LCN Article
“On This Rock I Will Build My Church”—What It Means to Become a Perfect Stone in the Temple of God

March / April 2020

William Long

The Spring Holy Days are upon us, along with the lessons they bring each year. Passover reminds us of the need for Christ’s sacrifice for our forgiveness, and the Days of Unleavened Bread remind us that the necessary response to that sacrifice is to come out of sin and to embrace righteousness.

It may seem like a silly question, but have you ever noticed how hard it is to come out of sin? We may renew our intentions to do so yearly as we examine ourselves before the Passover, weekly as we keep the Sabbath, and daily as we pray and meditate. Yet we can all attest to how easily we can get caught up in life’s day-to-day responsibilities. This can cause some to lose focus and direction, neglecting the all-important task of meditating on who they are as Christians and what is their life’s purpose. Others may focus so much on how often they slip and how challenging it is to overcome in this life that they become anxious and depressed, even losing faith to continue living God’s way.

Of course, many of us are somewhere in between those extremes. However, no matter where we might fall on that spectrum, we all need to take time regularly to consider a couple of important questions: “What is God creating in me?” and “What am I striving to become?” If we meditate on these questions and become confident in the answers, our task of coming out of sin will not discourage us. Instead, we can develop a vision that will motivate us each day to overcome sin and live a meaningful, purposeful, and joyful life that is pleasing to our God.

Moses demonstrated this singular focus even before he led Israel out of Egypt.

By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible (Hebrews 11:24–27).

Moses had already begun to develop a vision of a life that is pleasing to God. This motivated him to endure years of suffering while seeking to grow in living such a life. He came to understand what God was creating in him, and that pushed him to strive to come out of sin and become someone God could use in His great Work. His life took on meaning and purpose that transcended any passing pleasures of sin. That sort of devotion produces fruit that leads to righteousness and, ultimately, eternal life. “What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:21–23).

What is God's Purpose for You? What is He Creating?

When King David faced his sin regarding Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite, he understood that, in order to fully repent and get back to a life of overcoming, he needed a change of heart. In Psalm 51, he first acknowledges that he has sinned against God and sincerely asks to be cleansed. Then he asks for what he knows he needs in order to continue as God’s servant. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me…. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit” (Psalm 51:10, 12). David knew he needed a certain type of heart before his joy would return. It is important for all of us to understand that God can create in us the heart we need to overcome sin and live joyful lives. Yes, it is possible to rejoice as we overcome sin!

Notice that David asked God to restore the joy he had known before his sin. It wasn’t that he had been perfect before his mistake—rather, he had possessed a heart to obey God and to do God’s will, and such a heart produces joy. But once he had committed adultery and murder, his heart darkened and his joy left him. He needed his heart to be cleansed so that he could get back to the work of overcoming and living a meaningful, purposeful, joyful life as the king of God’s chosen people.

In 2 Chronicles 16:9, God uses one of His prophets to describe the sort of heart He is looking for: “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.” The King James Version translates the verse this way: “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.”

“Perfect” is translated from the Hebrew word shalem (“shaw-lame”). It means complete, full, just, made ready, peaceable, perfect, quiet, or whole. God wants to create in us complete, perfect, whole hearts. What He begins, He desires to finish—a truth that moved the Apostle Paul to proclaim that he was “confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

Striving to Become Like God

Before the Israelites could finally enter the Promised Land, Moses had them complete an important task. They needed to whitewash large stones and write on them the words of the law, and build an altar to God (Deuteronomy 27:2–5). An important detail about these stones is often overlooked when reading quickly over the account.

“You shall build with whole stones the altar of the Lord your God, and offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God. You shall offer peace offerings, and shall eat there, and rejoice before the Lord your God. And you shall write very plainly on the stones all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 27:6–8). The word “whole” is translated from the Hebrew word shalem, the same word used in 2 Chronicles 16 to describe the hearts God desires in us!

While these stones were to be whole and untouched by tools, we cannot say the same about our hearts. In a sense, we are the “opposite”: We have been touched in this life, cut and shaped—certainly by the influence of our adversary the Devil, but also by our own carnal human nature, and by the Satan-influenced society in which we live. Despite this, Jesus Christ tells us to strive to become perfect. “Therefore you shall be perfect [Gr. teleios; complete], just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Do we believe in what God wants to create in us? Have we considered that our loving Father is a Master Craftsman who always has perfection in mind?

God had to remind Job of who He is, the Master Craftsman of the universe, before Job could see his sin and repent (Job 38). When Job saw how blind his self-righteousness had made him, he put his hand to his mouth in shocked humility: “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth” (Job 40:4). Once Job recognized his true state, he was finally able to repent and move forward as a vessel for God.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

Let’s not forget God’s power to change us if we let Him—to give us ready hearts that desire to overcome sin and joyfully complete His work. An old maxim of craftsmen is “Measure twice, cut once.” God didn’t make a mistake when He created us. He cut once and said it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). King David understood what God does when He creates each of us. “For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well” (Psalm 139:13–14).

God has prepared and planned out every detail of His creation and His plan of salvation for all of mankind, and He expects us to follow His example and be just as thorough. What does it mean for us to “measure twice, cut once” as we grow? Very simply, we are to become masters of our “craft” as Christians. Mastery brings meaning to our lives and is the goal of every true craftsman. Are we taking the necessary time to pray, study, meditate, and fast? Are we actively serving in our congregations and searching for ways to help one another, stirring up love and good works (Hebrews 10:24)?

It’s interesting that when Jesus Christ walked on this earth as a human being, He was a craftsman. “And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! Is this not the carpenter?’” (Mark 6:2–3).

The Greek word translated carpenter literally means craftsman. Jesus Christ is the One who created all things (Hebrews 1:1–2; Colossians 1:15–16). He is the Master Craftsman of the universe. He was a craftsman when He was in the flesh as a human being, and He continues to work as one in building His Church.

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:15–18).

Jesus instructs us to follow His example and measure twice, cut once, as it were, when it comes to our commitment to follow Him fully. He says we cannot be His disciples if we don’t put Him first and carefully consider what life as a Christian truly entails (Luke 14:26–30). Others will mock us if we have the audacity to claim to be Christians yet fail to practice the way of life He admonishes us to live: “This man began to build and was not able to finish” (Luke 14:30). Christ will reject those who say they are His but don’t do what He says (Matthew 7:21–23).

Stones for the Temple

Why is it so important to the Father that we allow Him to shape our hearts to become complete, perfect, whole stones? One reason is that He desires to dwell with us as in a temple. He wants us to be the stones of His temple, with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone.

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19–22).

Through years of successes and failures, learning from God all the while and allowing Him to work in our lives, our lives are slowly shaped for His purposes. We are building character in His service. We dedicate our lives to constant improvement to make us complete, perfect, whole stones for the temple of God.

When we allow God to create in us clean hearts and we strive to become stones for His temple—the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19)—we find deeper personal satisfaction, develop confidence, and discover greater meaning and fulfillment in our lives. Just as God’s law was written on whitewashed, whole stones before Israel entered the land they were to inherit, our hearts must also have His law written on them:

For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,” then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin. Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:14–22).

God designed us with every detail necessary to be called His people. His intent is that we inherit all things and receive life that lasts forever. The “Shaker philosophy” of craftsmanship is well-known for resulting in high-quality products. One furniture company, Earth Sky Builders, summarizes that philosophy in an interesting way: “Make every product better than it’s ever been done before. Make the parts you cannot see as well as the parts you can see. Use only the best materials, even for the most everyday items. Give the same attention to the smallest detail as you do to the largest. Design every item you make to last forever.” Such an approach spiritually surely resonates with God—and should resonate with us.

With a clear understanding of who we are as God’s people and what He desires to create in us, we can overcome sin and fulfill the Apostle Paul’s admonition: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). As we recommit ourselves this Spring Holy Day season to continue our spiritual journey out of sin, let us diligently work to become complete, perfect, and whole stones. God wants us to become approved workers so He can use us in His plan of salvation for all mankind. “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.… But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:15, 20–21).