Before I arrived at the church I presently serve, a vision committee was formed to prayerfully study, discuss, and articulate our church’s mission. They were then tasked with writing a mission statement based on their effort. The statement declared Southside United Methodist Church’s mission was to,
Build the Family of God into Faithful Disciples of Jesus Christ.
The committee also wanted to make sure Southside was not just another church with just another mission statement. They wanted to make the mission statement an ongoing reality. With that in mind, the church put together a search committee assigned with the purpose of finding someone whose ministry would focus on helping to build the family of God at Southside into faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
In doing this they were showing how seriously they took the familiar words of Jesus at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, what we call the Great Commission. There Jesus said,
“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
By God’s grace, at least from my perspective, I was hired as Southside’s Minister of Discipleship. The idea and goal of discipleship is vital to the life of Christ’s Church. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t thank the Lord for putting the burden of discipleship on my heart and allowing me to serve with the congregation at Southside.
Can any church faithfully live out its calling and mission if making disciples of Jesus Christ is not a priority? That question raises an even more fundamental question: What exactly is a disciple? After all, you can be a disciple of practically anything or anyone. Therefore, what defines a disciple of Jesus Christ is the question before us.
To help us unpack what a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ looks like, we’re going to take a look at Matthew 7:24-27.
Our text comes at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. For three chapters Jesus taught what has sometimes been called, “The norms of the Kingdom.” In these three chapters our Lord focused on what our character and conduct should look like if we would be faithful citizens of his Kingdom.
Jesus concluded his remarks in the Sermon by saying in Matthew 7:24,
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine…”
What “words” was he talking about? He was referring to the words he had been preaching throughout the Sermon on the Mount. Those “words” of Jesus are important in helping us understand what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.
The message of the Sermon on the Mount is powerful, convicting, and even devastating. But someone may well ask whether Jesus’ message can really be relevant to us, some 2,000 years later. Here is a small sampling of what Jesus taught in the Sermon, to help answer that question.
In chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ words focus on:
- Our character
- God’s blessings
- How to influence others
- God’s Law
- The righteousness God expects from us
- Taking oaths
- Truth telling
- Going the extra mile for another person
- Loving your enemies
- Giving to the needy
- How to pray
- The Lord’s Prayer
- How to fast
- Treasures in heaven vs. treasures on earth
- Putting God first
- God’s provision for your family
- God’s Kingdom
- Judging others
- Persistence in prayer
- God’s goodness to his children
- How to enter into heaven
- True and false prophets and how to tell the difference between them
- The right foundation for building your life
That is a pretty contemporary and relevant list.
A Tale of Two Builders
To bring his teaching to life and emphasize what it means to be a faithful disciple, Jesus told his listeners a story about two builders, one he called wise, and the other, foolish.
There is one part of this familiar story that may be easy to miss. In this story, Jesus was not comparing and contrasting a “Church-goer” from a “non-Church-goer.” He was not comparing and contrasting a committed Christian and an outspoken pagan who had never darkened the door of a church.
If that was the case, we might all breathe a collective sigh of relief, as if to say, “Whew, at least he’s not talking about me.”
In this parable Jesus focused his attention on two different kinds of people who, for all practical purposes, looked just alike in almost every way. To put it in our own language, we might say both people went to church. Both could recite the Apostles’ Creed and Lord’s Prayer from memory. Both could sing every verse of every hymn. And both sat and listened to every word of the sermon.
Jesus’ point was that both houses the builders built looked identical, with this crucial exception: The foundations were completely different. One builder searched, found, and labored to build his house on a firm foundation of rock. The other took the path of least resistance and built his house in any old place, in this case, on nothing but sand.
Put Into Practice
What does the foundation of each builder represent? Jesus said the foundation signifies the words Jesus taught. Both people heard Jesus. According to Jesus, what made a person wise or foolish was what he did with those words. Only one builder put those words into practice. Jesus called that person wise. The other builder also heard the words of Jesus. However, he ignored them. Jesus called him foolish.
James, the brother of our Lord, must have paid attention to what Jesus was saying here because he wrote these words in James 1:22-25,
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror  and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.
The word to describe what Jesus was talking about is obedience. A faithful disciple is the follower of Jesus who hears his words and obeys them, puts them into practice. That is faithful discipleship.
This emphasis is found in the Old Testament as well. God gave the same message through his prophet, Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 33:31-32, we read,
My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain.  Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.
God’s Word isn’t just to be admired, but obeyed. A number of years ago the men’s ministry at my church studied a book entitled, Point Man by Steve Farrar. It focused on helping Christian men live as the godly husbands, fathers, workers, and churchmen God desires. One of the chapters spoke to our need to study and obey Scripture. Farrar wrote,
“The Enemy does not mind if you revere the Bible, just as long as you don’t feed from it.”
“The danger in the Christian life comes when I listen to a sermon or go to a Christian seminar or listen to a series of teaching tapes without applying the truth I hear to my life.”
He concluded this thought with these words,
“In the Christian life the opposite of ignorance is not knowledge, but obedience. God does not want to take a new Christian and move him from ignorance to knowledge. He wants to move him from ignorance to knowledge to obedience.”
Information for Transformation
From ignorance to knowledge to obedience. That is an essential element to faithful discipleship. God does not want men to read or study the Bible purely for informational purposes, but for transformation. To be sure, we must know and understand what the Bible says before we can put it into practice. But faithful disciples of Jesus Christ do not simply “collect” Bible-information so they can win Bible-trivia contests. They read and obey God’s Word so they can meet with God and be transformed by him.
My First Time with the Sermon
Have you ever read the Sermon on the Mount? I remember what I experienced when I finally started getting what Jesus was talking about. I felt despair. I felt so because in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said things like,
“Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” (5:19)
“Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (5:20)
“I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” (5:22)
“Anyone who looks at a woman (or man) lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart.” (5:28)
“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away…If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” (5:29-30)
That’s just from the first half of chapter 5. It is those words, and others like them, that we are actually commanded to read, study, and put into practice. That is why I felt despair and guilt the first time I really started understanding what Jesus was talking about.
The Point of Those Words
And that’s the point. Those feelings of despair, guilt, and hopelessness are there to drive us to the Cross of Christ. They are meant to move us to God’s gracious provision in the person and work of his Son, Jesus Christ. Only Jesus perfectly practiced those words. That is why he was the only acceptable sacrifice on our behalf.
We are saved only when we place our trust in Christ alone and love him as our Savior, Lord, and all-sufficient Treasure. He is the pearl of great price.
We must indeed strive to increasingly grow more obedient to God’s Word. It is how we glorify God and become more like Christ. Like the wise builder, we must build a strong foundation by putting our Lord’s words into practice.
Yet we do not obey Jesus in order to save ourselves by our own good works. Instead, a faithful disciple seeks to obey Jesus because he has already been saved by God’s grace. Our obedience, while required in a qualified sense, is evidence of a grateful and loving heart.
That is how faithful disciples show Jesus and the world they love him. By obeying him, they will bear much good and lasting fruit. Jesus said in John 14:15,
“If you love me, you will obey what I command.
And in John 14:21, our Lord taught,
Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.
That is what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God who gives us eyes to see and ears to hear.
- Have you ever read the Sermon on the Mount? If so, what did you think? What parts are you drawn to? What parts scare you?
- What part is the hardest for you to put into practice? Why?
- If you haven’t read it, take time now to do so. You will find it in Matthew 5-7. Ask God to reveal to you what it would look like in your life to obey what you’re reading. Then, ask for God’s Spirit to enable you to do so.