By Mike Willis
Years ago, Ezekiel lamented, “But as for you, son of man, your fellow citizens who talk about you by the walls and in the doorways of the houses, speak to one another, each to his brother, saying, ‘Come now, and hear what the message is which comes forth from the Lord.’ And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as My people, but they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth, and their heart goes after their gain. And behold, you are to them like a sensual song by one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not practice them” (33:30-32). How frequently I have felt just like Ezekiel!
I have witnessed men and women in the audience to whom I would preach a lesson come out and shake my hand, telling me what a fine lesson I had presented, but who never did anything to live what I had just taught them. People come to worship expecting to hear a polished speaker. When the speaker is finished, they frequently go their way for another week having no intention whatsoever to step forward in obedience to the gospel which has been preached. Perhaps, we need to be reminded of what Jesus said about obedience; he said,
“Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will ®f My Father, who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name east out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I wilt declare to them, I never knew you; depart from Me, yon who practice lawlessness.’
“Therefore every one who hears these words of Mine and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock; and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and yet it did not call; for it had been founded upon the rock. And every one who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them, will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. And the rain descended, and the hoods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was Its fall” (Mt. 7:21-27).
I would like to look at these verses rather carefully in this week’s editorial.
Things Which Cannot Substitute For Obedience
If there is one lesson which is forcefully taught in this saying of Jesus, it is that nothing can substitute for obedience to His words. In this passage, there are several things specifically mentioned which show that they cannot substitute for obedience. Consider these things which cannot substitute for obedience:
1. Profession of faith. Everyone of the men under consideration in this verse called Jesus, “Lord, Lord.” These men were not atheists or infidels; they were men who professed faith in Jesus Christ. Yet, that profession of faith was insufficient to save them from their sins and to grant them an entrance into that everlasting kingdom prepared by God. There are any number of people in this world today who make a profession of faith in Jesus, just as these people did, who shall not be saved simply because they have not obeyed the Lord; profession of faith will not substitute for obedience!
2. Zeal. Just as profession of faith will not substitute for obedience, neither will zeal substitute for it. The men under consideration in these verses were men who, apparently, were zealous in what they were doing. Look at all of the good works they did for the Lord; they prophesied in His name, cast out demons, and performed many miracles in His name. They were, indeed, zealous people. Frequently, however, zeal outruns faith; men begin to act without authority. When this happens, they become guilty of lawlessness, just as these had done. Zeal did not negate the fact that these men had simply not obeyed the commandments of the Lord.
3. Religion. The fact that men are religious does not substitute for obedience to the Lord Jesus. The men in these verses were quite religious; yet, they were condemned to hell despite the fact that they were religious. Men need to be reminded of the fact that Jesus did not come to make men religious; men were religious years before Jesus came to this earth. Jesus came to make men right religiously. The mere fact that a person is religious is insufficient to save him. As a matter of fact, if we studied the cases of conversion in the book of Acts, the large majority of those who were converted to the Lord were religious before they were converted. We simply must accept the fact that false religion is just as damning as no religion. Religion will not substitute for obedience!
The Will of the Father
The only thing which was sufficient to save a man was obedience to the will of the Father (v. 21). But, how does one know the will of the Father? There are some who would have us to believe that we find out the will of the Father through a better-felt-than-told experience; others tell us that one is doing the will of the Father when he is obeying his conscience. Some among us are saying that we can never be sure what the will of the Father really is (in such areas as instrumental music in worship, institutionalism, the sponsoring church, etc.). Jesus, however, did not leave us in doubt as to what the will of the Father is.
If you will notice what these verses say, you will see that Jesus associated the will of the Father with the words which He spoke. In v. 21, He said that the man who would be saved is the man “who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.” Then, in v. 24, as He illustrated the truth which He was teaching, He said, “Therefore every one who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them . . . .” The will of the Father, therefore, is revealed to us through the words of Jesus and those whom He commissioned to reveal it.
We do not learn the will of the Lord through some mystical witness of the Spirit; we learn it through the revealed words of Jesus Christ as recorded for us in the Bible. We do not have to wonder what is right and wrong; we can always be assured that we are doing what pleases God when we are doing what His word says.
Lessons From The Two Builders
After Jesus had made His statement about the necessity of obedience, He illustrated it by the example of two builders. From the age of a small child, I have known and sung the song of the two builders which was taken from this illustration. Yet, there are several powerful lessons in this illustration which we need to remember.
1. Each of us is building a building. Sometimes, I think, men hear these words and decide to be neither the wise nor the foolish builder. That will not work for the simple reason that all of us are building our buildings each day of our lives. The lives which we live are the buildings which are discussed in this passage. Our day to day lives determine whether we are a wise builder. or a foolish builder. We have no choice of whether we will be a builder or not; we can only choose to be a wise builder or a foolish builder.
2. Each person’s building shall be tested. This illustration certainly teaches us that each person’s building will be tested. The same rains, floods, and wind beat upon each house to test it. Sometimes we are tested in this life to see what kind of building we have been erecting. I have seen men who spent all of their lives accumulating their fortune and then want to exchange it all for an opportunity to rear their children again. They built their houses on sand. I have seen mothers who left their children with the babysitter in order to have some of the luxuries of this life, cry rivers of tears as they witnessed their children doing things which were sinful. The crises of this life sometime expose the fact that the life which we are living is resting on sinking sand.
Despite the fact that some of us are tested in this life, all of us will be tested on the day of judgment. Paul wrote, “For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). These verses depict men standing before Jesus Christ to be judged. Hence, all of us shall be tested to see whether or not we have been obedient to our Lord Jesus Christ.
3. The difference in men will be their obedience or disobedience to the will of God. The wise man and the foolish man endured the same winds, rains and flood; one had built a house which endured the storm and the other had not. The difference was that one had built his house on the sand and the other had built on the rock. The sand on which so many are building today include such attitudes toward life as the accumulation of this world’s goods and hedonism (satisfaction of the desires if the flesh). Those who build on the sand shall not endure. The rock, on the other hand, is obedience to the will of God. The man who obeys the will of God has built his life upon a solid rock, a rock which shall be firm support in the times of trial and testing.
This week, I saw television reports of flooding in Eastern Kentucky and in West Virginia. Among the things which were shown in the news cast was a house which was washed away by the fast-flowing waters of a high river. Is this what lies ahead for the house which you are building? When your building is tested by the Lord will it endure? It will only if you obey the Lord. There is no substitute for obedience!
Truth Magazine XXI: 33, pp. 515-517
August 25, 1977