Updated: Oct 6, 2021
Obedience. Jesus wraps up His famous Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7 and it is the conclusion that catches me by surprise more than anything else that Jesus has spoken up to this point. I think the religious in the audience had to be shocked as well. Jesus declared that their behavior was opposed to the kingdom of the Father, He revealed that their self-righteousness was not enough to impress the Father, He exposed their religious practices as shallow attempts to impress others around them but in reality, they made no impression on the Father, and He challenged their value structure that worked in opposition to the Father’s values. The thing that may very well have infuriated the religious leaders in this sermon more than anything else is that in one extended conversation with the people, Jesus eroded all influence and power the religious leaders may have had with the people. Jesus basically said, “what you have been taught is wrong, but I will tell you the truth.” The people responded by saying, “Jesus speaks with authority, unlike anyone we have ever heard.”
Jesus’ final statements do even more to irritate the religious leaders. Jesus completely calls into question the heavenly citizenship of the religious. He plainly states their religion is worthless. In Matthew 7:24-29, Jesus surprisingly says, “Not everyone who calls me Lord will enter into heaven.” I would have imagined there may have been a dramatic pause along with a silence that spoke louder than any verbal response. Jesus continues, “it is the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” In simple terms, Jesus is speaking about obedience. Jesus just spent an entire message calling the religious out for not obeying. No uncertainty remained about what Jesus was declaring. He made boldly known that the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, etc. would not see God’s kingdom because they did not obey the Father. But He is saying more.
To the good religious people, He did not mince words. A simple declaration of doing something in God’s name did not make up for disobedience. Rejecting what God clearly stated and doing the opposite while saying that it is done for God does not make it honoring to God! Jesus also warned the audience not to buy into this false religious teaching. He proclaims that they should not align themselves or strive to be like those who live in disobedience, but they should follow Him as He submits (obeys) to the will of God.
For the religious, these were fighting words. Jesus confronted their entire way of life. At the same time, Jesus spoke words of hope to the non-religious. The Pharisees made it nearly impossible to have any hope of entering God’s kingdom. They created an impossible standard that turns out they did not even live up to (Matthew 23:1-12). Jesus did not come to add to the burdens of manmade religion, but rather He came to deliver from the bondage of self-effort. Jesus said the kingdom of God is for those who by faith obey the will of the Father. The collective sigh of relief must have been palpable. What seemed impossible to measure up to suddenly was made accessible and available to everyone, even the sinners, publicans, tax collectors, cast-offs, and forsaken.
Jesus invites us into His kingdom through the same means of faith demonstrated in obedience to the will of the Father. There is no alternative. Jesus’ illustration of the foolish man building his house (life) on the sand, his own efforts, reveals that self-effort will not stand up before God. It is like building our life on sand. He further illustrates that one who builds his house (life) on the rock (faith in obedience) will have a foundation that will hold up before God. This foundation is one built on faith demonstrated in obedience to the will of God.
So, is obedience necessary? Is it for both children and adults? Will God accept our sincere efforts? Does it matter what I believe if I just believe something? Can I make my own rules and depend upon my own works to enter God’s kingdom? Jesus responds with the authority from God Himself, “Obedience to God’s will is absolutely necessary to enter God’s kingdom.” There is no other way.