Rebuilding the Foundations
It was not long after my conversion to Christ when I was 21 that I realized that there were many voices competing for my allegiance. Whom should I follow? The Baptists who are greatest in number? The Pentecostals who claim to have more power? The Churches of Christ, who have everything nailed down and explained? What about the Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons?
I am a logical guy, but it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that if I were going to examine the various denominations, then I should search the Scriptures for God's description of a sure foundation.
You are probably thinking, "The foundation is simple and obvious. It is Jesus Christ. Paul said, 'No one can lay any foundation except that which is laid, Jesus Christ'" (1 Cor. 3:11).
True enough, so let us say instead that I examined how to stand on that sure foundation.
I knew that 1 Corinthians 3:11 said that Jesus is the only foundation that any minister of the Gospel can build upon. As I searched, I ran across a couple verses that made me wonder not only how to build upon the foundation, but how to stand on it in the first place.
If you are an evangelical, then I assume that you, like me, would have guessed that the way to stand on the foundation of Christ is to believe that he died for your sins. It has to be, right?
Here I am going to lose you or intrigue you. Scripture gives evidence—simple, straightforward, obvious evidence— that believing Jesus died for your sins is not the way to stand on the sure foundation that is, and can only be, Christ Jesus our Lord.
That evidence is this:
In the book of Acts, the apostles never told a lost person that Jesus died for his or her sins. They told people that they could wash away their sins in baptism (Acts 2:38; 22:16) and Peter told Cornelius that "through his name" believers can have their sins forgiven, but they never specifically told any lost person that Jesus' death had anything to do with the forgiveness of sins.
For those who have been through the best-selling Evangelism Explosion course or the Southern Baptists' Continuing Witness Training, the apostles also never told a lost person that heaven is a free gift, that man is a sinner, or that God is just and must punish sin.
I use Acts because only in Acts do the apostles preach to the lost. Their letters are written to churches and thus to Christians. The letters are full of references to the fact that Jesus died for our sins. Hebrews has a long explanation of Jesus' perfect sacrifice (chapters 7-10). Jesus did die for our sins, and the apostle kept that truth before the eyes of their converts.
The lost, however, did not hear about Jesus' sacrifice when they heard the Gospel.
The only place we find the apostles preaching to the lost is the book of Acts. In that book, the apostles do not tell anyone that Jesus died for their sins. This is an outstanding, unexpected, slap-you-in-the-face kind of fact. It is something that we as evangelicals must deal with.
It is an objective fact. It is not a belief, a teaching, an opinion, or an interpretation. It is an objective fact. We can decide how we will respond to it, but all of us must acknowledge it as true that the apostles did not tell the lost that Jesus died for their sins, as shown by the Book of Acts.
If you don't believe me, you should probably quit here and go read Acts. Bookmark this page, save it, or print it out, but come back after you have read Acts to see if I am telling you the truth.
One caveat: There is one spot where Luke (the writer of Acts) hints that Jesus' death for sin might have been covered. When Philip found the Ethiopian Eunuch, the eunuch was reading Isaiah 53 (Acts 8:32-33). Since Philip preached Jesus to him beginning with that passage, it seems almost certain that Philip had to cover Jesus as the sacrifice for the sins of man. That, if it happened, was prompted by the passage the eunuch was reading, not by Philip. The lack of reference to Jesus' sacrifice of himself in the rest of the Gospel sermons in Acts remains just as amazing compared to our evangelical practice.
Okay, if you have read or skimmed through Acts, and you know that I am telling you the truth and that the apostles never brought up Jesus' sacrifice in preaching to the lost, we can move on. I know you are shocked and maybe in shock. I was too when I found out.
We all know that the foundation is Jesus Christ. Now that we have examined the book of Acts, we also know that believing that he died for our sins is NOT the way to stand on that sure foundation.
I am hoping the logic here is simple and obvious. When Peter baptized Jews (Acts 2:38) and Gentiles (Acts 10:48) and told them their sins were forgiven and they were filled with the Holy Spirit, surely he was also telling them that they were now standing on the foundation of Jesus Christ. He had not yet told them that Jesus was a sacrifice for the sins of humanity; therefore, one does not need to know or believe that Jesus sacrificed himself for our sins in order to be standing on the foundation that is Jesus.
With that out of the way, let's look at what the Bible, rather than evangelical Christianity, says about standing on and building on the sure foundation that is Jesus Christ. Afterward, we will go back to Acts and show that the foundation that we are about to study is exactly what the apostles preached in Acts.
The most surprising passage we will look at is this one:
The solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: "The Lord knows the ones being his," and "Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from unrighteousness." (2 Tim. 2:19)
"The Lord knows the ones being his" is not surprising. But what evangelical would expect that solid foundation of God would say "Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from unrighteousness"?
We know that it is true that we should depart from unrighteousness, but can it be that it is more foundational than the atonement? Why doesn't the foundation say "Jesus died for our sins"?
REMINDER: I know from experience that as this page goes on, you will forget what I have written previously and accuse me of denying Jesus' sacrifice for sins. I believe Jesus died for our sins! I wrote above that the apostles wrote about Jesus' death for sins often. Jesus' sacrifice is the greatest event in the history of the universe except his resurrection, which is, of course, equally important. I depend on the blood of Jesus for the cleansing of my sin every day (1 Jn. 1:7). I am not writing these things to demean the atoning sacrifice of our Lord Jesus, nor his blood. God forbid that anyone should do so. But God forbid as well that we should invent our own responses to his glorious sacrifice and resurrection while ignoring the response Jesus taught to and through the apostles.
The reason God stamped "Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from unrighteousness" on the solid foundation of God rather than "Jesus died for our sins" is explained in the other passagesthat discuss building on the sure foundation of Jesus Christ.
The best source for answers is Jesus and, fortunately for us, he gave specific directions for how to build on the foundation, the rock, that is himself.
Therefore everyone who is hearing these words of mine and is doing them, I shall compare him to a prudent man who built his house upon the rock, and the rain came down, the rivers came, the winds blew, and they beat against that house, and it did not fall. And all those hearing these words of mine and not doing them shall be compared to a stupid man, one who built his house on the sand, and the rain came down, the rivers came, the winds blew, and they struck that house, and it fell, and its downfall was great. (Matt. 7:24-25)
This is about as straightforward as a verse can get. If you want to build on the rock that is a trustworthy foundation, then you should be hearing the words of Jesus and doing them.
I have been an evangelical for a long time. I know the alarm that these verses are setting off. "Is this a gospel of works? We are not saved by works! Paul said so!"
So he did. Learning about the sure foundation of God from the Bible rather than from the traditions of men is a scary process, but Paul was a follower of Jesus, inspired in his preaching by the Holy Spirit whom Jesus sent(1 Thes. 2:13; 1 Cor. 14:37); thus, it is impossible that an apostle would ever contradict Jesus. If we will hold to Jesus' words and the apostles' words as they gave them to us, we will always come to truth. If we panic, and start adjusting what they say because we think we have more comfortable verses, we will wind up in confusion.
Let us stick with this simple process of reading Scripture, and it will lead us to a conclusion that will accord with Paul's writings as well as Jesus' words. It always does. The more you mess with the Scripture, inserting venturous interpretations, the more likely you will create contradictions.
As it turns out, Jesus had one more thing to say, not about building on the rock, but about the rock itself.
Simon Peter, answering, said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Answering, Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. I also tell you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it." (Matt. 16:16-18)
This is a well-known passage, but it is mostly known because of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants over whether Peter or Peter's confession is the rock. Fortunately for us, for the purpose of this page, we do not have to answer that question. As it turns out, while Catholics and Protestants disagree on whether Peter is the rock in Matthew 16:18, they agree on whether Peter's confession is the rock:
Moved by the grace of the Holy Spirit and drawn by the Father, we believe in Jesus and confess: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." On the rock of this faith confessed by St. Peter, Christ built his Church. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Par. 424).
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that Peter's confession—"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God"—is the rock on which Christ built his Church. They believe that Peter himself is also the rock, which most Protestants do not believe, but that Peter's confession is the rock is agreed upon by both.
For this page's sake, we do not care whether Peter is also the rock. We only care whether Peter's confession is the rock, and on that everyone seems to agree.
The problem is, we are doing nothing with this foundational belief. There is no practical way in which evangelicals follow Jesus' example of building the Church on the rock, the sure foundation, of the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
Instead, we choose to build on the atonement.
It may seem wise to build on the atonement, to build on Jesus' death for sins, but if Jesus and the apostles built the Church on something else, then we are making a monumental mistake, one that literally shakes the very foundation of our faith.
If Jesus said that he will build his Church on the rock of Peter's confession that he is the Christ, the Son of the living God, then we should building on that confession too. Instead, we have been trying to build the church on something else.
Jesus did die for our sins. Jesus did shed his blood to redeem us. Yet Jesus did not say he would build his Church on the confession that he gave himself for our sins. He said he would build his Church on the confession that he is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
We have looked at several verses that discuss the solid foundation of God, which is Christ, and how to build on that foundation. Let us list what we have seen in those passages:
I wrote earlier that the apostles did not preach Jesus' sacrifice to the lost (Acts 1-28). They reserved that teaching for their converts in the churches. To the churches, they wrote about the atonement forcefully and often, but they did not proclaim his atoning death to the lost.
Now we have read in Matthew 16:16-18 that Jesus is not building his Church on the confession that Jesus died for our sin. He is building his Church on the confession that he is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Is it possible, then, that the Gospel the apostles were preaching in Acts was "Jesus is Christ and Son of God" rather than "Jesus died for your sins"?
It is not hard to find the answer to that question. We can begin with the first Gospel sermon ever preached: Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). His sermon ends with these words:
"Therefore, all the house of Israel, know that God made him, this Jesus whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." (Acts 2:36)
This is not exactly "Christ, the Son of the living God," but it is pretty close and obviously has the same meaning. There is a "therefore" at the start of the sentence and, as the saying goes, we should pay attention to what the "therefore" is there for.
In this case, it is there because Peter had just been discussing Jesus' resurrection. It is because he rose from the dead that all the house of Israel should know that he is Lord and Christ.
This immediately brings to my mind the confession that the apostle Paul said would save us: "If you confess 'Lord Jesus' with the mouth and believe with your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Rom. 10:9).
I hope that you noticed—as you read the book of Acts to verify for yourself that the apostles never told lost people about Jesus' atoning sacrifice—that what they did emphasize was the resurrection. Their main job description was "witness to the resurrection" (Acts 1:22), and they faithfully carried that out (Acts 3:15; 4:33; 10:40-41). Why? Because they were teaching that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, and the resurrection was their proof.
Not only can you see this confession in the Gospel that the apostles preached in Acts, but you can see it as well in the Gospels they wrote. Near the end of John's Gospel, we read, "These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and in order that, believing, you may be having life in his name" (John 20:31). Mark's Gospel begins with, "The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God" (Mark 1:1).
So we see that the apostles not only preached "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God" to the lost, but they also wrote with that purpose in the Gospels.
The goal of the apostles' preaching was to get the lost to believe and confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Sometimes they aimed for "Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36) and sometimes "Judge of the living and the dead" (Acts 10:42; 17:31), but always based on the fact that he rose from the dead (Acts 2:32-35; 10:40-41; 17:31).
If the Gospel is the proclamation that Jesus is Christ, Lord, Son of God, and Judge of all, and if Jesus' Church is built on the confession of these things, then it should be no surprise that hearing and obeying his words is the way to build on that foundational Gospel. If he is Lord now and will judge us later, then it is obviously important to heed his instructions! As Jesus put it himself, "Why are you calling me 'Lord, Lord," and not doing what I am saying?" (Luk. 6:46).
This Gospel, that Jesus is Christ, Son of God, and Judge explains why "depart from unrighteousness" is inscribed on the solid foundation of God. One day we will all give an account before this Christ for our actions in this body, good or bad (2 Cor. 5:10).
Paul talks about this Gospel at the start of Romans. He writes:
Paul, servant of Jesus Christ, called as apostle, set apart for the Gospel of God, the one previously promised through his prophets in Holy Scriptures, about his Son, who came from the seed of David according to the flesh, marked out as Son of God in power according to the Spirit of Holiness, by the resurrection of the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith in all the nations for the sake of his name. (Rom. 1:1-5)
Pay attention to the skeleton of this description of the Gospel of God. The Gospel of God is "about his Son ... marked out as Son of God ... by the resurrection of the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord." Those terms sound familiar, don't they?
And for what response was Paul given grace? He received grace and his status as apostle in order to bring about "obedience to the faith" (v. 5).
Think about this a moment. If Paul's Gospel had been "Believe that Jesus died for your sins," then how would we obey that faith? On the other hand, the apostles' Gospel, that Jesus is Lord, Christ, and Son of God, cries out for obedience.
This web page is about the sure foundation of God. I went through verses that clearly and simply explain what the foundation of God is. There was nothing strange or difficult about the interpretations I gave. I also provided some surprising and powerful evidence from the entire book of Acts.
It would be nice if that were all there were to it. Jesus said he would build his church on the confession that he is the Christ and Son of God. Acts tells us that the apostles were called to be witnesses of the resurrection because the resurrection proves that he is Christ and Son of God. Later Paul tells us that if we want to be saved, we must believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, and we must confess that he is Lord. All of this meshes together perfectly and is backed up by the apostles' preaching in the book of Acts.
It is not that simple, though. We have been warned over and over against a Gospel of works, so it should be addressed now rather than in a later article.
Paul specified several times that salvation and justification are "not by works of righteousness which we have done" (Tit. 3:5). Just as I have simply followed the teaching of Jesus and the apostles on the subject of God's sure foundation and "the obedience of faith" (Rom. 1:5; 14:25), so I will simply follow the verses on salvation by faith.
Jesus said that the way to build on the solid foundation is to hear and obey his words. He also said, "Apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). Why would he tell us to obey, and then tell us that we can do nothing on our own?
The reason is that once we believe the Gospel (that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God), then we are no longer on our own. When we respond to the Gospel by confessing Jesus as Lord, believing that God raised him from the dead, and being baptized in water and Spirit (Jn. 3:5; Tit. 3:5), we are never alone again (Acts 2:38; 22:16).
Instead of being alone, through the Spirit we are now dead to sin and alive to God (Rom. 6:3-11; Rom. 8:2-14).
The problem evangelicals have is that they don't realize that this is where faith alone or (faith apart from works) ends. We need do no works to be born again. How could works be required of us while we are slaves to sin anyway? Once we are delivered from our slavery and filled with the Holy Spirit, we still must face a judgment that will not be according to faith, but according to works (Jn. 5:28-29; Rom. 2:6; 2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Pet. 1:17).
Because this very clear teaching of Scripture—that even Christians will be judged by their works and be separated into sheep who inherit the kingdom of God and goats who will enter the everlasting fire (Matt. 25:31-46)—is largely and curiously unknown to evangelicals and evangelicals only, they are seized with terror and inflamed in defense when they hear it.
One of the most common objections I hear to the simple biblical truth of the judgment according to works is that such a judgment would cause us to live in fear.
Of course it would. Peter commanded those of us who call God "Father" to live our whole lives in fear because our Father judges impartially (1 Pet. 1:17). Paul wrote that he persuaded men because of fear of the judgment (2 Cor. 5:10). He twice told those who think they are standing firm to fear in case they would fall (Rom. 11:20-21; 1 Cor. 10:12).
Since Evangelicals are not used to biblical fear, having ignored the apostles and having told each other that there is nothing to fear, I will take a few paragraphs to explain biblical fear.
Biblical fear is not a neurotic fear, in which we wonder whether the slightest sin or a single impure thought will cause us to be condemned. Biblical fear is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (Prov. 1:7; 9:10).
We should all be keenly aware that "we all stumble in many ways," even Christians (Jas. 3:2). Even when we are walking in the light, we need the blood of Jesus Christ to purify us from every sin (1 Jn. 1:7).
Thus, a neurotic fear of judgment means we do not understand our redemption, God's mercy, nor his grace.
Our God is a God of mercy. He forgives our sins if we confess them (1 Jn. 1:9), and even the ones we do not notice are cleansed by Jesus blood if we are walking in the light (1 Jn. 1:7). (Ephesians 5:8 and the verses following describe walking in the light.) We depend on the mercy of God, and as Christians we can come boldly to the throne of God to receive mercy (Heb. 4:16.)
Knowing and believing that "the mercy of God endures forever" and that his pardon is "abundant" (Ps. 136; Is. 55:7). we should be able to dispense with neurotic fear.
On the other hand, there is a godly fear, the one that is commanded by Peter (1 Pet. 1:17) and described by Paul (1 Cor. 9:27).
That fear is a healthy fear of sins that can cut us off from God. The apostle John wrote about sin that causes death and sin that does not lead to death (1 Jn. 5:16-17). Paul warns us that sexually immoral, unclean, or greedy people will not have any inheritance in the Kingdom of God (Eph. 5:5). Peter warns that if we return to our old ways, we will be worse off than before we believed! (2 Pet. 2:20).
God is abundantly merciful, but he will not be mocked (Gal. 6:7; cf. Ex. 34:6-7). He has given you spiritual power to "put to death the deeds of the body" (Rom. 8:13), but if you choose to live by the flesh instead, you will perish (Rom. 8:12; Gal. 6:7).
No one who has believed that Jesus is the Son of God should be found living by the flesh (Gal. 5:24). He has not only given you the power, but he is energizing even the will to do good in us as well (Php. 2:13).
Galatians 5:24 used to be the most frightening verse of the Bible for me. "Those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." I have never felt that I have accomplished the crucifixion of all my passions and desires. Based on other passages, such as 1 John 1:7-2:2, we can be confident that Galatians 5:24 cannot mean "all passions and desires with no exceptions all the time." There are many passages like 1 John 1:7-2:2. Galatians 5:24 means that we are choosing a life of following the Spirit over a life of fulfilling the flesh. We may stumble (Jas. 3:2), but we do not cease to "put to death the deeds of the flesh by the Spirit" (Rom. 8;13). Galatians 5:24 is like Romans 6:3-11, which tells us we are dead to sin. It should be "obvious" that we are Christians by our behavior, but this does not mean that we never stumble or never sin.
Again, we should fear, but not with a neurotic fear. When you are enticed by a co-worker, you should know deeply that if you let "enticed" turn into "seduced," you will be signing your spiritual death warrant. Yes, assuming you are really repentant, you can be forgiven of even major sins like adultery or fornication, but not often. Those who are practicing the works of the flesh cannot inherit the Kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-21).
Paul says it well in his letter to the Galatians:
The one sowing to his own flesh will be reaping ruin from the flesh, but the one sowing to the spirit will be reaping eternal life. So, the one doing good, don't falter, for in due time we will reap if don't grow weary. (6:8-9)
If that description is not enough, it is okay to fear and tremble (Php. 2:12). It is always good to have other Christians around you who can assure you that you are on the path as well as helping you along it.
If your fear is caused by having no power over sin, you should repent, confess that Jesus is the Christ, Son of God, and Lord, and believe that God has raised him from the dead (Jn. 20:31; Rom. 10:9-10). Then you should find people to follow God with who can help you and baptize you.
The sure foundation of God is Christ (1 Cor. 3:11). We stand on that foundation when we confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (Matt. 16:16-18). We build on that sure foundation by hearing and obeying the words of Jesus (Matt. 7:24-27). The foundation has just two things inscribed on its seal: "The Lord knows those who are his" and "Those naming the name of Christ, depart from iniquity" (2 Tim. 2:19).
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