“What’s Your Foundation?” (Matthew 7:24-27)

[This is the post-facto manuscript of my last Sunday School lesson/sermon at Champion Forest Baptist Church. I can’t think of a better way to end my time with that fantastic group. I hope this blesses you as well.]

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 that 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 that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.

(Matthew 7:24-27)

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus presents a picture of the ordinary life of His disciples—while at the same time demonstrating how radically different that life appears to the rest of the world. Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon are an impossible task to follow on our own, but His work of redemption on the cross and resurrection from the grave accomplished this impossible task on our behalf, so that anyone who repents of their sins and puts their faith in the work of Christ is cleansed of their sins and credited with His righteousness, giving us right standing before God through Christ. Once we are born again spiritually and given the gift of the Holy Spirit living within us, we can seek to obey the commands of Jesus in the Sermon and live out this ordinary radical lifestyle by His power and grace.

Jesus closes out His sermon with a picture of two builders and two foundations. I’d like to make 3 observations and a final plea.

Observation #1 – Everyone builds their lives on something. 

Notice that the wise man builds on a rock. In the Old Testament, God is described as the Rock of His people (Psalm 18:1-3). Later, Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ is called the rock upon which the Church is built (Matthew 16:13-20).  In Luke’s version of this teaching (Luke 6:46-49), he includes a few more details: the wise man digs down deep to lay a good foundation. This wise person is the person who comes to Jesus, hears His commands, and obeys them. Remember, you can never obey God or please God apart from faith. So we can rightly recognize that the wise man is also someone who came to Jesus in repentance in faith (or, “poor in spirit” [Matthew 5:3]).

Don’t miss this: the wise man builds his life on Jesus and on His teaching. The foolish man builds his life on anything else—there is no middle ground.  Look at verse 26—the foolish man hears the words of Jesus as well! But hearing isn’t enough. James writes in James 2 that faith without works is dead. So our works follow our faith—we come to Jesus, we hear His words, and we obey them in faith.

On the other side of the coin, we can’t fall into the trap of the false converts in Matthew 7:21-23. Mere works aren’t enough either. Church attendance isn’t enough. Sunday school isn’t enough. These are exterior works. Jesus just said that mere works is not enough to prove that the heart has been changed. So what is being described here? A wise man comes to Jesus in faith, repenting of sin and trusting Him as Savior, and “builds his house” on the foundation of Jesus and His word. Living faith produces the fruit of obedience.

Observation #2 – The storm is coming.

Earlier, in Matthew 5, rain was a sign of blessing for this farming society. But in the Old Testament, storms are a symbol for God’s judgment.

In Ezekiel 13:8-16, we see that false prophets have reassured the people that no judgment was coming, but God declares that judgment for sin will come as a storm does. Hmm—false teachers, false believers, and a storm of judgment. Sounds like Matthew 7, doesn’t it?

Some see this storm as representing the “storms of life,” and in some sense, having a foundation in Christ does keep you firm in the normal troubles and struggles of life in a broken world. You will face the storm, but you will not collapse. But I think there’s something else at work here.

Jesus is speaking here of the last storm, the judgement of God against sin on the Last Day, the Day of the Lord. The question Jesus raises is: On the last day, will your house stand?

The Bible teaches that if we are in Christ, there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1) and that all our sin was placed on Christ and judged at the cross (Isaiah 53; II Corinthians 5:21). So when the final storm comes, if Jesus is your foundation, He will secure you against destruction.  But anyone who is outside of Christ has no such protection from the wrath of God.

Observation #3 – This is an issue of life and death, not just “life improvement.” 

Building your life on faith in Jesus and obedience to His teaching is hard. It’s challenging, painful and may seem like loss in the short term.

Though popular preachers and teachers may say otherwise, we don’t come to Jesus or call people to Jesus because doing so makes things easier or safer in this life, or more materially prosperous.  If that’s why you follow Jesus, you’re not following Him at all. Your life is built on sand and bare ground.

We come to Jesus and build our lives on Him because we are sinners who have earned every drop of the storm of God’s wrath, and Jesus Christ is our only hope of salvation. Though we are by nature children of wrath, enemies of God and rebels against His kingdom, He has graciously made a way to cleanse us of sin and adopt us as His children, by grace through faith in Jesus alone—His death and resurrection securing our justification and hope of a future inheritance.

So here is my final plea: be reconciled to God. Repent and believe the Gospel.

Some of you may never hear me teach or see my face again. Let this be my final word to you: repent–turn away from your sin and self-rule–and believe the Gospel.

  • You may have grown up in church and read the Bible cover to cover.
  • You may be a rebel, running from God’s authority.
  • You may be wrecked with guilt, afraid of God’s judgment and not quite able to believe that God can be merciful.
  • You may be an upright person on the outside, trying to keep the rules and earn your place in God’s kingdom.
  • You may be a prodigal who has reached the end of yourself and is on the long road back home.

My message to each and every one of you is the same: repent and believe the Good News that Jesus the Son of God came to earth, lived a perfect life in our place, died for sinners, and rose again victorious.  If you have already believed it, cling to it as a beautiful promise of God—a guarantee that you are His.

Jesus died to save sinners. Do you understand that you a sinner? Then He died for you. Repent of your sin and believe in Him and be saved!

Because if you do not, on the Last Day, the rain will come, the flood will rise, the winds will blow and beat against your house, and your house, your life, will fall. And great will be the fall of it.

Today is the day. Repent. Believe. And be born again.

Giving up Lent.

Today is Ash Wednesday, so the big talk this week around the office involves fasting. It’s always a curious thing to hear avowedly secular people discuss Lenten fasting. It’s become a kind of cultural artifact—it’s something you do because everyone else does, or because your family always did–like secular Jews celebrating the “high holy days.” People I know who deny the God of Scripture or the deity of Jesus are still fasting (though they are very particular about the exact rules—I won’t do this at these certain times in these certain circumstances).  It’s interesting to see that, in doing this, they’re creating another man-made law to follow, and willingly taking on the yokes they shape themselves. It’s like, deep down, there’s still a desire to fashion our own righteousness…

Anyway, I want to talk to Christians for a second here. Specifically, Protestants.

If you are a Protestant Christian and you’re planning to celebrate Lent this year, I have to ask you: Why?

In brief, Lent is the observance of the 40 days leading up to Easter, in which practitioners fast from something (either something positive [a blessing] or something negative [a vice]) in order to share in the…

Okay, here’s where I start to get confused. Why ARE you doing it?

Is it to share in the suffering of Christ? We do that through our daily battle against sin, our Christian witness, the opposition we face from a world system that is set against our message.

Is it to show repentance for sin? If that’s the case, isn’t the sacrifice of Christ enough to pay for your sin? Do you need to demonstrate some outward sign of sorrow to prove to God that you are appreciative enough, or you have changed enough?

Is it to teach yourself discipline or self-control? It seems like that’s something the Holy Spirit does, primarily. Beyond that, why limit yourself to these 40 days? Why not fast during Christmas? Fourth of July? What is it about this season that requires your outward acts of penitence and self-denial more than any other season? (I guess we do it on January 1st as well, but that’s penitence of a different kind.) And then there’s the whole thorny issue of talking about fasting, which really defeats the whole purpose…

Those of us who may be tempted to take part  in Lenten observance need to really step back and ask why. This practice isn’t mandated in Scripture; it wasn’t observed by the New Testament church. As a matter of fact, it seemed like Paul had some harsh words for those who would apply extra rules to control behavior for the sake of spiritual asceticism.

While the practice of Lent became part of church tradition during the first millennium of the Church (some point to Nicea as the earliest discussion), it wasn’t seen in a positive light by several of the key figures in Protestant faith. (Here I must tip my cap to Keith Miller for culling these great examples.)

  • While Martin Luther did preach a Lenten sermon in his church, he also said that “Lent has become mere mockery, because our fasting is a perversion and an institution of man.” He continues by saying that the kind of traditional fasting required by Lenten observance is a perversion of the intent of fasting, and the story of Christ’s fasting, in Scripture.
  • In his Institutes, John Calvin called the Lenten fast a “superstitious observance” and a “gross delusion” that misapplies Scriptural texts and makes men think they are doing a service to God.
  • John Owen decried the practice of Lent in his Mortification of Sin, especially when practitioners give up “sin” temporarily in an attempt to honor God.
  • Johnathan Edwards called the dietary rules of Lent an “anti-Christian superstition” and part of “popish religion.”
  • Finally, Charles Spurgeon calls his listeners/readers to consider that the season of mourning has indeed ended:

Come, then, and for your own good hang up the sackbut and take down the psaltery—put away the ashes! What if men call this season, “Lent”? We will keep no Lent, tonight—this is our Eastertide! Our Lord has risen from the dead and He is among us, and we will rejoice in Him! Come, Beloved, surely it is time that we did, for a while, at least, forget our pain, griefs and all the worries of this weary world and, for one, I must, I will, be glad and rejoice in my Lord—and I hope many of you will join with me in the happy occupation which will be helpful to yourselves.

I have to say, friends, I stand with these faithful brothers on this issue.  The vital spiritual practices of daily repentance and even occasional fasting as a physical act of devotion aren’t bad themselves, certainly not. But the practice of formal fasting as part of an artificial church calendar rings false with Scripture. If you are in Christ, you are not bound to a ritualistic practice tied to the days of the calendar.

So this is my challenge to all my Protestant brothers and sisters: this year, let’s give up Lent for Lent. Rather than putting on the robes of mourning, let’s celebrate that our King has already risen and is alive evermore–every day is Easter Sunday! Our sins have been cleansed by His blood, so our acts of pious penitence are no longer needed. Through His suffering, He has won our joy.

=====

Your Turn: Okay, Lenten observers, here’s your chance to convince me–from Scripture–that I’ve missed the boat on this. I mean it: Biblical arguments for the practice of Lent are most welcome. I want to be Biblical above all things.