It’s one of the most iconic buildings in the world: The Leaning Tower of Pisa. It was only supposed to take a few years to build, but five years into construction, when the builders reached the third story, the tower began to lean ever so slightly to the south. The builders tried to correct the lean by making the remaining stories shorter on the uphill side, but the extra weight of the upper stories made the lean worse.
In the 600 years since the tower was completed, it kept leaning more and more. It became clear to engineers that the tower wasn’t just leaning — it was actually falling at a rate of one to two millimeters per year. By the late 1980s, the tower was leaning by more than 5 degrees.
The tower leans because it has a weak foundation, and between 1990 and 2001, a team of 13 experts worked to save the tower by reinforcing its foundation with concrete. Their best guess is that the tower is safe for at least another 200 years.
At the end of Jesus’ greatest sermon — the Sermon on the Mount — he asks us to inspect our spiritual foundation to determine whether or not we are fake Christians. To illustrate his point, he shares a short parable about two men who built houses on different foundations — one on bedrock; another on sand.
As Jesus explains, everyone who hears and obeys his words will be like the man who built on rock. When a storm came, “the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall” (v. 25). On the other hand, those who hear his words and don’t obey them are like the second, foolish man, whose house “fell with a great crash” (v. 27).
What does it all mean? Remember the context. The entire sermon came on the heels of Jesus going from town to town and preaching this basic message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
Within the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls us to turn from our sin and bring some of the best things of heaven into our corners of the world: Truth, humility, peace, purity, forgiveness and love. And in the verses preceding this parable, Jesus makes it clear that many people who think they are on the narrow road to heaven just aren’t. Many people who think they are saved aren’t really saved. Many people in the church are under the impression that they can call Jesus “Lord” without having to do what he says.
To break down the symbolism of this parable, you are the builder. The house is your life. The rock is obedience to Christ’s teaching. The sand is anything else that you build your life upon. And the storm is the testing of your faith here on Earth and also the Day of Judgment.
So, to the best of my understanding, this is what Jesus is asking his listeners (and today’s readers) after they hear his teaching: “Are you going to live it out? Are you going to be a doer of my word, or are you just going to be a hearer?”
Think about it: You are building your life, and to many people, your life may look really good. You look and talk like a follower of Christ, but sooner or later your faith in Christ is going to be tested.
Following Jesus will get harder. You’re going to be criticized, even by people you love and respect. Jesus will ask you to do some things you don’t want to do. And he will ask you to stop doing some things that you really want to keep doing. Your devotion to Christ is going to be tested. And if your life isn’t built on the firm foundation of obeying Jesus, your faith will crumble because it has no foundation. It’s not built to last.
The truth is: If you’re not obeying Christ, you’re a fake Christian. And fake Christians will jump ship when the ride gets too bumpy.
The storms of life have a way of separating real followers from the fakes. And so does the Day of Judgment. One day, every one of us will stand before Jesus and give an account of our lives on Earth. According to 1 Cor. 3:11-15, your life will be fed through the fire of testing. Only what you did in obedience to Christ will survive the flames. Sadly, on the Day of Judgment, many people who called themselves Christians will see their lives completely consumed by the flames of testing.
It doesn’t matter how good your Christian life looks to those around you. God doesn’t look at the outward appearance. He looks at the heart. So, on the Day of Judgment, the truth about your Christianity will be laid bare.
If you built your life on anything other than the firm foundation of Jesus Christ, it will turn into a pile of rubble and ashes. But if your life is built firmly on the solid rock of obedience to Christ’s teaching, you won’t just survive, you will also hear Jesus Christ speak to you those six amazing words: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church. Join Impact’s in-person worship service at 9 a.m. Sunday at 17746 George Boulevard in Victorville, or tune in online at 10 a.m. on the Impact Christian Church YouTube channel or Facebook page. Visit www.GreaterImpact.cc for more information.