At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ gave His audience a vivid warning about the dangers of not heeding His message.
Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall. (Matthew 7:24-27)
Of course we all know the story of the two builders. For some of us, the lesson was musically drilled into our heads all the way back in Sunday School.
But do we give enough thought to the “rock” on which we’re meant to build our lives? If we mistakenly detach the parable from the rest of Christ’s sermon, we’ve missed the point entirely.
To remedy that common mistake, we’re kicking off a new extended blog series today. Called Truth to Build Your Life On, this new series will help us take a closer look at the rich truth of the Sermon on the Mount, along with the best of John MacArthur’s teaching and insight on Christ’s pivotal message. For the next two weeks, we’ll be looking at the Beatitudes. Then over the course of the year, we’ll tackle other portions of Christ’s epic sermon. In the end, we hope to offer you a comprehensive look at the entire passage (Matthew 5-7), and a thorough understanding of the truth on which we’re meant to build our lives.
In his book The Only Way to Happiness, John MacArthur points to the fundamental message of the Sermon on the Mount, and the Beatitudes in particular:
The Beatitudes call for a full self-examination. Such an approach Paul calls for in 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith.” Prove it, he’s saying. If it were easy to point to an experience in the past to prove your salvation, why would Paul ask you to examine yourself? There must be something else here.
You might be saying, “Well, I am a Christian. I believe. I made a decision for Christ.” A lot of people point to the past to verify their salvation, but did you know that the Bible never does that? It never points to the past. It always bases proof of real salvation on your life now. Examine (test in the KJV) is a present tense continuous action, “Be constantly examining yourselves.”
You say, “How do I examine myself and know if I’m really a Christian?” Look with me at Matthew 5.  John MacArthur, The Only Way to Happiness (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1998), 15-16.
The religion of Christ’s day looked to a legalistic system of works for proof of faith. Belief was not a matter of your heart, but of your adherence to a strict code of conduct.
And while it’s easy to spot pharisaical legalism in the pages of Scripture, do we not make the same mistake when we point back to our past decisions and actions for assurance of our own faith?
Don’t claim to be a Christian because five years ago you walked an aisle. Don’t claim to be a Christian because you once signed a card. Don’t try to tell God you’re a Christian because you went into a prayer room and talked to a counselor. And don’t even tell yourself you’re a Christian because some counselor told you that you were, because, at that moment, he didn’t know positively, either.
Assurance is the Holy Spirit’s work. He grants it by the inward testimony (Romans 8) and by the outer exhibit of works. Faith without works is dead, James says. Jesus put it this way in John 8:31, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine.” He is saying you will be characterized by right thinking, obedience, right talking, and right doing.  The Only Way to Happiness, 22-23.
Just like the first-century Jews, we did not secure God’s blessing and favor through our own actions. And we must not cling to those isolated moments fading into the past for assurance of our salvation. That’s a recipe for false assurance and the kind of spiritual disaster Christ Himself described at the end of the Sermon on the Mount.
Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:21-23)
Instead, as John MacArthur explains, the true evidence of your faith is how your life reflects the nature and character of God. In a word,
Righteousness is the issue. Righteousness sets us apart as converted. Righteousness simply means living right, living under God’s standards, by His definition. If we do not live this way, the genuineness of our salvation is open to suspicion—to others and to ourselves (usually in the form of insecurity).
Hebrews 12:14 haunts me when I meet people who claim to be Christians but whose lives do not agree: “Sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” Second Timothy 2:19 says that the Lord knows them that are His. And who are they? Those that name the name of Christ and depart from iniquity.
Titus 1:16 says, “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.” Profession means nothing without obedience, without righteousness, without holiness, without departing from iniquity.  The Only Way to Happiness, 17.
Some may say that simply sounds like a different set of works—that salvation is still based on what we do, and not on what God has done. Where is the sense that we can come to Jesus just as we are—sinful, broken, desperate, and lost? Here’s John’s response to that line of reasoning.
Of course we can come to Jesus just as we are, but if we come away from conversion just as we were, how can we call it conversion? Second Corinthians 5:17 sums it up well: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”
Being righteous does not mean that we never sin. First John 1:9 says Christians are constantly confessing their sins. That certainly indicates that we do sin. But it is sin that we deal with sooner or later. We confess it, we turn from it, we repent of it, we despise it. We do not love it. “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). James puts it this way: “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
There will be a whole new approach to life. We will have sin, yes, but when sin appears we will hate it as Paul did in Romans 7. We will hunger and thirst for that which is right. We will seek to obey; we will seek to love our brother and hate the evil system of the world. That’s the way it is, if true salvation exists.  The Only Way to Happiness, 17-18.
What Christ is describing in the Beatitudes then is not a list of character qualities we need to manufacture on our own, but the kind of fruit we ought to look for in a life of faith. He’s describing in detail the nature of true righteousness, and in the process, tearing down any illusions about the merits of our works or our own inherent goodness.
If you do not come to Jesus on His terms, you do not come at all. His terms are brokenness, mourning, meekness, hungering and thirsting after righteousness.
Citizens of the kingdom are merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, persecuted, and reviled.  The Only Way to Happiness, 19.
In the days ahead, we’re going to consider the significance of those characteristics, and why they ought to be the source of assurance of God’s redeeming and transforming work in our lives.
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