Extract 2 of
Life in Christ
by John Stott, to be re-published by Langham Publishing in 2019.*
The stability of buildings depends largely on their foundations, and so does the stability of human lives. Yet today many feel like the psalmist: “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Ps. 11:3). Familiar landmarks are being obliterated. Moral absolutes that were once thought to be eternal are being abandoned.
In such times, it is important to remember that Christians have always thought of Jesus Christ as the only solid foundation. This truth is celebrated in great hymns like, “Christ is our cornerstone; on him alone we build”. Note the preposition “on”. I have been struck by the number of New Testament passages in which the preposition “on” (
) is used in reference to Jesus.
Each depicts him as being the ground on which we stand or the foundation on which we build. Earlier, we saw how God’s initiative of grace has been taken “through” Christ; the preposition “on” now describes our response. God has acted through Christ, and we rest on what he has done. God has spoken through Christ, and we build our lives on this unique revelation.
Resting on the Work of Christ
We saw in the last post that, having borne our sins on the cross, Jesus “sat down”. Christ is “resting” from his work, having finished it, and we should be “resting” on it, depending on him alone for our acceptance with God. This is what the author of Hebrews calls the “Sabbath-rest for the people of God” (Heb. 4:9), adding that “anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works” (Heb. 4:10). Work and rest exclude one another. If we are working for our salvation, we are not at rest.
Saving faith is resting faith, the trust which relies on the Saviour. John Paton, a 19
-century missionary to the New Hebrides, found a good metaphor to express what this means when he translated the expression
to “trust in” Jesus (John 1:12), using a word that means “leaning your whole weight on something.”
There is an urgent need to understand this today. Many are spiritually restless and anxious and lack any assurance of salvation. Some even teach that the very idea of Christian assurance is presumptuous. True assurance, however, is not presumption. It is rather a “full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22), based not on the faith itself but on its object, Jesus Christ.
In Old Testament days God taught his people about the need for such faith, telling them not to look to other nations like Egypt and Assyria for help but to rely on the “precious cornerstone for a sure foundation” that God himself had laid in Zion (Isa. 28:16). For Isaiah, this stone was the Davidic monarchy, represented at that time by King Hezekiah but one day to be fulfilled in Jesus.
Isaiah’s call to faith became a popular text in the early church. Both Peter and Paul quote it, both apply it to Jesus, and both link it with other verses in Isaiah about “a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall” (Isa. 8:14,15). They clearly identify the two alternatives: Jesus is either a foundation-stone or a stumbling-stone. As Paul argues in Romans 9:30–10:13, either we build our lives on him or we bark our shins against him, stumble and fall.
Relying on the Promises of Christ
Humble, confident reliance on Christ as our foundation involves reliance upon his word as well as his work. As an old hymn says, “How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in his excellent word!”
I sometimes wonder if there is any more vital lesson for Christian living than this: God has made promises that he will never break. So many of us complain of spiritual doubt, darkness, depression and lethargy, of besetting sins and unconquered temptations, and of many other spiritual ills, while all the time we do not use the secret weapon God has put into our hands. As Bunyan illustrated so well in
, the way out of Doubting Castle is the key called Promise.
Not only has God made promises in his word, but he has also pledged himself to his people by an everlasting covenant. This covenant he ratified by the blood of Christ and renews to us when we come to Holy Communion. With these foundations for faith, we have no excuse for faithlessness.
Building on the Teaching of Christ
Edward Mote enshrined the truths I have been speaking about in his hymn that begins, “How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, Is laid for your faith in his excellent word.” The chorus, repeated after every verse of that that hymn, is “On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.”
This distinction between rock and sand goes back to Jesus himself and his parable of the two housebuilders (Matt 7:24–27; Luke 6:47–49). When their houses were completed, they looked exactly alike. Their only difference lay in their foundations—the one was built on rock and the other on sand. But, when the storm came, the difference between them became clear. The house built on sand collapsed in irretrievable ruin.
Jesus knew what he was talking about. Seismologists know that a house built on a solid bedrock foundation can withstand an earthquake, whereas one built on alluvial soil will not. But what did Jesus mean when he spoke of building on rock or on sand? He gives us the answer himself. The wise person is the one who “hears these words of mine and puts them into practice,” while the fool hears them and does nothing. The difference is not between knowledge and ignorance, but between obedience and disobedience.
One of the evidences for Jesus’ uniqueness as God’s Son is the unassuming manner in which he advanced such claims. The distinction between wisdom and folly in this life, and between survival and judgement in the next, he dared to say, depends on whether people obey or disobey his teaching. Each individual has to decide on what foundation they are going to build.
What Jesus taught applies equally to the church. It too needs a firm foundation. And Jesus has given it one. “On this rock I will build my church,” he said (Matt. 16:18). This ‘rock’ should be understood as “the faith professed by Peter, not Peter professing the faith.”(1) The foundation on which the church is built is “the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20). This point is supported by the apostle Peter himself, who quotes three Old Testament texts about rocks and stones and does not apply them to himself but to Christ (1 Pet. 2:4–8).
So, we must boldly proclaim that “the church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord.” For, as Paul says, “no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). “No other foundation,” wrote Paul. “No other name,” said Peter (Acts 4:12). On that name we rest. On that foundation we build.
(1) Archbishop Kenrick, quoted by W. H. Griffith Thomas in
The Principles of Theology
(London: Longmans, Green Co., 1930), 470–1.
*Please note that the process of summarizing this passage from John Stott's book, executed by Dr. Peter Walker, necessitated a few minor changes to his exact wording. This was done with the publisher's permission.