“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the wind blew and slammed against that house; and it fell — and great was its fall.”
— Matthew 7:24-27
The choice seems obvious. Hear and obey Jesus’ words, and be saved. Take a different tack, and be destroyed. If the reader takes anything at all away from the Sermon on the Mount, he must at least take that.
But it’s somewhat more complicated than that. It always has been. When God’s people have been given the choice between life and death — as was the case in Moses’ day (Deuteronomy 30:19-20) — they frequently, maddeningly, choose death.
Why so? Jesus gives us some reasons earlier in the Sermon on the Mount. As always, Jesus not only informs us of the way we should go but also gives us wisdom in how to do so.
Firstly, false prophets will influence good people to become less good. They wear sheep’s clothing so as to blend in with the faithful. But their agenda is far from that of Jesus. They are “ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). They care only for their own well-being. Their god is their own belly (Philippians 3:18-19), and whatever fills it the most effectively is the tactic they will choose. We can know them for who they truly are if we examine them carefully. But we must examine them carefully.
Secondly, would-be servants of Jesus will place confidence in their own activity rather than His grace and mercy. Good behavior is not the same as obedience. The souls described in Matthew 7:21-23 gave themselves credit for any number of good things; the fact that they say some were “miracles” indicates they were either the most outrageous liars ever or — perhaps more likely — true Christians who became too enamored of their own accomplishments. We can do great things in the Lord’s service and still be lost; Paul described such ones in Philippians 1:15-17. If such ones help to save some lost souls, that is marvelous. But it doesn’t mean the selfish, prideful ones who brought them to Jesus are saved themselves.
Finally, and most central to the parable itself, the easier path will present itself. Digging in sand is less strenuous than digging into bedrock. The job is completed far quicker, leaving us free, presumably, to pursue our own things. It is not difficult for the lazy man to convince himself that giving lip service to the words of Jesus is “good enough.” But Jesus requires full obedience, not box-checking and T-crossing. Serving Him to our own satisfaction is irrelevant; it is His pleasure we seek. And if He requires obedience, we should be quick to supply it.
That really touches on the main point. Obedience is a drudgery — at least, it may seem that way in the moment. It keeps us from the things we crave, even though we should have learned better by now (Romans 6:21). It robs us of our sovereignty (Galatians 2:20). It forces us to concede that He knows best, not we ourselves (Proverbs 3:5-6). But if we are to receive the glory God has in store for us, we have to come to grips with this principle. He will lift us up if we are not too concerned with lifting ourselves up (James 4:10).