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The Deadly Danger of Self-Deception - Part 1

Tom Pennington • Matthew 7:21-23

  • 2014-02-02 AM
  • The Sermon on the Mount
  • Sermons


Several years ago, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life completed an extensive survey on religion in America. They wanted to find out what Americans believe and how they practice their faith. They interviewed more than 35,000 Americans, age 18 and older. And so, it was a huge sampling, and the margin of error was very small; and in the summary of their findings there were some surprising results. They noted that only 16% of Americans claim no religious affiliation whatsoever—in other words, they claim to be either atheists or entirely secular with absolutely no religious connection, only 16%. Shockingly, 78% of Americans claim to be Christian—that's 51% Protestant, 24% Catholic, and a small balance made up of the cults and other such things.

Now I want you to think about that for a moment. That means, four out of every five Americans claim to be Christian. That's probably—there's a higher average here in North Texas I would guess. So, think about the people around you, the people you interact with on the job, in your neighborhood, around town. Four out of five of those people claim to be Christian. Now, in light of the moral cesspool in which we live, and that's becoming increasingly clear to us, how could that many people truly think of themselves in any way as Christian? The answer is obvious, in the words of the old preacher, "Ever'body talkin bout Heaven ain't goin there." It's possible to think you're a Christian and not be one.

Now, we understand that, when it comes to cults, when it comes to the liberal main line denominations where the gospel isn't taught. We understand how they could be wrong about that issue; but remember, a large percentage of those people claim to be evangelical. And here's the really frightening part, it is possible to wear the label "evangelical," to know what that means, and claim that to be what you believe, and still not be a Christian.

Throughout Scripture, there are a number of warning passages that make this very point. These passages address people who have convinced themselves that they are Christians when, in reality, they are not. They have a false sense of assurance. Most often, it's not that they have genuinely compared themselves to the Scripture and come to the wrong conclusion, although that can happen. There is almost always some crucial fruit or evidence of genuine salvation missing, that, if they'd bothered really to search the Scriptures and compare themselves against it, they would have known that their profession was false. But the warning passages in Scripture play a crucial role in the Christian church. And there is no warning passage as challenging or as sobering as the one that we come to this morning, the one that comes at the end of the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus ends His most famous sermon to His disciples with a warning, a warning about self-deception. But it's really more than a warning. It's also a call for serious self-examination. It is a call to me, it is a call to you, if you claim Christ, to examine your heart. Scriptures often call us to the task of self-examination. In 2 Corinthians 13:5 Paul writes, "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith. Examine yourselves. Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you, unless indeed you fail the test?" Peter in 2 Peter 1:10 says, "Brethren, be all the more diligent. Work hard to make certain about His calling and choosing you."

I will tell you that this week, as I've studied this text, I've examined my own heart, my own profession of faith in Christ, against the standard that our Lord sets out here. And it's my prayer, it has been my prayer all week, that each of you, that you, individually, will honestly use our Lord's words here to examine your own heart as well, because that was His intention; that was the reason that He shared this passage with us. As Jesus finishes the Sermon on the Mount, He concludes it with three great warnings.

The first warning comes in verses 13 and 14 of chapter 7 of Matthew. It is the danger of the wrong entrance. It's the danger of thinking that you are entering the path that leads to eternal life; but in reality, you've entered the wrong gate. It's not the true biblical Jesus you've embraced. It's not the true biblical gospel you've embraced. And in fact, you've entered a wide gate that leads to destruction.

The second danger is found in verses 15 to 20. We've looked at it over the last couple of weeks, the danger of false prophets. Standing at the entrance of the wide gate are hucksters and men and women who sometimes wittingly, sometimes unwittingly, point to the wide gate and say, "This is the way that leads to God. This is the path to eternal life. Take this path, and you'll get Heaven, and perhaps wealth and health as well." But it's the way that leads to destruction.

The third danger is found in verse 21-27. It's the danger of a false profession. We've already examined the first two of these dangers; and today, we come to our Lord's final warning. Let's read it together, Matthew 7, beginning in verse 21. You follow along as I read.

Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?" And then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS."

Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell–and great was its fall.

Jesus here warns us to beware of the deadly danger of self-deception. J. C. Ryle, writing on this passage, says this, "The Lord Jesus winds up the Sermon on the Mount by a passage of heart-piercing application. He turns from false prophets to false professors, from unsound teachers to unsound hearers."

R. B. Tasker describes it in this way; he says, "It's not only false teachers who make the narrow way difficult to find, and still harder to tread. A man may also be grievously self-deceived."

Now, verses 21-27 constitute one paragraph with that one central theme, but there are two distinct parts. The first part is found in verses 21-23, and here's the warning itself, a warning about the danger of self-deception.

The second part comes in verses 24-27, and it is an illustration of the danger of self-deception using the picture of the two houses. Notice verse 24 beings with the word "therefore." Jesus continues with the same theme that He's already introduced. He explained it in verses 21-23; in verses 24-27, He plans to illustrate and apply it.

Now today, we're just going to begin to focus on the first part of this paragraph, Jesus' warning about the danger of self-deception. We're going to look just at verses 21-23. Now, in this section, Jesus teaches us several key truths about this very real and very deadly danger. This morning, we're just going to examine the first of those key truths. Lord willing, two weeks from today, we'll look at the other three.

The first key truth that we need to know about this issue of deception and self-deception, we'll call the common problem of self-deception, the common problem of self-deception. Tragically, this is not uncommon in the church of Jesus Christ. Jesus here in the first century warns the disciples gathered around Him as He taught them on the north side of the Sea of Galilee about this problem.

Throughout church history, these warnings have come. The Puritans wrote a lot about false peace, and false comfort, and false profession. Spurgeon estimated that as many as 40% of his congregation had made false professions of faith. Today's churches are filled with people who have made similar such false professions. I was one of them for many years. I sat in the church as you sit here today, having professed Christ, having been baptized a couple of times, but I wasn't a believer in Jesus Christ. He was not my Lord. I wasn't following Him.

I am confident that there are people sitting here today who are even a part of this church family who can be described by this passage. It is a common reality, and Jesus warned us that this would be true. Notice verse 21, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in Heaven, that's the one who will enter." Jesus warns us that connected to His following, connected to His church, there would always be false disciples.

Now, before we can really understand all that Jesus teaches in this passage, we need to better understand what motivated Him to teach these things; and fortunately, Luke tells us. In Luke's version of the Sermon on the Mount, it's clear. Hold your finger here, and turn to Luke 6. Luke 6, this is Luke's account of the same sermon preached at the same time, and he says in verse 46, "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say? Why are you calling Me?" He's speaking now to the people that are gathered there on that hillside, He says, "Why are you calling me, 'Lord, Lord,' and yet not doing what I command you to do?"

Jesus says simply claiming to submit to His lordship is not what shows you're a Christian; it's actually doing what He says. And so, it was those in the crowd who had taken to calling Jesus their Lord, but not doing what He commanded them to do that prompted this serious warning in Matthew 7. Now turn back there. Notice verse 21 again. "Not everyone who says to me"—in light of what He just said—not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of Heaven."

Not everyone, that's an understatement, because as He begins verse 22, He says there are many who fall into this category. To confess Jesus as Lord in this life doesn't guarantee your entrance into His future kingdom. Now, the group that Jesus is dealing with here in verse 21 and following is a very different group than those in the previous two warnings. In the first warning back in verses 13 and 14, the warning centered on those who were trying to enter into eternal life, but through the wrong gate.

In other words, they entirely missed the right entrance to Jesus' kingdom. Ultimately what that means is, they didn't believe in the true biblical Jesus, and they didn't believe in the true biblical gospel. They missed the gate. They missed the entrance. These are all of the people on this planet, and all who have ever lived, who haven't embraced the true biblical Jesus and the true biblical gospel. They may be spiritually indifferent and apathetic. They may just not care. They may be in that 16% in America who have no religious affiliation. They may be those who have embraced worldly philosophy as their direction in life. They may have embraced false religion or some perversion of genuine Christianity.

The second warning comes in verses 15 to 20, and it focused on the religious, those who had some religious interest, who were listening to prophets and teachers; and in this case, false prophets, who either tried to direct them to false gods, or who gave them some flawed, twisted version of the worship of the true God.

But the group in verses 21 to 27 is entirely different. They are in every bit as great a danger as those in the first two groups, but for an entirely different reason. These are people who have actually found the right gate. They have come to an intellectual understanding of the biblical Jesus and the biblical gospel, and they believe Jesus' claims, and they believe the truthfulness of the biblical gospel. And here's the really shocking part, not only have they found the narrow gate, but they think that they have walked through that gate. In other words, they believe in their heart of hearts that they have believed in the true Jesus and the true gospel. They are certain that they have been saved. They are certain that they belong to Jesus. They are convinced He is their Lord, but it's not true. They're not saved. They're false disciples. They are tragically self-deceived, and they spend their lives assuring themselves that they are genuine Christians. They base their assurance on the wrong evidence.

Now, Jesus is very helpful here because, in verse 21, He helps us understand what contributes to self-deception. When we examine what Jesus says about the self-deceived in this passage, we can see some of the wrong places that people put their trust. Here are some mistaken evidences of a genuine relationship to Jesus Christ. Whatever you do, don't put your confidence in these things.

First of all, you are not a Christian because you made a past profession of faith. You're not a Christian because you walked an aisle, you prayed a prayer, you prayed the sinner's prayer, you wrote something in the front of your Bible, you were at a youth camp and you threw a stick in the fire. You're not a Christian because you have made a profession of faith that Jesus is your Lord. And now, you have this unwavering confidence that you have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Don't you dare put your confidence there, because these people believed that as well. Notice verse 21, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord.'"

These people are claiming a relationship with Christ, a relationship in which He is their Lord, He is their kurios, He is their master, and they are His doulos, His slave. And notice they're not shy about this. This is a public confession of faith. They make it publicly in this life, they're calling Jesus "Lord" in Luke 6, and at the Judgment in front of all mankind they will confess Jesus as Lord. It's interesting in verse 22, we'll look at it the next time we study this together. In the Greek text, the question they ask in verse 22, "Isn't it true, Lord, that we did these things …?"

In Greek, you can ask a question so that it expects a yes answer. The form of the question says you expect a yes answer. That's the way they phrase their question in verse 22. They fully expect Jesus to agree with them; and in light of what they have done, and the things they say they have done, that Jesus will agree, and that He will agree because of that, they deserve to enter His presence. They confess Jesus as Lord.

Now, don't misunderstand. To be a Christian, you must confess Jesus as Lord. If that's never happened, you're not a Christian. Romans 10:9-10 says, "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." You will be spiritually rescued from God's wrath. "For with the heart a person believes resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation." 1 Corinthians 12:3, says, "No one speaking by the Spirit of God can say Jesus is damned.…" Jesus is accursed. On the other hand, "no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit." Doesn't mean say the words, of course you can say the words. He means, you can't genuinely confess Jesus as Lord, and you won't apart from the work of the Spirit of God. No man ever comes to that true confession, except the work of the Spirit. And, if you're in Christ, you've come to that confession. This was Paul's message in 2 Corinthians 4:5. He says, "We do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord."

So, understand this. To be a Christian, you must confess Jesus as Lord, but saying Jesus is your Lord doesn't mean He is. It's tragic that churches are filled with people who are confident without a doubt that they are Christians, and when you ask them why they're so confident, they always point back to a past profession of faith, a past point at which they prayed a prayer, walked an aisle, signed a card, were told they were Christians, and that's their hope. Listen, that's where these people who will stand at the Judgment placed their hope. It is clear that at the Judgment of the wicked, there will still be many people who are completely confident of their relationship to Jesus Christ because of their confession of Him as Lord. And they will hold onto that confidence, no matter what.

You know, I've seen this worked out in my on life ministry on a number of occasions; but I remember the most obvious example that's still emblazoned in my mind. During my years at Grace, I got that terrible phone call one afternoon (I was at work) from a wife who was attending Grace Church, and she'd found some very troubling things in her husband's belongings, and she called to ask if I would help. She came to my office. She laid out the things that she had found in front of me.

It was clear that he had been engaged in a lifestyle of sin. And so, I gathered those things up, and I went to his office that afternoon to confront him, to confront a man who had literally lived a secret double life for decades, involved in the church while he was living in the grossest pattern of sin. He was living a lie. He had committed adultery with numerous women. He had solicited prostitutes. He'd eventually given himself over to homosexuality. He even kept a little black book with records of his sexual encounters. When in God's providence, He brought it to light, I went to this man's office that afternoon. We met privately together, and I laid out the evidence in front of him, and I called him to seriously question the faith that for so many decades he'd professed.

To my shock, without a moment's hesitation, with all of the evidence of his sin laying out on the table in front of him and me and God Himself, his immediate response to me was, "Oh, no Tom, I know I'm a Christian. I've never doubted that." Although you may not have committed the sins that man did; listen, you are no more a Christian just because at some point in the past you made a profession of faith, and today you're confident in it. You're no more a Christian than he was because of his past profession and confidence. Don't you dare put your hope there.

Secondly, you are not a Christian because you believe the right doctrine. Again, remember these people that Jesus is talking about here referred to Him both during their lives here, according to Luke 6, they were saying to Jesus during their lives here, "Lord, Lord," and then, according to verse 22 here in chapter 7 of Matthew, at the Judgment they will say the same thing, "Lord, Lord." They refer to Jesus as their Lord. Now, what do they mean by that? Although the word "lord"—kurios is the Greek word—could be used in the first century as kind of a polite address to someone who was your superior, like we use the word "sir," here they're calling Jesus "Lord" at the final Judgment. It must be, and is, more than that. They are acknowledging Jesus' claims to be God.

In fact, the word kurios, or "lord," is used 11 times in Matthew before this passage. Ten of those times, it is used unequivocally and clearly to refer to Yahweh, Israel's God. So, in referring to Jesus as Lord, they were demonstrating that their doctrine was essentially orthodox. They believe the biblical truths about Jesus, who He was, and why He came. That means they believed the biblical gospel. You can't be a Christian without believing certain truths. There is a package of truth you have to believe in order to be a genuine Christian, but believing those truths doesn't make you a Christian. You can sit here week after week and agree with everything I say, which I know you don't, and not be a Christian. Believing the right doctrine isn't enough.

Thirdly, you are not a Christian because you demonstrate genuine spiritual fervency. Notice again how they speak to Christ. Verse 21, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord'…" Verse 22, "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord'…" And in Luke 6, they said the same thing to Him during their lives here on earth, "Lord, Lord." It's clear from the repetition of the word "lord" that there was a real spiritual fervency; theirs was not a cold, heartless confession of faith, but one filled with emotion and intensity. Experiencing deep emotion about spiritual things and about Jesus Himself doesn't mean that you're a Christian. Listen, you can have tears come to your eyes when we sing about Jesus, but that doesn't make you a Christian, doesn't mean you're a Christian. Even those who are enslaved in cults and false religion are often very sincere and extremely fervent. They manifest strong emotion about spiritual things. So, fervency is no evidence of a genuine faith.

So, if none of those things is genuine evidence of a saving confession of Jesus Christ, what is? Look at verse 21 again, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of Heaven. But he who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven will enter." Now understand, the first half of the verse you have a group of all of those who confess Jesus as Lord.

The second half of the verse is a subset of that group. Here are people who not only confess Him as Lord, but who also do the will of the Father. Notice the deliberate contrast Jesus makes in the two halves of this verse, between saying and doing. Literally, He says, the one who is doing. It's present tense, the idea is, this is the continuing practice of his life. This person has an ongoing commitment to continue in a life of obedience. Listen carefully, what marks a genuine follower of Jesus Christ is not primarily some past profession of faith, his fervency, his orthodoxy, or, according to verse 22, even his successful ministry. Instead, it is his obedience.

Jesus specifically identifies the one who will enter His kingdom, and it's the one who not only claims Him as Lord, but obeys Him as Lord. Notice He says, "He who does the will of My Father, that's the one who will enter." Now, what is "the will of my Father?" Well, the Father's will is simply the will of the Father expressed in His Word. If you know God as Father, you respond to His words in obedience.

In fact, turn over to Matthew 12, Matthew 12:46, "While Jesus was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him." This is an interesting event in the life of Christ. Jesus is in Capernaum, His ministry center, and He's in a home. He's speaking at a private home, probably a large one, so it'd accommodate as many people as possible. But there's so many people interested in His ministry that it is jammed to the gills. We learn from the other Gospels that it's just packed. At this point, as He's teaching, His mother and His brothers show up outside.

Now, His mother has come, we learn, because she's concerned about her son's health. He's not taking time from His ministry even to eat, just what a mother would do, right? The brothers, on the other hand, they have come. They have not yet come to believe in Him. They don't come to believe in Him until after the resurrection. They come, Mark tells us, because they think their brother is out of His mind, and they've come to take Him back to Nazareth. And they're outside trying to see Jesus, but the crowd is so packed into this private home that they can't even get in. And so, you can see how it happened. Jesus is teaching, everybody's listening, they get the attention of somebody at the back window. "Let Jesus know we're here to see Him." The word slowly passes from person to person up through the crowd, and finally someone sees a moment, when perhaps, they can interrupt Jesus, and they sort of tentatively speak up, and verse 47, someone said to Him, "Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak to You.'

But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said this, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?' And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, 'Behold, My mother and My brothers.'" You know what Jesus was saying? Listen, My family is much more tied to My spiritual family than to My physical family. Those of you who have unbelieving family members, you understand that. You're connected more to the people of God than to your blood relatives.

And then He says this, verse 50, "For whoever does the will of My Father …" There it is again, "whoever does the will of My Father who is in Heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother." The one who's truly in the family, the one who has God as his father, who has Me as his brother, is the one who does the will of My Father who is in Heaven. So, this is an important issue. What is the will of the Father who is in Heaven?

Well, in the parallel passage to this one we've just looked at, in Luke's gospel, Luke tells us. Luke 8:21, "[This is what] … He answered and said to them, 'My mother and My brothers are these who hear the Word of God and do it.'" So, doing the Father's will is hearing the Word of God and doing it. It's obedience, it's obedience to God.

And who has the authoritative right to tell us God's will, to interpret the Scripture? It's Christ; that's why, in Luke 6, He says, why aren't you doing what I say? In fact, here in Matthew 7, He makes the same point. Look at verse 24, "Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them…." He turns from "doing the will of the Father" to "My words." Why? Because they're one in the same. He's the authoritative interpreter of God's words to us.

So, let's put it all together. Listen to D. A. Carson:

What then is the essential characteristic of the true believer, the genuine disciple of Jesus Christ? It is not loud profession, nor spectacular spiritual triumphs, nor protestations of great spiritual experience. Rather, his chief characteristic is obedience…. The Father's will is not simply admired, discussed, praised, debated; it is done.

Now, don't misunderstand, Jesus is not teaching salvation by works. You don't earn your way to Heaven. You don't earn your way into God's favor. You don't earn a right standing before God; it can't be done. The message of Ephesians 2 is the message of the Bible from cover to cover, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast."

So, listen carefully, here in this passage, our Lord is not teaching us how to be saved. Clearly, that's through repentance and faith by grace based solely on the perfect life and substitutionary death of Christ. What He's doing here is He is helping us distinguish between a genuine profession of faith and a false profession of faith. He's telling us how we can tell the difference between what James would call a living faith that saves and a dead faith that damns. Doing the will of the Father, hearing the Word of God and doing it always follows a genuine profession of faith. You will never get into Heaven because of your obedience, but you will never get into Heaven without obedience. Where does obedience to God begin? What's the first step on the path of obedience to God. believing in His Son?

John 6:40, says, Jesus says, "For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life."

John Calvin, commenting on this, says, "To do the will of the Father not only means to regulate their life and manners by the rule of Scripture, but also to believe in Christ. These words therefore do not exclude faith, but presuppose it as the principle from which other good works flow."

James really is desperate to drive this point home to us. Turn to James 1, He is giving us tests of a living faith. How do you know if your faith is living, as opposed to dead? He gives us a series of tests.

The one I want to point you to in chapter 1 is your response to the Word of God. You can assess your spiritual condition based on how you respond to Scripture.

Verse 21, James 1, "Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness," [in other words, you need to have a repentant heart, "in humility, receive the Word implanted, which is able to save your souls." [In other words, bow to the Scripture. Humble yourself before God and what He says. But it doesn't stop there,] verse 22, "But prove yourselves doers of the Word, and not merely hearers…." [Why?]

Here's the danger, because if you're only listening and not doing, you are deluding yourself, you are deceiving yourself. Where there is genuine faith, there will be a pattern of obedience; not a perfect, unbroken pattern, but a clear pattern of obedience. He comes back to this in James 2, notice verse 14, "What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith…" [He says, I believe in Jesus, I've confessed Jesus as Lord;] but he has no works?" He has no obedience. Can that kind of faith save him? Is that true, saving faith?

And then he gives an illustration. He says, "If a brother or sister is without clothing, and in need of daily food, and any one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,' and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?" This is an illustration. He's saying, ok, let's say you profess to someone who comes to you, who needs clothes, needs food, you profess your concern, "I'm so concerned for you. I'm so sorry you're in this condition. I hope somebody somewhere gives you what you need. Have a good day!"

What good is that profession of your concern, He's saying—it's not genuine. And then he says, "Even so," verse 17, "faith," [your profession of faith in Christ,] "'if it has no works," [If it's not accompanied by obedience, it's not really saving faith.] It's dead. It's not living faith that saves, it's dead faith that damns. Obedience is the mark that distinguishes a false profession from a true profession. Where there is a false profession, there is a lot of professing Jesus as Lord, but there's not a lot of doing the will of the Father. Where there is a genuine profession, there will be a pattern of obedience.

Now, if you're thinking with me, and I hope you are, you ought to be asking yourself the same question I was asking myself. And that is, "why?" Why is obedience such an important mark? I think it's this, for this reason. Because the mark, the primary mark, of every true Christian is that he loves Jesus Christ. If you're a Christian, you love Jesus Christ. The Scripture's very clear about this; this is the primary mark. Positively, Ephesians 6:24, "Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an incorruptible love." He doesn't say, grace to all Christians, he could have. Instead, he says, "Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ." Why? Because that's the definition of a Christian, somebody who loves Jesus Christ.

Let me give it to you negatively. 1 Corinthians 16:22, "If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be … [damned.]" [Let him be accursed.] Obviously, loving Jesus Christ is the primary mark of a genuine Christian. But here's the question, how do you know? There are a whole lot of people walking around saying they love Jesus. How do you know if you really love Jesus?

Turn to John 14, John 14, in the upper room discourse. Jesus tells us, here's how you can know if you really love Me. John 14:23, "Jesus answered and said to him," [that is, to Judas, not Iscariot] "if anyone loves Me," [there it is. If you're really a Christian, you love Jesus; and if you really love Him,] "he will keep My word"–he will obey Me. "and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him." Verse 24, "He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me."

Jesus says, ok, here it is. If you're really a Christian, you love Me. And if you want to know whether or not you love Me, here's the distinguishing mark, it's "do you obey Me?" You see why this is so important? Because your obedience to God and to His Son demonstrates whether or not you really love God, whether or not you really love Jesus Christ; and that is the mark of someone who's a genuine Christian.

So, let me ask you this morning, do you claim to love Jesus? You claim to love Jesus? Have you professed Him as Lord? Would you stand up here this morning and say, "Jesus is Lord to me, He's my Lord"? Then ask yourself this question, this is the question our Lord would ask to search out your own heart if He were here today, because it's the question He raised that day on the mount as He preached this sermon. Do you obey Me? Are you committed to a life pattern of obeying Me? Or are you all tied up with obeying yourself and your own will? Lloyd Jones writes,

Jesus is entitled to the whole of our lives. Everything without any limit whatsoever. That means that He must have control not only in the big things, but in the little things also. We must submit to Him and His way as it is revealed in the Bible. And if what we do does not conform to this pattern, it is an assertion of our own will, it is disobedience and as repugnant to God as the sin of witchcraft. Indeed, it belongs to the type of conduct that makes Christ say to certain people, "Depart from me, you workers of iniquity."

I call you to do what Christ calls all of us to do in this passage, to examine your profession of Jesus as Lord, in light of the test He gives. "Why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord,' and not do the things which I say?"

Let's pray together.

Our Father, this is a sobering, searching passage. I pray that You would use it in our hearts. Lord, may each of us who have professed faith in Christ examine our hearts as You've commanded us to, to see if we're in the faith.

Father, don't let us lean on all the wrong evidences. Don't let us lean on some past profession, on our confidence that we're Christians. Don't let us lean, Father, on all of those mistaken evidences, believing the right doctrine, having a fervency about spiritual things. Instead, Father, help us to use the standard our Lord has used. If we call Him Lord, do we do the things which He says, do we do Your will, oh God? Do we hear Your Word and do it?

Father, we confess that our obedience is imperfect; but I pray that, for those who love You and who are truly seeking to obey Your Son, Lord, may you encourage them from this text. May You strengthen their faith, build them up.

Father, for those who are living in a pattern of sin, for those who have never really lived in a pattern of obedience, strip away the self-deception. Help them to be honest, oh God, before You; and may this be the day when they truly confess Jesus as Lord.

We pray in Jesus' name, amen.

The Sermon on the Mount