Just Do It!
Every communicator knows the importance of the end of a talk. It’s got to end well to land well. So it is with this great sermon of Jesus. It ends with a call-to-action, and it is a very simple call-to-action: “just do it”. Everything I’ve taught you – just do it!
But, wait a minute, you might say. I always thought of the Sermon on the Mount as an out-there, idealistic type of teaching. This goes way beyond what a normal and acceptable Christian life would look like!
And I think that Jesus’ answer would be: “uhuh…
You’re right. It does go way beyond what is seen as acceptable.
But I’m not calling you to be an acceptable Christian, I’m calling you to be a radical disciple.”
Jesus doesn’t call you to become a Christian – but to become a disciple.
What do I mean with that? Being a Christian means holding a set of beliefs. Being a disciple means radically following the way of Jesus.
All disciples of Jesus are Christians, but not everyone who identifies as a Christian is a disciple of Jesus.
In His mind, there is no such thing as half-hearted discipleship or a part-time follower. It’s either all-in or nothin’.
Jesus calls us to radical obedience. Nothing more, nothing less. Being a follower of Jesus means to follow Him all the way into the unknown, against the currents, surrendering your own desires, dreams and priorities to His, and to become a full-time student and co-labourer with Him.
Discipleship means that we commit to the wonderful journey of being with Jesus and becoming more like Jesus, every day.
There is no such thing as half-hearted discipleship or a part-time follower of Jesus.
In that journey, we learn to live the way He lived. Do the things He did. Speak the way He spoke and think the way He thought. Dallas Willard said: “As disciples of Jesus we look at our lives, and decide to live it the way Jesus would live it if He was living it.”
And so, Jesus’ call-to-action is: “go and live this way.”
He illustrates this in four different ways, all generally making the same point: just do it!
1) The path of obedience
Matthew 7:13-14 (ESV)
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
In this illustration Jesus contrasts the way of radical obedience, to the way of doing whatever you want. The one way leads to life, the other to destruction.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus presents Himself as both the Way and the Gate in this illustration. He is the Gate – because we can only be saved when we believe in Him. And He is also the Way, because that faith in Him is proved in our obedience to Him, following His way.
Quick question: “what’s our problem with the word ‘obedience’?”
So many of us respond to a message of obedience pointing to grace. They’re quick to say that we are only saved through faith and not by works.
Yes. That’s true. But that is not a counterargument to the statement that the way to life is obedience to Jesus. True faith is proven in our actions. The book of James is also quite clear on that.
Grace doesn’t replace obedience, nor is it its opposite.
It’s the same grace that forgives our shortcomings, that is changing us from the inside out and enables us to obey. Grace leads to obedience.
Jesus wasn’t kidding when He said: If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15)
I’ve made the argument in previous messages that we need to put the emphasis on the part before the comma. The way to obedience is to love Him more, not will powering our way to pleasing Him. But that doesn’t negate the importance of radical obedience to the things Jesus says.
I think our difficulty with the word obedience lies in two things:
1) Obedience is difficult. “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life”
Obeying Jesus often means not doing what we feel like doing, but doing what we know He would do.
Radical obedience to Jesus means a denial of self and becoming indifferent to the way of the world. And that doesn’t come easily. It requires change, commitment and our full attention.
2) We have a wrong idea about obedience.
Resistance to obedience often comes from the wrong idea that this means that we surrender to a much less enjoyable way of living.
We tend to think of life as a big test and those who fail go to hell and those who pass go to heaven.
Are you familiar with the Toddler Challenge?
A parent puts a cookie on a plate in front of a toddler and say: “I’m going to go away for a moment, but I want you to leave the cookie there until I come back, and then you’ll get two. But if you eat the cookie, you won’t get another one.”
The video clips on social media then show how the toddler struggle through the challenge – do they want the extra cookie enough to leave the cookie in front of them alone? They sniff it, lick it, nibble it… and the waiting goes on and on.
Here’s my point. Life is not a Toddler Challenge!
The point of the illustration of the narrow and the broad road is not that all of life is a test, and those who deny themselves the pleasures of this world, will have eternal pleasure, but those who go for it now will go to eternal suffering.
Jesus’ point here is that true life is already experienced on that narrow path. It’s hard – yes – but through radical obedience to the words of Jesus, we experience life, fulfilment and the presence of the Kingdom on that road already.
Eternal life is already in motion. Don’t googly eye the people on the broad road – they’re not having such a great time as you might think!
God’s way is the best way for your life right now!
That doesn’t mean that life will always be easy, but it’s a lie that the broad road is the more enjoyable one. The narrow path is not just the way to eternal life, but also the way of eternal life. In the same way, the broad path is the way of destruction and will lead to eternal destruction.
2) The source of obedience
The second illustration Jesus uses to bring home His ‘just-do-it’ point is about two trees.
Matthew 7:15-20 (ESV)
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.
Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
I’d like to make two points based on these verses.
1) True faith is proven in obedience.
A tree that doesn’t produce fruit is a dead tree, and a tree that produces bad fruit is a bad tree.
A good tree is a good tree because it bears good fruit. A Christian is only a disciple of Jesus when he actually obeys what Jesus says.
2) We have to undergo a heart change.
Before we can produce this good fruit, we first have to become a good tree. A bad tree or a dead tree cannot will power its way to producing good fruit.
Again, as in many places in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is after your heart. You’ll have to experience a change of heart, before you will experience a change of behaviour.
This is where we experience the grace of God. When we become believers, He changes us from the inside out – gives us a new heart and a new spirit – no longer stuck with a sinful nature, but receiving a divine nature. Discipleship then, is about deciding to continue on that path and living out that new identity.
3) The consequence of disobedience
Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Now, this one is a difficult one to swallow. It’s confronting to read that not all who identify as Christians will also enter the kingdom of heaven.
And we don’t really have time to completely explore this passage in detail and dig down deep into its meaning. But let me leave you with a few thoughts.
1) Don’t start doubting your salvation. I think that the people this passage apply to are the same as the false prophets in the illustration before that come in sheep’s clothing, but are ravenous wolves. They identify as Christians, but are actually out for personal gain – honoring God is not their priority.
2) Obedience starts with knowing Jesus.
I think that, key to understanding this whole passage is Jesus response: “I never knew you”.
Again, just as in John 14:15, it’s the knowing that leads to the obedience. As followers and students of Jesus, we watch closely what He does. When young students would begin to follow a Jewish Rabbi, people would say to them: “may you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi”. Following Jesus means that we get closer and closer – so close that when He walks on a dirt path, the dust that He kicks back covers us.
3) Obedience is not found in the spectacular – but in the mundane.
The argument that the people Jesus never knew bring is “didn’t we prophecy in your name and cast out demons”? Yes, but that’s not what obedience is about. It’s good, it’s important, it’s beautiful. But it’s not the point.
Following Jesus means that you commit your whole life to Him – what is public and what is hidden, the eventful and the uneventful.
4) The result of obedience
Jesus has already illustrated His ‘just do it’ point through contrasting two roads, two trees and two claims – now He will use one last illustration contrasting two builders.
Matthew 7:24-27 (ESV)
“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.”
I think this illustrates the difference between a Christian and a disciple very well again.
A Christian who is not a disciple hears the words and doesn’t do it. But when the next storm hits, the building that looked so nice and sturdy on the outside soon becomes a house of cards. And as the song says that I used to sing as a teenager: “it might look kinda nice, but you’ll have to build it twice”.
Please note that the rock in this illustration is not faith in Jesus. The foolish builder also believes in Jesus. The rock in this illustration is obedience to the words of Jesus – actually doing what Jesus says!
So, let me conclude this message and this series with two final thoughts on living and anticipating the Kingdom, the way we’ve ended most of the nine messages in this series.
Living the Kingdom
Jesus point in these four illustrations is very clear: just do it. Don’t just listen and appreciate – actually go and do it.
Yes, it’s hard.
Yes, it involves sacrifice.
Yes, you may have to unlearn a couple of things.
Yes, it will require thinking in a new way.
Yes, it will take some time – this is a journey of a lifetime.
But, this journey, on that hard and narrow path, will be one of intimacy with Jesus and fruitfulness. And even when a storm comes, you will stand unshaken.
Walking that hard and narrow path will take careful consideration and demand your full attention. You will have to watch your step constantly and adjustment regularly. But it is the best path available to you.
Follow Jesus on that hard and narrow path, and you will experience life, and life abundantly.
Anticipating the Kingdom
When I’ve talked about anticipation in this series, I’ve always talked about taking our commitment one step further. And that’s really what the whole Sermon on the Mount is about – taking it a step further. Living in such a way expecting the Kingdom of God to come soon.
Anticipating the Kingdom is about living in such a way that we don’t just experience the Kingdom, but also spread the Kingdom.
I believe it is time for all of us to make our regular obedience a radical obedience.
When I take a bit of a helicopter view and look at the world, I can see it is falling apart. People are lost, confused, and given over to the consequences of their own sins.
As Christians, we are called to point to a different path, and we’re not going to do that through relevance but through radicality.
Our culture needs a radical shift and that shift is not going to be led by a bunch of half-hearted Christians but by radical disciples who are willing to put it all on the line – anticipating the Kingdom of God.
Are you willing to make some radical choices about your life when it comes to purity, priorities and future plans?
It’s time to break bad habits, lay off shame and put to death all selfishness and radically follow Jesus.