. It is fundamentally a personal relationship with the risen, living Savior. Your sins have separated you from Him. But He shed His blood to reconcile to God every sinner who will stop trusting in himself and his own good deeds and who will trust in Jesus’ blood as the only satisfaction for sin.
Second, you must hear Jesus’ words. This implies growing in your knowledge and understanding of His teaching as revealed in the Bible. If you are not feeding daily on God’s Word, learning from it how He wants you to live, you are living according to the desires of the flesh. You are being squeezed into the world’s mold. The teaching of the Bible centers on two main subjects: how to love God with all your heart, mind, and soul; and, how to love your neighbor as you do in fact love yourself. In other words, the Bible shows us how to relate properly to God and to others. As you read and study your Bible, your aim should not be simply to fill your head with knowledge, although proper knowledge is essential. The bottom line for biblical knowledge is that you will please God by loving Him and loving others as He commands.
Third, Jesus says that you must act upon His words. This implies soul-searching obedience, down to our very thoughts, motives, and attitudes. It means continually examining ourselves in light of Scripture. When you read a psalm that says, “Praise the Lord and sing for joy,” you ask yourself, “Is my mind filled with praise to God and joy in Him, or am I marked by grumbling and complaining?” You apply Scripture to your life. The bottom line of our time in His Word should be, “How then should I live?”
The forecast is that there is a 100 percent chance of a flood hitting your life in the near future. In light of that forecast, now is the time to check your foundation. If you are living in daily obedience to Jesus on the heart level, your house will stand. If you call Him “Lord” but you are living for self, you had better start digging!
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 1998, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation