I’ve made my choice,” wrote the basketball star. “I love Jesus Christ and I try to serve Him to the best of my ability.
How about you?”
No, those are not the words of any current Christian sports figure. That testimony is from a tract written thirty years ago by Bill Bradley, the former United States Senator who also made a bid for president.
In a Breakpoint Commentary, Chuck Colson talked about how Bradley professed faith in Christ while he was a student at Princeton University.
There he became very active in The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and by the time he was playing for the New York Knicks, he was a very outspoken Christian.
But things changed. In his 1996 memoirs, Bradley says he was put off by the exclusive truth claims of conservative Christianity and bothered by the uncharitable and racist attitudes displayed by some Christians.
He now says he embraces all religions, from Buddhism to Islam, “so long as they seek inner peace.”
Now, you will have to decide the political significance of Senator Bradley’s change of heart, but he illustrates something that I find to be one of the most difficult questions we face in the church.
What about all the people who used to be active Christians?
What about all the people who at one time professed faith in Jesus Christ but who now seem to have little interest in the things of the Lord?
And, it is not just that some folks are not as involved in church as they used to be. People continue to leave the church in groves.
Why does this happen?
What is going on with these people?
This is not just something that has happened in recent years.
In the 1st Century church, there were those who had been part of the fellowship, who had turned against Christianity.
In 1 Timothy 5:15, Paul speaks about some in the church who turned away from Christ to follow Satan.
And, of course, there is Judas, one of the twelve men chosen by Jesus, who for three years appeared to be a loyal disciple but who in the end turned his back on Christ and betrayed the Lord to those who wanted Him killed.
What is going on when someone appears to go from being a Christian to a non-Christian?
I think we find some answers to these tough questions in a story that Jesus told. This is often called the parable of the sower, but really it is the story about different types of soil.
Now a story about dirt may seem a little mundane, but I believe God has very important things to teach us through this text.
The parable of the soils:
Some people have tried to come up with a technical definition of the word parable. Really it is just a story that teaches a spiritual lesson.
We find seven different parables in this chapter. In this one, which is found in Verses 3-9, Jesus tells about a farmer who was planting seed.
Not someone with machinery that costs thousands and thousands of dollars, but this farmer just has a bag with seeds in it.
As he scattered the seed, Verse 4 says that some of it fell on a footpath. Since this ground was very hard, the seed just sat on top, and Jesus says that the birds came and ate it up.
In Verse 5, Jesus tells us that some of the seed fell on rocky places. The soil was not very deep, and though the plants sprouted very quickly, they were soon scorched by the sun and died because the roots were not deep enough.
According to Verse 7, some of the seed fell among thorns. These seeds sprouted too, but Jesus says the weeds choked the plants by robbing them of nutrients.
Yet, the farmer was not a failure. Matthew 13:8
Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop — a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.
Apparently in 1st Century Palestine, a yield of a hundred times was a good yield and thirty times was a bit slim. Some of the good dirt was better than other good dirt.
The point of this story is that we have one farmer who is doing his work. The seed he is planting is all the same.
But what determines whether or not there is a crop, or how good of a crop, is the type of soil in which the seed is planted.
That really has not changed in 2000 years.
Some of you who have gardens spend a lot of time and energy enriching your soil, because you know that the better the soil, the better the results.
But Jesus did not tell this story to help us with our gardening. He is illustrating an important spiritual truth that I think is relevant for us today.
So, what is the meaning of Jesus’ story?
Well, we don’t have to guess.
Jesus gives the rather detailed explanation to the disciples and for us. He does not tell us specifically whom the farmer represents. It has been suggested that he represents Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, or any Christian who is proclaiming God’s Word.
The seed represents God’s Word or the message about God’s kingdom.
The soils represent four different responses that people have to the gospel, the Great News about Jesus Christ.
As we look at these, we will recognize people we may know.
First of all, there are those people who have no interest in the gospel. When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart.
This is the seed sown along the path. Now, these folks are not necessarily antagonistic to God’s Word. They simply are not interested.
The lack of interest exists because they don’t understand the gospel. It goes in one ear and comes out the other – not making any connection in between.
Jesus’ analogy is good. Just as the seed on the path stays on the surface and never gets into the ground where it can grow, God’s Word stays on the surface for these folks.
It never penetrates their hearts or even their minds.
To some extent, being hardhearted is the natural condition of human beings because of our sinful nature, but Jesus points to another contributing factor — the evil one, Satan, who snatches away the seed of truth.
This is what Paul has in mind in 2 Corinthians 4:4 when he says, “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.”
When we take our natural, fallen condition and combine with the work of the demonic forces, the result is what we read in 1 Corinthians 2:14
The man (or the woman) without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.
People don’t embrace the gospel because they just can’t understand. It just doesn’t make sense to them. Their lives are like that hard path where the seeds cannot grow.
Now, there are a lot of people I know who seem to fall into this category.
I am sure you know some of them.
Often those of us who have been forgiven through Jesus Christ, who have found meaning and hope for our lives, who experienced healing in our bodies and souls, find it difficult to understand how so many folks can be simply apathetic toward the Great News of Jesus Christ.
If a doctor would tell a woman with cancer that he has found a cure for her disease, it would be crazy for the woman to say, “Thank you, but I’m not interested.”
Likewise, when Jesus Christ offers a cure for the cancer of our soul, it seems crazy when people don’t want to at least learn about it.
But, in this story Jesus tells us why that happens.
They don’t understand Christianity. It doesn’t mean anything to them. So, it is not surprising when they have no interest in listening to anyone tell them about Jesus Christ.
Now, many of us have dear friends and close family members who fit this description and are in this condition. Don’t be discouraged. Jesus doesn’t address this issue in the parable, but someone who is like the hard path doesn’t have to stay that way.
God’s Spirit is in the business of plowing up those hard paths, softening people’s hearts, opening their eyes, and making them ready to receive God’s Word.
There are countless Christians who are strong in their faith and devout followers of Jesus, who at one time had no interest in Christianity.
Paul was one of those people.
The apostle Paul at one time had no interest in the gospel. He didn’t understand it. But, as he was traveling to Damascus one day, God opened his spiritual eyes by blinding his physical eyes. He then understood the truth and embraced Jesus as his Lord and Savior.
If you have friends and family members who are like the hard path, pray that God would work in their lives to make them receptive to God’s Word. It is not too late.
Secondly, there are those who have very temporary faith. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.
But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. Some folks find these verses confusing, but I think Jesus is speaking of a hard reality. The picture He gives us is someone who hears the gospel and gets so excited about Christianity, but that excitement lasts for only a short time and soon the person really wants nothing to do with Jesus Christ.
There are people who pray, asking Jesus Christ to be their Savior, and yet within months they seem to have no interest in things of God.
Now, I’m not in a position to judge they, or Bill Bradley, or anyone else is in this category, but it appears that they certainly might be.
Are these people who become Christians by receiving Jesus Christ as their personal Savior?
No, I don’t think so. Jesus says the reason this person’s faith lasts only a short time is because “he has no root.”
There is no connection to what is needed to nourish and sustain life, or to put it in spiritual terms, there is no connection to the Holy Spirit.
There was never a connection to the Holy Spirit. Thus, the faith was never genuine, and these people were never truly a believer of Jesus Christ.
But, why would they have received the Word with joy at one point?
Why would people claim to believe in Christ if they really don’t? There are a number of reasons for that.
Some people have a head belief, which never connects with the heart.
They believe the facts about Jesus but never embrace Him as their Savior.
They believe in Jesus much like they believe in George Washington. It is merely an intellectual belief, not a true biblical faith.
As we say, “Some people miss heaven by 18 inches” which is the distance from their head to their heart.
Others give an outward profession of faith in Christ, not because they really trust in Jesus, but because they want to please someone else. I have seen teenagers go forward to pray to receive Christ. They did not go because they really wanted to do that, but because their friends were doing that. I’ve seen people make a profession, not because it is something they wanted to do, but because it is something their spouse or parents or girlfriend wanted them to do. That is not real faith; there is no root. When troubles or persecution or just something more interesting comes along, they forget all about their Christianity.
I believe the temporary faith, which is like the seed that is planted on the rocky soil, reminds us that not all who profess Christ, really possess Christ. During the Middle Ages, Christians used to try to convert Jews and Muslims by force. “Profess faith in Jesus Christ or I will cut off your head.” Lots of those folks chose to profess faith in Jesus Christ, but I doubt that they truly became Christians. Leaders of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association estimate that roughly 10% of people who come forward at the end of a Crusade meeting really become Christians that night. Many already were Christians and lots of others go through the external motions but never really receive Jesus Christ. Again, the Billy Graham people are delighted that about 10% of these folks, or hundreds of people each night, are genuinely converted, but they admit that many who come forward are not. Not all who claim to be Christians, who claim to have received Jesus into their hearts, really have. The temporary faith Jesus is describing is not true faith at all. Temporary faith is not real faith. It never was.
Thirdly, there are those who find other things more important than Christ. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. What is the difference between these folks and the ones we just talked about? Well, for one thing, it seems to be a much slower process than what Jesus was talking about with the rocky soil. That type of faith popped up quickly and disappeared just as quickly. Here Jesus seems to be speaking of a much slower process where the faith seems to fade away as other things become more important. Do these people end up being saved and getting to heaven? Were they genuine Christians to start with? To be frank, I don’t know. Bible commentaries disagree, with some saying that these are true Christians who simply get their priorities wrong and as a result don’t live very fruitful or godly lives, yet they will still be in heaven.
Others say no. John 15 says the branches that don’t bear fruit are thrown away and burned, and people who don’t demonstrate some evidence of being filled with God’s Spirit are not really Christians and never really were. They have the temporary faith we talked about a few minutes ago. I don’t know who is right. What I do know is that “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth” are keeping many folks from following the Lord, as they should. Some of these folks are religious people who I don’t think are necessarily true believers in Christ. Others are people I am confident are genuine Christians, but who have some mixed up priorities. My application here is very simple. If you are allowing the worries of this life or the deceitfulness of wealth to keep you from following Christ, if you are treating other things such as your job, money, your house, sports, your family, your friends, as more important than Jesus Christ, it is time to change. Those other things are either going to prevent real faith from ever taking root, or they are going to make the faith you do have very weak and anemic. Don’t be like the soil that was full of thorns.
The fourth response describes those whose lives are transformed by the gospel. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. This is, of course, describing those who have truly received Christ and are following Him. One thing I want you to note is that the good soil can still produce different yields. We need to be careful that we don’t judge those who we believe are less fruitful than others. I think many of the differences we see between various Christians is not because some are more godly than others, but rather because God has called each of us to different roles. We each have different gifts and He asks us to play different positions on the team.
In football, the fact that a running back scores more touchdowns than a tackle doesn’t mean he’s necessarily a better player. In the church, the fact that someone seems to accomplish more in ministry doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is a better Christian. Oh, yes, some Christians are more mature in their faith than others. Some have a more Christ-like character than others. Sometimes that does mean that God uses them in greater ways. But please don’t assume, simply because someone can point to greater accomplishments in ministry, that this means he or she is more godly than someone else.
Jesus says that whatever the yield, as long as the soil produces a crop, it is good soil. As long as a person is trusting and following Jesus Christ, it doesn’t really matter how God uses that individual – he or she is a Christian and is promised eternal life in heaven. This is certainly the type of soil all of us should want to be.
The question I have for you today is fairly obvious. What type of “dirt” are you? What type of soil in Jesus’ story represents your life, or the lives of someone you know? Maybe it’s like the hardened path and has never really understood what this Christianity stuff is all about. Or perhaps it’s like the rocky soil, at one time having made a profession of faith in Jesus, but just going through the motions.
Or maybe it’s like the thorny ground. If asked the answer would be, “Yes, I’m a believer in Jesus Christ. I’m a Christian.” But, in honesty, admit that Christianity is quite a way down on the priority list. There are so many other things, especially things that are consuming your time and energy, and you just don’t have a lot left for the Lord. Faith is being choked out by the worries of life and deceitfulness of wealth. Let’s hope we are like the good soil producing a crop, the good dirt, living for the Lord.
Friends, we are all ministers of God’s word and works, and it’s never to late to become like the good soil. God gives each of us minds, talents, and certainly the resources to work with. If we are like the good dirt, and we use the crops that grow through our true faith, than we also need to share that dirt with others that have none. We need to continue to feed that good dirt so that it does not become stagnant and will no longer produce, but rather remains full of vitality and life.
If we can do this, the decline in the church will end. The churches will be what they were 30 years ago, vibrant, full, and flourishing. It’s up to us to decide in what condition we will leave the soil for the generations to come.
Pastor Bill Daywalt