This article was first published at Servants of Grace as part of a devotional series on the Sermon on the Mount.
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it" (Matthew 7:24-27).
One of the most amazing wonders of the Christian faith is that our works do not save us. Rather, we are saved by grace alone through faith alone. But how is our faith measured? Is it enough that I believe or that I say I believe? In the end, what will our Lord look for in us? How can anyone know that we have saving faith?
James addresses this in his letter to his Jewish brothers when he states, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?… Faith, by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from you works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one, you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder!” (James 2:14-18).I read the above passage for the first time when I was 13 years old. I read it over and over, pondering the reality that it was not enough to merely believe the truth about God. What a scary thing it was to learn that God is not impressed with my mere profession of faith, that he’s more concerned with what I do with it.
Jesus wraps up the Sermon on the Mount with a similar warning, drawing a distinction between two kinds of hearers, the wise person who put the word into action and the foolish person who dismisses the word and does life his own way. Both hearers face life-threatening challenges, but only one withstands them.
In short, obedience matters.
This has been an important reminder for me within the past couple of years because it’s too easy to trade living by God’s word for living by the traditions of Christian culture. If my goal is to feel like a good Christian, I can be content with going to church, attending a small group, and even reading my Bible daily without actually applying his word to my everyday life.
But as a college mentor told me, if we want to grow we must apply his word. As we obey his word, we actually grow in our understanding of God and his wisdom. We often believe our private times of reflection are what draw us in close fellowship with God and into maturity, but it’s actually what we do with his word that has the most bearing on our faith.
So while it may be tempting to dismiss the seriousness of Jesus’ warning with a reminder that we are saved through faith and not works, it would be more expedient to read this alongside James 2 and the reminder that even demons believe.
Saving faith sustains us through compelling us to faith-filled obedience. In Christ, our lives are constantly changing as we grow up, little by little, into his likeness.
In his helpful book, A Gospel Primer, Milton Vincent gives a wonderful picture of obedience in the life of a faithful believer:
“It could be said that ‘sanctification’ is merely the lifelong process wherein I joyfully surrender myself to God’s imputed righteousness and then do whatever this righteousness directs me to do. Indeed, God has clothed me with His righteousness. Now He wants this righteousness to master me.”
Such a person who lives life surrendered to Jesus is wise and will withstand the trials everyone faces with refined faith.