A Surety of Truth- Numbers 23:19, Mark 10:18

God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?

And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.

COMMENTARY

God is not a man, that he should lie; hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good
And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.
Previously we spoke of building ourselves on solid foundations, and yesterday we considered the folly of relying on our own self for that. We have to find external sources that we can trust, ones that we can ever be sure of for support and demonstration.
And as today’s verses illustrate, that reliable source is not found in any human. No person is a perfect foundation to build on. It is good to have friends and it is good to glean from the example of noble souls, but they cannot be the core of our faith. I have come to realize that the greatest value of mentors is simply for them to point the way to God, as He alone can provide that sure foundation.
And that applies to me, too. I am a father, and I want to always be a help and support to my children. But because I am mortal, I know that they will have needs that I cannot provide for, there will be times that I let them down, there will be examples of mine that would lead them astray, and there will be moments where my absolute best just isn’t good enough. If I want to be a good father, I must encourage them to detach their reliance on me, and put it instead on the Lord.

A Surety of Truth- Matthew 7:24-27

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.

COMMENTARY

A foolish man 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
Sooner or later, we all seem to have a moment in life where the house of cards we carefully built comes crashing down all at once. It could be because of our own folly, or because we put our trust in unworthy sources, or simply due to unforeseen storms. In any case, if we are built something unstable, then there is nothing to catch us as we fall, and so we drop until we hit rock bottom.
And often in these circumstances we don’t even think that there’s any problem until everything falls apart. So long as everything is still standing upright, we believe they always will.

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 it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.

The difference between being built upon the rock and being built upon the sand is whether we are built upon our own power, or upon that of a higher being. The simple truth is that we can do our absolute, genuine best….and that just isn’t good enough. That’s not a criticism of any person, it is a fact of being a part of the human race. The last thing we want is to be limited to our own best. Not when His best is an option instead.

The Doing Muscle- Summary

We all have wished that we more consistent at doing the things that we know we should. If each of us was able to be our best self each day, the world would already be a divine place to live. Indeed, one might argue that the best thing any of us can do to right the greater wrongs of the world, is to simply improve our own selves instead. How can we help the world live by the principles that we think are important, if we’re not even fully living them ourselves?

Doing this study was a great help to me. It helped me to understand why it is so hard for me to consistently be my best self and what I can do to be more successful. It also has helped me to be more patient with my own imperfections.

Not only have I better understood these principles by conducting this study, I would say that I have seen my behavior improve as a result. By implementing these principles and practices in my life I have found I am more successful at doing the things I already know I should be doing. Let’s take a look at what some of the principles and practices are.

The Self-Improvement Hierarchy

One truth that stood out to me was the need to put first things first. Forming ourselves into our best self is a very monumental undertaking, not unlike trying to erect a great building. And as when trying to erect a great building, it is absolutely necessary to begin with a solid foundation. One might stack toothpicks up very high for a brief moment, and for that brief moment it might appear quite impressive, but sooner or later a tower of toothpicks is destined to fall. So too with heroic efforts to be morally perfect one day, only to then binge on all of one’s indulgences the next.
Jesus, himself, taught the importance of establishing a solid foundation before building upwards. He spoke of storms of life that will try to blow down our progress, and how they will succeed unless we are rooted on something sure.
So before we try to tick off our personal-perfection-checklist we need to get down into the basement and see what the conditions are like. Are we prone to addictions? Do we have unconfessed sins adding unnecessary strain? Are we desecrating our homes and bodies (our temples) with things that degrade the soul? Are we trying to found our success on our own strength only? If the answer to any of these is yes, then we’re never going to make any long-term progress. We need to establish a far better foundation first, and only then we can start building in earnest.
Matthew 5:23-24- Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
Matthew 7:26-27- 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.

Failure is Part of the Process

Of course, even after we’ve got our foundation taken care of, that doesn’t mean the act of building ourselves higher is an easy process. Even those that have bridled their appetites and established a core of strength still make mistakes, still doing things that they know they shouldn’t, still leave undone that which their conscience tells them they should do.
And as we look at the scriptural narrative it has always been this way. At the height of their work the prophets and apostles were still making mistakes. Moses struck the rock, Peter was reluctant to bring the gospel to the Gentiles, Paul got into heated disagreements with his fellow missionaries. Yet none of them are defined by their failures, because they continued trying to do right in spite of them.
If we try and fail and then give up, then yes, that will be the final, defining note in our journey. But if we try and fail and retry, then it is the “retry” which defines our legacy instead. It isn’t about reaching the full destination in this life, it’s about staying on the road.
Galatians 6:9- And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.
Philippians 3:12, 14- Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after.
I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Divine Help is Necessary

The final principle I realized was that, ironically, that which we call “self-improvement” is most likely to fail when it is performed only by the self. I believe many of us have a personal pride, and want to make ourselves into the ideal man or woman without any help from anyone else. Or perhaps we might feel that humbly relying on God is only meant for that first step, the one where we were trying to sort out our foundation, overcome our addictions, and confess our major sins. We might feel that God needs to save us, but once He has, now it is all on us to make something beautiful out of the new life we have been given.
But that simply isn’t the case. The steps that take us from sinners to the repentant turn out to be the exact same steps to take us from the repentant into saints. Just as much as we needed to plead with God to sponge away our guilt and shame, we again need to plead with Him to give us the strength to become more like Him. It is a dangerous journey before us, and we were never meant to take it alone. This has to be a partnership, for that it is the will only it will ever succeed.
Isaiah 40:31- But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
Isaiah 41:10- Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

What Chance Do I Have?- Matthew 28:19-20, Philippians 4:13, Joshua 1:9

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.

COMMENTARY

Go ye and teach all nations, and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.
The very last passage in Matthew is that of the Savior calling his disciples to spread the gospel to all the world. It was a joyful call, but also one that was fraught with danger. Many of the disciples would ultimately lose their lives for this cause.
How does Jesus encourage and inspire them in this great undertaking? How does he give them confidence that they can even succeed? With the assurance that they will not be doing this work alone, he will be with them…always…even to the end of the world.

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me
Be not afraid, neither dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest

When we consider the challenge of discipleship, we may very well doubt that we can meet its demands. Yes, we have what it takes to try…but to succeed? Going back to the original question of this research: what chance do I, as I am, have of remaining forever faithful? Well… none.
But what chance does Christ have of remaining faithful forever?
All.
So long as we think that we have to maintain our faith on our own, then our fears of failure are completely warranted. We won’t be able to do it! But if we accept that he will be the one strengthening and preserving us, then any fear is completely unfounded. Our success is guaranteed. The only question, then, is on which foundation are you building: yourself, or him?

That They Might Have Joy- Acts 16:23-25, John 14:27, Hebrews 10:34

And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely:
Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.
And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.

And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison…And at midnight Paul and Silas sang praises unto God
There are several stories like these in the scriptures, ones where the disciples are persecuted and yet remain in utmost joy. When we read these accounts we might have one of two responses:

  1. Wow, I wish I could have abiding joy like that. My own emotions seem so fickle, coming and going depending on my circumstance. Is there any way I can be happy even when my world is turned upside down?
  2. Well that’s just weird.

Now don’t feel bad if you find yourself in that second category. Truly the joyful singing of Paul and Silas after being beaten and imprisoned is irregular. It is, because it defies the common order of things, and there’s no shame in recognizing that fact. And that recognition naturally leads to an important question. Are they madmen, then, or they have found a way to live outside the systems of our common world?

Peace I leave with you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you
For ye took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing that ye have an enduring substance
There is a simple reason why our emotions seem to be so fickle. It is because they are usually based upon the things of the world, and the world itself is fickle. Nothing earthly can be guaranteed, they come and go without warning, and with them so do our emotions.
Jesus invites us to know a more enduring peace, a joy based on a substance that is constant. Abiding joy can only come by being based upon abiding things. Something that is necessarily outside of this world, something that cannot be undone by this world. When one ties their emotions to that more eternal source, then it doesn’t matter what happens in this world anymore, the joy remains. Now they are truly free.