Every time I post a study on the completed work of the Lord who took away all the sins of the world, and how all that’s left for us to do is believe, I get a number of questions from people. These questions are always about others who don’t seem to have been changed at all by their salvation experience. The writers ask me, “Where’s the evidence of a changed life?” or, “What about sacrifice, and repentance, and death to sin?” or “Are you saying that just because a person went forward and mouthed some prayer, and then never did anything else, that means they’re saved?”
If we look carefully we’ll find that the Lord anticipated questions like these, and answered them in advance. In this case the answer can be found in Matt. 13, so that’s where we’ll look.
Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matt. 13:3-9)
As He explained later in the chapter, the farmer represents the Lord, the seed is His word, the soil is the world, and the birds represent the evil one. While the parables He gave us in Matt. 13 are often called the Kingdom Parables, it’s important to understand that this first one describes the whole world, not just His kingdom. In the world His word is met with four kinds of responses.
The first kind is called the seed that falls on the path. It represents people who hear the word but fail to comprehend it. In Matt. 13:19 He said this is due to the fact that the evil one comes and snatches it away. Paul put it this way.
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Cor 4:3-4)
Because of their lifestyle choices some people have developed a heart so hard that the Gospel cannot penetrate its shell. The words lie there on the surface for the enemy to sweep away lest any should slip into a crack and take root. When you try to share the gospel with these people, they look at you like you’ve come from another planet. It’s foolishness to them, as Paul said it would be. (1 Cor. 2:14)
The Lord called the second response the seed that falls on the rocky places. This refers to people who hear the Gospel message and in the passion of the moment run forward for the altar call, but never really let the Lord into their hearts, so there’s no conversion. It all sounded so good at that crusade or revival meeting and they got all caught up in the excitement of the event. But they didn’t really open their hearts to the Lord so the first time someone laughs at or ridicules them for their beliefs they deny the Gospel and act like the altar call never happened. Sadly this describes an overwhelming majority of those who come forward at public events. They don’t ever wander into a church afterward, or even crack open their Bible, so they were never really saved at all. Had they sincerely asked the Lord to forgive them, they could have been part of the small minority who really does get saved this way, but they didn’t give it a thought. They just jumped up and ran down front because it felt good at the time. Paul warned us against letting this happen to us.
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Col 2:6-7)
The seed among the thorns describes believers who are saved but are so distracted by the things of the world that they bear no fruit. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) He wasn’t talking about our salvation there because salvation is not a fruit bearing event. Fruit has an effect on others where salvation is purely personal. In other words, fruit is not something that happens to the branch, it’s something that happens through the branch. And the branch does not make fruit grow by its own effort. It’s the vine that does the work.
Why are there so many believers who don’t bear fruit? It’s because of the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth. According to Matt. 13:22 they choke the Word and make it unfruitful. Preoccupation with the things of this world makes it impossible to hear the prompting of the Holy Spirit. This is probably the biggest group in all of Christianity, saved but not fruitful. This is the group some other believers look at and wonder, “Are those people really saved”? Odds are the answer is yes, but you’d never know by looking at them.
But before we go on, there’s something we should remember. Living a “sacrificial life” is not the same as being fruitful. To sacrifice is to give up something for nothing, like the lambs did on the altar. They received no benefit from it. The notion that Christians have to live sacrificial lives is man’s idea, not God’s. Jesus said that He came so that we could have an abundant life, not a sacrificial one. (John 10:10)
Christians are not asked to give up something for nothing. No one who is truly walking with the Lord thinks of it as a sacrifice, he thinks of it as a greater blessing than anything he could have otherwise received. People who take pride in living a sacrificial life are missing the point, and by denying themselves the things they secretly still want (it wouldn’t be a sacrifice if they didn’t), they not only aren’t producing any fruit, they may just be performing works of the flesh. You can tell because the result is not joy, it’s jealousy, envy or resentment toward others. These are not the fruit of the Spirit.
The seed that lands in fertile ground produces a crop many times its size. This is the group that Paul wrote about in Galatians 5:22-26, where he also described the fruit we produce.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
This fruit grows when the gospel finds fertile soil. It impacts others, and draws them to the Lord. The peace and contentment we feel, and the love and kindness we express, causes others to want what we have. When they get it, they in turn draw still others, and without trying or even knowing, we’ll have produced a crop that will multiply us over and over.
So we take pity on those for whom there is no comprehension and pray that the Lord will soften their hearts. And likewise for those for whom there was no conversion. The Gospel was just a passing fancy for them, a rush of emotion that never became a commitment. Let them hear it again, Lord, and this time may they choose to invite you in. And especially for those who though saved, are so caught up in the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth, that they’re totally unfruitful. Help them gain the eternal perspective.
The best witness we can offer to the world lies not in doing what we think the Lord wants us to do, but in being what He wants us to be. So while we’re at it let’s pray that since we live by the Spirit, He’ll keep us in step with the Spirit, so we won’t become conceited, and begin provoking and envying each other. Amen.