October 19, 2003

BUILT TO LAST

“He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.” Luke 6:48

What are the most important parts of a building? The parts you can’t see. Things like paint, wallpaper, and siding are easy to see, but the things you can’t see are the most important: the foundation and the hidden framework of girders, beams and boards.

If you want a house built to last, do you make it out of nothing but paint? No, you need a solid foundation and strong building materials. If you’re dealing with an older building with structural problems, do you just slap on a fresh coat of paint? No, if a foundation is crumbling, it needs to be rebuilt. If a wall is weak and falling apart, it needs to be repaired. No amount of paint can save a faulty foundation or a weak wall.

What’s true of buildings is true of people. The part you can’t see is the part that matters most. Some advertisers tell you, “Image is everything.” But that’s like saying of a house, “Paint is everything.” The most important thing about you isn’t your outer appearance or the impression you make on others but your deepest foundation and the commitments that shape who you are and how you live. The image you project is worthless unless your soul is grounded in Jesus and structured by his Word.

All too often, though, we ignore problems in foundations and framework and worry only about image and what’s on the surface. Leaders involved in a scandal are often more worried about public opinion than about whether something really is rotten. They’re more focused on spin control in the media than on dealing with wrongdoing. They whitewash and cover up their failings instead of making deep and lasting changes.

We as individuals do something similar whenever we’re more concerned about making a good impression on others than building our lives on the Lord. We do it whenever we want superficial quick fixes instead of deep and permanent change. We want more self-esteem; we don’t want a new self. We want to feel better without actually becoming better.

We even have preachers and teachers to help us in this scheme. Instead of calling us to turn from our sins, they paint over those sins with words of self-esteem, acceptance, and positive thinking. They offer reassurance without repentance; they tell us we’re okay the way we are. They speak much of God’s love and never of his holiness, much of blessing and never of judgment. They calm us and give us a sense of peace, but it is a false peace. The Bible says this is like dealing with a crumbling wall by applying a fresh coat of paint. In Ezekiel 13 God confronts phony, optimistic teachers and says:

“You have not gone up to the breaks in the wall to repair it…

“Because of your false words and lying visions, I am against you, declares the Sovereign Lord.

Because they lead my people astray, saying “Peace,” when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall. Rain will come in torrents, and I will send hailstones hurtling down, and violent winds will burst forth. When the wall collapses, will not people ask you, “Where is the whitewash you covered it with?”

Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: In my wrath I will unleash a violent wind, and in my anger hailstones and torrents of rain will fall with destructive fury. I will tear down the wall you have covered with whitewash and will level it to the ground so that its foundation will be laid bare. When it falls, you will be destroyed in it; and you will know that I am the Lord. So I will spend my wrath against the wall and against those who covered it with whitewash. I will say to you, “The wall is gone and so are those who whitewashed it.” Ezekiel 13:5-15

Do you see why building well is so important? If your life is built on flimsy foundations and faulty structures, it’s all going to collapse when the time of testing comes, no matter how nice the paint job might appear on the surface.

Building Codes

Many communities have building codes, and requirements for the construction of homes and businesses. Where I live, if you want to get a permit for new construction, you need the county building department to approve a blueprint from a licensed architect. At various stages of construction, inspectors make sure the building meets code. A building isn’t considered safe if it violates the building code, and the building can be occupied only after it has passed all inspections and been approved.

It would be faster and cheaper simply to ignore the code and have no standard at all. But would you want a house built without any attention to whether it would hold up in a storm? Would you want a house built without any concern for fire safety? If you live in an earthquake zone, would you want a house built without regard for whether it could withstand an earthquake or even a tremor? I doubt it. You want a house that’s built to last.

Shouldn’t you also want a soul that’s built to last, able to stand firm in the face of every test and trial? We’ve already heard how God compares his judgment to a storm of wind, hail, and torrents of rain. In another Bible passage, God says the day of judgment will be like fire: anything we’ve built that’s not fireproof will be “burned up” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15). In still another Bible passage, God speaks of a great quake. He says, “‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ The words … indicate the removing of what can be shaken so that what cannot be shaken may remain” (Hebrews 12:26-27). You and I must be built to God’s code, built to last, built well enough to withstand storm, fire, and earthquake.

Jesus himself drives home the importance of building to last when he says in Luke 6:46-49,

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say? I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.

Here we see the most basic aspect of building well: you must have a solid foundation. If your life is based on Jesus and his words–if you trust his promises, heed his warnings, and live by his instructions–then your foundation is solid rock, and you can withstand any storm in this life and even stand in the final judgment. However, if your life is not grounded in Jesus and you’re not living by his words, you’re headed for destruction. “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11).

If you have no belief in Jesus as God and as the only way of salvation, you have no foundation in Christ, and you will be lost forever—unless there’s a great change and Jesus becomes your foundation. But don’t think Jesus’ warning is only for those who don’t believe he is the Lord God and never bother to read the Bible or find out what he says. No, this warning is directed at people who hear what Jesus says and have a certain kind of belief and even consider themselves Christians. It’s necessary to hear Jesus’ words and call him Lord—you can’t be saved without that—but though it’s necessary, it’s not enough. Christianity is not just listening to Jesus’ words every Sunday. Christianity is listening to Jesus and doing what he says. It’s not just saying he’s Lord or having a correct belief in your head. It’s a life built on Jesus and lived under the authority of his words.

Do you feel the force of Jesus’ warning? Jesus says you can hear his words and speak of him as Lord and God and yet be lost. What a terrifying thought! You can hear about Jesus and talk about him in glowing language and yet go to hell forever. You can be busy with religious activities and full of excitement, you can even do astonishing miracles in Jesus’ name, and still go to hell. Jesus says plainly, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on judgment day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers'” (Matthew 7:21-23). Just think of it! Churchgoers who believe many true things about Jesus and even do miracles in his name can be far from Christ and lost forever in eternal fire. And this won’t just happen to one or two people. Jesus says it will happen to many.

The Foolish Builder

Keep in mind, the foolish builder isn’t necessarily the person who has no religion and builds nothing at all. He may build something; he just doesn’t build on a solid foundation. On the outside the foolish builder’s house may look a lot like the wise builder’s house. Both may attend the same church, sing the same songs, get involved in similar activities, call Jesus Lord, and even do amazing things in his name. But while the wise builder is grounded in a life-changing relationship with Jesus, the foolish builder is more interested in the benefits and activities of religion than in Jesus himself.

The foolish builder is in a hurry. He likes fast results and shortcuts. He doesn’t want to waste his time studying principles of solid construction. He can’t be bothered with digging deep and laying a solid foundation. He just wants to get on with building something as quickly as possible.

If you’re a foolish builder, you want things quick and easy. You figure that if you’ve been baptized and confirmed, or if you once walked the aisle for an altar call and said a brief prayer with a preacher, everything is fine. Now that you’ve said Jesus is God and made a “decision” for him, isn’t that all that matters? You make your so-called “decision” the foundation for your faith instead of making Jesus himself the foundation.

And now you’d like to hurry up and get on with building what you want to build. You’d rather not waste time looking at blueprints—biblical doctrines that make you think hard or challenge you to change. Why learn about atonement or justification or sanctification? Why study God’s commandments for a holy life and strive to obey? It takes too much time and effort to study the Bible carefully and find out who Jesus is or how salvation works or what changes the Lord wants you to make. Why can’t you just hurry up and build a happy, successful life?

Blueprints are bothersome—especially the part about having a solid foundation. That’s too stressful. You don’t want to dig deep and excavate the dirt and the sand that lie between you and the solid rock. You’d rather just build your religion right on top of the life you already have, without digging down and getting rid of sins, without excavating anything that lies between you and Christ the Rock.

Meanwhile, as you build your house on sand, you don’t want to hear anything that might upset you. You resent warnings about storms and judgment and what happens to badly built houses. You have some favorite preachers who give you a sense of peace and some favorite Bible verses that sound soothing, and you stick with them. You don’t want real building inspectors to check your structure and tell you what needs changing. You want cheerleaders to flatter you. You like your house as it is. All it needs is a fresh coat of paint once in a while.

If that’s your approach, says Jesus, your life and religion will eventually collapse and be destroyed. Even the storms here on earth are often enough to wreck you. Peer pressure, mockery, illness, financial failure, the loss of a loved one, getting old–shallow faith often collapses in the face of such things. And shallow, superficial faith will surely not withstand the final test, the storm, flood, fire, and earthquake of God’s final judgment. According to Jesus, churchgoers who hear his words but don’t act on them will perish, right along with those who never listened to Jesus at all.

The Wise Builder

The wise builder doesn’t just build a religious structure on top of the life he already has. He knows that he must dig down deep, remove dirt and sand and sin, and build on a rock-solid foundation. Such a person, says Jesus, “comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice.” The foolish builder also hears Jesus’ words, but he doesn’t come to Jesus himself, and he doesn’t act upon what he hears. The wise builder, on the other hand, isn’t content just to hear some words. He comes to the Lord who speaks those words, he has a personal attachment to Jesus himself, and he acts on what Jesus says.

Now, when Jesus speaks of doing what he says, putting his words into practice, does he mean that we can be saved only if we obey him perfectly? Of course not. It’s because we’re not perfect that we need to come to Jesus in the first place. Indeed, part of putting Jesus’ teaching into practice is acting on the teaching that we cannot save ourselves, that without him we can do nothing, that those who are poor in spirit and mourn their sins and hunger and thirst for righteousness will be blessed. Digging down deep includes admitting our sins and unworthiness and taking our stand on Jesus alone, building on the bedrock of his perfect obedience credited to our account and his sacrificial death as our substitute to pay for our disobedience.

Once Jesus is our foundation, then and only then can we begin to carry out his commands for living holy lives of love. None of us can do this perfectly on this side of heaven, but we do make a beginning. If you claim to know Jesus but his words aren’t changing you at all, you’re fooling yourself. Scripture says, “The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him… Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:4,6).

Genuine faith has no room for business as usual. If you know the Lord, you strive to obey him and be like him. When you fail, you don’t shrug and say it doesn’t matter. You grieve your sin and confess it to God and keep hungering for righteousness. If you’re a true Christian, you may not be perfect–but you are changing. You live in growing obedience, and when you fail to obey, you’re sorry. You repent and seek the Lord’s forgiveness and help to do better. You don’t whitewash what’s crumbling and rotten or assume you’re fine just the way you are. You change.

You need Jesus and his Word as your foundation in order to survive life’s trials and God’s final judgment. Once you have that foundation, you are safe from eternal destruction, but you should still be careful about the structure you build and the materials you use. In 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, the Bible says,

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day [of judgment] will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

Such a person will be saved by the skin of his teeth, as it were. Jesus is his foundation, so he won’t be utterly destroyed in hell, but anything he built in this life that was cheap or unspiritual or unbiblical will go up in smoke. Much of what he did will turn out to be a waste.

Some teachings in the Bible may seem to be less central to the nature of God or the way of salvation, and we may be tempted to think we can ignore such teachings and just focus on a few basics. “After all,” we might say, “this particular matter isn’t a salvation issue.” However, we’d better not underestimate the impact an error may have on someone’s salvation. And even if a something isn’t a matter of salvation or damnation, does that mean it’s unimportant? If it’s in the Bible, it’s important. No biblical teaching is unimportant.

Every preacher and teacher must strive to teach the whole counsel of God, and every Christian must seek to obey the whole counsel of God. Jesus says, “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commandments will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 6:19). It’s not just a matter of getting into the kingdom but of receiving approval and rewards once you get there. The one who builds on the good foundation of Christ but uses some materials that are cheap or shoddy won’t lose everything on judgment day, but “he will suffer loss.” So “each one should be careful how he builds” (1 Corinthians 3:10). The wise builder has a solid foundation in Christ and builds on that foundation using only the finest materials approved by God.

A Beautiful Building

When the Bible sounds various warnings and speaks of houses that will have to withstand floods and fire, you might think it all sounds negative. But the final objective isn’t negative but positive. Of course it’s important to build in such a way that we won’t collapse in a storm or burn in a fire–only a fool would build on sand or make a structure out of the most flammable materials he can find. But the goal isn’t simply to have a place that will survive trials. Although any wise builder has to dig deep and lay a foundation and set up a strong framework, his overall purpose isn’t just digging or pounding nails, and his final goal isn’t just surviving troubles. The goal is to have a beautiful, joyous, lasting home.

The Bible speaks of Christians as God’s building, his temple. Scripture says, “Don’t you know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) Jesus has something much grander in mind for us than we ourselves would ever have dreamed. The Lord’s intent is to make of us a mansion so splendid that we are a fitting home for God himself. So, then, one reason for building well is that we can withstand storms, but another reason for building well is that we can be homes fit for a King.

In our humdrum, worldly way of thinking, we assume we can be humdrum, worldly cottages that are quick and easy to build. But Jesus tells us that this is not a long-term option. We have two ultimate possibilities, and only two: we can end up a wreck and a ruin, or we can become a magnificent mansion fit for the King of the universe. Either way, we won’t remain as we are. Our final destiny is either awful or awesome.

If you come to Jesus and act upon his words, it may be hard, even painful at times, but it will be awesome. God won’t just clean up a small mess here or there that you wanted cleaned up. God won’t just fix a little problem here or there that you already knew needed fixing. He has bigger plans for you. C. S. Lewis writes,

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you understand what he is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is he up to? The explanation is that he is building quite a different house from the one you thought of–throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.