Don’t even trust your obedience

When one reads the words of Jesus in the gospels one cannot escape a simple fact: Jesus demands our uncompromising obedience to him. Actually, you see this not only in the gospels, but throughout the entire Bible, but for a moment, let’s limit it to the gospels. In Matthew’s gospel, as we come to the end of the Sermon on the Mount, after reading the commands of Christ, the call to perfection, and the warnings to judge rightly, we read this final call to obedience:

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)

Obedience is described here as putting us on an unshakeable foundation when judgment comes. If we hear his words and do not obey, we will be like fools whose houses will fall in the storm. But if we hear Jesus’ words and obey, we will be wise and will stand to the end for we will be like the one who builds his house on a rock.

So, what is that rock? Sometimes it’s easy to forget this, but the rock is not our obedience. The rock is not our good works—not even those done out of love for Jesus. No, the rock—the foundation of our hope—is Jesus. And our love for Jesus is the wellspring of our obedience.

Our faith in Jesus, and in his death and resurrection is the foundation for everything we do. Our trust that he really did come to live a perfect life, to die in our place for our sins and rise again on the third day to give us eternal life and right standing before God changes us completely. It turns our hearts away from trying to earn what we cannot because he has earned it for us. And because we are freed from the burden of trying to earn what we cannot, we are free to obey not out of fear, but out of love. For, as Jesus himself said, if we love him, we will keep his commandments (John 14:15).

That is the foundation the wise person’s “house” rests upon. Obedience that is rooted not in duty, but in delight. Obedience offered out of love for Christ, and thankfulness for the amazing gift of salvation.  Out of joy and gratitude for the amazing gift of salvation, we obey his commands.

We are wise to remember this. It is folly to trust in anything else but Christ—and that includes in our own actions in the name of Christ. We can go to church, give money, sponsor a child, serve in children’s ministry on Sundays, hold our hands up a little higher and sing a little louder, or have the best and most consistent quiet time ever, but none of that wins us points with Jesus. None of these are bad, obviously, but they’re not enough. We act like fools when we think they provide us with a firm foundation. When we trust in anything else but Jesus—even our good deeds in his name—we, like the house a fool builds upon an unstable foundation, will fall.


Every time.

This is hard stuff, isn’t it? Trying to earn something (even something that cannot be earned) is hardwired into the human condition. It’s the expectation we all place on ourselves—and therefore we assume it is God’s expectation as well. But if we are wise, we will not trust even in our obedience. Though our obedience is essential—for it is the proof of our faith—how quickly our hearts can wander off into trusting in our deeds over our Savior’s. The proof of our faith is not the ground of our faith. The ground of our faith is the obedience of Jesus—and if we build upon that, we will not fall.

Love the Lord and obey him, but trust in his obedience, not your own.

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