Monday, March 15, 2010

Encouragement for the Good Soil

[This entry follows a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church, entitled "Different Responses to the Same Jesus, Part 2." Click on the title to listen to the audio.]

In thinking about the parable of the soils in Mark 4 for the last two weeks, it's been a wonderful reminder of encouraging truths. First, the gospel seed is the only seed that will produce gospel results. It seems simple, but it's so true...and, it's easy to lose sight of this in today's church culture. The truths (1) of a God who is holy and just, (2) of a humanity made in the image of God yet radically rebellious toward God, (3) of the certainty of God's wrath being poured out for all eternity, (4) of of God's mercy in providing salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and (5) of that salvation being applied to all who believe in Christ should be well known.

This gospel should be the well-worn path of Christian thinking and evangelizing, and yet, it is not. Rather than a God who saves, too many feel we must preach a God who fiscally promotes and physically heals all who believe. Rather than a gospel which focuses on eternity, too many feel that we must preach a Savior who smooths out all the wrinkles and rough edges of this life. Yet, this is not the gospel. While there are wonderful, purpose-giving, joy-sustaining, peace-providing benefits of the gospel for this life, its true focus is the day on which we will stand before God. No horror in life will match the horror of that day for those who are not saved by grace through faith. The gospel seed is the only seed that will produce gospel results.

Second, the growth or stagnation of that gospel seed is not dependent on me...the sower. Verse 14 tells us the full responsibility of the sower. Want to know what you must do in evangelism? Want to know how you can be assured of your faithfulness in personal evangelism? Listen to Jesus in Mark 4:14, "The sower sows the word." That's it! Of course, we pray, we prepare, we study, and we look for opportunities. We use varying gifts to sow this word...from mercy, to hospitality, to teaching. However it is God has gifted us, we sow the Word. The results, according to this parable, lie with the listener. The mouth of the sower must sow the Word, but the heart of the listener will determine the outcome.

In addition to providing encouraging truths, there has also been the reminder of a sobering reality. Jesus' words from Matthew 7:21 say it best, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." These people may have done many works 'for the Lord,' and yet they will be sent away (Mt. 7:22-23). In our parable, these are the ones on rocky soil or thorny soil. The temporary response of the rocky soil is not sufficient for salvation. The immediate, emotional response is not acceptable to God. The double-minded response of the thorny soil, which seeks for the things of the world AND God, is also unacceptable.

Both of these responses devalue God and His work. The testimony of the rocky soil is that God did not complete the work that He began and, thus, makes God out to be a liar (cf. Phil. 1:6). The testimony of the thorny soil puts God among other things in life that seem beneficial, thus reducing the value of the infinitely holy and glorious God to equal temporal pleasures from things like power, money, or sex. Neither of these testimonies reflects gospel fruit in a person's life, and it is sobering to think how many people may be under the delusion that they are saved when, in fact, they are not. As J.C. Ryle wrote, "To be without fruit is to be on the way to hell."

So, in light of all this, what is the encouragement to those who believe they are the good soil? The words of Colossians 2:6 come to mind. "Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving." In this book, Paul is fighting for the spiritual lives of his readers, "warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ" (1:28). The idea that there is no concern for further growth and maturity once one receives Christ Jesus the Lord is not biblical. I think Paul would say this is the kind of thing that he is warning the Colossian believers about in this verse: "I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments" (2:4).

The 'plausible argument' of many is that once you 'pray a prayer,' nothing else matters. Paul, on the other hand, combats this by saying that once one received Christ, he must 'walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith.' It is true that we are gloriously saved when the wind of the Holy Spirit blows into our lives, our eyes are opened, and we turn from our sin and trust Christ as Lord. Tied to this may have been a time of praying with a friend or a parent or a pastor who explained the gospel to us. However, the power of the gospel is seen over time, as roots grow deep, as we are built up in Him, and as our lives are marked by His presence and authority.

So, the encouragement to the good soil is to stay steady, keep believing, and keep seeking spiritual fruit. Keep hearing the Word, keep accepting it, and keep bearing fruit in accordance with its teaching (Mk. 4:20). Apart from this, there is no real assurance that we are, in fact, the good soil.