In Mark 4, the Lord Jesus speaks a parable about a sower who sows seed on a variety of types of soil. Of the 4 soils, only 1 produces a living, fruit-bearing plant. The other three produce, at the end of the day, only something dead. And the Savior tells us in his explanation of the parable that this all has to do with the sharing of the gospel.
What I wonder, when I consider this, is how many of us heard a gospel preached that, by the simple nature of how it was preached, would be more likely to fall on bad soil. Of course, I know that the Lord is sovereign over our salvation. He is the one who brings dead hearts to life and draws people to himself. So, do not take that out of the equation. But, what I wonder is, by the nature of how we speak, do we almost prepare people to be the rocky or thorny ground?
Mark 4:5-7 – 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.
Jesus says there are a kind of people who, hear the gospel and respond quickly with joy. But, when either hardships or a desire for the things of this life arise, they turn from the gospel and prove to be dead and not alive.
Mark 4:16-19 – 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
Would not a half-gospel, an almost true presentation of Jesus, lead people to be more likely to look like the rocky or thorny ground? Think about it. So many preachers in modern churches offer people the love and forgiveness of God by grace through faith in Christ. But, somehow, in the preaching, the call to repentance and commitment to Christ is left out of the message. There is no lordship in the presentation.
Mark 1:15 – and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
The gospel is a call to repent and believe. It is not a call merely to say some spiritual word.
Romans 10:9 – Bcause, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Paul points out that we both call Jesus Lord and believe in his completed work for salvation. He does not present to us a call simply to have an empty, head only faith. Faith leads to repentance. Faith includes a surrender to Christ.
But, so many presentations out there are a call to just give Jesus a try. The call out there is to pray a prayer, and you will notice everything gets better. People eagerly pray, and they might even be religious for a few months. But, when real life hits them in the face, they turn and run. They were never truly converted.
1 John 2:19 – 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 it might become plain that they all are not of us.
If merely mouthing ascent to a spiritual proposition, praying a prayer on a street corner, were the true gospel plan of salvation, 1 John 2:19 would make no sense. They could not go out from us, never having been part of us, if to be one of us only required a heartless prayer without commitment or heart-change. No, the good news is not so vacuous as all that.
Now, do not get me wrong. We are saved, if we are saved, by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. There is no religious action to perform in order to seal our salvation. There is no particular work that we do or particular amount of works that we do in order to be saved. Salvation is genuinely a free gift of God.
Part of some gospel presentations includes the idea that, if we want God’s gift of grace, we must take it from his outstretched hands. That is usually a bad version of synergistic teaching in which our act of will works along with God to apply salvation to us. And, of course, that is not true biblically. But, there is a way that I think we can use a gift illustration to help us. If you imagine that salvation is a package that you need to reach out and take from God’s outstretched hand, that is not bad. However, add to this picture this idea: Before you are saved, you are holding inn your two, full hands, the right of ownership over your own life. In order to receive the gift of salvation, you must hand to God the control of your life—lordship. Your hands have to be empty enough to receive the gift of salvation.
I’m not sure if that illustration works, but it may be close. Salvation is a free gift of grace. But, no person can receive that gift of grace while simultaneously keeping full control of his or her life. To genuinely believe in Jesus and receive him as lord includes the action of repenting, of surrendering the authority over our lives to the Lord.
To then tie this back to my concern, far too many supposed gospel presentations include the gift from God while far too few include the concept of repentance and lordship. It is almost like trying to sell someone on the concept of a wedding day without including a marriage. It is like trying to sell someone on the leap from the diving board without including the splash in the pool. May we be more honest than all that. May we not pretend that salvation is something a person receives by the mere mouthing of words. No, salvation comes when God changes our hearts, makes us alive, and causes us both to believe and to, in that belief, yield our lives to him. This is salvation that is not going to die the moment something more comfortable presents itself. This is the kind of salvation that does not disappear when life hardships or worldly success are before us. No, the genuine gospel is an all-life, all-eternity sort of thing.