We all must examine ourselves in the light of the parable of the sower:
The admonition of my title comes from 2 Corinthians 13:5 (NASB). Other versions speak about examining ourselves, and so on. The point is to make sure you are indeed who you claim to be. Are you a real Christian, or are you just a fake?
One of the scariest truths of the Christian faith is the fact that millions of people may think they are Christians when they are not. They are kidding themselves, Satan is deceiving them, and when they finally stand before the Lord it will be a shocking and sobering moment indeed.
Some of the most alarming and horrifying words in all of Scripture have to do with this very matter. Furthermore, they can be found coming from the lips of Jesus. Consider just two of these very serious warnings which we all need to heed:
Matthew 7:21-23 “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. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’.”
Matthew 25:10-12 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you’.”
If those two texts do not shake you up and drive you to your knees, I do not know what will. Thankfully, however, there are various biblical tests that we can make use of in this regard. For example, all believers have the Holy Spirit residing within them, so one test is to see if the fruit of the Spirit are in evidence in our lives (see Galatians 5:22-23).
There would be other indications of truly belonging to Christ. For example, all real believers should have a growing desire to read the Word, to fellowship with other believers, and to spend time in prayer. And there should also be a growing hatred of our own sin and selfishness, and a desire for holiness.
The point is, it is not enough to have emotionally responded to a gospel appeal many years ago. The Christian life is not something we do once, long ago – it is a continuous and ongoing walk with God. Sure, justification is a once-off experience, but it must be followed by a life of sanctification if one has really been converted.
It is not how you begin that counts, but how you finish. Scripture speaks to this often, especially in the Parable of the Sower. This is found in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; and Luke 8:1-15). It may be better to call this the Parable of the Soils, since the sower and the seed remain the same throughout, but what is different are the various types of soil.
As Donald English comments, “The central clue in the parable is found in the various types of receptivity in the ground. Neither the sower nor the seed (and certainly not the weather!) are determinative. Everything depends on the state of the ground.”
Many of the soils are simply not conducive to allowing the seed to take root and grow. So the seed never truly gets to develop as it should. It is worth looking at these soils a bit more, and see the reasons why the seed does not get properly implanted.
Here I want to mainly draw upon Mark’s version of this parable. In Mark 4:1-9 Jesus offers the parable to the crowds. Then in verses 10-20 he explains what it means to his disciples. While what is said there may well sound quite familiar to most of us, it is necessary to keep examining these truths to help us as we test ourselves and see if we really are Christians.
Consider some of the things that hinder the seed from properly taking root and developing: trouble or persecution (v. 17); the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things (v. 18). Here are five things that prevent the gospel seed from ever properly indwelling us and germinating.
There would of course be other such things. But simply reflect on these five. Is persecution, hardship or the fear of man preventing you from being a real Christian? Is a love of wealth keeping you from Christ? What is it that is preventing you from being a true disciple of Christ?
Let me finish by offering a few comments on this parable. I begin with a bit of humour. R. Kent Hughes speaks about the problem of competing loyalties:
This is a divided heart – like the heart of the girl to which a young man once proposed. He said, “Darling, I want you to know that I love you more than anything else in the world. I want you to marry me. I’m not wealthy. I’m not rich. I don’t have a yacht or a Rolls Royce like Johnny Brown, but I do love you with all my heart.” She thought for a minute and then replied, “I love you with all my heart, too, but tell me more about Johnny Brown.”
On a more serious note, Eckhard Schnabel says this about the parable: “Hearing Jesus’ message is not sufficient: hearing must turn into true understanding, experiential acceptance and permanent commitment – precisely the repentance and the faith that were an essential part of Jesus’ message (1:14-15).”
Coming to Christ is not a piece of cake. As Larry Hurtado comments, “Clearly Mark wishes to remind his readers that Jesus’ message is no easy pill to swallow and no mild word of spiritual uplift but a declaration of war upon the power of evil. Thus, as is true in any war, participation demands preparedness for opposition and sacrifice.”
R. C. Sproul is right to highlight this truth: “As I have said many times, no one is justified by a profession of faith. We must possess the faith that we profess if we are to be justified. The seed of God’s Word has to take root in our hearts if we are to enter the kingdom of God. A superficial profession of faith is no sign of true redemption.”
And David Garland offers us three observations that can be made about this parable in relation to church growth:
1) The sower in the parable does not prejudge the soil. He casts the seeds with abandon and does not decide in advance whether the soil has potential or not, whether it is a waste of time or not. The message is not test-marketed first to see what the response is likely to be and then to adjust the message to ensure the best reception of the product….
2) The explanation for the parable indicates that success comes from God. Jesus affirms that insight into the mystery of the kingdom is something given by God. As sowers we can take no credit for any success that comes from our sowing, nor need we beat ourselves down for any failure….
3) Sowers are not called to be successful but to be faithful. As sowers, we are to aim for success, a harvest. But the peril is that we may become so consumed with the outward signs of success that we get converts with no deep root system that will support them over the long haul.
Finally, some may wish to enter into the debate about if the first three types of believers were really saved to begin with. If they were, did they then lose their salvation later on? That big theological discussion cannot here be entered into. But Mark Strauss offers some useful thoughts on this:
Sometimes the question is raised as to which, if any, of the first three seeds and soils are in fact “saved.” But this question misses the point of the parable. All three are unfruitful and so all three have failed. It is not a matter of whether any “escape through the flames” (1 Cor. 3:15). In Jesus’ ministry there are two kinds of people, those who accept the kingdom and those who reject it. The three failed seeds represent the latter. True faith produces fruit (Eph. 2:8-10; Phil. 2:12-13; James 2:14-26).
I return to where I began: are you really a Christian? Is there fruit in your life to indicate genuine saving faith? Are you growing in Christ and by his grace becoming more Christlike? There is no more important issue to get right than this one.
None of us should take such matters lightly. They are of eternal consequence. Let me finish with one final quote on all this, from an article American church historian Richard Lovelace penned back in 1990:
We may need to challenge more, and comfort less, in our evangelism and discipleship. We need to make it harder for people to retain assurance of salvation when they move into serious sin. . . . We need to tell some persons who think they have gotten saved to get lost. The Puritans were biblically realistic about this; we have become sloppy and sentimental in promoting assurance under any circumstances.
That seems to me to be good advice.