I sure wish it was as easy as hearing the words to make them effective in our lives. If it were I’d be rocking a beach-ready body right now given all the diet and exercise books I’ve read over the years. Unfortunately, I actually have to put into practice what those books tell me if I want the outcome they promise. And it is exactly the same when it comes to the words of Jesus. We can read and even memorize the Bible, but if we don’t put the words into effect in our lives, they won’t change us. However, unlike the diet books, I don’t have to depend on my willpower to put into practice the words of Jesus.
When he talked about his followers producing results in keeping with his commands, Jesus usually tied fruitful obedience to being in relationship with him. I first noticed that connection when I studied John 15. There, he used the analogy of a grapevine and its branches to illustrate how the power to produce results (fruit) comes from the branch remaining in the vine. And I noticed it again in the context of today’s memory verse: Matthew 7:24.
The Wise and Foolish Builders
Jesus wrapped up his Sermon on the Mount with another great analogy. This time, he compared one who not only heard his words but put them into practice to a wise man who built his house on a foundation of solid rock. He contrasted this wise person with the foolish person who built upon the shifting sand instead.
If one looks only at these verses (Matthew 7:24-27), it may seem as though putting the words into action is all about outward obedience. But we know that can’t be Jesus’ point here because the entire sermon stressed that right actions without right relationship are powerless to transform and save us.
Outward Obedience Isn’t Enough
Throughout his sermon, he contrasted the lives of the scribes and Pharisees (religious leaders of his day) with the lives of true citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Those listening probably thought none were more fastidiously obedient than the Pharisees. They devoted their entire lives to the study and practice of the Law. And these leaders weren’t just grading their own papers; they were all up in everyone else’s business, too.
The Pharisees compared the actions of others with their own meticulous obedience. And these men assessed not only how well people put into practice God’s instructions in the Scripture, but also whether they complied with all the add-ons the religious leaders had piled on over the years.
Jesus’ words likely shocked those listening to him. He said, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20, NIV) How could anyone do better than those guys? Is there no hope?
But Jesus had in mind a different righteousness. Rather than self-righteousness that resulted from one’s outward compliance, Jesus called for a righteousness dependent on him.
Instead of willpower, we need Spirit power. Instead of pride and self-confidence, we need humility and a recognition we can not, on our own, be obedient. We must be in relationship with Christ if we are to live as his disciples.
Our putting into effect his words is all about our being in relationship with him. Transformation happens in the relationship. And it happens from the inside out: first our hearts are changed, then our actions change.
Notice what Jesus said just before the analogy of the two builders; read Matthew 7:15-23. The fruit we produce matters, but not because it earns us a ticket to heaven. The actions matter because they reveal the state of our heart!
The relationship, not the actions, are of primary importance. We can do all kinds of religious and/or good actions and yet not know Jesus. Those actions are powerless to transform our hearts into the hearts of citizens of his kingdom. On the other hand, knowing Jesus can’t help but result in changes in our actions.
Knowing Jesus is different than knowing about him. Knowing Jesus means we depend on his righteousness not ours to save us, and it involves fellowshipping with and learning from him how to be his disciples.
When we build our house on the rock, we build a faith on the rock solid foundation of knowing Jesus. We are on secure ground when we recognize our inability to be righteous apart from his righteousness. When the rains come, the streams rise, and the wind blows against us, we will stand, not in our strength but in his!
However, if we place our hope on the shifting sands of our own righteousness a great and tragic crash is the only possible outcome. Our strength of will is no match for the storm of sin.
A heart changed by the grace and mercy of God produces a will surrendered to Jesus’ will. And when our will is surrendered to his, we live as he calls us to live—not in our power but in his.
How about you? What Scripture verses are you working on and what helps you with your memory work? I would love to hear your ideas! You can leave a comment by clicking here.
A Freebie Download
I’ve been using a little 3×5 index card spiral to work on my memory verses. As I’ve said before, I struggle with memorizing Scriptures. So, I’m trying lots of different things to help me get the words fixed in my brain. I’ve found visual cues help jog my memory. So I’ve pasted the graphics I made for the memory verse blog posts into my little spiral. Picturing the various graphics with their bolded words or banners and such, helps me when I get stuck.
You may or may not be working on the same verses, but I thought I’d share my memory verse cards with you in case you find it helpful.
Then print the two pages out and cut into the individual cards. I’ve sized them to fit on a 3×5 index card. And I’ve also included the image of Psalm 119:11 which I used on the cover of my spiral.