The Growth of a True Faith
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 86 Part 3)
by Bob Burridge ©2011
Not everyone who hears the gospel, and discovers what the Bible actually says, believes it. Of those who say they believe it, not everyone really trusts in it sincerely and with confidence. The problem is not found in their lack of intelligence. It cannot be blamed on those who have influenced them or raised them. It has to do with the state of their soul.
In previous studies we have seen how the guilt and effects of Adam’s sin have infected and condemned the whole human race descending naturally from him. They are unable to do what is truly good by God’s definition of it. However, their moral inability to understand and to trust in what God said in his word does not make them excusable for their rejection of what is right and true.
The Parable of the Sower and the Seed in Matthew 13
Jesus had been teaching in Galilee. Crowds followed him wanting to hear more about what he had to say. From a boat along the shore he taught another of his parables about the Kingdom. Most of the teachings of Jesus during his time on earth centered around the Kingdom of God. However, the message was not going to take effect the same way in the lives of everyone who heard is lessons. Interest in the Kingdom of God would fade away in some who seemed interested at first.
In the parable of the sower, there are four kinds of soil that receives the seed. Jesus started the Parable saying, “Behold, a sower went out to sow.”
Matthew 13:4, “… some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them.”
Theses seeds fell in places on the side of the prepared fields. They landed on the path. The narrow foot paths that go through fields dividing the sections were made of packed down dirt from people walking on them. Birds would easily find these exposed seeds and eat them.
Matthew 13:5-6, “Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away.”
These seeds fell in areas where there was a thin layer of soil over an underlying rocky foundation. Seeds planted here would sprout and start to grow but would not be able to put down firm roots. The growth was superficial. Without a root system there was no supply of water and other nourishments. The rock under them would get hot in the sun. The heat from below and above would dry the young plants out, and they would die.
Matthew 13:7, “And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them.”
This third group of seeds fell in a place where weeds were growing rampantly. These thorns were weeds that took the nourishment away from the planted seeds. They also produced shade on the ground that blocked the sun from the seeds that fell under them. These seeds were choked by the unwanted wild growth around them.
Matthew 13:8-9, “But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
These seeds landed in soil which was rich with nutrients, and had the right consistency to support growth. These were the seeds that produced a good, healthy crop.
A few verses later, Jesus himself explained what his parable meant. He made it clear that the seed was the word of the Kingdom of God. The soil represented the hearts of those who hear that word. The growth of the seed depended upon the soil prepared for the seed.
Matthew 13:19, “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside.”
Like the seed that landed on the hardened paths, the message about God’s Kingdom sometimes falls upon hardened hearts. The natural heart of every person lacks the ability to understand kingdom truths as they really are. They do not have confidence in the truth of God’s promises. They lack that saving faith which grows only in the hearts of those redeemed by Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:14 says, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
In these hearts, the truth about God’s Kingdom and the ways it teaches us to think and to live are replaced by worldly habits and myths which are preferred by the hardened heart. The truth God reveals is distorted by spiritual blindness and confused understanding. The promises of the Kingdom are snatched away and never really take root.
Matthew 13:20, “But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.”
Someone can appear to be a true child of God for a time, even if it is only superficial. They seem to receive God’s word with joy. They endure for a while but then turn away. They might be discouraged by persecution, trials, and temptations of various kinds. Since there is no real root to what they believe, they abandon their professed convictions. In difficult times a person’s true character is revealed. Some show that their faith was not the kind implanted by grace. It was a trust in their hopes of personal benefits, not a trust in the redeeming work of a Savior who calls us into service with the family of God.
1 John 2:19 makes it clear that this happens, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.”
In Revelation 2:9 the Bible shows us where these false believers have their real church membership, “… I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”
Matthew 13:22, “Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.”
The thorns are the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of material riches. A heart set upon self-satisfaction is not dedicated to the service of Christ as Lord of his life. A person like that is shallow, and lacks evidence of a true Saving Faith. The person who receives the word among thorns lets his personal goals and comforts crowd out his service for God’s Kingdom. With no sound foundation, the truth is choked out in his life, and becomes unimportant to him.
This is the tragedy of many who put other values above the supreme value of trusting and honoring the Creator. There are many important responsibilities God gives us, and many wonderful blessings he bestows upon his children. They all must be handled with the right outlook. Our jobs are important to provide what we and our families need, but we should be careful to keep God’s priorities as we set up our budget and advance in our careers. Our families are important too, but we do the family no good if we elevate family fun or prosperity over helping one another grow into mature Kingdom workers in all we do, declaring God’s glory and living with a true trust in all he said is right and good. When our jobs or families are valued above God’s Kingdom Principles, they become a form of idolatry and a great evil. The same is true of education, social status, sports, hobbies .. all the good things God lets us enjoy in this life.
If the Principles of God’s Kingdom become secondary, then the weeds of this world are choking it out and the person is unfruitful. The word is choked out by foolish distractions, and their lives become spiritually unfruitful. In those who live this way, there is no evidence of a true saving faith.
It’s ironic that one of the greatest reasons given for people skipping worship and church involvement is family activities. As a Pastor I’ve seen some families stop attending worship, or avoid involvement in other activities of the congregation. I’ve seen some of those families break up horribly, or pay the sad price of children who have no interest in living for the glory of God. I remember one family where members became involved in illegal activities and were arrested shortly after a pastoral visit in their homes where they said they needed Sundays for family time, so they decided they were not going to continue to come to Sunday worship. We do our family no good, if we teach them that our own enjoyment is more important than obeying the ways our Loving Lord teaches us to live as his children. If our faith is not a firm confidence that God’s ways are the best ways for us, then we do not have the kind of faith that evidences the work of grace.
Finally, Jesus explained the seed that fell on good ground.
Matthew 13:23, “But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”
What made this soil good and productive? The soil was prepared for the seed. The good news of God’s Kingdom only takes root in hearts God has prepared to receive it. Only those transformed by his grace and given the quality of a true faith in God’s word, are made able to understand it, and to bear fruit in their lives to the glory of their Creator.
As we tell people the good news about being made right with the King of kings by grace, we have to remember that we cannot change the soil the seeds fall upon. We cannot prepare the hearts of those who need the gospel. That is God’s work. Our duty is to receive the word of God ourselves, and to sow the seed prayerfully where we can.
We are to live by what God says in his written word, and by putting those principles to practice in our lives above everything else. Not to do so is not just a poor choice — it’s tragic!
Knowing that success is all a matter of God’s grace, that we are not the ones who make it effective, does not mean we give up our efforts to proclaim the good news diligently. Just the opposite. Grace at work produces fruit in us. It makes us trust what God has promised, and it stirs in us a concern for the proclaiming of the Gospel of the Kingdom in Christ. Our concern should be a reason to rejoice over the evidence in us that we are prepared soil.
If we are prayerfully trying to live as God says we should, then we see evidence that a true saving faith is at work in us, growing in us, and that we can know that we are the objects of his grace.
In Philippians 1:6 Paul wrote, “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;”
A true faith is a growing faith. Our confidence matures as we are made to conform more and more into the image of Christ. More and more we humbly realize that left to our own ways we will fail. As we strive to do what is right, it is by resting in what God has done, not by hoping in our own efforts.
Dr. Charles Hodge in his commentary on the Book of Romans calls it a “lamentable mistake” that we should ever assume that God loves us for our goodness. Nothing contradicts the gospel more than for us to make God’s blessing into something we earn. Hodge explains that this unbiblical idea leads us to believe that it is up to us to cling to God, and to maintain his love by our own efforts. We do not make ourselves worthy. The soil which represents our hearts produces fruit because it is prepared by our Redeemer.
When we see a concern in our hearts, when we sincerely desire to put God first, and when we strive to tear out the choking weeds, we have evidence from God’s own word that he loves us deeply, and has caused that concern and trust. It shows that the message of God’s Kingdom has fallen on prepared soil. It should humble us and make us all the more grateful for his undeserved love.
Rather than worrying over what kind of soil your heart is made of, focus upon getting your priorities right and getting busy doing what you say you believe is right. Put the principles of God’s Kingdom in first place, and fit the rest of your life around them. Then you will be demonstrating that you received the seed on good soil, and that God is busy at work in your heart.
When you bring the word of Christ’s Kingdom to others, when you challenge them to live as God commands, when you encourage them to put their eternal trust in the finished work of Christ on the Cross, be patient for this good work of God to do the convincing and convicting.
Good seed grows when it falls upon good ground with all the right conditions. The sower does not have to make it grow. He makes sure he has the right seed, then simply casts in on the good soil. Since this is not just literal seed, and God calls us to be part of his work in prayer, we also beg him to make our hearts and those we evangelize to be good soil.
Faith always has an object. A true saving trust rests in the promises of God, and shows that it is genuine by acting confidently and boldly upon what is claimed to be believed. This is what evidences a true saving faith.
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)