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1. Two Types of Foundation

– Chapter 1 –

Two Types of Foundation

Matthew 7:21–27



Today we begin our series of messages on the parables of the Lord Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, by look­ing at a striking and important parable in Matthew 7:21–27:

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one 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 workers of lawlessness.” 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. (ESV)

The parallel passage to this is found 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 on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great. (ESV)

Valuable differences in parallel passages

Here we have two passages, one in Matthew and one in Luke, that are similar but not identical. In Jesus’ teach­ing in the Gospels, you will often encounter parallel passages which are similar but not exactly the same. What is the reason for this? One reason is that the Lord Jesus did not, in his ministry, teach these things on only one occasion or at only one place.

If a spiritual lesson is important, we would expect Jesus to preach the same truth in different places to different audiences. When he preaches the same message at another place, there will be differences in the presentation. In the two parallel passages we quoted, the differ­ences between them are minor. But the differ­ences are quite major at some other places in the Gospels. If you compare the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 with the Parable of the Minas in Luke 19, you will see lots of similar content, yet also major differ­ences. Matthew is simply record­ing Jesus’ teach­ing given at one place whereas Luke records the same teaching given at another place.

We thank God for these differences because it is most precious to compare them and see how some­thing said in one Gospel account enriches the meaning of another Gospel account where the detail is absent.

Saving faith includes obedience

In this parable of the two foundations, we see two kinds of faith. One is saving faith. The other is also faith by the popular definition of the word “faith,” but it is not saving faith. Think through what the Lord Jesus is teaching, and ask yourself whether your faith is saving faith.

You may prophesy or perform healing or cast out demons, but that doesn’t prove that you have saving faith, though it does prove that you have some sort of faith. How important it is for the church today to understand this truth, lest there be many who have the same kind of faith as these people, which is not saving faith!

Jesus will turn to them and say, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers” (Mt. 7:23). What exactly is the pro­blem with these people? It isn’t that they lack faith, but that their faith doesn’t include obedience. Jesus says that only those who do the will of the Father will enter the kingdom of heaven (v.21). Saving faith, the only true faith, includes obedience to God who loves us deeply.

Non-saving faith

You may genuinely believe in God and in His Son Jesus Christ. You may believe in God’s power to the extent that you do mighty miracles. Yet it is possible all the same that the life you are living is a life of self will. In your daily life, you simply do what you please and go where you want to go, without consult­ing God at all. The only time you consult God is when you don’t know which way to turn, so you turn to God in the way an unbeliever would turn to a fortune teller.

Many Christians don’t know which way to go, so they use God to find out. But even in trying to know what God’s will is, they might not necessarily obey it. They are like those who consult a fortune­ teller not because they want to obey him but to avoid life difficulties. These Christians have faith, but not a faith that functions in obedience.

What kind of faith do you have? You may say, “I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior sent by God. I believe that Jesus, having died for my sins, rose from the dead. I believe that the Bible is the Word of God.” You can believe all this yet not obey Christ’s teaching in your daily life; you have merely accepted these teachings as true. This kind of faith does not involve a living obed­ience to God, so how can it save you? In Scriptural teaching, merely accepting the orthodox belief of “faith alone” — even if it is a sincere intellectual belief — does not save.

The church perpetrated the most heinous crimes

In the history of the church, many Christians have perpetrated the most dis­graceful crimes in God’s name despite believing all these doctrines. Do you think that those who perpetrated the Spanish Inquisition, killing many in the name of God, did not believe that the Bible is the Word of God? Do you think they did not believe in God? Do you think they did not believe that Jesus is the Christ sent by God? Do you think they did not believe he died on the cross?

They believed all these things, yet they put people to death while wearing the cross around their own necks!

These are the dark episodes of church history. You can wear a cross around your neck while putting people to death, and think you are doing God a service (cf. John 16:2).

The Roman Catholics were not the only ones guilty of such crimes. The Protestants did some heinous acts too, in the Thirty Years’ War. And all these atrocities were done in the name of God! The problem was not that they lacked faith, but that they lacked obedience. Jesus says you must have an obedient faith if you are going to be saved.

The church is judgmental in God’s name

Let’s just consider the people in the church today without going back in church history. There are people in the church today who use their tongues like a sword to kill others in God’s name. They criticize others in the church to the point of destroying them. You don’t have to be in church for long to witness this. Some people have left the church simply because others kept on criticiz­ing them.

Christians with tongues like a sword would often say, “You are a liar, a hypocrite, or whatever. I am criticizing you because I’m doing this in God’s service.”

It doesn’t mean that the church is not allowed to point out faults and mistakes, but that it’s not for us Christians to criti­cize and judge others in this hostile spirit, and then say, “I’m doing it for God.”

The Lord Jesus says we are to love and encourage one anoth­er. Do you and I obey that teaching? What’s the point of saying I believe in Jesus when I don’t do what he tells me? When I don’t love or care about people, how can I say I have saving faith? My doctrines may be correct, but where is the obedience?

I will never forget what I saw at a meeting of many well-known Christian leaders and writers that was held in Cambridge, England. I happened to be in Cambridge, and I asked if I may listen in on their discussions as I knew their famous names from their books.

That experience really shook me. My heart sank at their attitude and the manner in which they argued over the points being discussed. I am not saying that all of them behaved like this, but a considerable number did. You probably wouldn’t be surprised that I don’t want to read their books any more. When I read books, it’s important to me what kind of people they are, not how many degrees they have.

But when a godly man has something to say, I listen to him. That is why books by people like John Sung are precious to me. I am sure that he would have excelled 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 honest about it: John Sung’s writings are not worth reading in terms of the academic teaching of God’s Word, but his spiritual insight is exceedingly good. He sees things that acad­emics cannot see. That is exactly what makes his writings precious.

So it comes back to this matter of an obedient faith versus a faith that doesn’t obey God. This is most essential for us to know, for our salvation depends on it.

Christians honor God with their lips

The Lord Jesus says in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” In your experience, how many times have you said, “Lord, Lord,” yet didn’t 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 even bother to honor God with your lips when your heart is far away? Here we see the foolishness of people. We may treat people like this, honoring them with an aloof heart, but we cannot treat God like that.

In relating with people, we don’t want to offend them, so we might say something like, “How are you doing, my friend?” But in our hearts we might say, “The sooner this guy disappears, the better!” We behave like this because it’s in our nature, even when we are in church. Let’s be honest about it. After the church service, you might smile at people, saying, “How are you doing?” but you don’t care to hear the answer.

We may have the courtesy to ask, “Have you had dinner yet?” If the other person says no, we wouldn’t reply, “Oh, you haven’t eaten! Can I get you something to eat?” We ask quest­ions that outwardly express concern, but in our hearts we are not concerned. We are near with our lips, but our hearts are far away.

An important spiritual principle then emerges: Your rela­tionship with God mirrors your relationship with men. If your heart is far from God, you will be far from men. This prin­ciple also oper­ates in reverse: If your heart is far from people, it will also be far from God.

These principles operate constantly 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 teaches in 1 John 4:20: If you don’t love your brother whom you see, how can you love God whom you don’t see?

Faith and love must be built on a sure foundation

It is easier to love someone we don’t see because we don’t have to think of his wrongdoings and character imperfect­ions. It’s like the people who adore a movie star in their imagination, “Oh, this beauti­ful or hand­some movie star is wonderful!” They see this person in their dreams. Just watch the teenagers go wild when the Beatles or the Rolling Stones come on stage!

But wait till you know that rock star or movie star. At first you thought he or she is so wonderful, but that’s because you have made the person wonder­ful in your imagination. If you get a chance to see that person as he or she really is, I wonder how long your excitement will last. I think that after one week, you will be so disillusioned that you wouldn’t want to think about that person again!

This is a common problem in marriage especially if the couple married young. They don’t have enough life exper­ience to know the realities of human nature. They fall in love, and think the other person is as wonderful as an angel! They can’t eat or sleep without thinking about this person. But a month into their mar­riage, they start fighting because all along they had been living in their imaginat­ion, and now the reality doesn’t match up.

So the principle in the spiritual life is that your love and your faith must not be directed towards an imaginary object, but towards God as He truly is. Are you painting a concept of God in your own mind? (On the other hand, it is true that no matter how wonderful you imag­ine God to be, God is even more wonderful than that!)

How can we know whether our love and faith towards God is real or imaginary? We will know when it’s put to the test of everyday life.

In the church, some Christians are outwardly full of love for God and are filled with the fire of devotion. But a year later, they are no longer found in the church. We would think that a person with this kind of devotion to God must have a wonder­ful faith. So how did he or she end up like this, falling away from God altogether? I am sure you have known people like that, who have an imaginary faith.

I have known many such people who are outwardly devoted to God. They live only for God and study only for God, but where are they today? They are no longer in church, and no longer walking with God. You may say, “Strange, how could anyone with this kind of devotion go to the other extreme?” Don’t be surprised when you see this. It happens all the time.

It is really no different from the situation of a young couple who were deeply in love and got married, yet divorced a few months later. They were holding hands, seeing stars in their eyes, and staggering on the streets as if drunk with wine. How can it be that they are fighting a few months into their marriage? Didn’t they genuinely love each other before they got married?

Their love for each other was genuine, but there is a vast difference between a genuine love towards a genuine object, and a love that may be genuine but is directed towards an imaginary object.

When you fall in love, I hope you will fall in love with your eyes open, and not have a love that is so blind that when your eyes are finally opened, you will say, “What have I been doing? I have been loving with my eyes closed, but now I see the reality!”

There is a vast difference between the two kinds of love. When you become a Christian, don’t love God with your eyes closed. God doesn’t want this kind of blind love.

Start to love God now, with your eyes open. True love with open eyes grows stronger, not weaker, in the face of prob­lems. Then you will know whether you have the right kind of love for — and faith in — the other person. If a couple remains close to each other after one year of marriage, you will know that they are on the right track. When they get even closer five years into their marriage, you can praise God that they really know what love is about.

Many Christians love God when they first come to Him. If their love for Him grows stronger over the course of five years, in contrast to Christians who are now nowhere to be seen, you will see the stark differ­ence between the two kinds of faith and the two kinds of love.

Two kinds of love and faith, and their differences

What are the differences between a saving faith and a faith that does not save, between a genuine love and a blind love? What is the right kind of faith and the right kind of love?

1. The one gives cheerfully, the other takes

The right kind of love and faith will readily give oneself to the other and not just take from the other. The difference is that one type gives and the other type takes. To take is to get some­thing for nothing. I am alarmed by preachers who say, “Accept Jesus as your Savior today, and you will get many things from him.” If you are familiar with my preaching, you would know that I don’t talk like that. I would always speak of giving oneself to Christ as Christ gives himself to God. Now you know why I don’t speak of “accept­ing” Christ.

Many preachers prey on this base aspect of human love, say­ing: “If you believe in God, you will gain God as a bonus on top of everything else. You will have nothing to lose!” My preach­ing is exactly the opposite. When you come to Christ, you give him everything.

If a preacher says, “Come and accept Jesus; you’ve got every­thing to gain and nothing to lose,” many listeners will raise their hands. But one year later, what will happen to them? Where are they now? The average fallout rate of converts after one year is 80%, according to a survey done by evangelists.

But the fallout rate is almost zero among those who come to the Lord through my preach­ing. I have proved this because all who came to the Lord over the years in our Liverpool church are still standing. Is it that I am cleverer than these preachers? Not at all. I am sure that many of them are clever­er than I, or are better preachers, but the difference is the message: I deter­mine to preach what the Lord Jesus taught.

Can you find anywhere in Jesus’ teaching a statement that says, “If anyone accepts me…”? On the contrary, Jesus says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37) When does the subject ever expect the king to come to him? It is we who go to the king! It’s not a question of us accepting Christ, though there is a kernel of truth to that. In a sense we do accept Christ, but more importantly, it is Christ who accepts us. In the teaching of the Lord Jesus, if you don’t die to your self for his sake, you cannot be his disciple.

On the basis of what preaching did you become a Christian? Did you become a Christian to make Christ your possession, or was it to give yourself to Christ? There is a world of difference between the two. Are you a Christian who merely accepts Christ, or do you give your­self to Christ? If you give yourself to Christ, he will accept you. But if you are a Christian who accepts Christ to possess him and make use of him, you won’t survive for long as a Christian in the realities of everyday life.

But we also know of encouraging examples. Many Christians are full of joy when they accept Christ. And why shouldn’t they be? If they get the best present of all, they would be full of joy. When I lead people to Christ, many of them have tears running down their faces. They enter into the kingdom with their spirit­ual eyes open. They see the hard­ships and difficult­ies ahead of them on the narrow way. They see the glory of God’s kingdom, yet also the hard and narrow road that leads to it. They tell me, “I will take up the cross and follow my Lord from this day on.” They go forward with tears running down their faces.

There is nothing superficial about this kind of Christian. They are a different type of Christian altogether. That is why you wouldn’t be surprised when I tell you that their fallout rate is almost zero.

I would like you to examine yourselves. What is the nature of your faith? What kind of Christian life are you living? Did you become a Christian to gain things for yourself?

2. The one sees Jesus as king, the other sees Jesus as a gift

The Lord Jesus is the King who rules over all. You cannot treat him as a gift inside a box tied with a bow, and say it is a gift from God for you to take home. God has indeed given us His gift, Jesus Christ, but the crucial point is that after we receive the gift, we must give ourselves to God. Then you will know what it is to be a true Christian.

This leads to another point. The difference between the two kinds of faith, and between the two kinds of love, lies in our perception of who Christ is. The Christian who only talks about accepting Christ lacks a right concept of his glory, majesty, and greatness. When pro­blems arise, such a Christian will not stand. It’s the difference between choosing the easy road and the hard road. It’s easy to receive a gift, but costly to give yourself.

3. The one looks to the future, the other, the present life

In the parable, the Lord Jesus speaks of building two types of house. When the flood comes and the wind blows, one type will collapse in the storm, the other type will stand. Outwardly the two houses look similar, but that’s only because their foundat­ions are hidden. How do you tell the difference between two Christ­ians when you see them in church? Both are polite and have smiling faces. They look the same outwardly, but what’s crucial is the inward difference. One is built on rock, the other is sitting on sand.

That is the meaning of the parable. The life you live is likened to building a house. If you want to build a house rapidly in minimum time, just build it on sand. Why spend your energy, your strength and your money to build a house on a solid foun­d­ation? But the one who focuses on the long term will build it on rock.

It shows again the difference between the two kinds of faith which correspond to the two kinds of love for God. One type of Christian thinks only about the present, the other looks to the future right through to eternity. When you talk with them, you can tell what things occupy their thoughts.

One type of Christian is concerned only about his business, his exams, and so on. His whole thinking is focused on the short term: today, tomorrow, and the day after. He has no spiritual vision of the future, for it is the present issues that are all-important to him.

But the other type of Christian gazes into the distance, for he is not shortsighted. Have you noticed that a person with a long view of the future doesn’t get too anxious over problems that arise in the near term? He says, “Today and tomorrow are important, but not as important as the future I am building for.” But to the Christian who thinks only about today, every small thing is a major disaster. That’s because today and tomor­row are important to him.

Do you live only for today? “Let’s eat and drink for tomorrow we die! Today is all we’ve got, so let’s enjoy ourselves while there is still today.” Or do you look into the distance? “It may be hard work, but the goal I am laboring for is worth it.”

I am told that some people don’t bother to work until they run out of money. Then they work a few days to earn a bit of money to spend on enjoyment. By contrast, some have a long-term view, working hard today to gain a better future. If you apply this to your spiritual thinking, you will truly get somewhere!

How to build a house on the rock?

Ponder on the beauty of the Lord’s teaching. After having under­stood what he is teaching us, you can start building a house on rock. There is the great rock right in front of you, so how are you going to put a foundation on it and into it?

Oh, it’s hard work to chisel into the stone, to build a house on rock. The Lord Jesus describes the work this way: “he is like a man building a house, who dug deep into the rock” (Luke 6:48). He is not digging into mud which is easy, but digging deep into rock! That is hard work.

Think of the hours he spends chiseling into the rock with sweat running down his face, while the other fellow who builds his house on sand is having an easy time: he hammers some wood planks together, and behold, there is the house! He sits under a tree and smiles because he finished his house early, while the other guy is chiseling away at the rock, making only a small hole.

But he dug deep. He is not just chiseling a small hole in the rock, but digging deep into the rock. The other guy looks over and says, “He’s wasting his time and energy. It’s so nice and cool under my tree, but this guy is making life hard for himself!”

An English saying goes like this: he who laughs last laughs best. The guy sitting under the tree gets the first laugh because the other guy is chiseling away at the rock.

Summer passes and winter arrives. To understand this pic­ture, you need to know a bit about the climate in Israel where in summer even rivers can become dry. But in winter, the rains come down hard. Suddenly there is a river where there was no river. Those living in the Middle East would know the word wadi. A wadi is a riverbed that is dry except in the rainy winter season. Then the rain comes suddenly!

So who gets the last laugh? When the rain comes down and the flood­s rise, the guy whose house is built on sand slides into the waters, and yells, “Help! Save me!” By then his house is smashed on the rocks and is washed away. But the man who builds on solid rock is safe, for he built the house with a long-term view of the future.

The Rock

What does the rock or foundation represent in the parable? In the Old Testament — namely, the Hebrew Scriptures which were familiar to Jesus’ Jewish listen­ers — the rock or foundation is the LORD God (Yahweh), as we will see in the next chapter. Yet Jesus Christ is the one sent from God and who does the Father’s works (John 5:19); hence in spiritual reality and in our spiritual lives, Jesus Christ is also the rock and foundation. 1 Corinthians 3:10-11 says:

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (ESV)

If you build your life on Christ and root your life into him, you will be safe and secure. What does it mean to build on Christ? It means to live in total dependence on him, just as the house rests totally on the foundation of the rock. Ask yourself: Am I living a life that has an internal abiding in Jesus (John 15:4), living by his words that abide in me (John 15:7; Col. 3:16)? In every problem, in every difficulty, do I depend wholly on Christ’s words to do God’s will, to bring forth an abundance of eternal fruit? Does God’s spirit remind me or reveal to me the truth of Christ’s words? Do I have total confidence in him? Have I built a solid, communing relationship with him?

The house doesn’t just sit on the rock, it is dug into it. It is “rooted in Christ,” to use Paul’s expression, “rooted and built up in him” (Col. 2:7). Notice that the man “dug deep” (Luke 6:48). What does it mean to dig deep into Christ? It means that Christ is your goal in life. You are not satisfied merely with a superficial relationship with him, but want to go deeper into his life. Every day you strive towards becoming like Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Every day you put in the effort and energy to grow deeper into Christ, for it takes a lot of effort to build a house.

In the past week, how much effort have you put in growing deeper into Christ? How much time have you spent meditating on his words? Do you imitate Jesus in the way he com­munes with God his Father, going into an ever closer relationship with God as Jesus has taught us?

Young people spend hours with their girlfriend or boyfriend, yet to them it feels like five minutes! But to many, spending five minutes with God feels like many hours. How can you go deep­er into Christ if you do not draw close to God as Jesus draws close to his Father? You are the kind of Christian who will be swept away when the storm comes. When the problems of life come, you will be gone.

Be rooted in Christ and not fall

When the floods come, the house built on sand collapses. The faith of many will collapse at a time of testing. But the other type of Christian blossoms forth in a new strength they have not experienced before. It is as if the powerful floodwaters are nourishing their roots, and they spring forth in great power.

The flood that destroyed the godless in the days of Noah was the same flood that saved the godly. The floodwaters that destroyed the world were the same waters that lifted the ark and saved it. The Red Sea that parted to allow the Israelites, the people of God, to pass through, were the same waters that swept away Pharaoh’s army.

The flood that wipes out Christians who have a nominal faith is the flood that strengthens the faith of true Christians with mighty spiritual power.

For your eternal welfare, I beg of you to consider what kind of faith you have. Are you building on the rock — Christ — or are you building on the shifting sands of this world? I pray that when the floods come — and they will come — every one of you will stand.

You may say, “Maybe the floods will never come.” In that case, you are like the foolish man in the parable who is confi­dent the floods will never come his way. That is why he built his house on sand in the first place. But the floods will certainly come. Make sure that your life is rooted in Christ, that you trust in him and commit yourself to him totally like a house that rests securely on the rock.

In 1 Corinthians 3:10f, Paul develops this idea of building on a foundation. Whether the super­structure you are build­ing will survive or collapse will depend on the material you build it with. What’s at stake is not only the survival of the foundation, but the survival of the house built on top of it. It will depend on the cost you put into it. If you build with costly things like gold, silver, and precious stones, it will with­stand any test. But if you build with cheap material like wood, hay or straw, as many Christians do, it won’t survive. You will be found empty-handed when the Judgment comes.

Live without regret

I am sure you have found it costly to sit here today in the heat, but this cost is worthwhile. I hope that those who survive the flood­waters won’t just survive by the skin of their teeth, ending with nothing much after the flood has passed. I hope they won’t go to God empty-handed.

Some Christians will be saved yet regret they did not build for the future. Think of that Day when you stand before God’s appointed Judge, the Lord Jesus Christ, before whom every one of us will stand, and discover that you are empty-handed.

My principle is this: Live your life such that you will have nothing to regret. I hope you will take this to heart. The man whose house got swept away has plenty to regret. Live a life with no regrets at the end. When you stand before the Lord Jesus on that Day, don’t say, “Oh, how I wish I had lived my life differently!”

If you are still deciding on the question, “Shall I serve God, or shall I not serve God and make a better living?,” if you want any guidance, think on the principle: On that Day when I stand before the Lord, what will I wish I had done? I think you will immediately see what is the right thing to do now.


(c) 2021 Christian Disciples Church