We’ve also reviewed 6 corresponding new habits he taught to make love less difficult and more consistent. The secret to success is his well-defined steps—very specific and narrow.
Because most of us want to be right and good, evil disguises itself as correctness. So, internal evil becomes invisible and we become blind. Personally, I was very reluctant to gouge out habits that I considered righteous. It turns out that I was actually destroying the very goodness I want.
In the remainder of Matthew 7, Jesus summarizes his message with a few final warnings and illustrations.
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (vv. 13-14)
This is a re-wording of the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus started with, not limited to them, but common to all people of all cultures and time periods. He’s referring to a self-justifying life-style, the “adulterous generation” we still live in. He knows that people need help getting beyond it if they’re to enter God’s kingdom life-style of love, gracious power, and well-being.
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they’re ferocious wolves. You can recognize them by their fruit. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit…Thus, by their fruit you’ll recognize them.” (vv. 15-20)
The faith and action that Jesus invites is easier, smarter, and nothing like the burdens that crowds were used to in his day. It also isn’t like the Christianity I was used to, widely preached in our day. He makes this point early in the Sermon by saying several times, “You’ve heard it said, but I say to you…”
Bad fruit is precisely the 6 disguised habits we’ve reviewed: willful anger/contempt, spiritual adultery/divorce from God, swearing/insistence, score-keeping/indebtedness, worry over appearance/image, and judgmentalism/hypocrisy. Obviously, no one strives for these knowingly.
But the 6 loving habits missing from most life-styles are: mercy (Step 1), fixing your eyes on you and God (Step 2), letting Yes be yes and No be no (Step 3), debt-free thinking (Step 4), practicing intimacy with God (Step 5), and adopting a knocking/asking posture (Step 6). These are the habits of a Christ-like spirit that consistently engages love and does good to all neighbors without conditions.
Yet, very few Christians willfully pursue it. Many say, as I did, that it’s God’s responsibility to make them loving, rather than their responsibility to obey and become loving people. The result is occasional good fruit and lots of bad fruit and conditional love.
Then, because sinful habits remain dominant, we resign ourselves to automatic failure. Forgiveness of sin, rather than overcoming it, becomes the entire redemptive plan, the best that God could devise and the only option we’ve ever heard. His Law of love has no essential part in salvation or discipleship to Jesus. And it shows.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and drive out demons and perform many miracles in your name?’ Then I’ll tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you lawless ones! [often translated ‘evildoers’]’” (vv. 21-23)
“That day” refers to when he physically returns to reign with those who prepared themselves under his guidance. Both the Old and New Testaments call it the Day of the Lord, the end of the age. “End” doesn’t mean termination, but fulfillment, completion. This Day signals the start of an entirely new age and generation where people can rule safely. They really do love God, self, and neighbor without feeling put out or superior. It all makes sense now.
Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain came down, streams rose, and winds beat against that house; yet it didn’t fall, because its foundation was on the rock. But everyone who hears these words and doesn’t put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, streams rose, and winds beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (vv. 24-27)
Jesus thus concludes his Sermon. The crowds were astonished because he turned everything they had been taught upside-down, and apparently, spoke authoritatively enough that many instantly recognized his practical, divine expertise on how to live well (vv. 28-29).
Remember, Jesus is a carpenter, the Architect and builder of life. No sensible person builds a house without a plan or by starting with the roof or walls. You start with the foundation and proceed one step at a time.
So Paul makes sense, too. “No temptation has seized you except what’s common to man. And God is faithful; he won’t let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1Cor. 10:13)
Partnering with Jesus (discipleship) makes love and good will doable, a whole new way of life, free of sin’s manipulating accusations that lead to self-hating shame or neighbor-hating self-superiority.