Monday, January 07, 2019

Devotional: Christian Discernment, Matthew 7:15-29

Outline of Matthew 7.14-29

Matthew closes this portrayal of Jesus as the authority, greater than Moses, who calls us to us to be wise and discern our situation in relationship to God, ourselves and others. Those who really understand judge themselves by God’s standards and recognize that Jesus is the ultimate revelation of what God is like and what God wants from us. The proper response is allegiance to Jesus and his agenda that trusts what he has provided for us and produces active obedience to his words. He calls us to discern our own hearts and choose our human leaders wisely. There are deceivers out there who use Jesus’ name for their own benefit. Jesus urges us to look at their behavior and lifestyle, not giftedness or popularity. Do we and do our leaders live a life of obedience to Jesus' teachings? Growing obedience is the demonstration of real faith. If we practice this kind of discernment now we can be confident that when we stand before him in judgment we’ll be ready.

The big point of Matthew 7 is that Jesus is the judge and ultimate authority (7:28-29) Jesus makes the radical claim that he will be the one to whom all humanity will give account at the final judgment. Every word, every thought, every action we do in this life will be submitted to Jesus Christ for his approval. Each one of us will report to him personally (7:22). Are we “cultural Christians” or have we trusted in Jesus and experienced the Spirit’s work of conversion? “On that day” of judgment we will give an account of how we have used his gifts of grace to serve God and others. This is why it is important to judge ourselves rightly if we are to be ready for God’s judgment. We need to be alert constantly washing out our own eyes for that log in our eye that can blur our vision, so that we can help others with their speck. In this section Jesus gives us four tests that will help us test ourselves and those we follow.

The first must primarily be applied to ourselves: the “narrow way” test. (7:13-14) Have we really followed the way of Jesus or are we on the broad way of pretend religion? The “narrow way” submits to Christ to allow the Spirit to transform us from the inside out. The “narrow way” commits to costly discipleship that gives up all for Christ. The easy, popular way is usually the wrong way. The right way is often lonely, difficult, costly and persecuted. The “narrow way” does bring blessing in the present but it calls to sacrifice now to get the ultimate blessing in the future kingdom. If your Christian life doesn’t cost you something you might be on the “wrong way.”

The “fruit test” is applied to Christian leaders. (7:15-20) How do you tell true gifted leaders from the false? It is difficult because you cannot always tell by outward appearance and what looks harmless (sheep) can be very destructive to your spiritual health (wolf). “Fruit” implies that inner reality will eventually come out in action and so we shouldn’t be too quick to condemn or trust ourselves to someone until the evidence is in. The criteria for judging Christian leaders is not popularity, giftedness or even ministry “results.” The key is do they speak like Christ (doctrine) and do they act like Christ (character). So we need to carefully judge who we will follow and then “cut off the bad trees” and “eat from the good trees.”

The third test, the “obedience test,” should be applied to yourself and to the people you follow. (7:21-24) The question here is, “Is Jesus Really Your Lord?” Jesus is both Yahweh – God in relationship with me- and Adonai – my leader, boss, and ultimate authority. It is not enough just to call Jesus Lord or have correct doctrine. Unless verbal commitments and doctrine are applied they are useless. Religious works and rituals are not enough and, in fact,are often done to avoid what God really wants: relationship with him. Even miracles are not enough. Judas Iscariot used the same words and performed the same miracles as other disciples. These are not good tests because someone may use the right vocabulary, repeat the right formulas, know and agree with the right doctrine and even take part in the activities of believers but not truly be in a believing relationship with Jesus Christ. The true test is obedience to God’s will. Is our character being transformed into the image of God and is Jesus loving and acting through us in the Spirit? Real faith produces action and a new nature will produce a new lifestyle.

The final test is the “foundation test.” (7:24-27) Is your life built on Jesus Christ? Do you trust his promises, obey his commands, imitate his character and center every part of your life on him? Anything we build apart from Christ is foolishness and will not last. A life built on Christ and his word will stand up to the daily trials and chaos of life and will receive the “well done” from the final judge. The crowd was amazed at Jesus’ claim. He is not just “one way among many.” Instead he is the standard for judgment and the only foundation for life. 

God is judging us and will judge us. We need to judge ourselves first so we will be ready. This would be bad news if we were on our own in this. But the judge is willing to judge us on the basis of our being in relationship with him. When you trust and submit to him he will transform your life into one that passes all four of these tests. When you build your life on Jesus he will change you, and your life will become a lovely house that you will be happy to live in with him for all eternity.

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