As we come to our time in the Word of God, I invite you to turn to the eighth chapter of Luke, Luke chapter 8. We’re looking at a portion of scripture in Luke 8, verses 4 through 15, that contains one of the most remarkable, unforgettable, and important parables that our Lord ever taught. And I’ve entitled this look at the parable “Heart Condition.” Heart condition. The parable of the soils.
Through the years, we have considered this parable, certainly when I was preaching through Matthew and on several other occasions, we have addressed the truths of this parable. They have been referred to many times in my preaching here. And yet this is such an important parable, its explanation so vital, that it needs to be repeated again and again. It’s just one of those very, very definitive parables.
Obviously, all of the parables that Jesus told are critical and important and carry divine truth. This one is especially important because of how it prepares us to understand the reception to the gospel that we will encounter in our lives and in our ministries.
The good news of salvation is so wonderful – inexplicably wonderful – so generous, so vastly generous, that we don’t even have words to explain all of its wonders and glories. And those of us who have received salvation, those of us who have received eternal life and are headed to heaven, those of us in whom the Spirit of God dwells, those of us who have been put into the family of God and are enjoying all of the rich benefits of that, we understand the wonder of the gift of salvation. We understand what it is to have your sins forgiven, to have the burden of guilt removed, to have a clear conscience – your conscience washed clean of guilt and shame. We understand what it is to have the hope of heaven. We understand what it is to have the power of the Spirit of God. We understand what it is to know the mind of Christ and to have the truth. We understand all of that.
And the more we understand that, the more difficult it is for us to understand how it is that anybody could reject such a gift. I think one of the biggest struggles young Christians have, they come to know Christ, there is such an immense transformation in their lives, it is so dramatic. They’ve come to an understanding of the truth, understanding of God’s grace in their lives, which is so absolutely overwhelming, they then tell the people around them, who are not believers, and so very often run into all kinds of indifference and hostility. And it’s seemingly impossible to understand how anyone could reject such a gift. Who would turn down forgiveness? Who would turn down joy? Who would turn down peace? Who would turn down eternal life? Who would turn down heaven and in exchange receive hell? Why do people reject the gospel? Why do most people far and away reject the gospel?
Well, the parable before us answers that question. And it’s not a matter of the quality of the message. And it’s not a matter of the skill of the messenger. It’s all about the heart condition of the hearer. That’s the issue.
So, let’s simplify this whole matter of the Great Commission, world evangelism. Let’s get this strength; it’s not about the gospel. It’s not about the believer who gives the gospel. It’s not about being more skilled or having somehow tweaked the message to make it more palatable or acceptable. The issue comes down to the condition of the heart; it’s about the hearer. And the truth is made unforgettable in this story that Jesus told. Throughout all of redemptive history, sinners have been rejecting God’s forgiveness; they’ve been rejecting God’s grace; they’ve been rejecting God’s mercy; they’ve been rejecting God’s salvation. And always it’s only a few.
Jesus told the disciples that there would be a few who would enter the narrow gate and the narrow way. What is the problem? The problem, again, has to do with the heart.
Now, let me digress a little bit in this introduction to give you something of a spiritual lesson in cardiology. Proverbs 4:23 says that you have to take care of your heart because out of it are the issues of life. Rising from within the heart are all the things that matter. Everything in life is about the heart. It’s about the attitude on the inside. Scripture describes all men, all sinners, in their natural condition – everybody – as being characterized by severe, terminal heart problems.
Let me just give you a little bit of a lift. Scripture talks about man, in his natural condition, as having a wicked heart, a perverse heart, an evil heart, a heart of madness, an unwashed heart, a deceitful heart, a disloyal heart, a straying heart, and impenitent heart, a blind heart, an unbelieving heart, a deceived heart, a hard heart, a proud heart, a covetous heart, a foolish heart, an idolatrous heart, a rebellious heart, a stubborn heart, and a dull heart. I would say he’s in severe cardiac arrest.
If a medical doctor had to use that many adjectives to describe what was wrong with your heart, you’d be on the verge of death if it wasn’t an autopsy. This is profound. This is penetrating. This is deep. This is pervasive.
The writers of Scripture amass all these negative adjectives to describe the condition of the human heart. In a word, this describes the depth of man’s depravity. There’s something profoundly wrong with what’s inside man.
It’s always amazing to me when society – our society – tries to figure out the reason why people do evil things. They run around in the psychological world, trying to come up with answers. Why would priests molest little boys? Why would mass murderers kill and dismember people. Why would a mother drown her children? Whether it’s the suppression of celibacy or postpartum psychosis or whatever, there’s always some clinical way to explain, in our society, because we don’t want to admit the real problem. The problem is these people are operating out of a perverted heart. That’s the problem.
Jesus said this, Mark 7:21, “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, envy, jealousy, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within.” Jesus even went so far as to say it’s not which goes into a man that defiles him. It’s not what goes into a man that defiles a man; it’s what comes out of a man. It isn’t the influences around him that make him wicked; it’s his heart to start with.
Now, that wickedness will take various forms, dependent upon his influences. But the basic heart problem is the core of the issue, the tragic evil condition of every human heart. On the inside, people are wicked. And that’s the problem. And Jesus points it out in this story.
Let’s look at the story. After the introduction of the occasion on which this occurred, which we know from Matthew’s account of the same event, was by the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus was teaching a large multitude that had pushed down to the edge of the water, and Jesus had to sort of avoid them by going offshore in a little boat and speaking to them from there. And in that occasion, he told this simple agricultural story, the components of which they would all be very familiar with, although the meaning would only be revealed to the disciples.
Here’s the story. “The sower went out to sow his seed. As he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled underfoot and the birds of the air ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky soil; as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great.” A very simple story.
A parable is an extended metaphor. It’s an extended analogy. And this is a very, very simple story. Everybody would understand the story because people living in an agrarian environment would experience this themselves. They would know what it was to go out with all intention of – to sow your seed and to find that some of it was wasted on hard soil. Some of it fell into soil underneath the surface, below where the plow went. It was rock bed, and the roots, while they started to grow and the plant began to grow, the roots eventually couldn’t penetrate that rock, and so the plant would die. And they all knew what it was to have cultivated the soil the best they could but somehow remaining in the soil was the root of weeds and thorns. And when things began to grow, they grew faster and stronger and choked out the life of the seed. And they would know what it was to have the seed fall into good soil and produce a crop, although the crop wouldn’t be this great. A 10-fold crop would be a great crop; 7.5 would be a good one; 100-fold is hyperbole. And Jesus is speaking in hyperbole because he’s talking about ultimately the greatness of spiritual fruitfulness which He will explain in a little while.
The story, then, is about the soil. Nothing really is said about a difference in the seed – the same seed is being thrown. The same individual is throwing the seed. So, it’s not a variation in the seed, and it’s not a variation in the methodology; it’s a variation in the soil that brings about the variation in the results.
Now, this is a rich and unforgettable insight. The story is never to be forgotten. Once you hear it, you will always remember it, and that’s exactly why Jesus used these kinds of stories. But even though you remembered the story, you wouldn’t necessarily know what it meant if it weren’t explained to you. It would just be a story, an analogy that could be attached to anything. And consequently, all the way through, it says in verse 8, “As He would say these things, He would call out, ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.’” As He tells the story, and I think Luke’s account of it and Matthew’s account of it combined, give us the fullest rendering of the story. And it may not be absolutely complete; they may be a summary of a story that was maybe a little more detailed than is recorded.
But as He was telling this story, the indication of the text in verse 8 periodically He would say, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” And what He meant by that is, those of you who can, do you get it? “Those of you who have an interest, those of you who care to understand, are you understanding what I’m saying?”
And that sort of called for a response. And in verse 9 it came, “His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable might mean.” The ones who had an ear, that is the ones who cared, the ones who believed, the ones who belonged to Him, the ones who were God’s, they cared to know the answer. They had ears to hear; they wanted to know the spiritual truth which was being given to them from this One whom they had come to believe was the Holy One of God.
And so, the disciples asked him, “What does it mean?” And immediately there you have a separation in the crowd. You have a huge, massive crowd of people defined in verse 4 as “a great multitude” made up of people from various cities who were traveling with Him, as well as the local people. In the thousands – the multiple thousands – this huge crowd is now separated into the people who want to know what this means – called disciples – and the people who don’t care; they don’t ask.
They are the indifferent crowd. They came for the miracles; they came for the signs; they came for the wonders; they came for the miracles that might even heal them or feed them. But they really didn’t have a particular interest in the truth. In fact, by now they’re being influenced very strongly by the scribes, Pharisees, religious leaders of Israel who are plotting to get rid of Jesus. The plot foments ultimately into a desire to have him executed by the Romans, which they eventually do.
And, as I told you last week, from now on, in His Galilee ministry, Jesus teaches the crowd only in parables – only. And this is a judgment, verse 10, “He said to the disciples, ‘To you it has been granted to know he mysteries of the kingdom of God’” – I’m going to explain these things to you; it’s been granted for you to know them because you’ve put your trust and faith in Me – “‘but to the rest it is in parables, in order that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’” And He quotes out of Isaiah 6, that terrible judgment that God placed upon the people of Isaiah’s day, saying, “When you go to preach to them, they’re going to hear but not understand; they’re going to see but not really grasp. Their hearts are going to be fat; their eyes are going to be blind; their ears are going to be deaf.”
And here the Lord Himself says, “From here on out, I’m going to speak in parables for two reasons: to reveal things to you, because the parables will clarify issues to you; and to conceal from the rest of the multitude that has rejected Me.” This is a judgment that Christ brings to bear upon Israel. It’s a sad moment in His ministry – sad, sad, moment. And He’s coming to the end of His Galilean ministry.
We’ll see Him moving down to Jerusalem in the end of the ninth chapter. And as He comes to the end of this Galilean ministry, He’s now rendered a verdict of judgment. And He is saying, “Not only are you not willing to understand, but from now on I’m going to see to it that you can’t understand. I’m not going to speak any longer in Old Testament text like He did in the synagogues.
When He went into the synagogue and read from Isaiah chapter 61 about how the Messiah was going to come, and He was going to give sight to the blind, and He was going to release the prisoners, set the captive free and remove the burdens from the downtrodden and the oppressed and make rich the poor. He’s not going to talk in biblical terms anymore; He’s not going to talk in simple analogies that are easily understood anymore. He’s going to talk in mysteries, and they’re not going to understand anymore, and that’s part of the judgment on them. It’s as if He’s not going to cast His pearl before swine anymore. They are fixed in their character as swine rather than sheep, and they will not understand what they would not understand.
And so He says, “You will understand, because I’ll explain it to you.” And He does, starting in verse 11. As the disciples come near, He is – it’s important for them to understand these parables because they add so much to our ministry. We need to understand how to minister. These parables – this one and many others in Matthew 13 – help for us – help us to be able to understand how to ministry, how to carry out our ministry in this age of the kingdom. And this is a critical one, because here we are given, later on, the Great Commission to go and preach the gospel to everybody in the world. We are called to be witnesses and evangels and to spread the gospel, and it’s important for us to understand how people are going to respond to it so that we’re not surprised when we, like Isaiah, run into a very small remnant of people who believe and many others who are willfully blind and some who are judicially blinded by God because of their willful blindness.
And so, to the disciples He explains because this is so important. “Now, the parable is this;” He says, “the seed is the Word of God.” There’s no mention of the sower because anybody who sows the seed is the sower. The sower isn’t any particular individual in the end; it’s whoever scatters the seed; it’s whoever spreads the seed. The seed, however, must be understood and that it is the Word of God is what Jesus says. By that He means he word from God about salvation, the word from God about forgiveness of sin, the word from God about entering into the kingdom, which is the sphere of salvation over God – over which God rules those who belong to Him.
So, Jesus says, “This is what I’m trying to tell you in the story. Whenever you go out and preach the gospel – the gospel, by the way, is the seed; we pointed that out last time in a parallel passage in 1 Peter 1:23 is very helpful. First Peter 1:23, “You have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding Word of God.” What does it say in Romans 10? “Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ,” or the Word of God, depending on which manuscript family you choose. Either case it’s the same. Salvation comes by hearing the Word of God, the word of Christ, the message of the gospel is the key.
So, when you go out, whoever you are, and you proclaim the gospel, you’re like a man throwing seed. It’s the same man in the case of all four soils. It’s the same seed. It’s the gospel. It’s anybody who sows it.
The issue, then, that varies is the soil. And to what does the soil refer? The heart. Look at verse 12, “Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the Devil comes and takes away the word from their heart.” Down in verse 15 you have the good soil. What is the good soil? It is the one who hears the word in an honest and good heart. It’s about the heart. And that’s what I’m saying we’re dealing with. We’re dealing with heart condition – heart condition – which cannot be measured, as we’re going to learn today, it cannot be measured always superficially. Sometimes sit can, as we saw last time.
Let’s look, first of all, at verse 12, and this is the hard heart. The hard heart, the roadside soil. As the sower sows the seed, he throws it. Maybe he throws it a little too far, a little too near, or it gets caught in the breeze and it hits up on the beaten path. You remember all alongside the fields and across the ends of the fields there were hard, beaten paths, baked hard by the sun, not watered and trampled down by the constant movement of people. That’s the hard soil. It comes; it hits. Jesus said, back in the first telling of the parable. It gets trampled, crushed under feet, or the Devil comes and snatches the word away like birds that remove the seed that sits on the hard soil. It can’t penetrate; it can’t go down; the ground isn’t prepared. The ground isn’t ploughed. There is utterly no response to this presentation of the gospel.
Notice the end of the verse, “- so that they may not believe and be saved.” These are people who don’t believe and aren’t saved as are the other two soils apart from the good soil. This parable contrasts people who hear and are not saved with people who hear and are - the people who hear and are a good soil; the people who hear and are not are the other three soils.
First of all, there is that hard soil. And we do have opportunities occasionally to present the gospel. And it just bounces off concrete. Hard-hearted and stiff-necked like Israel of old, callous, no conviction, no self-searching, no repentance, no faith, no interest at all. I’ve met people like that. I’ve spent long time in conversation with people like that who absolutely are impenetrable. And I would assume that I could make a fair presentation of the gospel. I can put the gospel together in an accurate way from the Word of God and in a way that sort of comes down and avenue that this person happens to be living on. But even when all of that is said and done, you know when you’ve run into pavement, the heart beaten hard by sin and unbelief. And whatever of the gospel you put there, Satan snatches it away as we talked about last time. So, this person may not believe and be saved. That soil has never been prepared to receive the gospel.
Now, this morning I want to talk about the second soil. That was last week. The second soil is the specific. First is the hard heart and then the superficial heart, the shallow heart. In verse 13, “And those on the rocky soil” – now remember again, this isn’t soil with a lot of rocks in it; this is soil with rock bed underneath it, just below the plow, that can’t be felt by the plow, but it’s there. And consequently, the Lord says when the roots go down, they can only go so far. They get a little bit of nourishment, a little bit of water, and the plant jumps up because the life goes upward and the roots, however, can’t go down. They can’t get into the soil to get the water that is there. And so, it withers and it dies.
“These” – He says in verse 13 – “on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy” – and they’re the very opposite of the hard hearts. They seem receptive. They are interested – not only interested, they are emotional about it; they are exhilarated by it; they’re thrilled with it, and they receive it with joy. And these have no root – no root. They believe for a while. That’s a very important statement, folks, underline that statement. There are people who believe for a while, but in time of temptation, fall away.
You know, Jesus said, in John 8:31, “If you continue in My word, then you’re my real disciple.” The writer of Hebrews talks about true believers being those who persevere. Paul told the Colossians about the true believer who continues in the faith. Contrast with those who believe for a while. They believe for a while.
Now, initially, they hear the gospel, they respond to whatever presentation of the gospel they have received. There is an amount of joy; there’s some exhilaration, excitement, emotion. There is a – there’s almost a euphoria of feeling good about the experience. And this, frankly, usually convinces Christians that this is a real conversion. Oh, there were tears of joy, and there were hugs, and there were embraces, and there was an exuberance; and this person, you know, was so thrilled and so happy - and you say to yourself, “Boy, that’s the real deal right there” - as compared to someone who hears the gospel and responds in a very stoic fashion and affirms faith in Christ and repentance and doesn’t explode in emotion.
And maybe – I’ve even had people say, you know, “Is something supposed to happen to me? Am I supposed to feel something?”
Well, let me just put it to you simply. Joy is not the distinguishing feature of true salvation. Joy is not the distinguishing feature of true salvation. It is sometimes characteristic of false salvation and sometimes characteristic of true salvation. It is not the distinguishing characteristic of true salvation.
So, on the other hand, absence of joy is not a distinguishing characteristic of a false conversion. In the end, it doesn’t tell you anything. It doesn’t tell you anything, because emotions don’t tell you anything about spiritual reality. In the first place, true salvation is done by God, and it is a work that is not manifest. It is a spiritual work of justification, regeneration, transformation that is not immediately manifest. That’s why it’s so wrong, at that point, to somehow give people a little formula to make them sure they’re saved; you don’t know that. You don’t know that.
Now, if you prayed that little prayer – we were all taught that as young people – you prayed that little prayer, if you prayed that, if you said that, God has to answer that, and you can know for good that you’re saved. That’s not true. That’s absolutely not true. And their tears of joy, and their exuberance, and their exhilaration don’t prove anything. Nothing – except that they feel good about what they did. It doesn’t mean God did anything. It doesn’t mean they did anything from the standpoint of reconciliation with God.
You say, “Well, I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
Well, let me kind of explain it to you in simpler terms perhaps. People will respond to a presentation of the gospel for wrong reasons: because they’re at the end of a broken relationship; because they’ve just gone through a divorce and lost their wife and kids; because they’ve lost their job; because they’ve been told they have a terminal disease; because they’re tired of being left out socially, and now they found a group that they can belong to; because they – and this often happens – they believe that if they give their life to Jesus, He will fix everything that’s wrong in their life. All of those are really bad reasons to become a Christian or to make a superficial response to the gospel.
The joy doesn’t mean anything. They could feel happy because they’re accepted. They could feel happy because now they think they’re not going to go to hell. They could feel happy because now Jesus is going to solve all their life problems and fix everything, and they’re not going to have so much personal pain, social pain, family pain. That’s why you never want to present the gospel that way. You never want to present the gospel that Jesus wants to make you happy, and if you come to Jesus, you’ll be happy. You don’t have that kind of promise. There’s a deep, abiding joy; but that deep, abiding joy doesn’t translate into all the problems going away. It’s a superficial thing. You know, it’s sort of like Matthew 22, where Jesus describes the king, and he has a banquet for his son, and he invites everybody to come. And all these people come to the banquet for the son, and it’s a symbol of salvation. And they come in – in order to come into the banquet, they have to have – what? – Matthew 22, they have to have a certain robe. But there’s one guy in there who crashed the party without a robe. And he’s sort of a kingdom party crasher. And there are a lot of people like that. They come in, but they’ve never been robed in righteousness; they’ve never had their sins covered; they’re not the real thing. They crashed the party. They want to get in on the Jesus party. They like the music maybe, or they like the people - particularly one that they met. It happens. Or they like the idea that their problems are going to go away. This is a fun thing; this is a new kind of place. They like the idea that they can sort of chuck the old friends that they were getting sour on, and they could sort of reinvent themselves for a new group of people and maybe make some social strides. I mean there’re all kinds of reasons people do that. They don’t feel good about themselves, and these people make them feel good about themselves. And so, they crash the kingdom, but they’ve never been robed in righteousness.
And you remember what Jesus said? “Take that man who doesn’t have the robe and throw him into outer darkness, where there’s weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
If you look at the field, you don’t see the rock underneath; you just don’t see it. The soil looks good; a plant pops up, but under the scorching sun, because there’s no root, it can’t go down and get the water; it perishes. There’s no root. They believe for a while; at the time of temptation, they fall away.
Matthew pictures the sun coming out and says, “When tribulation and persecution come, the plant withers and dies.” It’s the temptation testing of tribulation and persecution that reveals the truth. There are people who believe for a while. What ends it? What causes them to disappear, to wither and die? A test they can’t pass. What kind of test? Tribulation thlipsis according to Matthew 13:21, pressure, affliction, and even persecution. But they thought – they thought when you got Jesus, you got rid of all your problems. They thought you got health, wealth, and happiness. They thought you got prosperity. They thought you got an endless wardrobe, money coming out of heaven, miracles, bodily healings. They thought angels were going to come down and talk to you and solve all your problems if God didn’t. They thought that this was going to be a fellowship of people where there wouldn’t be any problems or conflicts or disappointments. They thought they would find a new kind of life socially, relationally.
Now, all of a sudden, trouble, pressure, trials, tests, affliction and persecution for the Word. Matthew talks about when they were going through tribulation and persecution for the Word, because of the gospel. Now, wasn’t everything supposed to be better? Everything got worse, and now I’ve got a new thing in my life I never had before. I have people who used to love me who now hate me. I have people I used to hang around, and we got along fine, and now because I claim to be a Christian, they resent everything about me, want nothing to do with me. Now I have a whole new group of enemies who used to be my friends. And when I ran to them and told them what had happened to me, they shut me out of their lives.
Matthew 13:21 records that Jesus said, in explaining this parable that the person, because of the tribulation, because of the persecution, is offended, scandalized, trapped, caught in a trap. And that’s the test the temptation’s talking about here. They believed for a while - they’re gone when the testing comes; when the tribulation comes; when all the things they expected Jesus to do for them don’t happen; when they don’t get the health, the wealth, the prosperity; when they don’t get the problem solved; when life is not euphoric anymore; when the relationships aren’t what they thought they would be; when it doesn’t fix their marriage; when it doesn’t fix their family instantaneously, etcetera, etcetera; when it doesn’t give them power over their vices, over their debilitating habits. And when they come to tests, they just can’t pass them.
Turn back for a moment to John’s gospel toward – one out-of-pocket toward the back of your New Testament there – to the sixth chapter. And this is kind of an interesting illustration, I think, of what we’re talking about here in the day of Jesus. If you were to identify the most powerful miracle Jesus ever did numerically, it would be the miracle in John 6. According to verse 10, there were 5,000 men, which would mean 5,000 or more women, 10,000 or 20,000 children, and you’re up to a crowd of 20,000 to 30,000 easily, and He feeds them. He literally creates food for them all. This is just – this is an astounding miracle.
And at the same time, He’s doing miracles. Back in verse 2, He’s doing signs on sick people, healing them; giving sight to blind people, hearing to deaf people, crippled people are walking, etcetera, etcetera. I mean they’re seeing a display that’s just never been heard of ever. They’re watching this miraculous work of Jesus. Well, after being fed dinner, they show up the next morning for breakfast, and He gives them a speech instead about Him being the bread of life. He’s got them in a hungry condition now, and He says, “What you really need to hunger for is the bread of life. And that wonderful speech about the bread of life flows through the second half of John 6 down to verse 66. After all the greatest numerical miracle Jesus ever did, that just an inarguable display of divine power, profound teaching, wondrous teaching which even includes eternal life. As a result of their, many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. They believed for a while; they’re out. In spite of this miracle, which had no explanation other than the supernatural, they’re gone; they left. They left, because Jesus started to talk about a price to pay, and they left.
“Jesus said to the Twelve” - in verse 67 - “‘You do not want to go away also, do you?’
“Simon Peter answered, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’” The real people stay. It doesn’t matter what the test is, they stay. Peter says, “We’re not going anywhere.” Why?
Verse 69, “‘We have believed; we have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.’” We’re not going anywhere; our faith anchors us here.
“Jesus answered them, ‘Did I Myself not choose you, the Twelve, and yet one of you is a Devil?’” There was a hypocrite hiding among the Twelve. “And he was talking of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot” - from the town of Kerioth – “for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray Him.”
Since then, and always, right on down to today, there are people who believe for a while. At some point, whatever it is they have, they lose. You know, Matthew 13:12, Jesus said, “There are those people that what they have is going to be taken away from them.” “To you,” He says, “I’m going to give more; but to those, even what they have is going to be taken from them.” This is that superficial, shallow kind of faith.
And Jesus said, in John 15:5-7, “If you’re really connected to Me, you’re going to bear fruit. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone doesn’t abide in Me, he’s thrown away as a branch, dries up; they gather them, cast them into fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done to you. And this is My Father glorified; you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciple.” A true disciple stays, bears fruit, remains abiding in the vine, permanently bearing fruit. The one who bears no fruit, discarded and burned.
So, whatever this emotional attitude might be at the point of conversion has no bearing on what went on in the heart. Here’s a superficial kind of emotional response that can occur and does occur frequently when someone hears the gospel, because of the assumption of what it might mean in their life. But it’s a selfish apprehension of the gospel.
And the thing that it lacks is depth. That’s the point of the parable, isn’t it? It doesn’t have any root; it doesn’t go down deep enough into the soil. And what’s the soil? What’s the soil? It’s the heart. It’s the inner person. It’s too superficial; it’s too psychological. It doesn’t go down into the Depths of the heart. There hasn’t been a plowing down deep in the heart.
One other verse that really needs to be considered in this discussion, 1 John 2:19, because it speaks so directly to this. First John 2:19, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out in order that it might shown that they are not all of us.” They left, and that’s the proof they never were of us.
You know, I’ve debated this through the years in what’s called the lordship controversy, written a very, very important book - The Gospel According to Jesus; the sequel to that, The Gospel According to the Apostles - dealing with this issue. When somebody comes and professes the faith in Jesus Christ, and at some point leaves and abandons, they never were saved to begin with. They believed for a little while. There was some emotional response. And literally the church is filled with these kinds of people. I think the majority of people who go to church fall into the false believer category. And there are even some in a church like this, although it’s mitigated because we are committed to preaching the gospel with clarity and preaching what is essential to the gospel, the matter of the conviction of sin with depth.
Contemporary evangelism, contemporary revivalism doesn’t deal with rocky soil. Neither do Christian concerts and shallow TV evangelists, because you don’t get where you have to go. And where you have to go, in any presentation of the gospel, is down into the heart. Before you bring to the mind the sense of understanding of the gospel, you’ve got to penetrate the depth of the person so that they understand their sinful condition.
Trouble and persecution essentially tell people who are shallow, “Jesus doesn’t work. I thought He was going to fix my life. I thought He was going to eliminate all the trouble and hassles of my life and bring me into a loving little group of people where I’d never be persecuted; I wouldn’t feel any social estrangement, and all would be well.” And when that doesn’t happen, they’re gone because that’s not the issue.
You don’t ever want to say to somebody, “You need to come to Jesus because He’s going to make you happy, and He’s got this really great plan, and everything’s going to be super.”
You want to come to Jesus because if you don’t, you’re going to have to suffer the eternal consequence of your sin. And you need to come to grips with your sin; that’s where you have to start. That kind of deep plowing has to be done.
Now you say, “But doesn’t the Holy Spirit do that?”
Absolutely the Holy Spirit does that. “God grants repentance,” Paul told Timothy.
“The Holy Spirit” – John 16 – “will come” – Jesus said – “and convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment.” It’s a very definitive text. He’ll convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment.
Now, that’s a three-fold conviction that has to be done by the spirit of God in the heart of a person. Convicting them of sin means convicting them of what sin is and that they are sinful, that they have the kind of heart we described at the beginning. And then, convicting them of righteousness is to convict them that while they are profoundly sinful, God is profoundly and perfectly righteous, and they have no ability to be as righteous as God. Therefore, they are under judgment. So, the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment. That’s essential because as the Puritans used to say, “You can’t preach grace until you’ve preached law. You can’t preach freedom from condemnation until you’ve preached condemnation.
So you say, “But that’s the work of the Spirit, is it not? Isn’t it the work of the Spirit to plow the heart like that?”
Yes. It’s also the work of the Spirit to give the new birth. We’re born of the Spirit. Salvation is a work of God, but God does His saving work by means of the preaching of the gospel, right? Faith comes by hearing. God uses the gospel to do His work of producing faith. And listen to this; God uses the truth about sin from the Scripture to do His work of conviction. People are not going to be convicted in a vacuum; they’re not going to be convicted because of a cultural understanding of their sin, which is distorted even though there is a remnant of the reality of it in conscience. The culture so distorts a person’s perspective on sin, particularly our culture which is so good at masking reality, so that if a person is going to have the work of the Spirit to plow up their heart sufficiently to get the rock broken up so that genuine salvation can take place, there has to be, to that person, an explanation of a biblical description of true sinful condition.
So, when you go to give the gospel, folks, don’t short circuit the front half. That’s why when Jesus preaches an evangelistic sermon called the Sermon on the Mount, He starts out by saying, “The people who are going into the kingdom are the poor in spirit, are the ones who recognize their spiritual bankruptcy.” What that means is they looked inside, in their spirit, and they are in absolute poverty. And the word that our Lord uses has to do with beggarly poverty, not just having little, but having nothing, being reduced to begging.
And then He says, “And they mourn over that condition because it’s such a frightening condition to be in - it’s so totally destructive, debilitating, and damning.” And out of that broken, mourning attitude comes a humility and then a hunger and thirst for righteousness. Not a hunger and thirst for popularity, acceptance, happiness, belonging or whatever other psychological reasons draw people to make some shallow affirmation of faith in Christ. The true conversion takes place when what the person hungers for is to be delivered from a deep, overwhelming, burden of sin into righteousness before God. That’s what has to be dealt with, and that’s what largely is left out in the formulized presentations that Jesus wants you to be happy and to live life to the max. I’m not saying He doesn’t provide abundant life, but He provides abundant life to the people whose rocky, stony hearts have been plowed deep and replaced, as Ezekiel 36:26 says, by God with a heart of flesh, where the heart has been softened. And yes, it’s the work of God, and yes it’s the work of the Holy Spirit, but not apart from what the Bible says about sin. So, our responsibility, then, is to speak that word which the Lord will use to plow the heart.
You say, “Yeah, but that offends people.”
Then that’s the way it has to be because eliminating that and you wind up with what Charles Finney said at the end of his life of evangelism – something like this; this is a paraphrase – “It seems to have been my lot in life to have produced many half converts.” You can explain the gospel half, but if they aren’t brought under the law half, and understand that they can do nothing to contribute to their salvation, and they can only cry out to a God of mercy to be gracious to them because of their hopelessness and plead that he would grant them a righteousness they don’t have and couldn’t ever earn, you have indeed preached a half gospel, and it’s a non-saving gospel. And when Finney was done, all you had in New York was the burned out area where you couldn’t even preach the gospel anymore because the people didn’t buy it; it proved to be as vacuous as could be.
So, if you’re going to try to avoid this shallow stuff, you’ve got to go deep. You’ve got to pray that the Spirit of God would do the deep convicting, but you need to put into the mind of the person that the instrument which the Spirit of God uses to do that convicting, and that is a biblical understanding of one’s sinful condition. And when the trouble comes, do you know what happens to the true believer? James says, “When you fall into various trials, call it all” – what? – “joy.” Because when trials come, they have a completely different effect on a true believer. This is what he says, “The testing of your faith produces endurance. The testing of false faith ends endurance; it produces abandonment. You quit; you walk off; it’s over.” In a true believer’s case, the test produces endurance, and endurance has a perfecting result. The tests come; they reveal who’s for real. The test comes, the tribulation comes, the persecution – as much as God allows, as severe as could be conceived. And in the end, all the test does is produce endurance and spiritual maturity.
The apostle Paul, “Lord, please” – three times he asks – “remove the thorn, remove the thorn, remove it.”
The Lord says, “No.”
What’s Paul do? Say, “I quit; I’m out; I’m not believing anymore. You didn’t do what you promised. You didn’t fix my life. Where’s my health, wealth, and prosperity?” That isn’t his response. Paul’s response is this, “I would rather boast about my weaknesses that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” Second Corinthians 12:10, “I am well content with weaknesses, insults, distresses, persecutions, difficulties for Christ’s sake; for when I’m weak, then I’m strong.”
See, the same kind of tests, the same kind of tribulation, the same kind of persecution has different results. If somebody bails, walks out, abandons the faith, denies the Lord, “That’s enough; I’m gone,” they never were a believer. That was rocky soil. The same kind of trial, the same kind of difficulty affects the true believer in the very opposite way: it makes them stronger; produces greater endurance, greater faith, and greater usefulness.
Jesus said to Peter, “Satan’s going to come; he’s going to sift you, and when you’re done, you’re going to be stronger than ever; you’re going to be able to strengthen the brethren.”
In Hebrews chapter 12 and verse 11, it says, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful” – we agree with that – “sorrowful” – on the other hand – “yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” You know what happens to a false believer? Trials produce unrighteousness. To a true believer, trials produce righteousness. To a false believer, it drives them back toward sin. To a true believer, it drives them to an increasing holiness. The more trials that come into your life, the stronger the drive toward God if you’re the real thing.
In fact, there’s another verse – I can’t resist; they keep popping into my head – 1 Peter 5:10. Just listen to this; he’s talking in this context about Satan and him coming like a roaring lion, trying to devour. And now in verse 10, this is a great trial – you know? – with Satan attacking and trying to devour you, that’s a significant trial.
Verse 10 he says, “After you have suffered for a little while” – down here – “the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” Peter says, “The net effect of trials is perfection, confirmation, strength, and establishment. That’s in the life of a true believer. Come what will, be it Satan himself like a roaring lion, the end effect of the discipline, the chastening, the trial, the pressure, the persecution, the suffering, whatever it is, the end effect is not that I abandon the faith; I’m confirmed in the faith. It’s not that I am made weak; I’m made strong. It’s not that I’m battered from pillar to post; it’s that I’m established. That’s what’s going to happen when trouble comes to a true believer, but not when it comes to a superficial one. And that’s why it’s incumbent upon us, in the work of evangelism, to make sure that while we are adept at presenting the positive side of the glory of the doctrine of justification in all of its beauty, but at the same time we need to present the reality of man’s utter and hopeless depravity.
And back to Charles Finney for a minute, that was the half gospel that he preached that had such devastating results. He was fine to preach that Jesus would save, but he did not believe in the true depravity of man. And so, sinners actually were led to believe they could contribute to their own conversion. That’s half, and that’s a deadly presentation of the gospel; either half would be, by itself, deadly. To preach the sinfulness of man, to camp on that and not equally on the grace of God would be as well a travesty.
Only God can break up a stony heart, but our responsibility is to bring the truth to bear upon that heart. And I know that’s not popular, but it is critical. And in the end, that’s all you can do. If the heart will resist, and the heart will not be broken, then we’ve done what we can do. Right? Again I say it’s not the seed; it’s not even the sower; it’s the soil that makes the difference. The best we can do is to bring to bear the true seed of the gospel, law and grace, condemnation and no condemnation, and hope and pray that God graciously prepares the heart for repentance and for faith.
But as I said, there are so many people who are I this shallow condition. And there are some of you here this morning that are in that condition. You’re superficially attached to Jesus for whatever reasons. You may feel emotional about it at this point, but you’re not going to survive if you didn’t come to Him because you were so utterly and totally overwhelmed with your sinful condition and its consequences. And the cry of your heart was for a righteousness you knew you needed to escape judgment and have any kind of relationship with God.
Well, next time we’ll finish it up and talk about the last two kinds of soil, including the good soil.
Our God, this is such a rich experience for us; it’s as if we were there that day on the shore and hearing our blessed Savior tell the story, standing with the disciples as He explained its meaning. Help us, Father, to examine our own hearts, to know the condition of the heart; bring enough trials to manifest that; bring enough persecution to reveal that.
May we be rejoicing in the fact that when the chastening comes, when the trials come, when the tribulation comes, when the persecution comes, we are found enduring; we are found confirmed, strengthened, and established. But, Father, for that soul that flees and runs and abandons and denies, may You be gracious and bring about a true and genuine conversion.
We would pray that there would be hope still for those whose apprehension of Christ is superficial to this point, and may they come to grips with the true condition of their heart, that what they need is not at all superficial. What they need is not better relationships, more acceptance, and a happier life; what they need is to be rescued from sin and from Your wrathful righteousness and from judgment. And we pray that You would do that great work in many hearts, to Your eternal glory, amen.
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