If you’ve ever gone to vacation bible school than at some point you’ve probably sung the song “The Wise Man Built His House Upon The Rock.” The song is fun to sing, as the rains came down and the floods came up. At the conclusion of the song, the wise man’s house stands firm while the foolish man’s house, which was built on the sand, is crushed. Children are finally encouraged to build their house on the Lord Jesus Christ, and blessings will be showered down upon them.
The song is based on Jesus’s parable about the wise and foolish builders. The parable, found in Matthew 7, comes at the close of the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon encompasses three chapters in Matthew’s gospel and is the largest single teaching block of Jesus in scripture. It also serves in many ways as Jesus’s ethic in Christian living. Jesus has begun to teach that the Kingdom is at hand, and now he explains how disciples will need to live in order to inherit the Kingdom. The teachings contained in this section are not easy teachings, yet they characterize the life of a faithful disciple, and show how following Jesus is about dying to self in order to live for God.
To close the sermon Jesus shares this parable. He says that anyone who hears these words and puts them into practice is like a wise man who builds his house on a firm foundation. When the winds and storms come, the house will stand because its foundation is secure. However, if one hears the words of Jesus and does not put them into practice it is the same as a foolish man who builds his house on the sand. When the winds and storms come the house will fall because its foundation is weak.
With this parable Jesus reminds us of a very important point, following Jesus is not merely an intellectual exercise, it requires action. Jesus refuses to let us off the hook easily. Admittedly, it is often easier to agree with the teachings of Jesus than it is to change our lives in order to live them. We will often hear deep truths and in some sense say, “yes, I agree with that.” The difficulty does not come in hearing, the difficulty comes in reordering our lives so that we live it. Intellectually we can all agree to love our enemies, to have grateful heats, or to not be consumed with money and consumerism. The difficulty comes when faced with real life situations, will we be strong enough to live out the truths we believe. It is not enough to simply believe. The wise builder will hear the words and then act on them.
Discipleship requires obedience. Obviously transformation takes time. No one is ever completely molded into the image of Jesus. However, that truth cannot become an excuse to not change. In faithful Christianity, there is no category for “that’s good enough.” One is either living out the teachings of Jesus, or one is not a disciple. It is that simple.
In his book, The Great Omission, Dallas Willard argues that Christianity without discipleship, without obedience to the teachings of Jesus, is one of the great troubles of the modern world. At one point he even says, “The greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples – students, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.” As Willard points out, the world is full of plenty of people who claim Christianity. The question is will these same people be disciples, those who through obedience follow the teachings of Jesus.
As we encounter the parable of the wise and foolish builders, we can’t help but be encountered with a choice, what will we do with the teachings of Jesus? Will we choose to be those who merely hear the word or will we be those who choose to be disciples in all that discipleship means? Will we choose to follow Jesus and become obedient to his teachings? Will we pattern our lives after Jesus, not just parts of our lives but our entire being? Will we choose to live out our faith even if no one is living faith with us, to be in front and draw the rest of Christianity with us? Will we be wise, or foolish?