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01. The Two Types of Foundations

Chapter 1

The Two Types of Foundations

Matthew 7:21-27

Eric H. H. Chang

Valuable differences in parallel passages of Jesus’ teaching

Today, we are going to study the Lord Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:21-27, and this passage reads like this:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’ Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon 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.”

The parallel passage to this is in Luke 6:46-49.

“Why do you call me “Lord, Lord,” and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundation upon rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But he who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation; against which the stream broke, and immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”

These two passages are similar, but not exactly the same. In the teaching of the Lord Jesus in the Gospels, you often see passages which are similar, but they are not the same. What is the reason for this? One of the reasons for this is that the Lord Jesus did not only say these things once in his ministry because he was not preaching in only one place. If a lesson is important, it is to be expected that he would preach the same message in a different place to different people. But when he preached in another place, there would be some difference of presentation. Here the differ­ence is very small.

The difference is quite big in some places in the Gospels. For example, when you study the Parable of the Talents in Matthew Chapter 25, and the Parable of the Pounds in Luke Chapter 19, you will immed­iately notice that there is a lot that is similar, and a lot that is different. Sometimes, Luke is recording his teaching in one place, and at other times, Matthew is recording his teaching in another place. The preacher especially thanks God for these differences, because it is really most precious to be able to compare and find that something said in one Gospel account enriches the meaning of another Gospel account where it was not said.

Saving faith includes obedience to God

In the previous message, we studied something very important: there are two kinds of faith. One kind of faith is the saving faith, but the other kind of faith is truly faith in any definition of the word “faith” as it is normally used, but that faith is not a saving faith. I hope you have carefully thought through what the Lord Jesus was teaching there, and asked yourself whether the faith you have is the saving faith or not. We saw the fact that you can prophesy, perform miracles of healing and casting out demons, does not prove that you have saving faith, although it does prove that you have some sort of faith.

How important it is today, that the whole church should understand this truth, for fear that there are many people in the church, who have the same kind of faith as these people who have a faith, but it is not a saving faith! We saw that the Lord Jesus turned to these people and said, “I do not know who you are. Depart from me, you evildoers.” (Matthew 7:23) What was the problem with these people? It was not that they did not have faith. It is that their faith did not include obedience. Saving faith is the only true faith, and that includes obedience to God who loves us deeply.

Are you self-willed?

You may genuinely believe in Yahweh God and the Lord Jesus. You may believe in God’s power to such an extent that you can do mighty miracles. Yet the life that you are living is a life of self-will. In other words, in your daily life, you just do whatever you please. You go where you want to go without bothering to consult God at all. The only time you consult God is the time when you did not know which way to turn, and you turn to God in the same way that an unbeliever would turn to a fortuneteller! There are so many “Christians” who just don’t know which is the right way to go, so they want to make use of God to find out. Yet even when they are looking for God’s will, they do not want to obey God! Similarly, they listen to a fortuneteller not because they want to obey the fortuneteller, but because they want to know how they can avoid getting into trouble. So these “Christians” have faith, but their faith does not function on the basis of obedience.

What kind of faith have you got? You’ll say, “Well, I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior sent by God. I believe that having died for my sins, he rose from the dead. I believe the Bible is the Word of God.” Now you can believe all of this without having to obey God by obeying Christ’s teaching in your daily life once, because you simply accept these things as true! This kind of faith doesn’t involve obedience to God in a living way. Therefore how can that kind of faith save you? In Scriptural teaching, the orthodoxy of faith alone—a very sincere intellectual belief—does not save.

There were many people in the history of the Christian church, who have perpetrated the most disgraceful crimes in the name of God, and who believed all these doctrines. Do you think that those people who carried out the terrible Spanish Inquisition, killing a lot of people in the name of God, did not believe the Bible is the Word of God? Do you think they did not believe in God? Do you think that they did not believe that Jesus is the Christ sent by God? Do you think that they did not believe that Jesus died on the cross? They believed all these things! In fact, they put other people to death with the cross hanging around their neck! These facts are the black spots of the history of the church. You can wear a cross around your neck and put people to death, and think that you are doing that for God! Nor should you think that only Roman Catholics are guilty of such crimes. The Protestants did some such things too, in the Thirty Years’ War. All these things were done in the name of God! Why is that so? It is not that they lacked faith, but they lacked obedience. The Lord Jesus is saying therefore, that you must have the kind of faith that operates on obedience if you are going to be saved.

Let us just take the people in the church, without going back to church history. There are people in the church who use their tongue, which is like a sword to kill others in the name of God. They criticize others in the church to the point of trying to destroy them. You don’t have to be in the church for very long to experience that. Some people have left the church simply because there are others who just kept criticizing them. They say, “I call you a liar, a hypocrite, and whatever you are. I criticize you because I’m doing this for the service of God.” It does not mean the church cannot point out faults and mistakes, but it is not for us Christians to criticize and judge people in this hostile spirit, and then say, “I am doing it for God.”

Your relationship to God is the same as your relationship to man

Let us take another point. The Lord Jesus says that we are to love and encourage one another. Do you and I obey that teaching? What is the use if I say I believe in God, but I don’t do what Christ tells me to do? When I don’t love or really care about the people round about, how can I still say that I have faith in the saving sense? The doctrines are correct, but where is the obedience?

I will never forget a meeting of many well-known Christian leaders-writers in Cambridge, England that I attended. I was in Cambridge at the time, and I asked if I might be allowed to listen in on the discussion as I knew their very famous names from books. I must say that this experience really shook me! My heart just sank within me at the attitude of argument with one another when it came to a point of discussion. I don’t say that all of them behaved like this, but a considerable proportion of them did. I think you will not be surprised that I never want to read their books. For me, it is important what kind of a person he is. It is of no importance how many degrees he has got.

When a godly man has something to say, I want to listen. That is why the books of people like John Sung are so precious to me. I am sure that he would have been outstanding in the field of chemistry, which was his specialty, but in terms of the Word of God, he had next to no training. So let me be quite honest about it, John Sung’s writings are really not worth reading from the point of view of academic teaching of the Word of God. But his spiritual insight is exceedingly good; he can see what the academ­ics cannot see. That is exactly what makes his writing precious. So it all comes back to this matter of a faith that obeys, or a faith that does not obey. That is most essential for us to know. Your salvation depends upon this.

In Luke 6:46, the Lord Jesus says, “Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord,” and don’t do what I say?” What do you think is the answer to that question? Why do people call Jesus “Lord, Lord,” and they don’t do what he, who represents God, says? Ask yourself, in your experience how many times you have said, “Lord, Lord,” to the Lord Jesus, but you did not do what Jesus teaches? In Isaiah 29:13, God says, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Why bother to honor God and Christ with your lips if your heart is going to be far away? Why bother? Here you see the foolishness of people. You can deal with people like this, but you cannot deal with God like this. We are wrong if we think that God is much like anyone else.

In relating with people, I may not want to offend someone, and so I say, “How are you? You are my friend! We are always friends!” But in my heart I say, “The sooner this guy disappears the better!” We behave like this because it is in our nature to behave like this. I think this is very much the way we behave towards one another in the church today. Let us be honest about it. After the meeting, you will be smiling at some people saying, “How are you?” but you don’t bother to hear the answer. It always reminds me that we, Chinese have the courtesy to say, “Have you eaten?” But if he says, “No,” you don’t say, “Oh, you haven’t eaten! Can I give you something?” So we find that in many situations, we ask the question but we are not really concerned. We are near with the lips, but our hearts are far away.

An important spiritual principle emerges: What your relationship is to God will be the same as your relationship to men. In other words, if you are far from God in your heart, you will be far from men. The same principle also operates in the opposite direction. If your heart is far from people, it will also be far from God. These principles always operate in the spiritual life. If you want to learn to draw near to God, learn to draw near to one another. This is the principle that the apostle John says in 1John 4:20: “If you do not love your brother whom you can see, how can you love God whom you do not see?” Think about that.

Is your love and faith towards God or an imaginary object?

Maybe we love the person we do not see, because we don’t have to think about his wrongdoings and character imperfections. It is like some boys and girls, who love a movie star in their imagination, Oh, this beautiful or handsome movie star is a wonderful person! They always dream about this person in their dreams. Just watch all the teenagers go wild when “The Beatles” and “The Rolling Stones” come on! But wait until you know that movie star. You think that person is so wonderful because you have made that person wonderful in your imagination. If you had the chance of seeing that person as he or she really is, I wonder how many days your excitement about that person will last. I think you will be so disillusioned at the end of one week that you would not want to think about that person again!

That is a problem in marriage among young people, especially if they marry too young. They lack experience in life to know the realities of human nature. When they fall in love, they think that boy or that girl is as wonderful as an angel! They can neither eat nor sleep, thinking about this person. But one month after they got married, they are already fighting, because they have been living in their imagination, and the reality did not match up to their imagination.

So the principle in the spiritual life is this: Your love and faith must not be towards an imaginary object, but towards God as He really is. Have you painted some kind of idea of God in your own mind? It is true to say that no matter how wonderful you can imagine God to be, God will be more wonderful than that. The question is how do you know whether your love and faith towards God is real or imaginary? We know when it is put to the test in everyday life.

That is why you see some Christians in the church are full of love for God! They are full of fire! Then one year later, they are not in the church anymore! A person who has this kind of devotion to God must have a wonderful faith. How is it they have fallen away from God altogether? I am sure you know people like this. How do we understand it? It is because their faith was an imaginary faith. I know many such cases. I know people who are full of devotion to God. They live only for God, they study only for God, and where are they today? They are not in the church anymore. They are not following Christ to walk with God any­more. You will say, “Strange, how could a person have had this kind of devotion, but is now at the other extreme?” Don’t be surprised when you see these things. It will happen all the time.

It is no more different from the young couple who were so deeply in love and got married, but divorced a few months later. You saw them holding hands with stars in their eyes, and staggering down the streets as if drunk with new wine. How can it be they are already fighting each other after a few months? So you ask, “Did they not genuinely love each other before they got married?” Certainly, their love for each other was genuine. The point is there is a difference between genuine love towards a genuine object, and a love that might have been genuine but towards an imaginary object. If you fall in love, I hope that you will fall in love with your eyes open, and not be in a love that is blind. One day, when you open your eyes you will say, “What am I loving? I have been loving with my eyes closed, but now I see the reality!”

The difference between these two kinds of love is vast. When you become a Christian, don’t love God with your eyes closed. God does not want this kind of blind love. Start now to love Him with your eyes open. True love—the love with the eyes open—grows stronger with problems. It doesn’t weaken with problems. Then you know you have the right kind of love, the right kind of faith in the other person. If a couple is just as close as when they first got married one year later, you know they are on the right track. When they are even closer to each other five years after they are married, you say, “Praise God! They really know what love is about.” In the same way, Christians had love for God when they first came to Him. When you see one Christian’s love for God is even stronger five years later, whereas the other Christian is nowhere to be seen, then you know the difference between the two different kinds of faith, the two different kinds of love for God.

True faith and love “gives”, not “takes”

How do you know then, this right kind of faith, this right kind of love? It is the love and the faith that is prepared to give oneself to the other, and not just to take from the other. The difference between these two kinds of love is that one “gives” and the other “takes”. That is why I am so afraid of those preachers who say, “Accept Christ as your Savior today. Take from him.” I think that those of you who know my preaching don’t hear me talking like this. I always speak about giving yourself to God. I don’t speak about accepting Christ. Now you will know the reason. It is the fundamental difference between the two kinds of love. To take is to get something for nothing. Most preachers like to prey on this baser aspect of human love: “If you believe in God through Jesus, you’ll get God as a big bonus on top of everything else. You have nothing to lose! ” My preaching is exactly the opposite. When you come to God through Christ, you give everything to Him. The preacher who says, “Come and accept Christ! You have everything to gain and nothing to lose,” has many people raising their hands. One year later, what has happened to these people who raised their hands? Where are they? The fallout rate in one year is 80%, according to one survey of the average evangelist! But for those who come to God through my preaching, the fallout rate is almost nil. I have proved this because over the years, all those who came to God in our Liverpool church still stand. Is it because I am cleverer than these preachers? Not at all! I am sure many of them are cleverer than I am, and many are better preachers than I am, but the difference is that I am determined to preach as the Lord Jesus taught.

In the teaching of Jesus, can you find me a passage where it says, “Anyone who accepts me ...”? On the contrary he says, “He who comes to me I will not cast out” (Jo. 6:37). “If you deny yourself (die to your self) and follow me to my Father, I will accept you” (Mt. 16:24). When does the subject expect the king to come to him? It is we who go to the king! It is not a question then of accepting God through Christ, although that is not entirely untrue. In a sense we do accept God, but more importantly, it is God who accepts us. The whole teaching of the Lord Jesus is: if a man does not die to his self for the sake of God, he cannot be Christ’s disciple.

Now on what kind of preaching did you become a Christian? Did you become a Christian in order to use God, or to give yourself to God and follow Christ? There is a world of difference between these two! Right now, are you the “Christian” who accepts God through Christ, or are you the Christian who has given yourself to God to imitate Christ? If you are the “Christian” who only takes God to yourself in order to possess Him, and to make use of Him, you are not going to be a Christian who will survive for very long in the realities of everyday life.

When these two kinds of people become Christians, even their reaction is different at the beginning. Many people say they are full of joy when they accepted Christ. Why not? If I get a big present, I am also full of joy. But when I lead people to God through Christ, many times, their tears run down their faces. They enter into the kingdom with their spiritual eyes open. They have seen the glory of the kingdom of God, but they can also see the narrow, hard road leading there. They say to me, “I will take up the cross and follow my Lord Jesus to come to God from this day on.” They go forward even though tears run down their faces! There is nothing superficial about this kind of Christian. They are a different type of Christian altogether in the church. That is why when I tell you that their fallout rate is almost nil, you would not be surprised by now.

Is your faith out to take or to give in total commitment?

So today, I would like you to examine yourselves. What is the nature of your faith? What kind of a Christian life do you live today? Are you a Christian in order to get all the things for yourself? Or rather, do you know now that God is Savior and King, and He has sent His Christ to take away the sins of the world by his blood? Indeed, God gives us His gift, Jesus Christ to forgive us and set us free from sin, so that we totally commit ourselves to follow after his life. Then you will know what it is to be a true Christian.

Can you stand because you see God’s glory and greatness in Christ?

This leads us to another point. The difference between these two kinds of faith (and the two kinds of love) is the difference in perception of who God is and who Jesus Christ is. The kind of Christian who only talks about accepting God and Christ usually has no concept of the glory, maj­esty, and greatness of God and Christ. Little wonder that when problems come, he cannot stand. It is the difference between choosing the road that is easy and the road that is hard. It is undoubtedly easy to receive a gift, but it is costly to give yourself.

Do you build your life of faith to last for eternity?

The Lord Jesus speaks of the building of the two different types of houses in this parable. When the flood comes and the wind blows, one type of house will collapse. But the other type of house stands, no matter what kind of storm beats against it. Outwardly, the two houses may seem to be the same, since you can’t see their foundation because it is hidden. In the same way, how do you tell the difference between so many Christians when you look at them in the church? They are both very polite; they both have nice smiling faces. Although the two Christians look the same outwardly, it is the inward difference that is important. One is built on the rock. The other is just sitting on the sand with no foundation.

This is the meaning of the Lord Jesus’ parable. The life that you are living now is like building a house. If you are building just for a short time, why waste the energy, the strength and the cost to build it on a foundation? The man who builds for long-term builds on the rock, because he is thinking of a long time ahead. This shows again the difference between these two kinds of faith because of two kinds of love for God. The one kind of Christian only thinks about the present. Another kind of Christian thinks into the future, right through to eternity. Just have a conversation with them, and you will know which they are thinking about. The one kind of Christian is only worried about his business, his exams. His whole thinking is only about today, tomor­row, and the day after that. He has no vision, no future. The problems of today are all-important. But the other kind of Christian has his eyes way into the distance. He is not short-sighted. Have you ever noticed that the person with the long-term view is the person who does not get too worried about problems in the immediate future? But for the Christian who thinks only about today, every small thing is a major disas­ter. It’s because today and tomorrow are important for him. But the long-term Christian is the one who says, “Today and tomorrow are important, but not as important as the future that I am building for.”

Are you the kind of person who lives for today, who says, “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die! Today is all we’ve got, so let’s enjoy while we’ve got it”? Or are you the person who looks into the distance, who says, “It may be hard work today, but the objective I am laboring for is worth it”? I am told that there are some people in the world who never bother to work until they have no more money. Then they only work another day so that they can relax again. I always understood that Chinese people have a long-term view. They don’t mind having hardship today in order to have a good future. If you can apply that into spiritual thinking, you are really getting somewhere!

So think of the beauty of the Lord Jesus’ teaching here. You try building a house on the rock, and you will know what he is talking about. Here is a great rock, and how are you going to put a foundation into that? Oh, it is hard work chiseling into the stone, in order to establish the house on the rock! In Luke 6:48, the Lord Jesus says, “… he is like a man building a house, who dug deep into the rock.” He did not dig into the mud, for that would be an easy job. You try digging deep into the rock! That really is hard work. Think how many hours he has to chisel into the rock with the sweat running down him, while the other fellow who built his house on the sand is having an easy time. He just hammers his wood together, and behold, there is the house! There you can see the other fellow sitting under the tree smiling, because he finished his house a long time ago, while this fellow is still fiercely chiseling away on the rock, making only a small hole. The Lord Jesus says, “He dug deep.” Whoa! This man is not just going to chisel a small hole in the rock. He is digging down deep into the rock. The other fellow says, “This fellow is really wasting his energy. Look, it’s nice and cool under the tree, and this fellow is trying to make life hard for himself!” As an English saying goes, “He who laughs last laughs best.” So this fellow sitting under the tree is laughing first, looking at that poor fellow still chiseling away on the rock. Then summer is past and the winter comes.

To understand the picture here, you’ll have to understand a bit about the life in Israel. In summer, even the rivers become dry. But in winter, the rain comes down hard. Suddenly, there is a river where there was no river. That is why anyone who knows the Middle East will know the word wadi. Wadi is a river which only becomes a river in winter. Suddenly in winter, the rain begins to come down! And who was laughing last? When the rain came down and the floods came up, this fellow, whose house is on the sand, is going down in the waters, yelling, “Help! Save me!” By that time, his house is either smashed on the rocks, or washed into the sea. But the man who built on the solid rock is safe. Nothing happens to him, because he built with a long-term view.

Rooted in Christ: total confidence in God on the hard road

What is this rock? 1 Corinthians 3:10-11 is Paul’s exposition of this passage, Matthew 7:24-27, where he points out that this rock, this foundation is Christ, who reflects the nature of God, the Rock. If you build on Christ, just as the house rests completely on the foundation of the rock, your life is wholly united with him in death to self, and united with him in living a new life (Rom. 6:5) because you are grafted “into him” (Rom. 11:24). When you base your life solidly on the Lord Jesus’ teaching and his pattern of life, you will be safe in God. To use Paul’s expression in Colossians 2:6-7, the direction of your life is to be “rooted in Christ,” you dig deep into Christ. You surrender your life to God to be grafted into Christ, to be united with him. Every day, you are ever going deeper into the life of Christ into which God has grafted you, because you are not satisfied just to have a superficial relationship with God.

Ask yourself right now, “Am I a new person united with Christ in his death and in his resurrection? Am I living a life that totally depends on God who lives in me, because I am a new person in Christ? Am I totally drawing nourishment from God’s holy Spirit to live the Christian life?” In every difficulty, do I have total confidence in God, because I have built a solid relationship with God, in Christ?”

The man “dug deep” into the rock, so his house doesn’t just sit on the rock. He built his house with great effort. Digging deep into the rock shows the direction of your energy and your effort that you put into build your life every day. Ask yourself honestly, “How much energy did I spend digging deeper into God’s life in Christ, to renew the new man in me during the past week?” How many hours did you spend to meditate, going deeper into the Word of God? How much time did you spend communing with God, drawing into a closer relationship with Him as a new man who is grafted into Christ? How many people spend hours with their girlfriend or their boyfriend, and it was like five minutes! But to spend five minutes with God is like many hours! How can you be going deeper into Christ’s life, becoming like him, if you are neither interested in God’s Word nor in drawing closer to commune in prayer with God, your Father in heaven? If this is your situation, you are the kind of “Christian” who will be swept away when the difficulties come, as in the case of so many “Christians” in China when the Communists came. Yet there was the other kind of Christians, who suddenly blossomed forth in the new strength that was not seen before. It was almost as though the flood waters really fertilized their roots, and they sprang forth in great power.

Notice that the one flood that destroys the godless, is the same flood that saves the godly. The flood waters in the days of Noah that wiped out the people, were the same waters that lifted up the ark and saved it. The waters of the Red Sea that divided, in order to let the Israelites, the people of God go through, were the same waters that wiped out the enemy, Pharaoh’s army. Likewise the flood that wiped out all these nominal “Christians” with superficial faith, is the same water that has made the church in China the mighty spiritual force that it is today. So for your eternal welfare, I beg of you to consider carefully what kind of faith you have: whether you are built upon the rock, Christ, who fully represents God, the Rock, or whether your faith is built on nothing more than the shifting sands of this world. I pray that when the floods come — and they will come — every one of you will be able to stand.

Someone will say, “Maybe the floods will never come.” If you are thinking like this, you are thinking exactly like the foolish man. He was sure the floods would never come his way. That was why he built his house on the sand. Believe me, the floods will certainly come. Make sure that you build your life on Christ, and so on God, so that like Christ, you totally trust and commit yourself to God.

You reap what you sow. Live without regret!

In 1 Corinthians 3:12-13, the apostle Paul develops a point in which, having got the foundation, you have got to build on top of it. Whether the super-structure will survive depends on what material you build with. It is not only that the foundation survives, but also the house on top. What will or will not survive depends on what you put into the cost. If you build with costly things like gold, silver and precious stones, it will stand any kind of test. But if you build with cheap things like wood, hay or straw, like so many Christians put next to no cost into the building, it will not survive. When the Judgment comes, you will be empty-handed.

I am sure that you have found it very costly to sit here in this heat today, but this kind of cost will well be worthwhile. I also hope that those who can survive the floods may not have to survive only by the skin of their teeth, that is, have nothing much left after the flood is past. I hope they don’t have to go to God empty-handed. Some Christians will be saved, but are they going to be sorry that they did not build for the future! Think of that Day when you stand before God’s appointed Judge, the Lord Jesus, are you going to be empty-handed? (1 Cor. 3:14-15). Every one of us is going to stand before him.

My principle is this: Live your life so that you have nothing to regret. I hope that you will really take this to heart. The man who had his house washed away had plenty to regret. Live a life where there is no need to regret. I emphasize that again. In other words, when you stand before the Lord Jesus on that Day, don’t say, “Oh, I wish that I had lived my life differently!” As for the people who are deciding, shall I serve God, or shall I not serve God and make a better living? If you want guidance, think on the principle: On that Day, when I stand before the Lord Jesus, what would I really have rather chosen to do? I think you will immediately see what would be the right thing to do.


(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church