Summary: We are all familiar with the parable Jesus told of the wise man who built his house upon a rock and the foolish man who built his house upon the sand, yet too often we don’t take the time to understand how this relates to us today. The first message has to do with the symbolism of this parable and the second message has to do with its literal meaning. This article takes a look at both aspects of this story.
Early in his ministry Jesus told his disciples, “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:24-27; 3 Nephi 14:24-).
This is a familiar story that has been quoted many times, but it has two important messages that frequently we don’t take the time to understand how this relates to us today. The first message has to do with its symbolism, and the second has to do with its literal meaning.
By definition, symbols are objects that represent something other than the objects themselves. Put differently, symbols are not meant to be taken literally but are meant to illustrate or help us better understand a message someone is trying to convey. Since most people realize that this story is highly symbolic, it’s important to understand what the symbols are meant to teach us.
As used in this story, a rock is something that is strong, immovable, steady, and impervious to weather. It remains as it is whether it is rained upon, washed over by flood waters, blown upon by whirlwinds, or shaken by earthquakes. On the other hand, sand is just the opposite. It is very loose and fluid, making it easily moved by just about everything, including walking on it.
In this story, the rock is understood to represent Jesus Christ, who is the rock of our salvation, the cornerstone of the church, and the foundation of our faith, while the sand is generally understood to represent the world, but why does the sand represent the world in the same way that the rock represents Christ?
Sand moves and shifts very easily which is exactly the way the world behaves. Ideas, customs, traditions, and values are in a constant state of flux, and that’s certainly true in America. We are a nation of fads, where what was popular just a few years ago is now out of style and quickly replaced by something else. What was true yesterday may no longer be true today. In addition to this, technology is changing so rapidly that as soon as something new comes out on the market, it’s almost already obsolete.
As a result, it’s hard to put our faith in anything because we’re constantly changing what we believe and the way we do things. For example, not that long ago, marriage between a man and a woman was considered to be the ideal relationship, but now those who believe in traditional marriage are looked down upon with scorn. In the not too-distant past, participating in a riot was a criminal act but now it’s defended as a legitimate form of free speech, while tomorrow free speech of any kind may be deemed to be illegal. As the saying goes, “the only thing constant in life is change.”
In a situation like this, we’re like a boat in a storm that is helplessly moved about by forces outside of our control. Just when we think we know what is right and what is wrong, suddenly the sand beneath us shifts and in order to shift with the current fads, we have to abandon what we once believed in order to believe something we once rejected, and in doing so we lose our moral balance. On the other hand, if we don’t shift with the times, then we can be buried and left behind by public opinion.
On the other hand, Jesus is likened to a rock because he doesn’t move, and that’s because what he teaches is truth, and truth doesn’t change. What is true today was true a thousand years ago and will remain true a thousand years from now. For that reason, no matter what happens in the world, what Jesus tells us remains firm and unchanging, which allows us to stand sure and firm, no matter how hard the winds of change may blow. Therefore, when the fads of society shift and change, if we follow the teachings of Jesus, we can have confidence in standing firm and sure in the midst of commotion and confusion.
But, even though the rock itself is solid and firm, we can still fall off of it. For example, when building a house, the first thing that needs to be done is to build a foundation, and when that has been completed then we begin constructing the rest of the building on top of it. However, the foundation doesn’t do much good unless the building is securely attached to it, thereby making the two become one. In the same way, to keep from falling away from the rock of our salvation, we need to securely anchor ourselves to Christ. But how do we do that?
Jesus gave us the answer when he said, “He who hears what I say and does what I tell him, is a wise man, but he who hears what I say and doesn’t do it is a foolish man.” This is the part of the parable we should take literally.
So, what does Jesus tell us to do?
The illustration of building a house on a rock or sand comes at the end of a long sermon Jesus gave to his followers as they sat on the side of a mountain listening to him. We refer to this as the Sermon on the Mount, or mountain. In that sermon he said such things as be meek, be a peacemaker, love your enemies, be perfect as your Father in heaven, forgive others, seek first the kingdom of God, don’t judge others, and do unto others as you would want them to do unto you, among many mother things. Those are the kind of things Jesus wants us to do.
Jesus also taught that in the last days “there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets… insomuch that if it were possible they shall deceive the very elect” (Matthew 24:24). The elect are those who have chosen, or elected, to take upon them the name of Christ and have made a covenant at baptism to keep his commandments, but there are several ways that even they can later become deceived and follow after false Christs.
One way is because some will begin to accept the teachings of the world and feel that the teachings of Christ either no longer apply or they dilute God’s commandments by mingling them with the philosophies of the world. Another way the elect can fall away from the teachings of Jesus is because they become ashamed of being a follower of Christ, either out of fear and intimidation, or because they want to be accepted by their friends and associates. Lehi saw this situation as symbolized in his dream of those in the great and spacious building who mocked the followers of Christ (1 Nephi 8:26,27)..
Another way this can happen is, because of our personal spiritual weaknesses. Satan is able to exploit and use these to blind and deceive people into believing a lie, thereby leading them into accepting false beliefs. And when that happens, they become convinced that what they’re doing is God’s will when in fact they’re actions are being inspired by Satan. It’s been said that most of the evils in the world started with people who had good intentions.
However, it doesn’t matter how or why someone leaves the firm rock of Christ, the result is the same as those who build their house on sand. Instead of being able to rise above and withstand the flood of evil, they get caught up in it and swept away with it. And instead of finding the kind of peace that Christ gives that sustains them through times of troubles, they only find the false and fleeting peace that the world provides.
But there’s a far greater danger to not staying securely anchored to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that is by following after false Christs. Even among many Christians who have accepted Jesus as the Savior of the word, there is a belief that he taught good moral principles which, if followed, will help us find peace and happiness in this world, but aren’t necessary to follow in order to become saved into the kingdom of heaven. However, this is not what Jesus taught.
It is commonly preached that “for by grace are ye saved through faith [in Jesus Christ]; and not of yourselves: it is a gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9), The way many Christians interpret this verse is that salvation is a gift, and a gift is not something we work for, nor is it a reward for something we’ve done. Therefore, it is argued that if our salvation is based on us keeping God’s commandments, then salvation is earned rather than being freely given as a gift. This argument further states that if salvation is something we’ve earned because of what we’ve done, then we can boast that we can saved ourselves. But if salvation is a gift from God, then we are indebted to him alone for saving us.
However, these are the words of Paul, and although he taught people to believe in Christ, as Christians we believe in following the teachings of Jesus and not necessarily the teachings of Paul. Of course, Christians believe that what Paul taught is the same as what Jesus taught, but if we want to understand the teachings of Paul better then we have to compare them to what Jesus taught.
Jesus taught, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). The clear meaning of this statement is that if we want to be saved into the kingdom of heaven, we have to do what Jesus tells us, and Jesus has told us that we are required to keep his commandments.
What most Christians will say is that what Jesus commands us to do is to believe on his name and accept him as our personal Savior. As Paul told the Romans, “if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” (Romans 10:9).
However, when Jesus said that only those who do the will of the Father will enter into heaven, this was at the end of his sermon on the mount. To say that the will of the Father is merely to confess with our mouth that Jesus is the Christ doesn’t fit the context in which Jesus made this statement.
In our Bible, this sermon covers three long chapters (5,6,&7), and throughout that entire sermon Jesus keeps telling his followers very specific things he says they should do. Then he says, that those who do what he has just told them are wise, while those who don’t follow what he has just said are foolish. And it is at this point that Jesus concludes his sermon by saying that only those who do the will of the Father will enter into heaven, and not those who only say with their mouth “Lord, Lord.” When it is read in context , this statement of Jesus can’t be interpreted as meaning God’s will is simply for us to confess with our mouth that Jesus is the Christ as the only requirement for salvation.
But this isn’t the only place where Jesus expressed the idea that in order for us to be saved, we need to keep his commandments.
One day, as he was out preaching “behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life, And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” When the young man asked which commandments, Jesus then listed those found the Ten Commandments (Matt; 19:17:16-19), which are very similar to those Jesus talked about in his sermon on the mount.
Notice that the man asked, “What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” and eternal life is understood to mean living in heaven forever, which is the definition of being saved. But rather than correcting the man by telling him that there was nothing he needed to do in order to obtain eternal life, Jesus gave him a long list of things that he must do. When the man said he had done all those things his entire life, Jesus then told him that he needed to do one more thing, which, if he did it, he would have eternal life. But what Jesus asked of him was more than the young man was willing to do, and the clear inference of this story is that this man didn’t become saved. Again, we see that Jesus taught that our salvation depends on doing what he asks of us, and we refer to that as keeping his commandments.
At the end of his ministry, just before leaving an upper room and heading toward Gethsemane, Jesus took the time to share a farewell message with those who would later take his message of salvation to the world. If ever there was a time to clearly explain what that message was, this was certainly it.
Jesus told them, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. (John 15:10).
Jesus didn’t just believe in his Father. Jesus didn’t just have faith in his Father. Jesus didn’t just confess the Father with his mouth. Jesus did the will of his Father. He kept the commandments his Father had given him, and he told his closest associates that if they would do the same then they will remain in his love, just as he remains in the love of his Father.
It’s hard to imagine being allowed to live in heaven forever unless God and Jesus love us, and the way we abide in their love is by keeping the commandments Jesus gives us, just like Jesus kept his Father’s commandments. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “If thou wilt be perfect… come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21) meaning, come follow my example that I set for you.
Jesus told his listeners that those who do not keep his sayings are foolish because when the rain descends, and the floods come, and the winds blow and beat upon their house, they would fall, and it would be a great fall. Christ’s sermon on the mount wasn’t about telling people how to live a godly life here on earth. He was preaching his message of salvation and telling them how to gain eternal life. And what he told them applies just as much to us today. Those who do what Jesus says are wise, while those who hear his words but choose not to follow them are foolish because they will fall from their salvation.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of Salvation