Exposition of Romans 4:1-3, Faith has always triumphed over works

Time and events have a way of knocking us off course. In 1848, San Francisco had a population of 1,000, and then gold was discovered and caused the population to increase 25-fold in 1849. The city was never the same again.

The same type of thing can happen for a people or an individual. Abraham was declared righteous by God because of his faith, but over the years his descendants forgot about that and began to work for Gods approval. Some even followed after other gods. What is the moral to this story? Do not get distracted from fundamental values; not all that glitters is gold.

(ESV) Romans 4:13

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.

When debating Jewish opponents, Paul could no more avoid Abraham than someone writing a history of the United States could ignore Abraham Lincoln. Douglas Moo explains, In keeping with the [law-observant] focus of first-century Judaism, Abraham was held up particularly as a model of obedience to God. . . . It [was] even being argued that he had obeyed the law perfectly before it had been given.[1]

So, Paul dives right into the application to Abrahams life of what he has said about justification by faith (4:1). If he can break Jewish resistance on that point, his argument is won. To do this he uses a critical verse: Genesis 15:6, which says, Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness (HCSB).

Romans 4:2 is a little tricky, but we happen to have a contemporary idiom in English that matches it. Paul first concedes for the sake of argument that if Abraham was justified on the basis of his works, then he would have a basis for boasting. Then Paul uses the final phrase — but not before God (4:2) — to negate the whole idea. In contemporary English we might playfully say, Yes, you actually are Superman. Not!!

Paul swiftly supports his denial of Abrahams basis for boasting (4:2) by quoting the pivotal passage Genesis 15:6, which says, Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness (4:3b). Moo points out the power of this verse: Not only is this [i.e. Gen. 15:6] the first time believe occurs in Scripture, but it is connected with attaining righteousness — one of the very few times in the OT that this connection is made.[2] Mention of Abraham is the other key to its rhetorical power for Pauls immediate purpose.

What about us?

Grant Osborne says, People cannot seem to understand that no one can buy his or her way into heaven on the basis of being basically a good guy.[3] This case of wishful thinking is going to leave a lot of people in a state of shock and disbelief when it crumbles.

1. Define biblical faith in your own words. If I said faith is an acceptant response to what God has said and done -- which I consider accurate -- how do you see that definition as either fitting or deviating from the biblical usage of faith?

2. What does living by biblical faith have in common with the American idea of being basically a good guy? How are they different?

Jesus had something to say to the Pharisees who had lost sight of the fundamentals of the faith: Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You give a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet you neglect what is more important in the law justice, mercy, and faithfulness! You should have done these things without neglecting the others (Matt. 23:23, NET).

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 

[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 256.

[2] Moo, Romans, 261.

[3] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 107.

Exposition of Romans 3:29-31, One God for all by faith

Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that Jesus did not come merely to save people like us. If we find it easy to be self-absorbed about such things, how much more reason would the Jews have for thinking God cared far more for them than any others. All such exclusivist thinking is wrong!

God’s solution for sin sweeps every shore on which sin may be found.

(ESV) Romans 3:29-31

Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one — who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Paul continues his argument in the style of a theological discussion between himself and a hypothetical Jewish opponent. In context, Paul has just concluded that justification before God is a matter of faith in Jesus Christ and has no relationship to the Law of Moses. Next he argues what the alternative idea entails.

The alternative to what Paul has previously said is introduced by or (3:29). Paul says if you do not believe that justification is by faith apart from the law (3:28), then you must subscribe to the idea that God is the God of Jews only (3:29). That alternative would not resonate with Jews.

Douglas Moo explains: “To be sure, Jews also believed that God was God of the whole world. . . . [However,] in Judaism, God was God of the Gentiles only by virtue of his creative work, while only the Jews enjoy a meaningful relationship with God.”[1]

Because God is one (Deut. 6:4; Rom. 3:30), a fundamental tenet of Jewish faith, he must be God of both the Jews and the Gentiles. Paul asserts that monotheism is an argument in his favor.

Paul deals with a key objection in 3:31: does his doctrine invalidate the law? After an emphatic denial, Paul says that his doctrine validates the law. How? Paul shows the value of the law in many ways: instruction (2:18), demonstration of universal accountability to God (3:19), awareness of sin (3:20), and awareness of righteousness by faith (3:21). He will expand this list later in the letter.

Of course, Paul and Jesus agree. Jesus said: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17).

Faith is the one rule for all

Faith is not something vague; the faith that saves has as its object Jesus Christ, the resurrected Son of God.

1. What leads some people to think they are God's special favorites? How do those factors relate to you?

2. In what ways do Christians sometimes tend to cluster into like-minded groups, perhaps by social status, nationality or other factors, in defiance of the idea that there is one God for all by faith?

Speaking of Jesus, Peter told the rulers, elders and scribes of Israel, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 

[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 251.

Exposition of Romans 3:27-28, Doing something differs from receiving something

One of the biggest barriers to fully accepting God’s way of saving us is that it does not involve the performance of actions over which we have control. Both in Jewish and Christian history, there has been a persistent tendency to create systems of works related to salvation. For example, some Christian groups make water baptism or attendance at mass into requirements that must be met to attain salvation.

But God has rejected salvation by works and replaced it with salvation by his gracious gift, which we may receive through faith in Jesus Christ. By this means, even the thief nailed to the cross next to Jesus was able to receive salvation through his faith apart from works (Luke 23:39-43).

(ESV) Romans 3:27-28

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

Thomas Schreiner explains the meaning of these two verses: “Since righteousness is based on faith in what God has accomplished in Christ (verses 21-26) and not human works, boasting is ruled out.”[1]

Consider the NETs translation of Rom. 3:27: “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded!” The initial word where expresses the Greek adverb pou, an adverb of place. The same adverb occurs in Matt. 2:2 when the wise men from the east asked King Herod, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” They were asking for a place.

This spatial language inspires a model of what Paul is saying. Imagine a sphere whose interior volume represents faith in Jesus Christ as the means of receiving righteousness from God. Any boasting about human effort belongs outside that sphere; human works and their associated boasting have nothing to do with righteousness from God. They are excluded from the sphere of salvation by faith.

Many of us have seen an analogy of this in Sumo wrestling, a sport popular in Japan. The sumo match takes place within a ring 15 feet in diameter. The match is won when one wrestler forces the other out of the ring. In the same way, faith pushes boasting and works right out of the circle of the gospel.

Paul is certainly not attacking the Law of Moses (see 3:31). Instead, he is restating his teaching that righteousness from God is “by faith from first to last” (Rom. 1:17, NIV).

Romans 3:28 plays an important role in Christian history. Martin Luther (1483-1546 AD) was expelled from the Roman Catholic Church in part for his stand in defense of justification before God by faith alone (Latin sola fide). When Luther translated the New Testament into German, he rendered 3:28 with the phrase “faith alone,” and that became one of the rally-slogans for the Protestant Reformation. There were others: “Christ alone” and “grace alone,” for example.

Insofar as these Reformation slogans highlight Christ and faith and grace because of the emphasis the Bible places on them, they serve a constructive spiritual purpose. However, slogans forged in religious conflict can distort the biblical picture as well. It does not take much thought to realize that faith cannot truly be alone without slighting both Christ and grace.

There is another danger: the potential for overemphasis on faith that discourages both love and kindness. Schreiner supports Schlatter who says, “The effect of the glorification of faith, the sola, was disastrous if it meant the truncation of life that separates action from it [i.e. from faith] and leaves behind nothing but faith.”[2] This is exactly the kind of abstract, loveless faith that the apostle James spoke against in James 2:14-26.

But such potential problems pale in comparison to the advances made by the Reformation in helping the people understand God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Historian Stephen Osment describes those the Reformation attempted to enlighten: “Full, unconditional forgiveness of sin and assurance of salvation were utterly foreign concepts to medieval theology and religious practice.”[3]

Paul has reached his conclusion (“we hold” 3:28). Doing something, even actions compliant with the Law of Moses, may result in empty boasting, because no one keeps the law or puts God under obligation. Only by receiving God’s grace — his merciful gift — through faith in Jesus Christ may a person be declared righteous in God’s sight.

Grace and works are different

The idea of working for salvation easily crosses over into other abuses. Martin Luther fought against the sale of indulgences, a paper making a spiritual promise issued in exchange for financial compensation. Luther (Thesis 27) objected to one sales pitch which claimed, “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” But God’s blessing, mercy and justice are not for sale!

1. How do we get confused about working to make a grade or get a paycheck and believe similar work is needed to earn salvation? How does this blur the line between cultural ideas and biblical truth?

2. Perhaps the opposite of working for salvation is the complete disregard of salvation either by faith or by works. Who among your non-Christian friends employs such a strategy? What can be done about it?

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9, ESV).

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 200.

[2] Schreiner, Romans, 203, footnote 5, citing A. Schlatter, Romans, Trans. S.S. Schatzmann (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1995) 104.

[3] Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform: 1250-1550 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980) 216.

Exposition of Romans 2:26-27, We will reap what we sow

The Bible repeatedly teaches that people’s deeds deserve more attention than their words. For example, Jesus said, “Whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them — this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12, HCSB).

When Jesus taught the parable of the merciful Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), he made clear that behavior that pleased God was not the exclusive preserve of the Jews. But they did not take the point. Are we doing any better?

(ESV) Romans 2:26-27

So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.

These two verses are harder than they look. Thomas Schreiner presents the issue like this: “Is the obedience of the Gentiles (1) hypothetical, (2) the obedience of those who have responded to the light they have received, or (3) the obedience of Christian Gentiles?”[1] Clearly the case involves both Jews and Gentiles who have some knowledge of the Law of Moses, including the well-known rite of circumcision.

Douglas Moo takes view (1) by saying, “Paul’s way of putting the matter in this context could, of course, suggest there actually are people who meet this requirement for salvation, but his later argument quickly disabuses us of any such idea (cf. 3:9, 20).”[2] Many agree with Moo out of concern that no basis be granted for salvation based on human works rather than on God’s grace.

But such theological considerations may be taken too far even though they are motivated by sound doctrine. Schreiner, joined by C.E.B. Cranfield,[3] takes view (3) that Paul is speaking of believing Gentiles:

The Spirit’s work on the heart logically precedes the observance of the law by the Gentiles. Autonomous works are rejected, but works that are the fruit of the Spirit’s work are necessary to be saved. Paul is not speaking of perfect obedience, but of obedience that clarifies that one has been transformed.[4]

I join Schreiner’s conclusion by way of view (2) leading to (3). Some among the Gentiles respond to what they know about God: examples include Rahab (Josh. 2), Ruth (Ruth), Cornelius (Acts 10), and Lydia (Acts 16:14). God responds to such people with more of his light and grace. Like Abraham, David, Paul and many others, these people are not perfect, nor did any of them keep the law in every point. Instead, what happened to them is exactly what is described in Rom. 2:26; they were regarded by God as belonging to the people of God. This is an act of God’s mercy and grace.

The Greek verb (logizomai) translated “be regarded” (2:26) occurs nineteen times in Romans. In 2:26, the verb logizomai means, “as a result of a calculation evaluate, estimate, look upon as, consider.”[5] Schreiner analyzes the form of logizomai used in 2:26 in the following way: “The future tense of [the verbal form] implies that such a reckoning will occur on the day of judgment, while the passive voice intimates that God does the reckoning.”[6]

Because of God’s act of reckoning [logizomai], what we have in 2:26-27 is not salvation by works but salvation by God’s gracious dealing with those who seek him. Consider these verses:

(NET) But to the one who does not work, but believes in the one who declares the ungodly righteous, his faith is credited [logizomai] as righteousness (Rom. 4:5).

(ESV) Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Heb. 11:6b).

In his conclusion (2:27), Paul returns to his theme that Jew and Gentile stand before God on the same basis; circumcision and law make no difference unless one adds faith that leads to obedience.

The fix is not in

God is paying attention to our actions because his judgment is not whimsical. His judgment is based on reality and truth. Paul says: “Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows” (Gal. 6:7, NET).

1. Think in detail about the activities of your life over the last three days. How would God assess each of the actions you have taken?

2. The fact that all of our deeds are judged impartially affects what we believe, how we worship and whom we consider to be believers. For example: no one will go to heaven simply because they believe in the trinity or because they are Baptists or Roman Catholics or because they are nice people. Discuss the implications of this idea.

Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter into the kingdom of heaven — only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21, NET).

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 

[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 139.

[2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 171.

[3] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 173.

[4] Schreiner, Romans, 145; see 140-145 for the entire argument.

[5] BDAG-3, logizomai , look upon as, q.v.

[6] Schreiner, Romans, 141.

Exposition of Romans 2:24-25, Some people want a magic bullet

“Hey, I was baptized as a baby! Surely, that’s good enough.”

“I go the church most of the time, and I figure God knows that.”

“My mother was a real Christian, and she never worried about me going to heaven; so, I’m doing fine!”

Many formerly relied on being born in America, but that does not seem to be as widely claimed in recent years. Do gold stars from Sunday School count?

(ESV) Romans 2:24-25

For, as it is written, The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision.

In his ongoing argument against Jewish superiority, Paul pulls out a powerful weapon by quoting the Old Testament (Isa. 52:5) in support of his point. It is important to realize that the Word of God has always been considered authoritative by the people of God. Neither ancient Jewish posturing nor contemporary opinions can stand if they conflict with what God has revealed to his people in the Bible. “As it is written . . .” (2:24) settles issues among the faithful.

Paul is being ironic by saying that the very people whose conduct should have caused God to be praised became the cause for God to be blasphemed among the Gentiles (2:24). How did this come about? Isaiah spoke for God against the idolatry that led to the Jews being taken away into Gentile captivity. The northern kingdom of Israel was deported by the Assyrians in 722 B.C., and the southern kingdom of Judah was removed by Babylon in 586 B.C., when Jerusalem fell.

In the thinking of the ancient world, a deity who could not protect his own people was no deity at all! Because God allowed his people to experience judgment due to their idolatry, the name of God was scorned by the powerful nations who took the Jews into slavery. Peter similarly warns Christians not to dishonor God by their conduct (2 Pet. 2:2).

Of course, the prevalence of idolatry in Israel and Judah is direct proof that the people were not keeping the Law of Moses; they ignored the very first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Exodus 20:4-6 commanded that no images be made in all Israel. No Jew could deny the historic failure of his people to keep these commands.

Paul applies this truth to the Jews who hear his arguments. Circumcision, an essential sign of the covenant people, was required of all Jewish males (Gen. 17:10-14). James Dunn says, “The irreducibly fundamental importance of circumcision for the Jew of Paul’s time can be easily documented.”[1] When Paul says circumcision is indeed of value (2:25a), all right-thinking Jews would be nodding yes; but his argument tightens when he adds “if you practice the law” (2:25b, NET).

Douglas Moo points out the necessity of deciding what is meant by the phrase “if you practice the law” in 2:25 by saying: “Two interpretations fit the context: (1) a heartfelt, faith-filled obedience to the stipulations of the covenant, (2) a perfect conformity to the letter of the law. If the former is adopted, then Paul would presumably regard this kind of doing the law as possible.”[2] After noting that the decision is difficult, Moo prefers the second; I prefer the first. Great scholars fall on both sides.

Through over-emphasis on circumcision, many Jews did little more. Paul says they are no better than the uncircumcised Gentiles. That view again places Jew and Gentile on the same footing in relation to God’s judgment.

Short cuts not wanted!

Christians must beware of making the same mistake the Jews made! Grant Osborne tells how: “Those who think they are going to heaven because of being baptized but who are not committed to Christ face the same tragic consequence — they too are under God’s wrath.”[3]

1. Read Matthew 28:19-20. When Jesus speaks of all I have commanded you, what do you think he expects of those who become his disciples?

2. Baptism for Christians is similar in significance to circumcision for Jews. If you have not been baptized at an age when you fully understood its spiritual significance, what would it take for you to arrange for water baptism through your church? Baptism is not the end of Christian responsibility, but it is very important.

Gaming the system with God has been popular throughout the ages. The only problem is that God is not playing games! The good news is that we have plenty of notice about this issue, so pleasing our Lord can become our main concern.

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] James D.G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1988) 119.

[2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 168.

[3] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 77.

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 7:28-29

Matthew 7:28-29

When Jesus finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed by his teaching, 29 because he taught them like one who had authority, not like their experts in the law.
(NET Bible)

Anyone can talk!

I was standing in the nuclear reactor control compartment of a nuclear submarine hundreds of feet below the surface when the Admiral stepped through the door. He pointed at the reactor operator and said, Youre dead. Get out of here! When the deputy operator took over, the Admiral tersely ordered, Shut it down! The operator hit the button that quickly brought the nuclear power plant to zero power. We then began to sink!

Next the Admiral told the deputy operator, Bring the plant back up. If he couldnt, we were about to have a true emergency. But the voice of authority had spoken! You know when you hear it!

When Jesus finished speaking, the reaction was universal: everyone was overwhelmed (7:28). Never had they heard anything like that!

The verb (Greek ekplesso) that expresses the peoples reaction is also used in Matthew 13:54, when the people in Nazareth were astonished and said, Where did this man get such wisdom and miraculous powers? Jesus blew his disciples away in a similar manner when he told them, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter into the kingdom of God (Matt. 19:24). Astonished, the disciples took that to mean that no one could be saved!

Even during his last free moments in Jerusalem, Jesus was still stunning audiences. The Sadducees, who did not believe in resurrection, were debating the issue with Jesus. So completely did Jesus demolish their position that when the crowds heard this, they were amazed at his teaching (Matt. 22:33).

Matthew 7:29 contains the first mention of authority in the book. By tracing the underlying Greek noun (exousia) throughout Matthews Gospel, an interesting development may be seen. Here the disciples and the crowd recognize Jesus authority to speak for God. After Jesus comes down the mountain, he heals a leper (8:3) and then enters the seaside town of Capernaum — his adopted home — where a Roman centurion comes seeking healing for his servant. Jesus offers to come with him, but the centurion humbly says that Jesus has the authority to simply speak the word and heal the servant (8:9)! Matthew is showing that even a Gentile was convinced Jesus had authority to heal.

In 9:6, Jesus asserts the authority to forgive sins and proves it by healing a paralytic in the presence of the scribes. The crowds marveled at the fact that such authority had been given for healing (9:8). Not long after this time, Jesus sent his twelve disciples out with authority to heal and cast out unclean spirits (10:1).

When Jesus reached Jerusalem, the Jewish religious leaders challenged his authority (21:23-27), but he cleverly caused them to withdraw their challenge. They retreated only to plot more attacks as well as Jesus death on a Roman cross.

After Jesus was crucified, he rose from the dead on the third day (28:1-10). Afterward, Jesus met his disciples again on a mountainside in Galilee. There he told them, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me (28:18). Using that authority, Jesus sent them out to make disciples in all the world.

Jesus spoke with authority and provided grace

Jesus has given us some stunning statements in the Sermon on the Mount. And he has the authority to command us to live for him in a world that is desperately lost. If we had to do it on our own, we would certainly fail! But Jesus said, And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age (28:20).

The key to following Jesus is to use the many kinds of grace he has given to you:

  • The Holy Spirit indwells us to provide a constant infusion of insight, power and protection. See John 14:26; 2 Cor. 3:17-18; Rom. 8:13; Gal. 5:16.
  • The Word of God lights our path. See 1 Pet. 1:23-25; Col. 1:9-10, 3:10; 2 Tim. 3:14-16; Heb. 4:12; Matt. 7:24. Remember that Jesus said, The Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35).
  • By Christs powerful sacrifice to win us access to God, we may approach God with our prayers at any time. See Heb. 4:16; Col. 4:2; Phil 4:6.
  • We also enjoy the company of the people of God as our companions on the journey. See Eph. 4:1-13 and the numerous one another commands.

Jesus has provided everything we need to travel the narrow road that leads to life!

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 7:24-27

Matthew 7:24-27

Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock. 26 Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, and it collapsed; it was utterly destroyed!
(NET Bible)

To do or not to do; that is the question

The movie series Star Wars tells the story of an epic battle between good and evil set in a galaxy far, far away. The young hero, Luke Skywalker, gets instruction in the Force from the wise old Jedi Master named Yoda.

Yoda proposes a difficult training exercise using the Force, which Luke says he will try. To this Yoda sharply replies, Try? No! Do or do not; there is no try!

Those who hear Jesus words have the same choice. Do or do not; which will it be?

We already know that Jesus is talking to the disciples, and a crowd of listeners has also gathered to hear him (7:28). When verse 24 starts off with the word everyone, it sounds as if Jesus is speaking to the whole group, but in fact the grammar of the verse makes it clear that he is speaking to each person as an individual. So, the parable Jesus tells will draw a line between those who respond and those who do not. And that line will also divide some insiders from other insiders!

It would be better to translate the opening phrase as, Each one of you who hears these words of mine . . . . (my translation of 7:24a). Jesus is presenting a choice to each individual who hears him, and no one else can make it for you! Further, Jesus is not directing attention to the words of the Law but to his own words as the authoritative interpretation of the Law.

Matthew 7:24 is a simple sentence with verbs that are in the present tense. The present tenses are used here to make a statement of a general, timeless fact.[1] The one who hears these words of mine and does them is the one who is figuratively like a wise man who built his house on a rock (7:24).

Of course, on a sunny, pleasant day it does not matter where you built your house. But Jesus says a storm came and pounded the house with rain, swollen rivers and strong winds (7:25). The rock foundation prevented disaster for the house and its sheltered builder.

In speaking of that all-critical foundation, Jesus uses a verbal form that is rare enough to require a deliberate decision on the part of the speaker. Concerning the house, Jesus says, it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock (7:25b). The words in italics reflect the choice Jesus made to show that the survival of the house depended upon action completed in the past before the storm arose. What action is meant? Jesus refers to the doing of his words after first hearing them!

Unfortunately for the foolish man, the storm will also strike the house built on sand. The NET Bible aptly catches the catastrophic nature of that moment by saying it was utterly destroyed (7:27).

Craig Blomberg resolves the meaning of the storm when he says, So too Judgment Day will come like a flood to disclose which spiritual structures will endure.[2] But the issue has already been decided by action or the lack of it long before that stormy day comes.

Faith only begins with knowledge!

The faithful actions of a disciple begin with knowing Jesus words, but they end only when those words are put into action. Those who meditate on his words are not the ones Jesus honors; thoughtful doers of his words are the ones who will prosper in the storms of Gods judgment. In just moments after the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus will start walking. Who is going with him?

In this active life of doing what Jesus has said, take heart in these words: By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. (2 Pet. 1:3, NLT).

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995) 523.

[2] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992) 134.