God's Firm Foundation Stands
Topic: Sanctification Passage: 2 Timothy 2:19
Living a life of bold faith does not require that we close our eyes to the enormous and serious problems in the world or the real dangers to the church. We don’t need to put rose colored glasses on to be people of optimistic, courageous faith. In fact, one of the facts that becomes abundantly clear as you read through the NT is that the church is almost always under siege. History since the first century bears this out as well. Under siege from persecutors and under siege from false teachers.
The danger from persecutors has always been easier to deal with because it is straightforward. The physical threat may be severe, but the enemy is clear. The danger of false teachers was and is a greater threat because the danger is more stealth and the consequences are much more severe, even eternally.
This is why healthy doctrine was and is an imperative. And resisting false teaching and the teachers was and is absolutely necessary. Unfortunately many Christians don’t have the stomach for such a duty. It requires discernment and a constant vigilance. Because what happens without the exercise of diligent discernment? A flood of bizarre, false teaching invades the church, like the Vikings raiding the villages in northern England.
I think there are a couple of reasons why we don’t have the stomach to do what is necessary. First, we lack the clarity the NT gives us on the danger of false teaching. We need to see the danger as clearly as if we were 9th century English farmers watching the Viking ships coming ashore. But the second reason is we assume that those who perpetrate the false teaching will look and sound so obvious. Right? They will look and sound like a wolf. But remember the words of Jesus: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). Of course Paul said, “even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise as servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).
In 2 Timothy, Paul shows Timothy (and us) how to think about false teaching and the teachers themselves. In the preceding verses, here’s how Paul described the teaching: “irreverent babble”, “leads people into ungodliness”, “spreading like gangrene”. This is serious! Notice how plainly Paul talks about the teachers themselves. He names them: Hymenaeus and Philetus. He is bold in declaring: “they have swerved from the faith”. He calls out the teaching itself: “the resurrection has already occurred” (probably a kind of over-realized eschatology - explain). And Paul is crystal clear about the effects of the teaching: “upsetting the faith of some”. In our modern English vernacular, “upsetting” doesn’t seem to fit. Other uses of the word in the NT seem to fit better. For instance, this word is translated “overturned” in John 2:15 to describe what Jesus did in the temple to the tables of the moneychangers. He threw them over. The idea is that the faith of some was being overthrown. This is the seriousness of false teaching. It overthrows the faith of those who buy into it.
This is what Paul was dealing with. This is what Timothy had to deal with. This is what the church has been dealing with for 2000 years. Constant assaults on the truth. Think about the stage of life Paul is at when he writes this. He is probably in his 60s. He has labored for 30 years; traveling, planting churches, appointing leaders in those churches, discipling, preaching and teaching countless hours, seeking for these churches to be established well. And near the end of his life, a church he had spent much time at and left his most trusted assistant in charge of is being barraged by false brothers and false teaching.
And yet, there is not a hint of doubt; not a hint of despair and unbelief. Recap verses 14-18. But look at verse 19:
But God’s firm foundations stands, bearing this seal; “The Lord knows those who are his,” and “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord, depart from iniquity.”
Side by side with Paul’s understanding and concern about the real dangers the church faces is his unconquerable confidence in God. This is what we need! We can have our eyes wide open to the problems in the world and the false teaching assaulting the church. And we can and we must resist and fight the good fight. But let us learn today to do so with an unshaken faith and confidence in God.
The word “But” or “Nevertheless” is huge. I love this! It is as though Paul is saying, “In spite of all this. In spite of the false teaching of these men and the damning effects it is having on some, God’s immovable foundation is unshaken.” That’s what it means… Now, we need to unpack two things:
- What’s the foundation?
- The Seal (with its two inscriptions)
And listen, God wants to make you strong today! He wants to make you strong in courageous, faith-filled obedience on the path of following Christ! So check this out:
But God’s firm foundation stands… (v. 19)
The Foundation and the Seal
What is the foundation? The word foundation often in the NT refers to Christ. The church is built on the rock which is Christ and the truth of Christ. Here the metaphor is used in a different way. I think it refers to not part of the building, but the entire building, founded and established by God. I believe that here the foundation is speaking of the household of God, founded and established by God, which consists of all who have true faith in Christ because real faith, true faith, saving faith - the kind of faith that is a gift of God cannot be overthrown like the faith of those who believed the false teaching of Hymenaeus and Philetus.
So the foundation here is the church. I do not mean everyone who happens to show up to church on Sunday or makes a profession of faith. Nor do I mean the church as a mere institution or organization, but rather those who are truly of the spiritual household of God. That’s what Paul means here.
Paul’s confidence is that though the faith of some is and will be upset or overthrown by false teaching, God’s foundation - the true church - is unmoved, immovable in fact. Again, because real faith, true faith, faith that comes from God as a gift, cannot falter.
Those who trust in the LORD (not a pseudo faith, but real faith) are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever… (Psalm 125:1)
God’s foundation is firm or immovable. Notice… and it stands. God’s firm foundation stands. The word stands here means to cause to stand or to sustain and uphold. And I think the point is clear. The foundation stands because whose foundation is it? God’s! The foundation is the church that Christ is building. And what did Jesus say?
I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)
God makes it stand secure and immovable. Beloved, we need to live with this kind of confidence. We need to see things clearly in terms of the real danger of false teachers and the real danger of the damaging effects of false teaching. We need to see what is going on in our world with our eyes wide open. No sugarcoating! And then we must speak (and live) with the faith and boldness of Paul,
But God’s firm foundation stands…
Think about this. Those of us who have true faith in Christ, are part of the kingdom that cannot be shaken, though everything else is shaken. (Hebrews 12:27-28). You are part of a house made not with human hands, but by the hands of God, eternal in the heavens (2 Corinthians 5:1). You are part of the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10). We are those of whom it is said, “He who began a good work in you will (not may) bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6). We are the temple of the living God (2 Corinthians 6:16), we are the household of God (1 Timothy 3:15). We are living stones being built together by God into a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5).
Man made churches, built with man made ideas, fed with man made doctrines will crumble and be overthrown. But the true church of Jesus Christ, built by Christ and nourished in the truth of God’s word is indestructible, immovable because Christ himself is building it! And we ought to rejoice with great joy and confidence in this. God’s firm foundation stands. Notice that there is a seal on the foundation.
But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal…
The seal is a mark of ownership, a stamp or authenticity. It’s a mark revealing the foundation, the true church belongs to God. Check out (Revelation 7:3, Revelation 22:4)
The seal has an inscription. What’s the inscription? What does it say? Two things: Something Christ does and something we must do. 1) promise from Christ and 2) duty for us.
1. Stupendous Promise
The Lord knows those who are his…
The Lord knows those who are his. In other words, the Lord knows who truly belongs to him. The Lord I take to mean Christ in particular. Of course this is not merely God taking in knowledge of information or even of what certain persons will do in the future. Like so and so will believe in God. Of course God knows that. This is an active knowing; God knowing certain people and bringing them into relationship with Himself. The Lord knows “those who are his”. This is the Lord knowing in a saving way. This is the Lord loving and knowing and saving a people for himself.
If you want to know what this means in its most glorious, courage-producing sense, it is in the words of Christ in John 10:14-15:
I am the good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
This is a knowing that is far more than God’s omniscience (all-knowingness). This is an intimate knowledge, a loving, saving knowledge of his sheep. Christ knowing us is based on the deepest love and compassion for us that can only be compared to the eternal love the Father and the Son have enjoyed forever. Profoundly this means that when we ask the question, “How long has Christ known and loved you? Forever”. Continuing this theme, later in John 10, Jesus says,
But you do not believe because you are not of my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one. (John 10:26-30)
And here is the dynamic between the Father and the Son. The Father gives the sheep to the Son. Christ knows his sheep and calls them and they follow him. And they are eternally safe because the good shepherd died for them and will keep them to the end. This is precious beyond measure! The issue is not mainly do you say you know Christ, but whether or not he says he knows you. Remember the words in Matthew 7:22-23:
On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
But if Christ says, “I know you!”, you are happily safe forever. The Father knows and gives, the Son knows and dies for the sheep. And Ephesians 1:14 says we have been sealed, given the mark of eternal ownership by the promised Holy Spirit. We are sealed by the Spirit. So the inscription, “the lord knows those who are his” means, the Father chooses and gives a particular people to the Son. The Son shedding his blood to purchase and redeem those people and will not lose one of them. And the Holy Spirit is given as the seal and protection of these same people eternally… the Lord knows those who are his! George Whitefield nails it when he says,
He knows their number; he knows their names; he knows every one for whom he died, and if there were to be one missing for whom Christ died, God the Father would send him back down from heaven to fetch him... he knows his saints. He is acquainted with all their trials, sorrows, and temptations; he bottles up all their tears. He knows their inward corruptions, he knows all their wanderings, and he takes care to fetch them back again.
If you belong to the Lord, this is meant to deepen your joy in God, love for God, and commitment to God BECAUSE it assures you of the covenantal love and faithfulness of God for you.
The second thing inscribed on the seal is a solemn duty. We move from sacred, stupendous promise to solemn duty. Those who take comfort from the promise must take responsibility for the duty… In fact, the proof on the ground that you belong to the Lord - that he knows you - is that you take this responsibility seriously. Not as a means of salvation, but as evidence that you are. Look at the second inscription.
2. Solemn Duty
Let everyone who names the name of the Lord, depart from iniquity.
The one who names the name of the Lord. You know what that means? One who would say, “The Lord has sealed me, he has marked me, he has put his name on me!” Okay, praise God. Then may your life in public and private be marked by holiness. Pursue sanctification. I love how these two things are brought together. The promise of God to lovingly save and keep his own is set side by side with the commandment for us to live in a manner worthy of the Lord.
It’s like this. God, by an act of sheer grace brings us into his family and says, “You are mine. I have redeemed you. I have marked you. You are my beloved son, beloved daughter. I’ve put my name on you. I love you and will love you forever…” And now he says, “live as a beloved son, a beloved daughter of God”. Depart from iniquity. Don’t justify iniquity. Don’t just feel bad about it. Don’t say, “well everyone doing it” or “that guy is worse than me”. Depart from iniquity. Depart from iniquity. You know what that means? To flee, to shun, to revolt against sin. And you don’t get to decide what is sinful and what is not. God does. I’m amazed at how quickly we decide how holy we are by looking into our own hearts and pronouncing ourselves.
James says we are to look into the perfect law of liberty (God’s word), being no forgetful hearer, but an effectual doer of it. So if you are deeply comforted, and I hope you are, by the statement “The Lord knows those who are his”, then give yourself with wholehearted zeal to live as someone who the Lord knows!
Run from sin, revolt against sin! The Father calls you to this, Christ died to free you, the Spirit indwells you to empower you. Ephesians 1:3 says “[the Father] chose you before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him…”
Titus 2:14 says, “[Christ] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
Redeemed from lawlessness, for good works. Paul says, in Romans 12:9 to “abhor what is evil.” Don’t think, well the Lord saved me and will keep me saved, I don’t have to take holiness that seriously. No, that would be irreverent babbling! That’s deadly dangerous. Paul said that “God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13)
For true Christians, God saves us through sanctification, on the road of sanctification. This has to be said. In context, clearly, one of the things we must depart from is false teaching; be done entertaining strange doctrines, irreverent babbling, and the people who bring it. Be done. Depart from it.
Rise up, O Church of God!
Have done with lesser things;
Give heart and mind and soul and strength
To serve the King of kings.
God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his”, and “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity”.