Message: The Fitness Plan of Radical People | Scripture: Matthew 7:13-27 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
Worship Songs: Thou Art Worthy | Holy Holy Holy | Be Thou My Vision
Believe it or not, when I was in university, I was very into exercising. A lot of it came from the encouragement and challenge of my roommate who had just started doing a workout called P90X. Now, for those of you who don’t know what P90X is, it was an exercise routine that you did everyday for 90 days for roughly 90 minutes per day, and by the end of it, you were guaranteed, if you faithfully followed the entire regimen, to have results.
So, my friend and I embarked on this insane workout adventure for 90 days, and, without fail, we did the exercises. The problem was, at the end of 90 days, my friend was seeing results exactly as advertised. Me, on the other hand, I had some results—I was definitely stronger, more agile, more flexible, but I looked nothing like my friend. And I told him how frustrated it made me that I couldn’t put on muscle mass and rise to the same level of physicality as him.
So, I asked him, “why haven’t I got the same results as you,” and I started making excuses. It must be because my metabolism is too fast, my family lineage—we’re all really skinny and no one really has muscle. That must be it. But my friend looked at me, and he proceeded to ask me some questions, “Stephen, when you did the exercises, when would you stop the video?” “Well,” I told him, “I’d stop it just before the exercises finished because I’d know the workout was coming to an end.”
And he replied, “did you ever watch the clip after the workout where Tony—the guy leading the workout—would say, ‘hey, this program won’t work unless you put everything into it. You’re not only to exercise, but you’re to follow my diet plan. And you’re not only to diet well, but you’re to follow my sleep guidelines, so that you’re eating the food you’re supposed to eat, and you’re sleeping when you’re supposed to sleep.’” And he knew, of course, I hadn’t watched the clip.
So, he continued, “Let me ask you, Stephen, what did you eat as you did all this?” And, again, he knew the answer. I ate what every college student ate—whatever I could get my hands on. Burgers, fries, more burgers. More fries. And a lot of soda. Then, he asked me, “Stephen, when did you do the workouts?” And he knew, I always did them after the day was done, people had gone to sleep, and the residence gym was empty—probably around 1 or 2 in the morning.
See, the difference wasn’t only genetic—maybe that contributed to it a little bit, but my roommate diligently and unwaveringly ate only according to the chart that the program came with—counted every calorie, measured all his sugars, took the proper supplements. Not only that. He went to bed nearly everyday at 10 pm. He’d wake up at 6 am. Do the workout, then go on in a disciplined way with the rest of his day. And at the end of the 90 days, he was happy with the results he’d seen. He was able to enjoy the fruit of his labour not only in his fitness but also because he’d developed good habits that would and have carried on throughout the rest of his life.
I, in contrast, had tried to shortcut the process, which left me not so happy and not so setup to succeed in my exercising discipline once the 90 days were over. And all this was the case because I didn’t listen wholeheartedly to the instructions. I didn’t consider the importance of the entire program—I only wanted this thing to affect 90 minutes of my day—not all 24 hours. I wanted to commit to it but only so long as I got to do all the other things I wanted.
And as we turn to our text, having heard all the exhortation and exposition about what it means to follow in the footsteps of the one who comes as the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets—what it means to possess a greater righteousness than that of the Scribes and Pharisees—this—our verses—is where Christ places the onus on us. If you desire to be most happy—completely satisfied—then, Jesus says, it will cost you all of your life, and you have to decide whether or not you’re willing to fight to that end. You’ve got to commit to the entire regimen. The happiness of God—the happiness that Christ offers—is not a 90-minute-for-90-days-kind-of-program, it’s a 24-hour-a-day, every day of the week, for the rest of your days here on earth commitment.
It’s a fight for a whole, everlasting happiness, and that’s what Jesus is calling us to. He’s given us a fitness regimen that is meant to transform the entirety of who we are so that we might have the entirety of who he is forever, and we have to decide whether or not that is what we want. Yet, before you make any hasty decisions, Christ wants to tell us exactly what that regimen looks like—what is required of you in order to be fit for the kingdom, so look with me now at our first point: fight for a whole, everlasting happiness…
1) By Walking Where It Hurts
If able, please stand as I read to you from Matthew 7:13-14. TWoL: Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
If I asked you what the Sermon on the Mount confronted us with on a reoccurring basis, what would you answer be? I hope, in part, given the amount of time that we’ve spent in these verses, is that we have fallen short time-and-again of God’s prerogatives for our lives. In fact, we’ve fallen so short of the glory he’s always intended us to have as the pinnacle of his creation that Jesus tells us to pray twice, once in Matthew 6—right in the middle of the Sermon—and then at the end of his exhortation at the beginning of chapter 7—twice, he tells us to pray not only to some ethereal, unknowable god—like unbelievers do—but to our God who permits us to call him our Father.
And he tells us to do this because we need help to achieve that which is impossible, on our own, to achieve. We are not righteous. Not one of us. Yet, Jesus tells us he does not judge us as our sins deserve. He does not judge us according to a pride that he, above all others, has a right to exert. No, instead he condescends to us, God, here, to dwell amongst us, and then, he does the unthinkable and goes to the cross, he pleads for our forgiveness, and he secures it by washing us under the cleansing mercy of his own blood. His coming to us as the fulfillment of all of God’s plans in history—as the very one to whom all of Scripture points—isn’t meant to strike us in our sin but to save us, in sovereign, infinite grace, from ourselves, to save us from our hateful fate, to save us from the very wrath of God.
And you might be thinking, where do you go from this? You’ve started the sermon with the pinnacle and end of the story. Nothing else needs to be stated. Right? Well, I hope you know that’s not right. How often do we as Christians think this way? How often do we think of saving grace—the grace that promises eternity—as the be all and end all to the Christian life? This is perhaps the great misapprehension and misunderstanding within the Church—that the reception of grace means comfort—that it means we can now rest and relax—that grace was only meant to save and not to help us do the painful, difficult work of conforming ourselves to something or to someone.
We think of grace like a security blanket. When I was baby, my parents gave me a security blanket that I became very attached to. I called it “bobo,” and I was so attached to it that I used it well into my teens. Brought it with me to university and everything. So, come my 18th birthday—the age when most people consider boys to now be men—all of my friends surprised me with a frame worth of pictures, but to my surprise each of them had taken a picture with my “bobo” doing something funny with it—really both to make fun of me and to show their unconditional love for me (loving me despite the fact that I had a “bobo”). And really, their message to me other than to show me their love was to say, what do you need a “bobo” for anymore? You had it all those years. The foundation has been set. Let go of the security blanket. Take up the mantle of being a man.
In the same way, grace isn’t only meant to exhort us to rest and be contented. It’s not meant merely to be a security blanket. Rather, in its provision of security, it’s meant to bolster us, to fill us with courage and unyielding tenacity as we pursue what is holy, as the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “by the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
And is Christ not saying the same thing in Matthew 7:13-14? For all your failings—for all the things that you do that you should not do—for all the ways that you have conformed yourself not to the heart of God but to the heart of your own sin and the wiles of the world—I, Jesus, have come to show you the better way. I, Jesus, have come to fulfill for you what your vile righteousness could not fulfill for yourselves, and because I have done so—and because I have secured a better, greater righteousness for you upon that cross—now it is your turn to “Strive … for [holiness] without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). By the grace of the Spirit that I’ve given, you are to “put to death the deeds of the body” (Rom 8:13).
In other words, you’re to walk the narrow path. A path that will be hard and painful to tread. A path that may cost you everything—your life, your home, your friends, your family, your comfort, your security. And the reason why it will be so hard isn’t because you don’t have grace. Rather, the reason why it’s hard is because what you need is to fall upon grace to help you overcome your own sin. What you’re fighting is sin. What you’re fighting it with is grace, and as you fight, you become increasingly free from your sin, and as you are made increasingly free from sin and free to love Jesus—to see the wonder of his majesty, the blessedness of his grace—you’ll only become more happy—you’ll only be more satisfied.
But this happiness, this eternal satisfaction, Christ tells us, will only be yours if you’re willing to fight through the difficulty of your own anger, lust, unfaithfulness, deceitfulness, entitlements, hatred, selfishness, ostentatiousness, self-pity, covetousness, unbelief, and judgmental pride. And while that sounds all too intimidating for any one person to overcome, Jesus says, “don’t merely fight in your own power, but fight it with mine—with God who is your heavenly Father contending for you because of me and my nail-pierced hands. I am at your side. My grace is sufficient for you.”
Do you see how the cross is our victory, no matter how narrow or difficult the road may be? It is an easy thing to give into your sin and end up in hell. Hoards upon hoards of people are doing it each day. But Christ says, “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls …”
In other words, no matter how difficult the road you tread may be—no matter how heinous your sin—there is no condition of your heart that Christ has not overcome for us in the cross. Yes, your sin may be shameful. Yes, it may cost you in this life, but this is what grace is for—not that you might find contentment or satisfaction in yourself, but that you might find it and fight for it in Jesus. And what does he promise to those who ask, seek, knock? What does he say for those who fight with grace? He promises peace. He promises joy. He promises life. Wage war on your sin—fight your sin—kill it so that you might find life.
Yet, I hope you also know that the happy life does not only involve the difficult exercise of killing sin, but it also requires that you eat properly, so that your effort is not in vain, and this leads us to our second point—that we are to fight for a whole, everlasting happiness …
2) By Evaluating What You Eat
If able, please stand as I read to you from Matthew 7:15-23. TWoL: Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, you will recognize them by their fruits. 21Not 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.’
This particular section weighs heavy on my soul because it pertains to me, and particularly, in your evaluation of me as your pastor—something you should be doing all the time. The warning here is to beware. Beware of what? False prophets. Now, just so that I can clarify for you, what is a prophet? And my answer to that, based upon the context of what Jesus is saying in this Sermon, namely, how he is exposing what the Old Testament means in light of his arrival. A prophet is someone who declares the way and the will of God to you—the man, or sometimes in our world, a woman who comes saying, “Thus sayeth the Lord.” Men and women who want to feed you with what they believe to be divine revelation.
All of this means that in order for you to find happiness—in order for you to be called a disciple in right standing before God, there is no doubt that you need to be fed. You need to be nourished in hearing the Word of God proclaimed to you—words that are meant to fill you with life and not lead you to death. But Jesus says, you’re not to eat from those who say they come bearing the Word of God, but who really intend to bring you harm.
So, we must ask, how is it that we can tell if what we’re hearing is from the mouth of a false prophet? And Jesus gives us two answers. First, he says that they are, at a heart-level, deeply selfish. He calls them, in our text, ravenous wolves. They would be counted within the lot of people who are considered, in verse 23, to be workers of lawlessness.
I want to connect these two things for you—ravenous wolves and workers of lawlessness. I believe them to be describing similar things. On the one hand, “ravenous wolves” is pretty self-explanatory. False prophets will come to you in sheep’s clothing—as those who seem humble, meek, vulnerable, as those who look dependent upon their Shepherd—but really they desire to take advantage of you—to build themselves up—to feed upon your weariness, your humility, and your actual dependence upon God. They are those who want to fill their bellies, their wallets, their homes with things of the world—things that will benefit them now, as wolves seek to be filled, which is in contrast to sheep who are at the mercy of their shepherd—willing to go where he leads, submissive to both the discipline and the gentleness of his staff. They are content in all things; unconcerned with the world because their Shepherd provides what they need.
And this falls in line directly with one who works lawlessness because what is the character of one who satisfies and obeys the Law? We just talked about it last week. He or she is one who does unto others what they desire others to do to them EVEN IF others are not doing those things to them. Right? I said that we could phrase the Law of Christ this way: do unto others as God, through Jesus, has done for you.
In other words, what characterizes a good prophet from a false prophet? A false prophet only seeks to benefit him or herself, while a good prophet seeks to display the sacrificial love of his Saviour. A false prophet expects good things be done to him in order for him to do good to others, while a good prophet does good because of the goodness that God has already shown to him. Yes, he will do it imperfectly, but he knows, and hopefully his congregation knows with him, that that is why he will always fall back on grace and not upon the advantage he finds in preying upon others.
Yet, secondly, you can tell if what you’re hearing is from the mouth of a false prophet because he, or she, is poisoning you. Not only are they ravenous wolves and workers of lawlessness, but they feed you bad, rotten fruit, and because you’re eating bad, rotten fruit, all that you can produce—all that comes out of you—will be lawlessness as well.
I recently heard a quote of John Calvin’s from our very own Deborah Yip, and I’ve since asked Candace to make a sketch of it to hang on our wall, and this is what the quote says, “I consider the looseness of words no less a defect than the looseness of bowels.” In other words, a person who does not take his words seriously and uses them imprecisely, and in particular, a person who is negligent with the descriptions and prescriptions of God’s Word is a person who gives you something that is fit only for the bottom of a toilet, and that, dear friend, is what a false prophet feeds you for they are the most negligent with God’s Word.
And you can expect, if that becomes your own regular diet—if that’s what you become accustomed to and think that such things are a delicacy to be ingested, will you not then also go out and feed it to others? A bad tree cannot bear good fruit, and someone who eats bad fruit from a bad tree can only, itself, either whither up and die or bear its own bad fruit. And for these individuals—the false prophets and their willing, yet deceived, followers—both shall be their fate. They will produce bad fruit, and when all is said and done—when the carnage of their evil has spread across the earth, all they should expect is to be burned up and tossed into that place where weeping and the gnashing of teeth shall never cease.
But those who are good prophets, and those who ingest good fruit that contain good seeds to plant other good trees that then bear other good fruit—they are those who do the will of the Father who is in heaven. They are those who look to God as their sufficiency and providence, who take delight in the preaching and feeding of his Word, who bank all that they have and all that they are on the reliability of the gospel of Jesus Christ who is the fulfillment of every iota and every dot of Scripture.
Let me put it another way. How is it that you fight for a whole, everlasting happiness? It isn’t only by working out your faith through grace by killing sin, but it’s also by turning your gaze away from that sin and feasting upon the bread of life, the Word of God, the deposit of the Spirit’s illumination of divine truth given to us in the Bible. It’s holding this book so dearly and so closely and having a relationship with its author so intimately that the mere whiff of something that separates you from it or that deviates from its message would make you convulse in its repulsiveness. Why? Because for one who has spent any time in this book—for anyone who has spent time in the splendour and majesty of God—they know that anything else falls well short of the mark, and for them, better is one day in his courts than to be in a thousand other places.
False prophets and eaters of poison spend their time in those other places, but we, dear brothers and sisters, we are to be eaters and feasters of the Book. That is how you become happy. That is what will characterize the people of heaven. That shall be the commendation of those to whom the Lord will one day look and say, “well done, good and faithful servant.” They shall be lovers of the revelation of God given to us and fulfilled for us in his Son. Still, one thing remains in that the happy man/woman not only exercises and eats well, but he or she is someone who also rests upon a solid foundation.
3) By Resting Upon a Solid Foundation
If able, please stand one last time as I read to you from Matthew 7:24-27. TWoL: 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 the 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 the house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.
Church, there isn’t much time to add from what’s already been said about our previous verses, but allow me to say this one last thing: do not forget the one upon whom all of this depends. You can exercise to remove sin from your life all you want. You can eat from Scripture all you want. But if that doesn’t bring you back to Jesus—the creator of your regimen and the source of all your nutrition—and if it does not point you to the one who covers you when you fail—the one who supplies you with greater mercy and greater grace to do greater righteous works, then, dear sinner, you are doing it wrong.
I know of people who have gone their whole life without exercising and have lived long. I know people who do not eat well yet are in relatively good health. But I know of no person who has forsaken his or her rest and lived long enough to tell us anything about it.
Christ’s coming isn’t merely to make you better or to make you more fit as you do your own works or lean on your own understanding before God. No, the cross is the work. His body and his blood shed for you are the food. His covenant, which is unbreakable because of his righteousness and his blood, is the provision of sufficient grace for your every hardship, for your every temptation, and even for your every sin.
Truly, at the end of the day, your exercising may be quite weak and undisciplined. Your diet could be mixed, inadvertently, with the wrong sugars and fats. But where you rest your head and the depth of your contentment, peace, joy in the one who has ransomed you to himself with his own life—your exercise regimen may be disrupted, and you may indulge yourself, unthinkingly, in the wrong thing, but those interruptions will not be fatal to you. Why? Because you’ll always come back and place your head upon that which is unfailing, and there he will restore you and point you back to himself so that you are not lost.
Christ lived the life you should have lived. Christ died for the guilt and penalty of your sin, satisfying all the demands of God for righteousness and sacrifice. And in his resurrection, as one who is spotless and unconquerable with something as weak as death, he has raised you as well into his promise of everlasting life with him. Fight, then, to find there, in his embrace—in his grace, in his provision, in his rest, the fullness of your happiness, repent of your sin, believe upon him as your Lord and Saviour, and surely, he says, you shall not fall.