The Lord’s Day Morning
February 19, 2012
“175 and Counting: Built on the
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Matthew chapter 7 as
we begin a series on Biblical themes called, “175 and Counting.”
I want us to look especially at Jesus’ word in Matthew 7:24, but if you
have your Bibles in hand already, turn back to the reading that Billy did for
the morning Scripture reading, and if you’ll look at this phrase in 1 John
chapter 4, this phrase could sum up the whole sermon this morning:
“As He is, so also are we in this world.”
John is talking about bearing the moral likeness of our loving God and
heavenly Father and Savior Jesus Christ in this world in the way we live, in our
character, in our beliefs, in our behavior, in our priorities and practices, in
our ambitions and aspirations. He’s
calling us in that passage to bear the image of God, to be different from the
world; to be in the world but not of it, to be salt and light.
And in the passage that we’re going to read this morning, which comes
from the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus brings to bear the same
exhortation on believers. And this
is very significant.
You know, about forty years ago, around 1970, a movement began for church
extension called, “The Church Growth Movement.”
And it was deeply concerned to think with congregations and pastors about
what the best way was to reach people for Christ.
And it decided that the best way to reach people for Christ in this
cultural moment was to remove anything that would be unfamiliar or off-putting
to un-churched folk from the services of the church.
So the call to worship and prayers were removed, long Bible readings were
removed, hymns were removed, even preaching was removed.
And these things were replaced with other things that would be less
different than would be normally experienced by an un-churched person in this
And the effects of that have been interesting.
On the one hand, one entire generation of Christians has grown up going
to church not having as a part of their services things that fifty generations
of Christians before them would have normally experienced.
I’ll never forget a couple of years ago after a service, Derek had prayed
— he was assisting in the service — he had prayed the pastoral prayer just like
we normally do in every service, and a young woman, a college student or maybe
just out of college, came to me to speak to me with tears in her eyes and she
said, “What was that thing that he did in the middle of the service?”
And my mind was spinning, “What thing had he done in the middle of the
service?” And I realized; “Could you
describe it to me?” “You know that
thing when he talked to God and he used those words?”
And I said, “Oh that was the pastoral prayer.”
And she said, “I’ve never heard something like that in my life.” And it
was a beautiful, rich, Scriptural, pastoral prayer.
I was deeply moved by it, praying along with him as he prayed, and so I
immediately assume, “Well this is a young woman who’s from an un-churched
background.” And I said, “Well you
must not have grown up going to church.”
She said, “Oh no, my father’s a pastor.”
And she had never heard a pastoral prayer in a worship service.
So the effects of this strategy are interesting.
One of the interesting effects is that evangelical Christians today don’t know
the Bible because historically the sermons in conservative evangelical
protestant services were expositions of Scripture, but over the last forty years
that has not been the norm. Normally
what had been an exposition of Scripture has become usually an inspirational or
practical message on some topic that is immediately relevant in the minds of the
hearers and it may or may not be derived from Scripture and it may or may not
apply Scriptural principles. It may
mention Scripture in passing but it’s not an exposition of Scripture or an
application of a particular Scripture passage.
And so many evangelicals don’t know the Bible.
Ironically, very often in liturgical churches today, often liberal
liturgical churches, more Bible is read in the course of the service than in
many evangelical services.
But it’s another effect that I’m interested in talking with you about today and
that’s what we’re going to see as we look to Jesus’ word in Matthew chapter 7.
Remember, Jesus is speaking into a culture that is almost identical to
ours today. Jesus is addressing a
very religious culture in terms of His own people.
They are church-going, God-fearing, Bible-believing folk but they live in
the context of a larger pluralistic and relativistic culture in the
Mediterranean world. The Roman world
was very pluralistic, very relativistic, just like our own today.
And so we here in Jackson live in — in comparison to the rest of the
country — a fairly highly churched culture but within a larger pluralistic,
relativistic society. And Jesus is
speaking right into that and He’s describing what His disciples are supposed to
be and do. So listen to what Jesus
says here in Matthew chapter 7 beginning in verse 21.
Before we read, let’s pray.
Lord, this is Your Word, so open our eyes to behold wonderful things in it.
We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.
“’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.’
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.’
And when Jesus
finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at His teaching, for He was
teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.
May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
For over a hundred and twenty-five years now, conservative, evangelical
protestants have been defending the Scripture against the attacks of liberal
critics and advocating for a high view of the Bible.
In the 19th century in the wake of the enlightenment, German
liberal higher criticism undermined the authority and the accuracy of the
Scripture by denying its truth claims and attempting to point out what it
considered to be errors in the Biblical text of a variety of natures — history,
science, etc. — and over against that the great Princeton theological, Charles
Hodge and his son A.A. Hodge and B.B. Warfield, strove valiantly in responding
at a profound intellectual level but a deeply faithful Biblical level to those
assaults on Scripture. And they
asserted the inerrancy of Scripture and the inspiration of Scripture and the
infallibility of Scripture and the sufficiency of Scripture over against the
various attacks that were coming from the critics.
And that particular discussion has continued to our own day and time.
The seminary that is here in town with a long history here with First
Presbyterian Church, Reformed Theological Seminary, was born out of this very
controversy. If you remember, our
dear departed ruling elder, Bob Cannada, I’ve heard him on more than one
occasion give his speech called, “The High View of Scripture and the Low View of
Scripture.” And it was the low view
of Scripture that was being taught in all the denominational seminaries of our
old southern Presbyterian church.
And that’s one of the reasons that the Reformed Theological Seminary was created
— so that seminarians could be educated in the Word of God from the standpoint
of a high view of Scripture, of its inerrancy, of its authority, of its
truthfulness, of its applicability.
And so Reformed Theological Seminary was born out of that very controversy.
The same thing, of course, has happened amongst our Southern Baptist friends.
Beginning in the 1970’s there was a conservative resurgence in the
Southern Baptist Convention to make sure that in all the seminaries of the
convention a high view of Scripture was propounded where, in fact, a low view of
Scripture had taken over. So when Al
Mohler went to become the president of Southern Baptist Seminary in 1993, the
entire faculty and the entire student body stood up and turned their backs to
him during his inaugural address because they were offended by his high view of
Scripture. And it was interesting —
the cry of those who were leading for a low view of Scripture amongst the
Southern Baptist Convention had been, “Let’s stop squabbling over theology and
go to the mission field! Why are we
arguing about the Bible and about doctrine when there are people that are being
lost? We need to go out and do work
and do missions and stop squabbling about theology!”
And so Al Mohler’s opening address was called, “Don’t Just Do
Something…Stand There!” And his
point was we need to stand on the Word of God.
It makes no sense to say, “Let’s not squabble over theology and go do
missions” when you don’t agree on the Gospel, when you don’t agree on the Bible
from which we learn the Gospel. And
so unless we stand there on the foundational things we won’t be able to do
things together like missions and evangelism.
It was a clarion call that was much needed.
But you know one of the things I’ve found fascinating, especially looking at
what sociologists have observed in the last twenty-five years, is that they have
noted that the beliefs and behavior of conservative evangelical protestants,
those who say they have a high view of Scripture, have become more and more like
their secular counterparts. For
instance, if you go online you can read the kinds of statistics that are given
by Ron Sider in his book called, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience;
Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World?
Or, Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, two sociologists who
did a survey of three thousand teenagers from conservative evangelical
protestant backgrounds, and they wrote a book called, Soul Searching:
The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, and they
said that these teenagers do not believe in traditional Christianity; they
believe in something Smith and Denton labeled “moralistic therapeutic deism.”
And the five points of that belief are:
A God exists who
created and ordered the world and he does watch over human life on the earth.
Two: God wants people to be
good, nice, and fair to each other as taught in the Bible and by most world
The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
Four: God does not need to be
particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a
problem. And five:
Good people go to heaven when they die.
And not surprisingly, the young people who believe those things instead of the
teachings of Scripture, also in their personal life, in their moral life, look
very much like the culture.
John Piper, in his book, Finally Alive, quotes some statistics and he
makes this observation:
“What matters most
for my concern is the way the term, the label, ‘born-again’ is being used today
and applied to people, in particular, the way the Barna Group, a Christian
research firm, has used it in reporting their findings.
In their report, entitled, “Born-Again Christians Are Just as Likely to
Divorce as Non-Christians,” Barna uses the words ‘evangelicals’ and ‘born-again’
interchangeably and then reports this:
‘Only nine percent of evangelicals give ten percent of their income to
the Lord’s work. Of twelve thousand
born again teenagers who took the pledge to wait for marriage, eighty percent of
them had sex outside of marriage over the next seven years.
Twenty-six percent of born again or traditional evangelical Christians do
not think pre-marital sex is wrong and white evangelical Protestants are more
likely than their Roman Catholic friends to be racist in their views.’
In other words,” Piper says, “the broadly defined evangelical church as a
whole in America and the West in general is apparently not very unlike the
world. It goes to church on Sunday
and has a veneer of religion but its religion is basically an add-on to the same
way of life that the world lives, not a transforming power.”
“I want to say loud
and clear that when the Barna Group uses the term, ‘born-again’ to describe
American church-goers whose lives are indistinguishable from the world and who
sins as much as the world and sacrifice for others as little as the world and
embrace injustice as readily as the world and covet things as greedily as the
world and enjoy God-ignoring entertainment as enthusiastically as the world,
when the term ‘born-again’ is used to describe these kinds of professing
Christians the Barna Group is making a profound mistake.
It is using the Biblical term ‘born-again’ in a way that would make it
unrecognizable to Jesus. Here is the
way the researches define the term in their own research.”
He’s quoting from the
Barna Group report:
Christians are defined in these surveys as people who said that they have made a
personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today
and who also indicated that they believed that when they die they will go to
heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus as their
Savior. Respondents were not asked
to describe themselves as ‘born-again;’ they were classified as ‘born-again’ not
based on their church or denominational affiliation or even their church
In other words, in
this research the term ‘born-again’ refers to people who say things.
They say, ‘I have a personal commitment to Jesus Christ and it’s
important to me.’ They say, ‘I
believe that I will go to heaven when I die.
I’ve confessed my sins and accepted Jesus as my Savior.’
And then, the Barna Group takes them at their word, ascribes to them the
infinitely important reality of the new-birth, and then slanders that precious
Biblical reality by saying that regenerate hearts have no more victory over sin
than unregenerate hearts. I’m not
saying that their research is wrong.
It appears to be appallingly right.
I am not saying that the church is not as worldly as they say it is.
I’m saying that the writers of the New Testament think in exactly the
opposite direction about being ‘born-again.’
Instead of moving from a profession of faith to the label ‘born-again’ to
the worldliness of these so-called ‘born-again’ people, to the conclusion that
the new-birth does not really radically change people, the New Testament moves
in the opposite direction. It moves
from the absolute certainty that the new-birth radically changes people to the
observation that many professing Christians are indeed, as the Barna Group says,
not radically changed, to the conclusion that they are not ‘born-again.’
The New Testament, unlike the Barna Group, does not defile the new-birth
with the worldliness of unregenerate professing Christians.”
Jesus is speaking into precisely that problem in His own day and age, and here’s
how He handles it. Look with me at
Matthew chapter 7. Look especially
at verse 24. What does He say?
“Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does them will be like a wise
man who built his house on the rock.”
Notice that Jesus does not define His disciples as people who say things.
His disciples are not simply people who claim things.
In fact, what had He just said?
“There will be many who say, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and I will say to them, ‘I
never knew you.’” So who are His
disciples? They are those who hear
Him and do what He says. In the
Sermon on the Mount and in Matthew in general Jesus says His disciples all do
three things. They come to Him, they
listen to Him, and they heed Him.
They come to Him, they listen to Him, and they heed Him.
CHRISTIANS COME TO CHRIST
In Matthew chapter 11 He says, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy
laden and I will give you rest.” And
over and over in the gospels, isn’t it interesting, that the gateway into
personal relationship with God is always through Jesus.
So when Jesus is talking to the woman at the well, what does He say?
“I can give you the water that gives eternal life,” or He says to her
later on, “I can bring you into the enjoyment of the spiritual worship of the
Father.” And later on to Martha in
John chapter 11 He can say, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
Over and over in the gospels, Jesus sees Himself as the only way into
personal relationship with God. And
so His first message to everyone is, “Come to Me.
Only I can give you forgiveness.
Only I can give you pardon.
Only I can give you acceptance with God.
It won’t be based on what you do; it will be based on who I am and what I
have done for you.” So the first
message that He gives, and you see that message even in the Sermon on the Mount,
is, “Come to Me.”
CHRISTIANS HEAR CHRIST
But then He says, “Having come to Me, listen to Me.
My disciples listen to Me.
They believe what I teach.” It’s
interesting, when you look at these statistics and you simply as the question,
“What do people claim?” It is true
that the statistics amongst professing believers and the secular society look
very similar. The minute you begin
to start asking questions about what a person believes, those statistics begin
to vary radically. If you ask, for
instance, the question, “Do you believe that the Bible is inerrant?”
Suddenly the statistics begin to vary.
If you ask the question, “Do you go to church every week?” the statistics
begin to vary. If you ask, “Do you
believe that Jesus was the sinless Son of God?” the statistics begin to vary.
And it’s not surprising, is it?
Jesus said His disciples listen to Him.
They believe what He teaches.
They come to Christ and they hear Him.
They come to Jesus and they listen to Jesus.
CHRISTIANS OBEY CHRIST
And then, they live for Jesus. They
not only believe what He says, they do what He teaches.
Notice His words again.
“Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does them is like the wise man who
built his house on the rock.” And
have you noticed how similar this is to the Great Commission?
Because of the missions conference we’ve been thinking about the Great
Commission for the last several weeks.
And listen to what Jesus says.
If you look at Matthew 28 verse 19 and then the first part of verse 20,
what does Jesus say? “Go make
disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded.”
Now did you hear the three parts of that?
You make disciples — how? By
calling them to Jesus, and then what?
Teaching them. They have to
listen to Jesus but not just so that they have a bunch of ideas in their heads
but so that they can observe all that He has commanded.
Now Jesus is not saying, “If you will add to your faith your works, then God
will forgive and accept you.” Jesus
is not saying, “If you will add to your trust your obedience, then you can
become a Christian.” Jesus is
talking about what His disciples look like. His disciples come to Him and then
having been forgiven and accepted by His grace, they listen to Him and they obey
Him. Jesus is talking about what we
might call justification and sanctification.
We are pardoned not on the basis of our own deeds but on the basis of
what Jesus has done for us. We
receive that by faith alone. Having
been pardoned, God begins to change us.
How are we changed? By
listening to Jesus and doing what He has commanded.
Listen to what Charles Simeon says about this. Charles Simeon was a great
evangelical Anglican who preached in Cambridge in the 19th century,
sent out so many missionaries to the mission field and here’s how he describes
“Christians come to
Christ. This is absolutely necessary
to their entrance upon divine light.
Until they have come to Christ under a sense of their own guilt and
helplessness, they have not pretentions of godliness and they are oblivious to
the curse of the law and the wrath of God.
Secondly, after they have come to Christ, they hear His sayings, they sit
as His feet like Mary, they desire to be fully instructed in His mind and will.
With this view, they study the Holy Scriptures and meditate in them day
and night. With this view they also attend the ordinances of baptism and the
Lord’s Supper and receive the Word not as the words of man but as it is in
truth, the Word of God. And third,
they do not, however, rest in hearing His saying but they go forth to do them.
They desire to know His will in order that they may do it.
They love the most searching discourses because by them they discover the
evil of their own hearts and they are led to aspire to a fuller conformity to
the divine image; nor would they rest until they feel that every thought and
desire had been taken captive to the obedience of Christ.”
Christians come to Christ, they hear Christ, they obey Christ.
They depend on Him for acceptance with God.
They believe what He says and they do what He teaches.
That’s how Jesus defines His disciples.
That’s what a disciple is, and someone who does that is going to be
different from the world and that is what God intended the church to be.
The irony is, though our church growth friends with all sincerity,
suggested what they suggested for the sake of reaching people for Christ, the
most powerful way of reaching folks for Christ is to be different from the world
because then the world knows that you’re not about what it’s about and the power
that is in you does not come from it and the satisfaction that you seek for
cannot be supplied by it. And then
the message, the message, is heard.
And so Jesus is saying His disciples are not those who simply say that they
follow Him or simply listen to what He says, but His disciples are those who
listen to Him and who obey Him. Come
to Jesus who is the only way to the Father and the only hope of salvation.
Listen to Jesus like your life depended on it.
Live as if Jesus is your Lord and your treasure.
That’s what Jesus is saying in this passage.
That’s what His disciples do.
My friends, one of the most important things that we can do as a witness is to
be different from this world, to believe differently, to behave differently, to
have different priorities and practices, to not be like the world.
Or again, in the language of John, “As our Father is, so are we in this
world.” To be in the world and not
of it — that is crucial as we go forward together.
Having been together for a hundred and seventy-five years, we have been
given a legacy by members, by deacons, by elders, by women in the church
leaders, by pastors who highly valued the Word of God.
They had a high view of Scripture and they believe the Scripture against
all the assaults of the unbelieving world, but they also believed that the
Scripture needed to be listened to and heeded.
It needed to be obeyed. Why?
So that we will be different from the world.
Will we follow in their footsteps?
That is key to our witness in this community and we need to be faithful
in that witness to this community for the glory of God and for our own
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word.
Thank You that You have spoken in the Gospel of Your Son.
We ask that by Your Holy Spirit we would listen and listen carefully,
believing what Jesus says, believing the Scriptures, and then living them out,
especially in the storms of life, O Lord, where we so often find out what we
really believe. We ask this in
Jesus’ name, amen.
Now would you take your hymnals in hand and turn with me to number 141?
We’ll sing, “God in the Gospel of His Son.”
Receive now God’s blessing. Grace,
mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.
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