I think it is Standard Movie Plot #27. The hero is in peril, hanging from a great height, clinging to a precarious hold that is about to give way. The great height is a rocky cliff, a hovering helicopter, the doorway of an airliner, the top of a 40-story building, or some other such vertiginous place. The hero’s car is balanced delicately on the edge of the cliff, or he’s holding onto a piece of rope that is fraying before the audience’s ever-widening eyes. Just as the car is ready to topple into the abyss or the rope is about to break, another character shows up on the scene: we’ve seen him before, but we haven’t been able to figure out whose side he’s on.
Dubious Character reaches out his hand to Hero. “Grab on!” he urges. Hero, visibly sweating, looks around for alternatives, perhaps, or for corroboration that Dubious Character can be trusted, but he finds nothing. The car lurches, but does not fall. The rope frays even more. Dubious Character extends his hand one more time, “Grab on!” he insists.
Hero suddenly decides to trust Dubious Character. He reaches out and grabs his hand. At that precise moment, the car topples off the cliff or the rope breaks, and Hero’s only hope for life is Dubious Character’s willingness to pull him to safety. Dubious Character shouts down some instructions that do not appear to make sense, but Hero follows them to the letter. They struggle until Hero is safe. Then suddenly Dubious Character is transformed into Trusted Ally.
Now I ask you, what saved Hero? Hero’s obedience to Dubious Character’s instructions, or his decision to trust him? Clearly it is the decision to have faith in Dubious Character, for without that faith, he would never have extended his hand or followed the instructions.
But what if Hero had said to Dubious Character, “I believe you,” but had not stretched forth his hand and had not obeyed the instructions? Would not Hero have fallen to his death? Could we honestly say that Hero actually possessed the faith he professed if he did not follow it up with obedience? No, we would go away from the movie theater, shaking our heads and saying, “If he had really had faith in Dubious Character, as he said, he would have done what he was told and would have been saved.”
In the story of your own life, you are Hero. You are not perched on a cliff in a precariously balanced car, nor are you hanging from the fortieth floor by a thread—but it might as well be that way, for no one gets out of Life alive, and in panicky moments of reflection you know that all too well. Then a Dubious Character comes your way, a Jewish rabbi who wandered Palestine two millennia ago, who said many puzzling things and made many outrageous claims. He reaches out His hand to you and says, “Grab on!” And He gives you many more instructions for getting out of your predicament.
You look around nervously for alternatives and find none. Then, in an act of faith, you sweep aside all your misgivings and wonderings and doubts and decide to have faith in him. Is it truly faith if you do not stretch out your hand to grab His, if you do not follow His instructions or obey His commands?
In the movie, Dubious Character becomes insistent. “Grab my hand!” he commands. “Place your left foot on that rock. Don’t look down. When I count to three, jump to the right.” In the final analysis, Hero was saved when he decided to trust the Dubious Character, but trust always begets obedience.
And so the Dubious Character in the movie of your life says:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father in heaven
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
And so I say to you: you are indeed saved by your faith. But faith that is stillborn in the heart or that evaporates upon your lips is no faith at all. True faith begets obedience, true trust leads to action.
Therefore, follow up your decision to have faith in Jesus by following His instructions, lest Matthew 7 apply to you.