MONDAY, 11/14
Read Matthew 7:13.
I’m going to shoot you straight–this is going to be a heavy week of devotions.  The reason is that Jesus closes the Sermon on the Mount with a slate of warnings.  They are hard teachings.  You will feel the weight of them.  They are also honest and true, and for that, we can appreciate what Jesus is doing.  He loves us too much to let us be deceived.  So let’s dive in.  
Jesus’ warning about how easy it is to lose our way in the world is preceded by an invitation to find life.  While these warnings are tough to read at times, there is grace in every word.  Jesus warns us because He wants us to enter through the narrow gate.  We’ll explore the meaning of the narrow gate tomorrow.  I want us to focus on the contrast between the narrow gate and the broad road to destruction.
Let me state from the beginning that the disparity between the narrow and the broad gate is not an indicator of God’s grace.  Some read this and imagine that God’s grace is small.  The reality that we even have an opportunity at a new life with God is by His grace alone.  We had the choice of a life with Him or apart from Him.  Humanity chose a life apart from Him.  God would have been just to leave us to face the consequences of our decision, about which He was clear with us.  He wouldn’t do that because He is a Father who loves even His wayward children.  He sought us out through Christ and gave us a way back into His family through Jesus.    
What Jesus is saying here is that the paths that lead us to spiritual ruin are many.  This shouldn’t surprise us.  We live in a culture of a million choices that values our independence and individuality.  There are countless opinions about what we should do with this life and how to go about pursuing it.  Many just “go with the flow,” never considering life beyond the present moment and how their decisions influence their future, let alone a potential life with God.  The road to destruction is broad.  
On the other hand, the path to salvation is much narrower.  Again, this isn’t about the size and scope of God’s grace.  It is abundant and extended to all.  God’s grace is not small; it is, however, specific.  It is offered to us, but like a gate, there is a threshold we must choose to move through.  We will look into this more tomorrow, but the threshold we move through is Jesus Himself.  It is by calling upon Him and trusting Him that we move from a self-imposed destruction to life.  
Praying Together:
“Jesus, I am grateful that You love us enough to be real with us and that You are willing to say the hard words to spare us from harm.  I celebrate Your grace, that You have provided a way to a new life with the Father.  I come to You in full faith and confidence in Your capacity to save me.  Amen.”
TUESDAY, 11/15
Read Matthew 7:14.
So what is the narrow gate that “leads to life”?  It is Jesus.  
In John 10, Jesus refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd who cares for His sheep, God’s children.  In verse 9, He says, “I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved.”  In Jesus’ day, not every shepherd could build or afford gates.  Sometimes the shepherds would sleep in the gateway, acting as the protection for the sheep.  This is what Jesus is saying.  By the cross and the resurrection, Jesus has won life for us.  When we come to Him in faith, believing what He has done for us, then we are given new life with Him.   
We will explore the contrast between the narrow gate and the broad road to destruction tomorrow.  Here in Matthew 7, we find the image of a gate being used as an image for salvation, only it is a narrow gate.  There is a reason why the gate that leads to life is narrow.  It is because everything funnels through Jesus.  As the One the Father has made judge over creation, everyone will stand before Him.  Everyone.  
Now when we look at this, there is a question that follows closely behind it.  What do we make of those who have yet to profess faith in Jesus?  That is a great question with a complicated answer.  
Romans 2 speaks to God’s righteous judgment.  Verse 6 says, “God ‘will repay each person according to what they have done.’”  Paul says that those who seek God and to do good through Him will receive life.  Those who are self-seeking and reject truth are subject to destruction.  Sometimes we like to think we know where people fall, but Paul says we would be mistaken.  In verse 16, he says that only God knows “people’s secrets” and that those will be judged through Jesus.    
There are two things I do know: 1) I don’t know everyone’s full story, and 2) God is good, grace-filled, and just.  For that reason, we can trust that His judgment will be good, whatever it might be.  We have to come to that place if we are to have peace with this question.  
Sending Prayer:
“God, I trust You.  I know that You are good, and it is clear that You had the good of humanity in mind when You sent Your Son to us.  You have provided a way to life through Him, and for that, I give You praise.  I believe You are just and that You will do what is right for Your creation.  Amen.”  
Read Matthew 7:15-17.
Jesus continues with His words of warning.  After addressing how our decision can take us off course, He makes us aware that there are people who can do the same.  He calls these false prophets.    
False prophets are those who lead people astray.  More often, they do so with ill intent, perhaps benefiting from the harm to others.  Other times, they lead people astray out of ignorance.  They just don’t know any better themselves, and they take people with them.  Jesus focuses here on those prophets who choose to deceive.  He calls them wolves in sheep’s clothing.
This warning serves as a reality check for us.  Jesus is saying that there are false prophets out there who, unlike Him, do not have your best interest in mind.  They exist.  Be aware of that reality.  We would be wise to keep our eyes open for them given that we are responsible for not being deceived.  Seeing them for what they are and avoiding their influence can save you harm.
Here is the good news.  You can spot them.  Jesus has given us the clues to look for that help us see beyond a person’s front and the words that come out of their mouths.  Jesus tells us to look at their fruit.  “You will recognize them by their fruit,” He said.  In other words, look at what their words and actions produce.  Do they produce good things, or do they leave harm in their wake?  
The key for us is looking at their fruit before we’re lured in by their words or actions.  We must be disciplined about examining the lives of those we allow to influence us.  This is different from our having a judgmental attitude toward others.  Again, this fits in the wisdom we need to faithfully navigate the world of which we are temporary citizens.  We must deploy this wisdom so that we stay on the narrow road and enter through the small gate.  
Sending Prayer:
“Holy Spirit, I seek Your guidance in my life.  I need Your insight so that I might allow the right people to influence me.  Help me see the wolves in sheep’s clothing who seek their own good at the expense of others.  I want to follow the way Jesus has laid out for me.  Amen.”
Read Matthew 7:17-20.
Given the reality of false prophets in this world, Jesus tells us that we can spot them by their fruit.  We can see them for what they are by the good or the bad their lives produce.  
There is good reason why Jesus points to their fruit as a way for us to discern their character.  Fruit is the results of their deeds.  Fruit is external.  It is easily seen.  Motives, on the other hand, are internal.  That makes them much more difficult for us to determine.  We can assume we know a person’s motives, but the truth is we simply do not always know.  Deeds can be seen and more easily understood.   
Jesus goes on to say here that deeds are a great indicator of a person’s character.  “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit,” He said.  In fact, He is even more clear in the next verse when He says, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.”  On the surface, it makes a lot of sense.  A poisonous tree will never produce life-giving fruit.  We can also trust that a good tree will continue to produce life-giving fruit.  
Jesus’ point is simple: If a person’s life produces good, then they have good character.  If their life produces harm, then they are not a person of character.  They do not have good intent.  
Jesus’ teaching is connected to the wisdom of Proverbs.  Proverbs 4:23 reads, “Above all else, guard your hearts; everything you do flows from it.”  This verse is saying that we live out of the overflow of our hearts.  It is what we are on the inside that produces what we see on the outside.  Our actions are born out of our motives.  We can state it this way also:  If our hearts are good, then our lives will produce good.  If our hearts are evil, then our lives will produce harm to others.  
We are much better off looking for true and false prophets by looking at their fruit than we are assuming their motives.  We can get ourselves into a judgmental attitude when we get in the habit of assuming we know what exists in a person’s heart.  We must instead look at their actions and what their actions create.  That will tell us all that we need to know.  
Sending Prayer:
“Lord, I am grateful for Your teachings and Your warnings.  You have made Your motives clear.  You want to seek good for us and for others.  You love us and do not want us to be deceived.  I trust You.  I also ask that You teach me how to properly examine someone’s fruit.  I want to give the true prophets the place to speak into my life, so help me use this wisdom in ways that bless me and others.  Amen.”  
FRIDAY, 11/18
Read Matthew 7:21.
This week we have already explored Jesus’ words about the narrow and wide gates, where Jesus warned us to mind the path we choose in this life.  We have looked at the true and false prophets and how we can determine who is what.  Now we shift our attention to what Jesus says about the true and false disciples.  If He hasn’t gotten your attention thus far, I’m sure Jesus has it now.  
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven,” Jesus says.  Those words often cause alarm when we read them.  “Wait! You’re telling me I might not get in?” we wonder.  It is a strong statement indeed and it produces a strong response, which, I believe, is His point.  
This statement is a call for us to examine our own relationship with Jesus.  It is worth our stopping to consider if we are in right relationship with Him.  Have we called upon Him, truly trusting that He has won a new life with God for us?  Do we still cling to the idea that we can earn God’s favor?  Is my relationship with Jesus based on love or convenience?  Those are good questions to consider.  
I do want us to look further into what Jesus is saying because that is where we have questions.  First, let’s look at Romans 10:9 which reads, “If you declare with your mouth and believe in your heart that God raised [Jesus] from the dead, you will be saved.”  Paul concludes in verse 13 that “everyone who calls upon the Lord will be saved.”  How are we to reconcile what Paul and Jesus are saying?  Are they in conflict with each other?
No, they are not in conflict nor do they contradict each other.  Paul is not advocating for us to get someone to pray a perfunctory prayer and poof they’re saved.  He is holding genuine belief in front of us.  We must trust Jesus, believing that He is alive and can save us.  It is a whole trust in His grace that changes us.  Jesus is saying the same.  If we are genuine when we call out to Jesus as Lord, then we will be saved.  
The real question that most of us ask when we come across these words of Jesus is this: Am I saved?  Well, look at the fruit of your faith.  Has your calling out to Jesus changed you?  Has your posture toward God changed?  Are you growing in love for others?  Look at the fruit of your life.  If you have faith in Jesus, if you love Him, then your life will reflect that.  The inward nature of faith will make manifest itself by a life change.  
That is precisely what Jesus points to when we name the difference between the true and the false disciples.  What is the difference?  The true disciples do God’s will.  What is God’s will?  Look back through the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus lays out for us the kind of Kingdom people that God is raising up.  Are you allowing God to help you work through your anger and resentment?  Are you committed to forgiving others and praying for your enemies?  Are you learning to trust the Lord rather than simply succumb to worry?  Remember, you don’t have to have it mastered– it’s about being engaged in the process of walking with God in it.  This is what it means to do God’s will.  We are becoming whom God created us to be in the first place.  If you are in the midst of growing in God’s grace in these ways, then God is producing fruit in your life, a sign of His presence.  When we see Him working in us in this way, we can have confidence that we indeed are true disciples.
Sending Prayer:
“Jesus, You have made a way for me to be reconciled to God.  Through You, I can be saved from my sin and given a new life with God that begins here and now.  I call upon You, not because it’s convenient for me.  I don’t call upon You simply because I would rather go to heaven than hell.  I call upon You because You are Lord.  I call upon You because You are good and because You love me.  I love You and want a life with You.  Thank You for giving me hope and assurance that I do indeed belong to You.  Amen.”  
Read Matthew 7:22.
Jesus has already said that on the day of judgment, there will be people who call Him Lord that will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.  He said, “Only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven.”  
In verse 22, those people speak up to Jesus, saying, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?”  This verse tends to put a lump in the throat of most folks.  We wonder, what about us?  These people have done “great things” for Jesus, perhaps much greater things than I have, and they didn’t enter the Kingdom.  
We have to remember that Jesus is using hyperbole here.  Jesus uses it to get our attention because it’s effective.  The examples of the prophecies, exorcisms, and miracles are about the greatest things we can do for God.  We can say that maybe the false disciples did these things with the wrong motives, but we don’t know that.  Jesus doesn’t say that.  I believe Jesus wants us to know that, yes, they did some amazing stuff.  They did great things.
So, what are we to make of this?  If these so-called disciples did amazing things for God and still were not saved, then what about us?  We have to remember that salvation isn’t about what we have done.  It’s about what Jesus has done.  That’s what Jesus wants us to understand here.  The Biblical witness is clear that we are powerless to earn salvation.  We cannot fix the human condition.  We are wholly dependent on Jesus to do that.  We put our complete trust in Him.  We believe that He came to take our place on the cross so that we can be forgiven. He rose from the grave, so that we could live through Him.  Jesus did the great thing, not us.
Salvation is by grace through faith.  It is not a wage earned by our merits.  Salvation is a gift, and we must receive it in order to be blessed by it.      
Sending Prayer:
“Savior, You have done the great thing for me.  I lay down my need to do something for You to earn Your favor.  The things I do for You are an expression of my love and appreciation for You.  I want to bless You, so I surrender the need to earn so that I can receive Your grace.  Thank You for giving me new life.  Amen.”
SUNDAY, 11/20
Read Matthew 7:23.
In verse 23, Jesus brings clarity to a passage that tends to stir up confusion.  How does Jesus distinguish between true and false disciples?  Relationship. 
Jesus speaks plainly to the false disciples, saying to them, “I never knew you.”  Jesus says He has no relational knowledge of the person.  Through being in relationship with someone, we discover who they are as a person.  We can read books about people or scan their posts to find out things about them.  However, is it when we are in close relationship that we come to know them.  Jesus is calling us to this kind of relationship.  It is one of close proximity.
In John’s gospel, Jesus sheds light on the closeness of His relationship with His disciples.  In John 10, He calls them His sheep who hear His voice.  In John 14:17, Jesus introduces the personal relationship His disciples will have with the Holy Spirit by declaring, “But you know [the Holy Spirit], for He lives with you and will be in you.”  In verse 20, He said, “On that day you will realize that I am in My Father, and you are in Me, and I am in you.”  In John 15, Jesus goes even farther to address the intimacy we share by stating that He is the vine and we are the branches.  That image opens our eyes to the kind of connection Jesus has with His followers.  
For Jesus, it is all about relationship.  His desire is that we would know Him and that we would share a new life together.  When we see who He is and what He has done, and we come to Him in faith, we become God’s children.  We are now heirs of God’s great promises.  Beyond the wonderful gifts God gives us, the greatest gift is that of knowing and being known by God.  Jesus makes that kind of relationship possible.  We have the privilege of enjoying that relationship and growing in it.  This is what Jesus has done for us.  
Sending Prayer:
“Lord, I praise You for making it possible for me to be in relationship with You.  I pray You help me discover the joy that is mine here and now in You.  I want to know You more and more.  I also want to pray for those in my life who do not yet know You.  Continue to pursue them by Your grace.  Make Yourself known to them.  Help me be a witness for You to them.  Amen.”