How Do You Know God's People?
Updated: May 2, 2022
In this chapter, we finish Jesus' Sermon on the Mount so let's do a quick review. At the beginning of the sermon, Jesus set the stage by explaining the full extent of the Law of God, the impossible standard that we cannot reach, and that He has come to fulfill. We also get a picture of just how great the grace of God is for those of us who accept the sacrifice of His Son on behalf of our sins. In the heart of the sermon, Jesus teaches us Who and What we ought to be seeking when we do obey the Law of God. When we seek God we don't need to worry about the opinions of others or even our physical needs. All of these things come second to serving God and seeking Him faithfully. Anything else that we seek in God's place will eventually pass away.
How then do we respond to this? My brothers the other day were told by our Mom that they needed to finish their schoolwork before they could go play. The younger of the two, struggling to stay focused at the kitchen table kept shouting at the older one who hadn't come upstairs yet that he needed to come and finish his homework too. I'm sure if you have spent any time with siblings or younger children you've experienced something similar. Instead of worrying about his own actions and completing his work my little brother couldn't get over the fact that his older brother wasn't doing what he was told.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. Matthew 7:1-5
How many times have we seen Christians do this exact same thing or even been guilty of it ourselves? I'm sure that you can think of so and so who never does their fair share at any church function if they bother to show up at all. This is the inverse of what we were talking about in the last chapter with the hypocrite who instead of seeking God was seeking the praise and attention of others. Likewise, we should not be comparing our level of failure to meet God's standard with someone else's failure or thinking ourselves more righteous than another.
“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you. Matthew 7:6
I've heard more than one Christian take this instruction to mean that there are those beyond hope that we should simply not waste our time sharing the Gospel with. How that could be their interpretation after Jesus has just commanded us not to judge the condition of another person's soul before God baffles me. In the context of what Jesus is teaching, we are not to abandon our discernment of a person's character or to ignore our brothers and sisters' sin when it does need to be called out. In such cases, we are to use wisdom. Especially consider the foolishness of reproving or casting your own judgment upon someone who has not heard or accepted the Good News of God's Grace in their lives. It is one thing to point out as Jesus does, that they do not meet the standard of God's righteousness just as we do not meet that standard. It is another thing entirely, then to tell that person without God's grace that they must work their hardest to meet that standard anyway. Consider that it is also foolishness to offer correction to someone who thinks that they are more righteous than you are and could turn your critique back on your own head. We read something very similar in the book of Proverbs also known as the Book of Wisdom.
Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:7-10
This also means that if we are wise, we won't take the loving correction of our brothers and sisters in Christ lightly. Instead, we will take their advice with an attitude of humility and repentance remembering that together we are seeking after God and His kingdom.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:7-12
When we seek God and His kingdom we can be confident that we will find them. The Gospel isn't a trick leading to our destruction because we trade God's grace for our brokenness before the standard of the Law. Neither should we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ as if God's grace is void in their lives when they stumble. If we desire for our brothers and sisters to gently correct us when we wander from seeking God, then we should just as gently offer correction. Whatever we do should be done first by seeking God then by seeking to show His love to others.
Finally, Jesus gives us a few parting directions for the road we are to take as we seek Him and His kingdom.
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Matthew 7:13-14
Probably my favorite depiction of this concept over the course of Christian's life is from John Bunyan's "The Pilgrim's Progress" where the man named Christian flees the City of Destruction to find the narrow gate. Even before reaching this gate, he is confronted with the two other common options the world tells us will lead to righteousness: morality and legality, today we could add spirituality. Many people walk through this wide gate thinking it will save them only to find destruction and despair. The only way that leads to life is through Christ and far fewer find Him, because far fewer seek Him. Unlike the ways of morality, legality, and spirituality... the true Gospel doesn't promise us that we can make it on our own merits or that by seeking God we will have an easy prosperous life on this earth, "For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life."
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:15-23
How then will we know God's people? How will we distinguish them from those who act righteously in order to gain our praise and attention? Jesus tells us we are to be wary of false prophets who come with the appearance of innocence and righteousness but are anything but. We will know them by the fruit produced in their lives, yet again Jesus makes it very clear that works of righteousness are not what saves a person. Those who come to Him in the day of judgment and point to their own works of righteousness as justification for their place in His kingdom are told, "I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness." These good deeds that seemed so wonderful in the eyes of men: prophecy, casting out demons, and miracles don't even begin to tip the scale of our sin to make us righteous before God and grant us a place in His kingdom. If you're wondering why that comparison of false teachers to a bad tree about to be cut down sounds familiar, remember back to John's teaching in Matthew chapter 3.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Matthew 3:7-10
Your works of righteousness do not save you and neither does claiming the pedigree of a righteous family. We are able to recognize those who are God's people by their fruit in keeping with repentance... they are willing to hear correction and be wiser for it. They take no account of their own righteousness but rely solely upon the righteousness of God's grace for them seeking Him and His kingdom above all else!
“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
Now that we know the truth, it's time to apply it. We know that we cannot be justified by good works, but that we are commanded to honor, obey, and seek God with our lives. We know that God has offered us grace for our sins and promised us a place in His kingdom if we will only repent, turn, and seek Him. This is the rock that our faith is built upon and this rock is the Gospel of the kingdom!
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. Matthew 7:28-29