The foundation of the house of faith
Feb 07, 2014
In Luke 6:46 we read,
46 And why do you call Me “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say?
This is the introduction to this final section of Jesus’ sermon in the book of Luke (as well as in Matthew). It shows the connection between hearing and obedience, which forms the basis of Hebrew thought patterns. The Hebrew word shema can be translated either to hear or to obey. In the Hebrew way of thinking, these are two aspects of a single word, and so if a person does not obey, it proves that he has not truly heard.
Deuteronomy 6:4 uses the word shema, saying, “Hear O Israel.”
Deuteronomy 27:10 uses the word shema, saying, “You shall therefore obey the Lord your God, and do His commandments and His statutes, which I command you today.”
This concept forms the basis of the book of James, which questions men’s faith when it lacks obedience (i.e., “works”). Many have tried to make James conflict with Paul, who tells us that faith apart from obedience brings justification. But there is no contradiction or conflict in their teachings, once we understand them. James 2:17-24 says,
17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. 18 But someone may well say, “You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” … 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless [argos, “lazy, idle, barren”]? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected [teleioo, “completed”] … 24 You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.
On the other hand, Paul holds up Abraham as the example of faith, saying in Romans 4:2-5, but seems to come to the opposite conclusion:
2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.
These assertions do not contradict each other. The word shema requires a response to hearing. James defines that response as “works” and says that such works are necessary to “complete” one’s faith. Paul has no problem with that, for even he recognized that Abraham responded by faith to God’s voice and revelation. Paul was telling us that “works” did not precede faith and justification. In other words, there is no “work” that one can do to muster up enough faith to become righteous.
Paul and James were talking about two different “works.” Paul denies works as a prerequisite to faith; James insists that works follow faith as a natural response. There is no contradiction here, only a different emphasis. Some of Paul’s followers had misunderstood him and were becoming lawless. Some of James’ followers had misunderstood him and were becoming legalistic. Hence, each writer addressed the imbalance and misunderstanding in the other’s disciples.
Paul said, in effect, that some of the Jerusalem Christians were still affected by the Old Covenant and were trying to become righteous by fulfilling the vow of their ancestors, which they proclaimed in Exodus 19:8. In other words, they were too influenced by the temple and the priests who had rejected the New Covenant and its Mediator and were still depending on that vow. They needed to understand that righteousness could only come by God’s New Covenant vow in Deuteronomy 29:12, which the people had to accept by faith alone.
James said, in effect, that some of Paul’s followers did not understand that faith requires a response of obedience. That response proves and “completes” faith, as the Hebrew word shema indicates.
Both Paul and James were correct, and we are the beneficiaries of their discussion, because each balanced the other by drawing attention to possible misunderstandings inherent in the other’s teachings.
At any rate, there is no doubt that Luke, who was Paul’s companion and scribe, understood the importance of faith’s response, for he included this in Jesus’ teaching in this final passage of the sermon. If Luke understood it, then so did Paul, for it is hardly possible that Luke would disagree with Paul. Jesus continues in Luke 6:47-49,
47 Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words, and acts upon them, I will show you whom he is like. 48 He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation upon the rock; and when a flood arose, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house upon the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.
Jesus said that a proper foundation is laid when men hear and act upon His words. Many in that time “heard” the words of Jesus and even had the appearance of faith. They saw His miracles, were awed by His teachings, and even were convinced in their carnal minds that He was the Messiah. But then the “flood” came at the apex of His ministry when He was crucified. The “flood” then came to test their faith to see if it was real.
This “flood” took the usual form that tries our faith even today. The people were told by the religious leaders in the temple that Jesus was not really the Messiah at all. The people had to make a decision at that point. Whose word would they believe? Those whose faith was swept away by the flood were those who had built their “house” on the ground with no foundation. These are the ones whose carnal minds wished Jesus to be the Messiah, but in the end they had more faith in their leaders than in Jesus. Their decision was the response or action which proved their faith or lack of faith.
Unfortunately, in most cases their faith was in the word of their religious leaders, rather than the in word of Jesus. So they were swept away by the flood of opposition.
Matthew’s account gives further details about what Jesus said in regard to this theme. It is also significant, by the way, that both Matthew and Luke record this section immediately after the teaching about knowing trees by their fruit. Obviously, fruit is equated to the active response of faith.
We read in Matthew 7:20-23,
20 So then, you will know them by their fruits. 21 Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” 23 And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (anomia).
These are Jesus’ words leading to His parable about building a house on a foundation so that it may withstand a flood. The details above give us greater insight into the context of Jesus’ parable of the house and the flood.
Keep in mind that Jesus’ sermon laid the foundations for His teaching ministry. He called for love, mercy, and justice. Both Matthew and Luke conclude Jesus’ sermon with this final warning that if they do not truly “hear” and “obey” as a response, then their faith lacks a proper foundation and will collapse as soon as the religious leaders contradict it.
It is plain that many would seem to have faith in Jesus and even call Him “Lord, Lord.” Many of them might even prophesy, cast out demons, and perform miracles in His name. Most people consider such things to be the mark of true faith. Jesus did not share that opinion. No doubt some who heard Jesus’ sermon were among those whose faith collapsed in the face of adversity when the religious leaders demanded that Jesus be crucified as a false messiah.
Matthew gives the divine verdict: “Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (anomia). The Greek word nomos means “law.” The letter “a” at the beginning of the word negates it. Hence, it means “lawlessness.” The KJV translation “iniquity” is not wrong, but it tends to hide the fact that iniquity is lawlessness. Many Christians fail to define sin and iniquity biblically. 1 John 3:4 is the clearest definition of sin found in the New Testament: “sin is lawlessness.” Here again, John uses the Greek word anomia.
So the lesson to be learned from this is that the law was not put away by Jesus, Paul, or James. Many churches have put away the law by the traditions of men, and in the face of that flood of opposition, the people themselves must decide whose voice they will hear and obey. Will they hear the lawless voice of religious leaders, or will they hear the voice of Jesus which said in Matthew 5:17,
17 Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.
The law prophesies of the works that all men will do when God writes the law on their hearts. Hence, Jesus fulfilled the law by doing it perfectly, that is, by not violating it. This is what it means to fulfill the law. It is the opposite of lawlessness.
A lawful life-style is the response to one’s faith, as James says.
To the Apostle Paul (in Romans 6:19), a lawful life-style is evidence of being set free from the slavery of lawlessness.
To John, a lawful life-style is the mark of the New Creation Man within the true believer, which cannot sin because it is begotten of God (1 John 3:9).
To Jesus, a lawful life-style is the response to the word which lays a proper foundation for our “house” that can withstand the pseudo-faith of religious leaders and prophets who, in the end, are known by their fruit.
This is part 31 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones