American Journal of Biblical Theology, www.biblicaltheology.com
We live in a world that offers us a lot of choices, and who we are and where we are in this life is largely determined by the sum of those choices. Each of us can look at our state in life, whether we feel blessed our cursed, and by implementing some honest assessment, describe the sequence of decisions that placed us where we are.
Our journey through the circumstances that result from our choices is also guided by boundaries that we set for ourselves, or those that are determined by others who are given authority over us. Any parent knows the need to set well-defined boundaries around their children’s behavior. Children who are not provided with a set of well-defined boundaries become frustrated and out-of-control, a state that we may referred to as “spoiled,” as they learn to reject authority and find themselves continually at odds with the world around them by their unbounded behavior.
Most people are able to live quite well within the boundaries of law that are set by the society in which they live. We probably consider “good” people as those who live their lives inside of the boundaries of the law, and “bad” people as those who do not. It is also quite possible to live within the boundaries of the law and experience tremendous freedom. Freedom that is expressed within the boundaries of law is called “Liberty,” and freedom from the law is called “Anarchy.”
As laws become more restrictive on a person’s behavior and begin to infringe on basic human rights, they can become repressive. First-century Israel, particularly those Christians who lived in and around Jerusalem were experiencing such repression. The religious leadership demanded rigid adherence to their set of laws in order to be considered “righteous” and have access to the Temple. It was through this strategy that the leadership controlled its people.
Jesus stated that He came to “fulfill the Law, rather than destroy it.” To fulfill the law is to give it meaning and purpose, changing words on a scroll to an attitude in the heart that is consistent with those words. All of Jesus’ teaching was consistent with the Word of God, though not always consistent with the additional rules and regulations that the religious leaders had created over the previous fourteen generations. As Jesus begins to teach, He works to return people to the meaning and applications of the Word of God as it can work in their lives to bring them into obedience to the true Law.
Matthew 7:13-14. Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Before Jesus begins a series of imperatives, He speaks about boundaries. For the most part, the natural behavior of man is quite unbounded. This world is full of hatred and violence, self-centeredness, and pride. The journey through this life to the next is like a broad gate that all people enter with ease. Following that gate are pathways of our own choosing. When those choices are informed only by our natural desires, and are ignorant of God’s purpose in our lives, the directions we take in this life are limitless. This is the “broad” way that Jesus speaks of, and none of these paths will lead a person to salvation.
Forgiveness for our sin, a necessity for an eternal relationship with God, is only found through a decision of placing sincere faith and trust in Him, and in Him alone. Where Jesus uses the metaphor of the gate and the paths to illustrate this principle, I repeatedly use an illustration of a dart board to represent obedience to the LORD. The Apostle Paul describes the faithful Christian life as an athlete who “presses towards” or aims for the target, the “High calling of Jesus Christ.” The choices we make in a life of faith are much like the darts we throw at the dartboard. We will usually miss the bull’s eye, the center of the target. However, the LORD promises unconditional, absolute, and immediate forgiveness when people of faith miss the mark. The point is that people of faith desire to be obedient to the LORD and work to maintain their focus on that very narrow line between their hand and the bull’s-eye, between where they are and where the LORD wants them to be. Those who lack faith in God are not aware of the target, and have no inclination or purpose to aim at it. They are throwing their darts in every direction of their own choosing, scattering them all around the room, hitting the ceiling, the floor, the walls, or any other specific target of their own choosing.
A focus on the bull’s eye of a dartboard, a target that is only a fraction of an inch wide at a distance of almost eight feet away is very narrow, whereas all of the other angles of opportunity are very broad.
Consequently, it is of utmost importance to know the presence and location of the “dartboard.” Knowledge of the grace of God and His offer of salvation to those who place their faith and trust in Him is the most important fact of this life on earth.
Matthew 7:15. Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
Narrow is the path of salvation, and broad is the way of the world. There are many influences in this world that serve to distract one from the truth of the gospel. That truth is learned by hearing it from people who know the truth and desire others to know it also. The sacred teacher has nothing to gain, and those who he teaches have everything to gain. The sacred teacher’s reward is to witness the salvation of others; to watch others receive the benefits of grace. The sacred teacher has no authority or power over his students.
However, there are many who are not sacred teachers and will use their gifts to draw people to themselves rather than to God. They will offer alternate gospels. They often promise a reward of salvation in exchange for their demands for some form of sacrifice. It is these who will take for themselves a position of authority that is reserved for God alone.
It is, consequently, imperative that we are able to discern between one who is a sacred teacher, and one who is a false prophet.
Matthew 7:16-20. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
How can we discern if we are being told the truth? One obvious and common answer is that we can know if someone is teaching false doctrine by knowing true doctrine ourselves. This is certainly true, but the argument assumes that the hearer is intimately familiar with what the teacher is teaching. Jesus is proclaiming the truth of the gospel to many who are hearing it for the first time, a community that is similar to most of the world today.
Jesus says nothing about the content of the message, but everything about the conduct of the messenger. One can easily recognize whether the teacher is led of the Holy Spirit or not by careful observation of his/her behavior. Our behavior describes who we are much like and fruit of a tree defines it. We know an apple tree when it bears fruit. An apple tree cannot bear oranges. The fruit of one who is submitted to the power of the Holy Spirit bears fruit that is consistent with the spirit. There are some fruit that will always characterize a godly teacher:
Love. The Holy Spirit leads the faithful to express unconditional love for all people. A false teacher is quickly exposed when they demonstrate either a lack of love or conditional love. Do they preach about love, but demonstrate hateful or demeaning behavior towards others?
Humility. The Holy Spirit leads the faithful to demonstrate true humility in all their ways. The false teacher is exposed when he/she acts in a prideful manner. If the message is about the messenger, it is a false teaching. If the teacher is working for his/her own gain, it is a false teacher. A demonstrated spirit of arrogance is an indication of a false teacher. A false teacher is exposed when he lifts himself up to a position of authority over others.
Grace. The Holy Spirit leads the faithful to demonstrate a sincere and graceful forgiving spirit towards others. A false teacher is exposed when he/she demonstrates unforgiveness, harboring anger, holding grudges, or spitefulness to others.
Joy. The Holy Spirit leads the faithful to obtain a deep and abiding joy that comes from no other source. This joy shines out through their lives, not only in their teaching, but in their attitude and actions. The false teacher, not knowing the LORD, has no concept of this form of joy, and instead demonstrates a vacillation between happiness and sadness, quick to anger, and quick to criticize and condemn.
Peace. The Holy Spirit leads the faithful to express a consistent spirit of peacefulness even when circumstances can be tumultuous. The false teacher does not know this peace, and such peacefulness is not in their nature.
Patience. The Holy Spirit leads the faithful to grow in patience and endurance. The false teacher is one who believes he/she is already fully grown and yet does not demonstrate a consistent spirit of patience or endurance.
Gentleness. The Holy Spirit leads the faithful to be gentle in spirit. The false teacher has no concept of such gentleness and may demonstrate harshness, a hardness, or a roughness that is uncharacteristic of the faith.
Kindness. The Holy Spirit leads the faithful to be kind and generous towards others. The false teacher has no such inspiration and can easily be self-centered and unkind towards others.
My early years of ministry were engaged mostly in the leading and performance of music. I had often wondered about becoming a part of a Christian music group that performed on tours. Once, during that early time, I was sincerely invited to join what was then a well-known and successful traveling music evangelistic group. However, as I got to know the leader of the group well, he started to open his real personality to me, and in a response to a particular circumstance he exposed a deep-seated spirit of bigotry. I simply walked out of his travel bus, gently closed the door, and said a short prayer of thankfulness that this false teacher was so quickly exposed. Though his words sounded sacred, his life proved to be worldly.
There are many distinctive characteristic behaviors of a sincere person of faith that are often referred to as “fruit” of the spirit. A faithful Christian bears fruit just as a fruit tree does in season. The only way to keep an apple tree from bearing apples is to maim or kill it. This is also true for the Christian. This is why Jesus previously said, “You are the light of the world; a city on a hill cannot be hid.” A person of faith lives out that faith in a rather obvious demonstration of spiritual fruit. A false teacher is quickly exposed by their lack of it.
Matthew 7:21. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Salvation is not based upon what we say. Salvation is based upon an attitude of the heart and mind, an attitude of sincere faith and trust in God. False teachers will make broad claims concerning their opinions, often doing so with a confident charisma that is very convincing to those whose understanding of spiritual truth is not yet deeply developed. They may sound spiritual by inserting the name “Lord” into their teaching and into their prayers, but without sincere faith the assertion is no less than vain hypocrisy.
There is a significant difference between believing that God is the LORD, and choosing to make God your LORD. The first choice leads to eternal death, the second to eternal life. Satan believes that Jesus is LORD, but as the prince of darkness, the spirit behind all sin and evil, satan cannot and will not ever make Jesus his LORD. Certainly, there are many people today who believe that they are good people, who also believe that Jesus is LORD, and may even speak of Him freely. They may be Sunday school teachers, and even clergy, and yet face an eternity without God because they have never chosen to turn to Him in faith.
Jesus states this by noting that salvation is not found in words, but in doing the will of God, and the fundamental will of God concerning the people whom He has created is that they would come to Him in a faith relationship, the they would be “His people” and He would be “Their God.”
Matthew 7:22-23. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
False doctrines and false teaching come from a false faith. Living with a false faith is a very dangerous state to be: convinced that one is saved when, in fact, they are not. A Barna Research Group study several years ago stated that as many as 40% of protestant church members and up to 83% of Catholic church members are unsaved.
Such figures must be considered with some modicum of wisdom since no person truly knows the heart of another. One who lives and acts like a Christian, and may be convinced by false teaching that they have fulfilled the requirements for salvation, may be entirely indiscernible from the average Christian today.
Armed with a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of true saving faith, the unsaved may profess loudly and confidently their status as a Christian. They may stake their claim based upon the faith of their parents, or on their participation in a faith-based fellowship or church. They may know enough about the Bible to teach what they understand of its message to others. They may take positions of leadership in a church congregation and become very active in ministry. I have met at least two pastors who shared with me a testimony of their coming to true faith in God during either the preparation or the delivery of their own sermon. Just as the religious leadership in ancient Israel thought they were justified by their good works, many today hold to the same philosophy.
Sometimes a person of faith will be able to discern the voracity of another Christian’s testimony because their lives do, indeed, demonstrate the consistent bearing of spiritual fruit. However, many Christians bear little fruit, making it more likely that we would mistake the spiritual state of one whose faith is small. The “faith of a mustard seed” is a saving faith, and such a small amount of faith may not produce much spiritual fruit, causing the critical observer to assume that they are lost. There are probably many people around the periphery of our church fellowships who possess sincere, saving faith, but it is not clearly evident.
Consequently, we cannot make any assertions as to the voracity of the faith of most of the people around us. However, we can certainly look honestly at our own faith. It is either a true faith or a false faith, and probably anyone who has made it this far in this written Bible study is serious about their faith, sincerely desiring it to be true.
One cannot separate faith in God, and faith in Jesus Christ. Accepting the will of God includes accepting the truth of the nature and character of Jesus, who is the prophesied Messiah, YAHWEH, Jehovah. Jesus’ death on the cross paid the sin debt for all who place their faith and trust in Him. All people will find themselves before God in the judgment, but only those who have placed their faith in Jesus will find themselves forgiven.
If you have accepted the Lordship of Jesus as the one supreme authority in your life, you sincerely desire to do His will, and you trust Him to be your own personal LORD, then there is no reason to doubt your salvation. However, if you base your faith solely on the basis of your good works, simply believing that there is a God, there is very good reason to doubt.
Matthew 7:24. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: 25And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
There was a tremendous contrast between what Jesus was teaching and what the Israelites were accustomed to hearing from their religious leadership. That leadership was teaching the Law of Moses as well as the hundreds of traditional laws that had enacted, and by so doing presented a doctrine of condemnation. The basic message they would hear was always, “this is that you are doing wrong.” Rather than bring a message of condemnation, Jesus brought a message of love and grace. Instead of focusing on our faults, Jesus focused on how our faults may be forgiven.
There is a great “storm” coming: the conflict that will arise when we find ourselves before the judgment seat of God when the beliefs, attitudes, and actions that we have demonstrated in this life will be brought to light. The one question that will determine the difference between heaven and hell is if you are standing before God with your sins forgiven by His grace. Jesus us teaching the people the very intent, context, and application of the Word of God, empowering His disciples to move it from the head-knowledge of the religious leaders to the heart-knowledge that was promised by the prophets. Jesus brought meaning and context to the Mosaic Law that the people had no other opportunity to learn, a context that can lead them, and us, to saving faith in God.
By accepting the teachings of Jesus, all people have an opportunity to avoid the power of the storm to destroy them. When that storm comes, like a house built on a solid foundation, they will still stand strong.
Matthew 7:26-27. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: 27And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
Those who approach the judgment of God without the forgiveness of sin that comes through faith in Him and through the atoning work of Jesus Christ at the Cross of Calvary will not be able to stand against it. When one approaches God without a relationship with Him, His only reasonable response is “I never knew you: depart from me…” When one places their faith and trust on anything of this world they are building their house on sand. When the storms come, the house is entirely destroyed, swept away by its power. Likewise, those who approach God in the judgment who come without saving faith will be swept away. This world offers many different options when it comes to faith and religious choices. Many world religions may prepare someone to appear pious and godly to the people of this world, but their piousness is built on sand and cannot stand against the judgment. Salvation comes only through faith in God, brought to use through the Person of Jesus Messiah, YAHWEH in the flesh.
Matthew 7:28-29. And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: 29For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
The people had never heard anything like the message that Jesus was bringing to them. Unlike their teachers who taught what they knew of the Law, Jesus taught from His own heart, and His words were spoken with the authority of personal testimony. There was no need for questioning the authority of Jesus’ words by those who heard and understood them. His words had the power to pierce their hearts and change their attitudes. Where the scribes offered only condemnation, Jesus offered an encouraging message of forgiveness. Where the scribes taught under the authority of man, Jesus taught under the authority of God, Himself. Where the scribes’ words were empowered only by their own presentation, Jesus’ words are empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Faithful Christians today, who know and understand the gospel have the opportunity to teach it to others. When they teach, they do so under the power of the same Holy Spirit that empowered the words of Jesus Christ. Only the truth of the gospel is so empowered, and serves as the one solid foundation upon which people can fully place their confidence and trust. It is this foundation that offers forgiveness of sin and an eternal relationship with God. This is the foundation upon which all can stand.
 Albert Camus.
 Matthew 5:17.
 Philippians 3:14.
 Romans 5:8.
 James 2:19.
 Genesis 17:8; Exodus 29:45-46; Jeremiah 24:7, et. al.
 There has been a commonly repeated assertion that Billy Graham stated that ___% of church members are unsaved, with the figure ranging from 40% to 85% depending upon who is citing the quotation. However, no such quote has been confirmed. Joe McKeever, 2010.
 Matthew 13:31.
 Psalm 119:11.