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I use this newsletter to send Bible studies as much as once per week, sometimes less, but never more. See back issues.

Rebuilding the Foundations: Chapter 6

God's Firm Foundation

This chapter is a simple walk through the Bible's description of God's Firm Foundation. Surprisingly, it is a walk that you have probably never taken before! Once you have taken it, you will immediately know the importance of it.

Let us begin with a thought experiment. You are introduced to a group of new Christians. These Christians are born again. They have confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16-18). They have repented, been baptized in his name for the forgiveness of sins, and they have received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Their conversion was real, and they are excited to follow Jesus. The person who introduced you to these Christians tells you that you must write two sentences, and these two sentences will be the foundation of their faith, launching them on their new life in Christ.

Stop here, then, and compose your two sentences before you go on.

Do you have your sentences? This thought experiment will not be nearly as much benefit if you do not have your sentences to compare with what is below.

Here is the verse we are going to cover:

However, God’s Firm Foundation stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness.” (2 Tim. 2:19)

Let us examine the purpose of the two sentences in this verse, and why this verse is the Apostle Paul's—and thus God's—answer to the thought experiment I just gave you. Comparing your two statements with Paul's two statements will allow you to see how much your thinking needs to be adjusted, or perhaps how much it does not need to be adjusted.

First, notice that this verse begins with "however." The previous verses mention two men, Hymenaeus and Alexander. Those two men said that the resurrection had already happened, and they overthrew the faith of some (vv. 17b-18). The antecedent to "however" in 2 Timothy 2:19 goes back further than that, though. Hymenaeus and Alexander are two of a class of men whose words are "empty chatter," produce ungodliness, and "consume like gangrene" (vv. 16-17a). Paul has been addressing these kind of people throughout his letters to Timothy (1 Tim. 1:3-4, 6-7, 19-20; 6:3-6, 20-21; 2 Tim. 2:14, 23-26; 3:1-9).

2 Timothy 2:19 is an alternative to what Hymanaeus, Alexander, and others like them teach. Throughout the two letters to Timothy, Paul offereh very similar alternatives to the teachings of these corrupt men.

  • "The goal of the command is love, out of a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith" (1 Tim. 1:5).
  • Hold "faith and a good conscience" (1 Tim. 1:19).
  • "Flee these things, and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and gentleness" (1 Tim. 6:11).
  • "Flee from youthful lusts, but pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (2 Tim. 2:19).
  • "The Lord's servant must not quarrel, but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in gentleness correcting those who oppose him (2 Tim. 2:24-25).
  • "But you did follow my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, steadfastness, persecutions, and sufferings" (2 Tim. 3:10).
  • "But you remain in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them" (2 Tim. 3:14).

That last verse leads right into the famous passage on the inspiration of Scripture. We will be taking a good look at how much 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is like the rest of these verses later in this book. For now, look again at Paul's answers to the empty chatter, ungodliness, and gangrene of the teachings of corrupt men. The theme throughout 1 and 2 Timothy is that the Lord's servant should avoid all these doctrinal disputes, which do not lead to godliness, and focus on the things which do.

Thus, 2 Timothy 2:19 fits right into the context of both letters. There exists a class of men like Hymenaeus and Alexander whose empty chatter eats away at godliness like gangrene (vv. 16-18); "however," God's Firm Foundation stands (v. 19).

And God's Firm Foundation has two sentences inscribed on it. "The Lord knows those who are his," and "Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness."

This brings us back to all Paul's commands to Timothy that we just listed. "Don't be dragged into arguments. Pursue love, faith, godliness, a good conscience, and peace." In other words, "Depart from unrighteousness."

The letters to Timothy and Titus are among the last letters Paul wrote. This is disputed only by those who doubt he wrote them at all. Paul is giving instruction to his two disciples at a time when false teachers were popping up everywhere. His answer throughout is to avoid all the hubbub and stick to training in godliness:

But refuse profane and old wives’ fables. Exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise has some value, but godliness has value in all things, having the promise of the life which is now, and of that which is to come. This saying is faithful and worthy of all acceptance. For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we have set our trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. (1 Tim. 4:7-10)

This is the context of Paul's assertion that God's Firm Foundation has "The Lord knows those who are his" and "Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness" inscribed on it. Corrupt teachers abounded, focusing on all sorts of worthless disputes. These do not lead to godliness, Paul warned. Instead, he wanted Timothy and Titus to focus on departing from unrighteousness.

We have not addressed "The Lord knows those who are his." I would interpret this, in the context of the rest of 1 Timothy, to mean that we as God's servants are not to judge who is saved or who has arrived (cf. Rom. 14:1-21). Instead, we are to exhort and encourage one another every day (Heb. 3:13) toward love and good works (Heb. 10:24). The interpretation of "The Lord knows those who are his" can be taken deeper and further, and should be. In this book, however, we are going to focus on the foundational importance of "Depart from unrighteousness." As we move on, it will be clear why.

The Foundation of God

We have looked at what is inscribed on God's Firm Foundation. Surely it is even more important to identify the foundation of God itself.

We all know, of course, that "No one can lay any other foundation than that which has been laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 3:11). It is clear, then, that God's Firm Foundation is Jesus Christ. What we have not established is how we ensure that we are on that foundation.

We have Jesus' words to Peter in Matthew 16:16-18. He told us that the Church is going to be built on the foundation of Peter's confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. We can be confident that we are initially established on God's Firm Foundation if we confess Jesus as Lord like Peter did and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead (Rom. 10:9-10).

Our Lord has one more very clear thing to say about standing on the God's Firm Foundation:

"Everyone therefore who hears these words of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house on a rock. The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it didn’t fall, for it was founded on the rock." (Matt. 7:24-25)

Jesus' words are simple and clear. If we want our spiritual house to stand on the Rock of Ages, we need to hear his words and do them.

Scripture's words about God's Firm Foundation are consistent … and frightening. Jesus is the foundation, obedience to his words are the way to stand on the foundation, and the foundation is inscribed with a reminder to depart from unrighteousness, but there is a problem, a big problem.

The Bible says we do not have the power to obey.

Rescuing Good Works

We evangelicals all know that we do not have the power to obey Jesus or do good works until we are born again (Rom. 3 & 7). We are saved by grace and not by works (Rom. 3:28; Eph. 2:8-9). This is drilled into us so much that many evangelicals have developed a distaste even for the mention of the words "good works."

It is the New Testament which tells us that we cannot save ourselves by good works, but the writers of the New Testament do not share the distaste many evangelicals have for good works. They know that we are saved for good works, and they consider those good works mandatory. In fact, the power to do good works is a central purpose of our salvation.

Good works are the purpose of the Scriptures.

Every Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Notice that Paul gives several uses for the Scriptures. They are profitable (useful) for "teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness." In other words, you can use the Scriptures profitably to teach believers, to reprove them when they have departed from the way, to correct them when they are confused, and to instruct them in the ways of righteousness. But what is the purpose of all these uses? All these various ways to use Scripture, whether you are training or correcting, are for a goal: "… that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work."

That is something worth thinking about. The purpose of the Bible is to equip followers of Christ to do good works. It may not be the only purpose. The Scriptures may have several purposes, but it appears that the Apostle Paul thought its main purpose is to produce Christians that are thoroughly prepared to do good works.

This sounds strange to our evangelical ears, I know. Surely the atoning death of Christ is far more important than our good works. And, of course, it is. Jesus' death and resurrection are the focus not only of the Scriptures but of all of human history and experience. I will not deny nor question that. At the cross, Jesus ended one age, and with his resurrection he inaugurated the age of the sons of God. When we are resurrected, and our adoption is fulfilled, the whole creation will be released from its groaning and longing, and not just everyone, but everything, will rejoice at the revelation of the sons of God (Rom. 8:19-23).

The end, however, of his death and resurrection is producing people who do good works.

The Atonement and Grace: Producing a People Who Do Good Works

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we would live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify for himself a people for his own possession, zealous for good works. (Tit. 2:11-14)

Jesus died to obtain a people redeemed from iniquity and zealous for good works. Just as the purpose of the Scriptures is to equip people of God for good works, so at least one purpose of Jesus' death was to produce a people of God who would be zealous for good works.

In addition, the grace of God, which Jesus died to bring us into (Jn. 1:16-17; Rom. 5:2; Eph. 2:4-5), is a central tool in producing a people zealous for good works. The grace that brings salvation teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age. Grace not only teaches us to live this way, but it enables us to do so by eliminating sin's power over us (Rom. 6:14).

So we see that at least one purpose of Jesus' death was to purchase a people who would not only do good works, but be zealous for them. We have seen that the purpose of the Scriptures is to equip us to do good works. Grace teaches us and empowers us to do good works. Three of the most important gifts of God—Scripture, the atonement, and grace‐all have the purpose of producing good works in us!

The New Birth Is for Good Works

The Scriptures do not only tie themselves, the atonement, and grace to good work; Ephesians 2:8-10 tells us that the new birth is for the purpose of good works.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, that no one would boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we would walk in them.

In evangelical Christianity we focus on Ephesians 2:8-9. It matters to us immensely that we were saved apart from works. And so it should. A salvation based on works would save no one (or almost no one) because no one (or almost no one) has the power to do good works without first being saved. Once, though, we have been saved apart from works, we gain the ability to do them because we are "created in Christ Jesus for good works."

So we see that ...

  • we are [re-]create[d] in Christ Jesus to do good works (Eph. 2:10);
  • grace comes to teach us to live sensible, godly, and righteous lives (Tit. 2:12);
  • Jesus died to purge us of lawlessness, to purchase us, and to make us zealous for good works (Tit. 2:13-14);
  • and the Scriptures are given to us so that we may be thoroughly equipped for good works (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Perhaps, then we should increase our focus on good works. Surely, a people who are being taught by grace to do good works; who are re-created in Christ Jesus to do works God has prepared for them; who are taught by the grace of God to do good works; whom Jesus has purged of lawlessness and made zealous for good works; and who use the Scriptures to equip one another for good works … surely such a people will love to talk about good works and to teach, reprove, correct, and instruct one another towards good works!

In fact, lots of talk about good works is exactly what the Apostle Paul commanded Titus to do. Immediately after telling him that Jesus died to obtain a people zealous for good works, he wrote: "Say these things. Exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no man despise you" (Tit. 2:15). A few verses later, he added, "concerning these things I desire that you affirm confidently, so that those who have believed God may be careful to maintain good works" (Tit. 3:8).

In these days, where effort to do good works is sometimes seen as a hindrance to salvation or to walking with God, it matters that Paul said, "Let no man despise you," when we say these things. The people of God are supposed to take care to maintain good works, not complain when good works are mentioned! (Tit. 3:8).

Now that we have thoroughly established the importance of good works in the Scripture, it is just as important to make sure we know what good works are!

Where to Go from Here