March 18th, 2013: The Twenty-Ninth Day of Lent

March 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.”

~Matthew 7.21~

Christ begins a section of teaching on judgment in earnest now: no imagery or parallels, just the facts. If we found the verse about trees being chopped up and burned to be unsettling, this one should hit us a little harder.

Many, many people claim allegiance to Jesus Christ. Jesus tells us here that not everyone who thinks they have an inside track to the Kingdom of Heaven will get in. It’s a popular thing to say these days that “Heaven is bigger than we think it is.” Christ tells us here that it’s smaller than many think; either way, we’re not the ones who decide.

This verse is scary because it tells us that it’s possible to think that we are following Christ when we actually are not. We may have the best of intentions, doing everything that we think Christians should; yet, we would still fall short. Just like there are false prophets and ministers, there are false followers, too; those who do not do the will of the Father.

This teaching should cause us to seriously ask ourselves and our faith communities, “What is the will of the Father?” Fortunately, this question has an answer. We see Jesus emphasize his relationship with the Father in the Gospels. Christ speaks of the “working relationship” he has with the Father in that true knowledge of the Father has been given to him (Matt. 12.27) and that Jesus does what the Father is already doing (John 5.19-24). We can listen to the teachings of Jesus and discern the will of God the Father. Our study of the Sermon on the Mount is a great start.

However, knowing the teachings of Christ is not the same as living the teachings of Christ. Many books sit on the bookshelf without changing people’s lives. They may be read, and they may be critically acclaimed, but they go no further. Many people read the teachings of Christ this way. Studying the Lord’s prayer is no substitute for praying it. Agreeing that one should turn the other cheek falls short of actually turning the other cheek. It’s one thing to expect forgiveness as a matter of Christian principle, but that expectation means nothing if people still hold grudges.

One way to render this verse is to say, “Only those who are actually doing the will of my Father in Heaven…” The Greek word Christ uses has a present, ongoing idea to it; the will of God is being done now and being done continually. Not tomorrow, and not once every few days. Those who do God’s will now and keep on doing it find they have a place in God’s Kingdom.

I do not want to stir up the old “grace vs. works” debate; personally, I think it is a false distinction. Our Christian journey begins with God’s grace reaching to us, and our first work is to accept it. From there on, it’s a bit like the “chicken-and-egg” conundrum; grace leads to faith, which leads to works, which lead to grace, which leads to works, which lead to… Well, you get the idea. Christ says here that “doing” is a crucial, non-negotiable part of entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Tough words.

Let’s ask ourselves: In which ways are we doing the will of the Almighty Father? In which ways are we not?

Lord Christ, I confess that I claim allegiance to your teachings without applying them to my life. Please change my living and my thinking, so that I cannot make a distinction. Send your Holy Spirit to convict me of my sin and prompt me to live, not just know, but live as you have taught. Amen. 

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