At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus refers twice to ‘doing’ in relation to entering the kingdom of heaven. In Matthew 7:21 he warns, ‘Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.’ And in verse 24 he says, ‘Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man’; verse 26 showing the only difference between the wise and the foolish, that, although the latter ‘heareth these sayings of mine’ as well as the former, yet, he does them not. So the Lord Jesus sets down a great principle here regarding the hearers of his words, that they can be separated into two simple groups – the doers of them, and the doers not, cp. James 1:22-27. So, when we, who say we believe in and are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, hear his sayings are we as a result ‘wise’ doers of what we hear, or ‘foolish’ – just indulgent – hearers? This is the Saviour’s judgment.
But the very idea of ‘doing’ seems to be anathema to the Gospel Standard mind. Again, as in their near mono-treatment of the word ‘save’, cp. Psalm 86 as referred to above, they seem to refer to ‘doing’ only in relation to being saved, and that, of course, negatively. And if that were all the New Testament application of this word then they would be right; for one can be sure that salvation is ‘not of works’, as ‘it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth’; for ‘it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.’ But what of the ‘work of faith’, 1 Thes. 1:3, is that not doing? And what of ‘doing truth’ and ‘doing righteousness’? John 3:21, 1 John 2:29, Acts 10:35. Again, why will the Lord Jesus say to some on the day of judgment, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant’, if doing in any form is excluded from the Christian profession? Matt. 25:14-30.
There is then much ‘doing’ which is right doing, the failure to walk therein being an evident sign of an unregenerate heart, deliberate disobedience, or out-and-out rebellion. But simply to grind the people down with a constant ‘it’s not a case of doing, friends’, or, ‘we don’t want a doing religion, but a done religion’, which, although sounding wonderfully spiritual in the context of the work of salvation, is hopelessly inadequate when it comes to the abundance of exhortation in the gospel to the children of God as already saved. For we must understand that the saved are doers; and doing until the end is their evident sign of being possessors of saving faith, Matt. 24:12,13; John 8:31,32; Rom. 2:7; Heb. 3, Heb. 11, James 2:17-26, etc. – after all, ‘the just shall live by faith.’
What are the following if not gospel exhortations of doing in the way of faith? ‘Follow me… If ye love me keep my commandments… love one another… deny yourselves… take up your cross… repent… be baptized… examine yourselves… humble yourselves… run… walk… stand… sit… wait… fight… exercise yourselves… take unto you… beware… strive… believe… trust… obey… put on… put off… mortify… be followers… earnestly contend…’ – and not one of these has the prefix, ‘Oh, to be brought to…’!
I feel that many ministers are just too fearful to preach directly and exhort such things for fear of being accused of legalism; and if they ever did stray into what some call ‘the preceptive parts’ of God’s word, then any exhortation would immediately be punctuated with, ‘But, of course, we cannot do these things unless we are given grace…’ causing a great collective sigh of relief from the congregation and, in effect, cancelling out the exhortation, and making large parts of the New Testament practically null and void. But the child of God, being justified by faith and having peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, ‘stands’ in grace! Rom. 5:1,2; cp. also 1 Cor. 15:10; thus the Holy Spirit in his inspiring the writers to write and preach these things never inserted such punctuation.
It may be that someone here will seek to hide behind Jesus’ words in John 15, and argue that, ‘Without me ye can do nothing.’ But they will be incorrect to do so; for ‘without’ here does not mean ‘without the aid of’, ‘without constant help from’, or, without merely his ‘felt presence’ at any given time, but it means ‘outside of, separate from, severed from, away by itself’; which refers to a state and not just a walk.
The context is of Christ as the true vine, his people being the branches. They are to abide in him and he in them. ‘As a branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for outside of me ye can do nothing.’ And the true people of God, who are never separated from Christ, do abide in him, and they do bring forth much fruit; because they are indwelt of the Spirit and have the life of Christ; it being God that worketh in them both to will and to do of his good pleasure. After all, this fruit is called ‘the fruit of the Spirit’, it is his fruit which he produces on the branches which abide in the vine. It is not the fruit of the independent efforts of the legalist, the false professor, the disobedient, the one that ‘abideth not’ in Christ, who is ‘without’ and full of unbelief; which is evident.
But what does it actually mean to abide? Abiding is constant residence. The child of God abides in Christ, for this is where he dwells as a result of the new birth; this is his new state by regeneration and by being baptised into Christ. Abiding then means to rest in him by faith through all dispensations and providences; which can be seen in Paul’s ‘nevertheless’ of 2 Timothy 1:12; and in his ‘notwithstanding’ of 2 Timothy 4:16-18. To abide is to believe on Christ and his blood continually to the salvation of the soul, and to remain unswervingly in the doctrine of Christ to the end. To abide is to know and love Christ and to keep his commandments; it is to abide in his word and to walk in the light.
Furthermore John writes, ‘He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he [Christ] walked’ 1 John 2:3-6. I ask the reader – and especially the Gospel Standard reader: What was Christ’s ‘rule of life’? How did he walk? – for John here says that he did have a walk. Did Jesus of Nazareth walk by the law as his rule of life, or did he walk by faith? Whichever it was, we are to walk likewise: ‘walk… even as he walked.’ Well, he walked by faith! After all, the just live by faith. ‘I do always those things that please [the Father]’, he said; and ‘without faith it is impossible to please him.’ And what is faith? Believing God, hearing his voice, and obeying him! Does this not characterise the walk of Christ? – just read John’s gospel. And is this not how the members of his body are exhorted to walk? Yes, always.
What is the great trial of the children of God in this world? ‘The trial of your faith’, 1 Peter 1:7. But was not Christ tempted – or tried – in all points like as we are? He was. Then he was ‘touched’ – can sympathise – with the feeling of our infirmities – or weaknesses; ‘for in that he himself suffered being tempted – tried, he is able to succour them that are’ likewise tried. If Christ did not walk by faith then he simply cannot understand our trials of faith. So to abide in Christ is to walk by faith.
These things being so we must not understand that for us ‘abiding’ results in some sort of perfect or sinless state in the flesh – the apostles’ ‘perfect’ of 1 Cor. 2:6, Eph. 4:13, Phil. 3:15, etc. means rather ‘maturity’ – for unlike Christ, who always walked in perfect obedience to his Father – for in him was no sin – we do err, and lose faith, and get caught up in ‘works’; abiding then does not mean never falling, never wandering off the way, never yielding to temptations, etc. There are numerous exhortations in the gospel to the erring children of God to repent, return, and to be restored; all these being ample evidence that God’s people do fall.
Nevertheless as saints, and as recipients of saving grace – with all that that means, the children of God cannot help but ‘do’ aright, as they are not ‘without me’, but abide in him. After all, to walk by faith is to do aright, isn’t it? And to follow Christ likewise? – however falteringly? John 10:27. Yes. In Ephesians 2:10 the apostle asserts that we are ‘created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them’; therefore we will walk in them. This confirms Ezekiel 36:27, where the LORD says, ‘I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them’; cp. also 1 Kings 8:57,58; Psalm 86:11,12. So Paul himself could confess that ‘I can do all things (lit.) ‘in’ Christ which strengtheneth me’, Phil. 4:13; Why? How? Because by the grace of God, and as kept by him, Paul did walk by faith – by that gift of God – and he did abide in the vine. Is this ‘creature power’? Is this legalistic works? No. It is that blessed union with Christ our life by the indwelling and power of the Spirit; it is ‘I in them, and they in me’; cp. also 1 John 3:4-10. How wonderful all this is, how real it should be in experience, and how the Lord’s people need constantly exhorting to walk according to it; cp. Eph. 4:1-6. After all, as a work of the Spirit within, it is all for and to the glory of the Saviour, and for the honour of his name – the good work of faith will never cause one to glory in self.
But if anyone is still in any doubt that the Christian walk is not a matter of doing, just consider again the words of the Lord Jesus which began this chapter: ‘Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.’ It is imperative that we are found ‘doing the will of the Father.’ This truth is brought out again and again in the apostles’ doctrine. None of the following are take-it-or-leave-it statements, most are absolutes, and many are direct exhortations; and we who profess Christ disobey them at our peril:
Jesus said, ‘And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day’, John 6:40. And this John confirms: ‘he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever’, 1 John 2:17. God’s people are not to be ‘unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is’, Eph. 5:17. How? ‘I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service, and be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God’, Rom. 12:1,2. Thus, ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me… And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple’, Luke 9:23, 14:27.
So to bear the cross, to follow Christ, to live as ‘a living sacrifice’, to believe in him and to trust him etc., is the path to walk, wherein he discovers his will, enabling us to walk in it. And as well as discovering this to be a ‘simple’ path, 2 Cor. 11:3 – it certainly is a ‘single’ path – we will find it also – in the profoundest sense of the word – an ‘easy’ path; for Jesus did say, ‘My yoke is easy, and my burden is light’, Matt. 11:30. Well, I’m only repeating what the Saviour said.
Again, ‘the will of God is your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication’, 1 Thes. 4:3. We are to ‘do the will of God from the heart’, Eph. 6:6, which can only be done, and can be done, by faith, as it is faith which hath purified our hearts, Acts 15:8,9. But this faith worketh by love, Gal. 5:6; and if we love Christ we will keep his commandments; which is to hide them in our hearts, so that they permeate into our very being, from which springs obedience to him and a following after him.
Furthermore, Paul wrote that Epaphras was ‘always labouring fervently’ for the Colossians ‘in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in the will of God’, Col. 4:12; that he and Timothy ceased not ‘to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work…’, 1:9,10; which is those good works which God hath before ordained what we should walk in: ‘your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father’, 1 Thes. 1:3. But in it all, ‘ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise’, Heb. 10:35-39.
Many like passages could be cited to encourage ‘doing’ in the proper sense: see 1 Peter chapter 4, for instance. Indeed, one could quote half the New Testament to prove that there is a certain doing which is essential to entering into the kingdom of heaven. Yes, salvation is all of God in three Persons in the working of it from beginning to end; but being saved, ‘in the grace of God’ and ‘by the mercies of God’, causes one to do, and it is vitally important that we understand this and make proper distinction between the right and the wrong type of doing; for remember, once again, that judgment on that day will be according to works, Matt. 16:24-27, 25:31-46, Luke 19:11-27.
Let John settle this matter once and for all: ‘If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him… Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous… whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God…’ 1 John 2:24 – 3:10.