Authentic Christianity

The following is a Sunday School Lesson I prepared for my church on Matthew 7:13-29.  It is very lengthy for a blog post, but part of my hope for this website is to be a free distribution of any and all of resources I produce that might be beneficial to the Kingdom. 

The sermon on the mount is one of the most well known sections of the Bible.  In Matthew 5-7 we are told about Jesus' famous sermon as he teaches on life in the kingdom of God.  This famous discourse is packed with truth and profound teachings.  This morning we are going to examine the end of this sermon in which Jesus states that there are only two ways a person can go as they march on to eternity.  There is the narrow gate, and there is the broad gate.  Jesus tells his followers that the way into the Kingdom of God is a narrow and difficult to navigate.  The path that leads to destruction is wide and easy.  Many go into the wide gate to their own destruction, but few are those who take the narrow and difficult way.

I. Our Culture Rejects This Teaching of Jesus

Now this teaching of Jesus is difficult to so many of us today, because in our postmodern pluralistic culture we are taught that there is no one way to God and to heaven, in fact there are many ways.  The culture today believes that there are a variety of different ways in order to be saved, none of them any better than the other.  All of these different roads have different paths, but they lead to the same destination.  For example, you could be a Christian, a Muslim, a Hindu, an agnostic, or even come up with your own beliefs and they are all the same and all true. In our culture, the existence of absolute truth is denied and instead we are told to each go our own way in our pursuit of truth while simultaneously not being so closed minded to claim that we have the one and only truth.

You have seen this mindset when you ask people what their beliefs about God and spirituality when they respond, "I believe what I believe".  In our day, the importance is not so much the object of belief but just the fact that we believe. In fact you might have even heard it explained in this way in this well known parable:

Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, "Hey, there is an elephant in the village today."

They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, "Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway." All of them went where the elephant was. Everyone of them touched the elephant.

"Hey, the elephant is a pillar," said the first man who touched his leg.

"Oh, no! it is like a rope," said the second man who touched the tail.

"Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree," said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.

"It is like a big hand fan" said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.

"It is like a huge wall," said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.

"It is like a solid pipe," Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.

They began to argue about the elephant and everyone of them insisted that he was right. A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, "What is the matter?" They said, "We cannot agree to what the elephant is like." Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man explained to them, "All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant."

It is a common parable that many intellectuals will use to refute the idea of absolute truth or "one way" as Christian's believe. However, there is one major fallacy as we study this eastern parable and that is this: There is a man in the story who can fully and perfectly see the entirety of the elephant. The point of the parable is dependent on at least one person being able to discover and share the absolute truth of the elephant with these six blind men.  This is the ironic reality with all those who claim Christians and religious people alike are intolerant and narrow minded when they declare that their way is the only way to God. Those who claim Christians are foolish for making such a absolute truth claim are in effect making an absolute truth claim by saying all truth is relative.

Despite what our culture believes, Jesus makes it clear that their are only two ways.  The way to destruction and the way to life.  In our day and age we will be tempted to water down our beliefs so that they are better received by our culture.  Hard teachings like this will not always be popular, but if we are to hold the Bible as the very Word of God and worship Jesus as our Lord and Savior, then we must zealously hold to the exclusivity of the Gospel.  There is one way to God, and his name is Jesus.

II. The Narrow Way is Difficult (v.13-14)

Jesus teaches that there are only two ways a person can go, the broad and easy way to destruction or the narrow way to life.  Few in our world choose to go on the narrow difficult path to life.  We must remember that Christianity is no walk in the park. Although we attain salvation simply by grace through faith because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, living our life in that reality means our life on earth will be difficult, not easy.  True Believers know this and have experienced this. They take up their cross daily as Jesus has asked them to do as they sacrifice their will, desires, money, and health for the sake of their Lord Jesus.

In fact, there is a dangerous and heretical teaching going on in our American culture that promises incredible earthly blessings for following Jesus. Many of these pastors hide behind their plexiglass pulpits on TV promising people health and wealth as a result of following Jesus.  These are men who are false prophets who take the Gospel of Jesus and distort it and deceive thousands and thousands of people.  This "Prosperity Gospel" is a  false Gospel masquerading as Biblical Christianity but is in reality a variation of the broad way that leads to destruction.  The gate to life is narrow and difficult and few find it.

Following Jesus is not always easy, and if we are going to take the narrow way, we must understand that the path will be difficult.  We are not promised earthly blessings but heavenly blessings.  We are not promised ease and comfort, but trouble and persecution.  We are not promised the American Dream, but we are promised Jesus.  So often we pursue God simply for the gifts that he might give us, rather than pursuing him because we love him.  We create idols out of blessings, and then get incredibly angry at him when hardships come our way.  If we are going to take the narrow way that leads to life, we must not worship God as a means to our personal ends.  Rather, God himself is enough and the satisfaction that we seek!

III. Beware of Impostor Christians (v15-20)

In v. 15 Jesus beings to warn the crowd to look out for false prophets.  These false prophets are people who claim to be on the narrow way and who claim to be followers of Jesus, but in fact are wolves in sheep’s clothing.  They look like Christians, they act like Christians, and they even talk like Christians, but they are most assuredly not Christians.  This should be a shocking warning to us all, because outward obedience does not necessarily prove inward transformation. Just because someone goes to church week in and week out and even serves on a committee, does not necessarily mean that he or she has been saved through the blood of Jesus. There are people in our churches who deceive  everyone that they are Christians all the while being unknown by Jesus.  This leads us to the very important question, "How can we recognize these impostors?" and the even more important question, "Am I unknowingly one of these impostors?"

Jesus tells us that we will recognize these thespian Christians by their fruit.  Many people can fool everyone in their public actions, but few are crafty enough to deceive in their personal life as well.  Much like a costume that best fools an audience from a distance, because the closer you get, the easier it is to spot the fake. So it is with the wolf in sheep's clothing.

Jesus gives us an illustration to help highlight his point here. "Are grapes gathered from thorn-bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit." (v. 16)  A true believer in Jesus is the one who produces good fruit. A tree rotting away at its core might look okay on the outside, but you can tell the health of the tree by the quality and quantity of fruit it produces.  So if I was to sit down with you and examine your public life and your private life in depth, would I find the fruit that would show me the evidence that you were indeed a Christian?  As Christians we are not saved by our works, but our works are evidence that we have indeed tasted the grace we claim to have experienced.  What happens to these bad, rotten, and diseased trees?  Well they are tossed into the fire for destruction.

The scary thing about this passage is Jesus is not talking about those outside of the church, but those inside of it.  Jesus isn't talking about the lost pagan out there in society but those who claim to be devout followers of Jesus. There are far fewer Christians in our world than we think there are.  Wide and easy is the gate to destruction, but narrow and hard is the way to life.  In America, it doesn't cost you anything to be a Christian. Very little sacrifice is demanded of us if we decide to become a follower of Jesus.  As a result, the church can begin to become impure as it is easier and more appealing for wolves to enter the church disguised as sheep.

This is why the great purifier of the Christian church is persecution.  Nothing reveals the true church like immense and costly persecution.  What if being a Christian meant going hungry?  What if becoming a Christian caused your family to outcast you and kick you to the curb?  What if being a Christian meant that you spent the rest of your life in prison or that it even cost you your life? Would you still claim to believe the name of Jesus?  If not, then you prove that you are indeed a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  This is why persecution so powerfully purifies the church. Those who truly have experienced God's irresistible grace will never be able to deny it! As persecution rises the church is made pure, because during persecution the bad fruit of the rotten trees are seen and the impostors are easily spotted.

V. The Impostors Will Be Discovered (v. 21-23)

Jesus continues to illustrate this point with one of the scariest stories of the Bible.  Jesus tells us that, "not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven." What a terrible and frighting tale.  Jesus tells us that there are many who think they are true Christians and cry out to Jesus and say,"Lord, Lord" and in horror find out they were impostors.  In fact, many of these impostors will claim that they have done incredible things in the name of Jesus.  They prophesied, exorcised demons, and did mighty works in the name of Jesus. Unfortunately, despite their labors, Jesus will tragically declare to them, "I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness."

Three Outward Signs That Do Not Necessarily Mean You Are an Authentic Christian

1. These impostors are doctrinally correct.  They knew the right things to believe and they knew that Jesus was the Lord.  They know that Jesus is the Messiah and Lord. These people knew right belief and right doctrine.  They knew their theology.  Although they knew it was orthodox to call Jesus Lord, they had not lived under his Lordship.  In the same way, a true and accurate theology does not make you a believer. You might be able to speak Christianese and tell everyone the right answers to the questions, but in the end be unsaved and thus condemned to hell.

2. These impostors are emotionally involved.  Now in a Semitic language to express emotion and passion you say the name twice. For example, King David when he was heart broken over his son said, "Absalom, Absalom" (2 Sam 19:14).  It shows intensity of emotion. These impostors had intensity of emotion. They were the ones crying at the end of the worship service, they had the outpouring of tears and emotion.  Having an emotional experience or response does not necessarily indicate true conversion. You can have passion and emotion and still be unknown by Jesus.

3. These impostors are active in service and devotion.  These people served on the committees, taught the Sunday School class, and went on the mission trips. They filled their lives doing all sorts of things for Jesus all the while never loving Jesus.  As a church member, don't fall for the lie that just because you show up to church on Sunday or come to church on Wednesday night, that it makes you right before God.  Your actions have absolutely nothing to do with your salvation.  It is not our actions but Jesus' act on the cross that justifies condemned sinners. God cares far more about your inward motivation than your external obedience.  This why earlier in the same sermon Jesus would tell them, "You have heard that it was said, 'you shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart." In this same sermon Jesus rebukes those who fast from food in order to make everyone think they are righteous but are really hypocrites. The right action is very important.  But just as important, if not more so is right motive. These impostors did the right action, but they did not have the right motive.  They were not serving Jesus for Jesus' sake, but for their own. This is why Jesus does not know them.

So who is able to enter the kingdom of heaven? Jesus tells us that true believers is the one who does the will of the Father (v. 21b).  In Greek, the same word used for "produce" when Jesus talks about the fruit of the trees (v. 17) is the same word for "does" in verse 21.  Jesus is making a connection between a true producing good fruit and the person who does the will of the Father.  A true Christian is one who produces good fruit, and that fruit is the will of the Father.  True Christians live under the Lordship of God out of love for God. They do not obey out of pride, in order to seem better than there fellow man.  Nor do they obey out of obligation, but joyfully out of gratitude for the salvation they have been given in Jesus.  We are justified by faith alone but saving faith is never alone, but always comes with fruit.

So how can you know if you are a true believer in Jesus? Ask those closest to you to be honest about whether they see the fruit of the spirit in your life. If they see no maturity or if they see no evidence of God working in your life, take a long and hard look at your spiritual condition. However, even if everyone seems to think you are a pretty good Christian, evaluate your motives carefully. In fact some of you may even be thinking now, "I think I measure up pretty well. By no means will I end up being one of these impostors!". Be very careful, because that sort of pride is evidence of a fake. A true believer doesn't swell with pride when he examines his fruit, but shivers in humility at his grotesque hypocrisy and condemning apathy.  A true Christian knows he will never measure up, and is dependent on Christ alone for his righteousness and salvation!

V. Jesus Must Be Our Foundation (v. 24-29)

Jesus finishes this sermon, and this section about the two ways with a parable.  Jesus tells us to be like the wise man who builds his house on the rock.  The house on the rock is able to endure all sorts of tribulation, hardship, and vigorous persecution. However the foolish man builds his house on the sand and it is unable to endure the storms and floods because its foundation is shaky. This house collapses, falls, and is destroyed.  The difference between the narrow way and the broad way is a difference of foundation. The difference between the true believer and the impostor is the foundation.  Whoever hears Jesus' tough teaching and obeys it is the wise man, and whoever rejects Jesus' word builds his life on the sand and will eventually collapse into destruction. The most important question of this sermon is, "Who is your foundation?" Jesus is the cornerstone of our faith.  He is the firm foundation that will not fail us. Jesus, the son of God, would go to the cross and lay down his life as the cornerstone of the Kingdom of God.

Therefore, if we are going to join him on the narrow and hard way to life, we must make him the foundation for everything we do.  When we think about work, friendships, free time, marriage, children, money, church, or any other aspect of our life, we must make sure all of it is built on the foundation of Jesus. The Gospel isn't a section of our life that we put in a box and take out only on Sundays, but an over encompassing reality overwhelming the totality of our existence.  If God is stirring in your heart and soul respond today by calling on the name of King Jesus. Repent of your sins and put your faith in Jesus and you will have eternal life! Join him on the narrow and difficult path that leads to life and make him central in everything you do!