Some years ago, a book entitled “unChristian” by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons explored how those who believe in Jesus are perceived by the non-Christian world. As expected, one of the …
Some years ago, a book entitled “unChristian” by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons explored how those who believe in Jesus are perceived by the non-Christian world. As expected, one of the widely reported criticisms centered on the issue of hypocrisy, pointing to the discrepancy between what a person says they believe and how they actually live their lives. Hardly anything is more off-putting.
I think we all feel this tension. Someone claims to believe in Jesus and know Jesus, but it makes little discernible difference in their lives. Can a person claim to know Jesus but not walk with him? Can a person know Jesus but then not get involved in the mission of Jesus or live the life that Jesus taught? Is it reasonable for a Christian to say, “I believe in Jesus, but I don’t necessarily follow him?”
Technically, it might seem plausible because the hallmark of the gospel is the free and abundant mercy and grace of God poured into the life of those who turn to Christ in faith, and it is not based on what they achieve or do. No one contributes anything to their own salvation. A relationship with God is established completely through the work that Christ has done for us apart from any meritorious behavior on our part.
We express these views with sayings like, “You can’t clean your life up before you come to God, you have to come and let him clean you up”; “You can’t save yourself by your works. You cannot work your way into God’s family. It is only by faith.”
Of course, these statements are true, clearly representing the teaching replete in the Bible. But what are we to think if a person’s life never shows any change?
For these reasons, one of the more eye-popping statements by Jesus is found in Matthew 7:21-23. Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of 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 drive out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
From this, it’s clear that even highly visible and impressive deeds done in Jesus’ name are not necessarily evidence of a true relationship with Jesus. He says only those who do the will of his father in heaven will enter. So, the Lord’s teaching is that how his followers live matters because the changed life and the obedience to what he taught are the natural consequence of true faith in Christ as savior.
New Testament scholar D.A. Carson comments on Jesus’ words in this passage, “What, then, is the essential characteristic of the true believer?... It is not loud profession, nor spectacular spiritual triumph, nor protestations of great spiritual experience. Rather, his chief characteristic is obedience. True believers perform the will of their Father …” He clarifies, “It is true, of course, that no man enters the kingdom because of his obedience; but it is equally true that no man enters the kingdom who is not obedient. It is true that all men are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ; but it is equally true that God’s grace in a man’s life inevitably results in obedience.”
One final caveat: Jesus never teaches that we can follow him perfectly or live completely without sin in our journey. That is not what he means by “doing my Father’s will.”
We are works-in-process and will always be in dire need of daily grace and repentance. What Jesus means by doing the will of the father relates to having a heart that is wholly-oriented toward him, even if we still fall on our faces. Doing the will of the father is about living a God-centered life with a single-minded heart focused on Christ as the center of our lives.
This gives me a lot to think about. How about you?
(David Pool is the senior pastor at Grace Point Church in Powell.)