This passage from D.A. Carson’s exposition on the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) stopped me in my tracks:
Another form of self-delusion, however, is evident in Matthew 7:21-23. It is not so much that the false claimant lulls himself into spiritual apathy, as that he mistakes loud profession and supernatural, almost magical formulations and experiences, for true spirituality and genuine godliness. Obedience is neglected. The pressure of the spectacular has excluded the stability of growing conformity to the Father’s will. Because he seems to be getting results, immediate results, spectacular results, he feels he is close to the center of true religion. His success indices are soaring: God must be blessing him. Surely God will understand and sympathize if there is not always enough time for prayer, self-examination, or conscious repentance. The results are the important thing. If the truth gets a trifle bent, it’s only because the supporters need to hear certain things. And is it wise to run the risk of driving off such supporters by talking about the narrow way? Just as Nixon’s closest aides could talk themselves into believing that their cause was more important that their ethics, so these religious extroverts convince themselves that their success-oriented spectacular victories are more important that the nitty-gritty of consistent discipleship.
It is true, of course, that no man enters the kingdom because of his obedience; but it is equally true that no man enters the kingdom who is not obedient. It is true that men are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ; but it is equally true that God’s grace in a man’s life inevitably results in obedience. Any other view of grace cheapens grace, and turns it into something unrecognizable. Cheap grace preaches forgiveness without repentance, church membership without rigorous church discipline, discipleship without obedience, blessing without persecution, joy without righteousness, results without obedience. In the entire history of the church has there ever been another generation with so many nominal Christians and so few real (i.e. obedient) ones? And where nominal Christianity is compounded by spectacular profession, it is especially likely to manufacture its own false assurances.
D.A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World: An Exposition of Matthew 5-10 (as published in The Sermon on the Mount, p. 131)
This is, perhaps one of the strongest cautions against pragmatism and the perception of success that I’ve ever read. We often hear that it’s not right to be concerned about a church or ministry’s direction if it’s seeing vast numerical growth. “People are coming—God must be blessing it,” we are tempted to say. But perhaps we should be a little more hesitant to say that whatever successes we achieve are a sign of God’s blessing. It could just as easily be a sign of disobedience.