The Trials and Tests of Our Faith

Matthew 7:24-27

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock. 25 “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock. 26 “And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them, will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. 27 “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall.”

Here is a picture of two men, a wise man and a foolish man. The wise man had a true and good foundation. The foolish man had a foundation made of sand—it would not last.

In this illustration, the wise man is a Christian. His foundation is Christ. The foolish man is a non-Christian. His foundation is his own works and his own philosophy of life. But his foundation is not true and so it is unstable—as sand.

The rain and the floods and the wind represent the tests of our faith and what our life if built on. Notice that both the Christian and the non-Christian are tested.

The rain may represent things like illness, loss or disappointment. Floods may represent the world, or worldliness—“the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” And the wind may represent Satanic attacks, such as to hurl doubts and evil thoughts at us.

Now for the non-Christian, the main disaster for him will come at the judgment, when it is discovered that there is no foundation, that Christ is not his Lord. The Christian does have a lasting foundation, which is Jesus Christ. But the trials of life will nevertheless test his faith to see how he has built upon that foundation (look at 1Corinthisna 3:12-15). And our rewards at the end of our life will depend on it.

One of the most important things for a Christian to do is to see to it that he has a good devotional life, and also that it doesn’t become mechanical. We must remember in our quiet times with the Lord, to stop and meditate on what we read from the bible, and listen to what God is telling us. Then determine to obey Him and to be always asking for His help and guidance along the way. He is our anchor and firm foundation.

Why Prayer is Necessary: #7 – To Obtain Freedom from Anxiety

Anxiety is a terrible thing.  It is a state of uneasiness and worry, of fearfulness and dread.  But prayer can make it all go away; when you pray God will help you to see that He is in control and that He loves you and cares for you.

When we are anxious, we think only of ourselves and of all the things we think we need.  Prayer, however, will take us to God and draw us away from ourselves so that we are more concerned for His kingdom and His righteousness. The practice of prayer will help us to see that life is more than food and clothing, and that we have no need to worry about those things—since God cares for us just as he cares for little birds and flowers (Matt. 6:25-29).          

If you are prone to anxiety, try to develop the habit of praying about everything.  And when you pray, instead of lingering in your anxiety, focus instead on God, honoring Him with thanksgiving and praise (Rom. 1:21).  As you pray with thanksgiving, taking all of your concerns to God, He will fill you with an incredible peace.  Here is the promise from Philippians 4:6-7:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Three Warnings Against Deception

From Matthew 7:15-27, Jesus presents to His disciples three pictures with three warnings.

The first picture is of the false prophets who will come to them in sheep’s clothing (verses 15-20). This warning is addressed to Christians to be not deceived by these false prophets (teachers) who will look just like any other Christian teacher.

The second picture is of the judgment day when a professing Christian is surprised that Jesus has rejected him as a Christian and says to him, “I never knew you” (verses 21-23). This warning is addressed to the professing Christian—who is not a Christian at all. The warning is to be not self-deceived into thinking that you are a Christian.

These two (above) scenarios I have already posted, so I won’t write any more on them.

The third picture is of two men who build their houses. The houses look the same, but one is built with a good foundation and the other skips that part (verses 24-27). The warning is addressed again to the professing Christian who is seeking the benefits of salvation without the commitment of salvation. The warning is not to deceive yourself into thinking that salvation needs no commitment to Christ. Here is the teaching:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock. 25 “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock. 26 “And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them, will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. 27 “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall.”

So, in this teaching we have the wise man and the foolish man. And “these words” are referring to Jesus’ entire sermon. And the one who acts upon them will become a Christian and a wise man, and the one who does not act upon them will remain a pagan and a foolish man.

But the thing that is so deceptive in this picture is the fact that the two houses look the same, except for the foundation—which you never see, because it is underground. So, one house will stand and the other will fall. And one man is proved to be wise and the other a fool.

In the illustration, the fool, who is not a Christian at all, is in a hurry to get all the benefits of his house (of salvation), without putting in the work of salvation. The other man is wise. He hears Jesus and responds to His words of truth.

Here are a few more implications about these two men:

  • The two men are both church goers and members.
  • The two men both desire forgiveness and peace; one of them has a genuine forgiveness and peace, the other has a false sense of forgiveness and a false peace—because he is not a true believer.
  • Both men desire to live a good life; but one has a selfish motive, the other desires to glorify God.
  • Both men are highly moral men, but one is not a Christian. He is living a pure life just for himself to put on a good front before others.

Ten Signs of Self-Deception

I have been following the sermons of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. In the last few posts, particularly on Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus has told us straight out that at the judgment day many will be surprised when He tells them, “I never knew you.” Hence, they have been self-deceived probably their entire life. They believed they were Christians but were not. What makes a person think he is a real Christian when he is not? What are the signs of self-deception in this matter? Lloyd-Jones gives us ten signs. I will abbreviate them in my own words.

1. When a person counts on attending church meetings. I don’t understand this point, but I suppose some may think that attending meetings will give them good standing with God.

2. When a person takes an interest in his denomination or fellowship. For some reason a person may think that to be interested in the church in this way, this will make him a Christian, that it puts him high on the totem pole so to speak.

3. When one is caught up in the phenomena of exalted feelings, guidance, physical healing, and so on. One may regard these things as a sign of being Spirit filled, and therefore a Christian; however, even the demon possessed have experienced some of these things.

4. When one is caught up in the social events of the church. I have personally witnessed people who take great pride in certain social activities, and even very worthwhile things, but that in itself does not make you a Christian.

5. When one is caught up in apologetics—the defense of the faith. This is a worthwhile interest and it may for some seem to be a sign of a Christian; but again, this interest will not make you a Christian; it will do nothing for the saving of your soul.

6. To have an interest in theology. The grave danger here is that a person may become so engaged in his studies that he forgets about a need for a personal relationship with God.

7. To have an over interest in prophetic teaching. This is one of my interests, and so, I can see that if one is not a Christian already, it may deceive you. That is, if you have become a student of bible prophecy, it may so build you up in bible knowledge that you may take on a self-pride in yourself where it may be impossible to find true salvation.

8. A person that becomes a student of the bible, but his knowledge is only an intellectual pursuit. One who is highly knowledgeable in the bible may not even be a Christian. In fact, his knowledge may do more damage than good; as his pride is built up, he may at some point turn against true Christianity.

9. A person who has a great interest in various bible translations and in choosing one over another. This is another case of one building up in himself a sort of intellectual bible pride, which may be very damaging to the soul, and in the end, if he is not a Christian he may never be.

10. One who is only interested in grace. This may be a sign that one is not a Christian and is fooling himself. For a true Christian, sin is a serious matter and one’s reaction to it should be of deep penitence. If a person seems always to be restored quickly by grace, his love of the Lord and salvation is questionable.

Why Prayer is Necessary: #6 – To Obtain Mercy and Grace

Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, is fully human and fully God.  The human side of Him makes Him able to be sympathetic and merciful toward us, and the God side of Him makes Him able to help us at any time with any of our needs.  What this means to us of course is that when we pray to Him we are assured of His sympathy for our needs and also of His ability to help us.  Thus we can pray with great confidence, even boldness.   Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

This mercy and grace is God’s gift to us—it is free for our taking!  But unless we choose to go to Him in prayer, and unless we confidently pray and ask for help, His mercy will not be obtained and His grace will not be found.

We all are aware of countless individuals (perhaps you) who are badly in need of help.  Some are in spiritual, mental, and sometimes physical misery.  Some grope around not knowing what to do or who to turn to.  Many go from doctor to doctor seeking help, all to no avail.  If they only knew Jesus and knew how to approach Him in prayer they would no longer be without peace.     

He is the Great Physician, the greatest one of all.  All we need to do is call out to Him in prayer and He will quickly come to our aid.  But if we fail to pray in our desperate hour of need then His mercy and His grace will remain on the shelves of heaven.  Pray, my friend, and God will hear you.  Yes, you who are in desperate need, need to pray.  It is the only way, God’s appointed way, that you will receive mercy and find grace.  

Unconscious Hypocrisy

Unconscious Hypocrisy is actually the title of a sermon by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, which was recoded in his book Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. The following is just a few notes I took on that sermon.

Lloyd-Jones began by saying that there are many people who are not aware of the fact that they are not really Christians when they are convinced that they are; and so, they have a kind of unconscious hypocrisy. They think they are good Christians but they are in fact reprobates.

  • They are of the “many” who have passed up the narrow gate and have instead gone down the broad path with most of the world.
  • They are like the five foolish virgins, and like the man who built his house on the sand.
  • They are of those whom Jesus spoke of (in Matthew 7:21-23) who did wonderful works, but yet didn’t know Him.
  • They are people who are praised by men.
  • They are considered as outstanding servants.
  • They are happy about themselves.
  • They are assured of their salvation.

God says of them, “I never knew you.” So, they have been deceived. And they will be surprised at the judgment. Here is the passage that we have been considering:

Matthew 7:21-23

“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.’

I think the most important thing we can do is to list the causes of self-deception to make sure we don’t fall into the same trap that so many have fallen into. Here is the list of six, which I gathered from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ sermon.

  1. They have a false assurance of their salvation, which they have persuaded themselves to believe. This false assurance is based on a false belief system. A system that says that if I say I believe often enough and strongly enough, that it will take hold. But James says that the Devil also believes this way, and he certainly will not be saved from hell.
  2. They refuse to examine themselves periodically to see if their faith is true.
  3. They live on their activities of good works. They think this will save them.
  4. They balance their good works with the bad. This is a Muslim system, and a system of all false religions, but it doesn’t work.
  5. They fail to heed the plain teaching of Scripture. To take it as their guide.
  6. They fail to realize that the one thing that matters is a relationship with Christ. He wants our heart, our submission, our time; and He wants us.

Why Prayer is Necessary: #5 – To Obtain Fullness of Joy

Jesus said in John 16:24, “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be made full.” 

The teaching here is that when we ask in His name and receive the things we ask for, the result, after receiving those things, will be a fullness of joy.  And I suppose you could say that our joy will come in degrees.  To the degree that we recognize that God has answered our prayers, to that degree we will receive joy. The person who doesn’t realize that God has answered his prayer may have a certain amount of joy just because he has received what he wanted.  But the real and full joy is a joy that comes from knowing absolutely that God has answered our prayers.

R. A. Torrey has said, “When we ask something definite of God, and He gives it, how real God becomes!  He is right there!  It is blessed to have a God who is real, and not merely an idea.”3  Yes, it is a joyful and real experience when God reaches down in love, and gives us what we ask for.  It is the joy of experiencing His presence.

In Psalm 16:11 David wrote, “In Thy presence is fullness of joy; in thy right hand there are pleasures forever.”  Though David here is mainly speaking of the joy that comes after this life, we can know that same joy now whenever we experience His presence—which will surely come to us with the realization that He has answered our prayers.

This I think is the whole point of prayer—to have the joyful realization of His presence.  It is what God intended for us.  Jesus said, “I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly” (Jn. 10:10b).  He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6).  It is God’s purpose for us to have this abundant life, which is found in Jesus, and can only be gained when we call out to Him in prayer.  Prayer then is the key to obtain this life—life that produces for us a fullness of joy.


3 R. A. Torrey, How to Pray (Chicago: Moody Press, n. d.), p. 16.

Those who say to Him, “Lord, Lord”

The narrow way and the broad way

The Bible says that on the judgment day it will be revealed that some who think they are Christians are really not. In the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus said,

“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.’

This may seem to you to be a very strange thing, that some people will be so self-deceived, that they think they are Christians when they are not. How can this happen? How does someone not know that he is not a Christian? How does he or she live so much of a life thinking that they are Christians when they are not?

The only answer is that they haven’t really known what a Christian is. They evidently have allowed false prophets to influence them; and they, at the beginning, entered not at the narrow gate but at the broad gate and went down and lived in the broad way—the way of the world. And all along in their journey, they never at any point got to know the Lord and to be changed by Him. What a tragic deception.

But how is it that they are so deceived?  And also, how is it that true Christians are also deceived into thinking that some false Christians are true Christians? Here are a few reasons why:

  • Knowing Him does not mean saying the right words. It is possible for a person to say all the right words, to have a very holy and righteous speech, and yet not be a Christian. A changed language does not mean that there is a changed heart.
  • Some unbelievers may use Scripture and Scriptural teaching as a kind of philosophy, but they don’t really know Christ or are converted.
  • Some may speak and even preach the Scriptures fervently, but it may be entirely of the flesh and not for the sake of Christ.

The test of course is whether a person has the fruit of the Spirt, and also whether they know Him or not. Do they pray and read their bible regularly? Do they have a growing love relationship with Him?

 

Why Prayer is Necessary: #4 – To Obtain Good Things

God really wants us to have things—many things.  But He wants us to have only those things that are good for us. 

Sometimes we will desire something, and it really does seems to be a good thing; but then later, after we have prayed about it and sought God’s Word about it, He shows us that He isn’t pleased with what we desire.

Whatever we pray for we should ask ourselves these two questions:

1. Are these things going to bring me closer to the Lord or further away?

2. Will these things I desire help me to be a friend of the world, or a friend of God (James 4:3-4)?

There are many good things that God wants us to have, but if we don’t ask for them we will not receive them (James 4:2).  And when we do ask, perhaps we don’t ask correctly—with the right motives (v. 3).

It may be that when we do ask for things we don’t really believe that God will give them to us, so that’s why we aren’t persistent in our asking.  In other words, we may treat prayer as sort of a religious duty, or a ritualistic thing—something that we just do but we don’t really expect an answer.

My friend, God is real and personal.  He is your Father.  How do you ask your earthly father for things?  You ask and keep asking until you get it, don’t you?  And you ask that way because you know that sooner or later He will give it to you, because you know He loves you.  Will not God who loves you far more give to you as much?

Sometimes, instead of believing and asking God for the things we want, we sit and worry, and we lust and envy and fight and even wage war over those things (Ja. 4:2).  But if you want certain things, and if you know you need them, why not just ask God for them. He will give them to you as a gift.  Everything you desire in life, if it pleases God for you to have it, He will give it to you if you just ask.

Do you need a job?  Then ask.  Yes, make your rounds to employment agencies and apply at various places, but you must also ask God.  He will give you the job you really need, in quick time. 

Are you worried about your friend who is lost?   Then ask God for his or her soul.  Who else will save your friend?

In all the things we desire but aren’t receiving, take these words to heart: “You do not have because you do not ask” (Ja. 4:2).  Prayer is indeed necessary for obtaining things. 

Why Prayer is Necessary: #3 – To Help Us Stand Firm Against the Devil

Jesus said, “Watch and pray, that you may not enter into temptation; the Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41).  Jesus knew that prayer was absolutely necessary to resist temptation, that without it we are weak and vulnerable to the attacks of Satan. 

Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 that we are in a struggle, not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spirit forces of wickedness in heavenly places.  He therefore suggests that we put on the full armor of God so that we may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 

As we see in Ephesians 6:18, prayer is part of this full armor.  But we should not look at prayer as just one piece of the full armor, as if to have a little significance.  Prayer, in fact, is significant for the correct use of each piece of armor.  Moreover it energizes the armor and holds each piece of armor in place.  In the final analysis, it is our power for victory.1

Prayer, as it is used in verse 18, is not just of one kind; it is “all prayer.” All kinds of prayer, therefore, are to be used against the enemy.  And with “all prayer” we are to pray “at all times.”  That is, we must pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17).   What is meant here, according to Warren Wiersbe, is that we must “always be in communion with the Lord.”2  And this infers that we must always be drawing on His strength.  Yes, we must be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might (Eph. 6:10), which cannot be accomplished without unceasing prayer in the Spirit.

Also, when we pray, we must “be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all saints” (v.18), knowing that the devil is on the prowl, seeking to destroy God’s people. We must therefore, be watchful and pray, not just for ourselves, but also for all other believers who are subject to the same temptations as we are.  And when we are faithful to pray for others, God will be faithful to bless us and give us His strength.


1 Warren Wiersbe, Be Rich (Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books. A division of SP Publications, Inc., 1976),  p. 172.

2 Ibid., p. 172.