Questions from the Street: “What is this ‘Re-Formed’ thing?”

Mark Wheeler

May 25, 2014

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

I Corinthians 9:19-22; II Timothy 3:10-17

Questions from the Street: “What Is this ‘Reformed’ Thing?”

Victorious God, when we are ambushed by evil, when we feel overwhelmed by our enemies, come and break into the darkest places of our lives with the dazzling light of Your hope and unshakable promise of Your love. Inspire us with the power of Your Spirit so we will follow wherever You may lead. Amen.

Two men driving through Spokane were pulled over by a Highway Patrol. The officer walked up and tapped on the driver’s window with his nightstick; the driver rolled down his window, and WHACK!, the trooper smacked him in the head with the stick.

The driver screamed back, “What was that for?”

The trooper said, “You’re in Spokane, son. When we pull you over, you better have your license ready when we get to your car.”

The driver said, “I’m sorry, officer; I’m not from around here.”

The trooper ran the man’s license, and he was clean. So he returned his license and walked around the car to the passenger side and tapped on the window.

The passenger rolled down his window, and WHACK!, the trooper smacked him on the head, too.

The passenger cried, “What did you do that for?”

“Just making your wish come true,” said the officer.

“Huh?” replied the passenger.

The trooper said, “I know that 2 miles down the road you’re gonna say, ‘I wish that tough cop had tried that routine with me!’”[This is just a story – not related to any truth, please WSP take no offense!]

Authority! When it’s done well everyone is happy; when it is not, no one is. Middle School teachers (and parents of any age kid) know that everyone needs to be under some kind of authority, and no one likes it!

We are in the middle of a short sermon series dealing with questions of faith, of the Bible, of theology, and Presbyterian culture. Some of these questions have come from friends and family members who may not have a Christian faith, and some have come from long-time followers of Jesus. Today’s particular question came to me from one of those latter types. I have heard it asked in several different forms: “What does it mean to be ‘Presbyterian’?”, “What is ‘Reformed’?”, “What’s the difference between all the different kinds of Christian denominations?Three weeks ago I was sitting in my Mom’s church, and I listened to Pastor Ben say something like, “I’m going to give you a ‘Reformed’ understanding of …. You’ve heard me mention ‘Reformed’ lots of times. It’s good stuff. You should “Google” it and see….”

So, today, we are looking at what seminaries take whole semesters to teach – and in 2,000 words we are addressing the question, “So, what is this ‘Reformed’ thing?” or “What does it mean to be ‘Re-formed’?

Because this could, literally, be a 42-hour course that I am “answering” in 20 minutes (or so), I will have to choose from among a myriad things about “Reformed Theology” to address. From the 5-points of Calvinism; the “essential tenets of Reformed Christian faith” including things like the sovereignty of God, salvation through faith in Christ alone, the trinity, obedience to the Scriptures as God’s Word and rule for faith and life; I am choosing the over-arching theme of “Authority”. Who is in charge? How does that “authority” get communicated? What is our responsibility?

500 years ago, in the early 16th century, the historical drama of Christendom encountered a giant theological turning point – and that intersection of ecclesiastical understanding, the cross-roads of faith, had to do with “authority”.

So, in 1517 a Roman Catholic priest in Germany, after much reading of the Bible and even more prayer, looked at the Church and noticed that it seemed like people, including the leaders of the Church, lived in submission to the wrong authority. The local priests should not be in charge; the bishops over their diocese should not be in charge; the College of Cardinals in Rome should not be in charge; even the Holy Father, the Pope, was only human, and should, therefore, not be ultimately in charge.

Authority belongs to God alone, and we discover His will for us in His Word, the Bible.

Who was this Roman Catholic priest? [Martin Luther.]

Just a few years later, another Roman Catholic who wanted to be a priest, but whose father wanted him to be a lawyer, moved to Geneva, Switzerland, and in his legal pursuits founded another group of Jesus-followers who agreed with Martin Luther’s understanding of authority.

His name was? [John Calvin.]

Martin Luther and John Calvin knew of each other, they even wrote letters to each other – but they never met. And, while they agreed with each other on a number of theological points, there were a few things that Calvin thought Luther needed a little more schooling in.

Neither of these men planned to create new denominations of Christianity. They both sincerely wanted to, hoped to, “reform” what their mother church was doing wrong.

And so, it was in the 1530s that the Roman Catholic Church named them, and their movement, “Protestants” – they were protesting the Roman Catholic Church’s right of authority. From within the movement itself it became known as the “Protestant Reformation”.

Martin Luther’s followers became known as “Lutherans”, and John Calvin’s followers became known as “Presbyterians” (which is a Greek word for “elders” – the church took Luther’s “priesthood of all believers” philosophy a step further and placed ordained elders, teaching elders and ruling elders, in leadership, under the authority of God through the Scriptures.

In Presbyterian history we also run into names like John Knox, a student of Calvin’s who took this theology to his home country of Scotland; and from the British isles to America we find Jonathan Edwards, and Cotton Mather, and Princeton University.

In each new generation and location, the Calvinist-Reformers took with them one of John Calvin’s theological and ecclesiological mottos of faithfulness: “As the Church of Jesus Christ, we are Reformed and always BEING reformed, according to the WORD of GOD.”

Today’s question is, so what? What does that even mean? And maybe the follow-up question is, if God is the same “yesterday, today and forever”, why might His Church ever have to change?

 So, turn with me to I Corinthians 9:19-23. These are Paul’s words to the Church in the troubled city of Corinth. Listen to the Word of God: I Corinthians 9:19-23…. —-

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

 Reformed and always BEING reformed, according to the WORD of GOD; but if God is the same “yesterday, today and forever”, why might His Church ever have to change?

That some might be saved.

Notice what Paul says here. He does not say he changes the truth of the Good News of Jesus Christ! He does not say that the culture of his audience determines what the truth of God’s Word is. The cultural changes and shifts do not alter the realities of God’s love or justice. God does not change.

What does change? The way Paul communicates God’s truth!

To slaves he speaks and illustrates God’s Word in a language that slaves could hear and understand.

To Jews, and to Jews who truly lived under the Pharisaic understanding of the Old Testament, he speaks and illustrates God’s Word in ways that would make sense to them.

To Gentiles, to atheists, to multi-theists, to apatheists, Paul changes how he communicates, how he relates to them, so that they can hear the Gospel and respond.

To the young, the seekers, the immature, to wonderers, the weak, Paul lives with them in ways to communicate God’s love and power so that he might win some of them to the Gospel.

Paul says, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some!

Paul reformed once, and Paul reformed again, and Paul was always being reformed so that by all possible means he might save some!

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church has not moved in 107 years! Why should we “reform” at all? We’re still in the exact same place! Answer? Because the world around us has changed a great deal! This neighborhood is not the same neighborhood it was 10 years ago; let alone 60 years ago when the pastor could knock on a door and people gladly skipped to church the next Sunday; or 108 years ago when 4th Presbyterian Church was dreaming as far north as they could imagine and started a Sunday School for the children living in the boonies of Spokane (almost as far north as Wellesley!). The world around us has changed!

Shout outs: what are some of those changes?

But that does not mean that we simply become like the changed culture! We must be like them enough to present the Gospel, but only in so far as we can still be “according to the Word of God”. These Corinthian letters were some of Paul’s earlier letters. Let’s look at his very last letter we have in our New Testament, II Timothy 3:10-17 …. —- If this passage is true, what does it say is our boundary of possible reform, our border for change?

10 You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, 11 persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. 12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

To be “Reformed” means to live under the authority of God through His written Word, the Bible, and in constant communion with His living Word, Jesus Christ. It means holding fast to the truth of Scripture, while being willing to hold loosely our own traditions and cultural norms.

Under whose authority are we living as a Church today? If God is in charge, are we willing, and able, to experiment in new ways of being His Church in this 21st century, that some might be saved?

Friends, let’s live boldly into this calling – actually living like we believe what we say we believe. Is Jesus Christ both Lord and Savior?

Victorious God, when we are ambushed by evil, when we feel overwhelmed by our enemies, come and break into the darkest places of our lives with the dazzling light of Your hope and unshakable promise of Your love. Inspire us with the power of Your Spirit so we will follow wherever You may lead. Amen.

Resources:

Handbook of Christian theology; Living Age Books; New York, NY; 1958; P. 40-43.

McKim, Donald K.; Theological Turning Points: Major Issues in Christian Thought; John Knox Press; Atlanta, GA; 1988; Pp. 109-113.

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 390.

Advertisements

Question from the Street: “Why Does It Take So Long?”

Mark Wheeler

May 18, 2014

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Habakkuk 2:3; II Peter 3:8-10

Questions from the Street: “Why Does It Take So Long …?”

God our Redeemer, You greet us each morning, protect us each night, and constantly reveal Your justice and mercy. Saturate us with a desire for Your presence and then overwhelm us with assurance of Your love, so that we can say with the Apostle Paul that “to live is Christ and to die is gain” – and mean it. Hear us in Jesus’ name, Amen.

There’s a joke that preachers tell each other about how their best sermons are the sermons they preach on Monday morning – the one’s they should have preached the day before. It’s a joke, because while we put good thought and effort and prayer and time into preparing our sermons, it’s the next day that we realize what we should have said!

Well, last week was one of those weeks for me – but it didn’t take a whole day. On my way to the restaurant where I was meeting my family for Mother’s Day Brunch, I realized an important part of my sermon I shoulda said – but never did.

So, while I do still stand by last Sunday’s sermon – I want to add one more sentence.

We are in a short series where I am fielding questions that some of you, or your friends and families, are asking. Last week’s question was, “What Do I hafta Do to Be Saved?” And after a long explanation of why that’s an important question, and ultimately I answered by quoting from Romans 10:9 which clearly states, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” While all of that is true, I should also have used this line from Acts 20:21: “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.

Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus” is a quick, clear and simple answer to “What Must I Do to Be Saved?

During last Sunday’s sermon, I fear, some of you were starting to ask part of this Sunday’s question: “Why, Wheeler, Does It Take Sooo Long … ?” So I want to promise a harder, bigger, stronger, faster sermon today.

Today’s actual question is “Why did it take so long for Jesus to come to be the Savior of the world?” And it is followed by the next question, both of which have basically the same answer, “Why is it taking so long for Jesus to return?

 So, turn with me to Habakkuk 2 – and let’s listen for the Word of the Lord. Habakkuk 2:2-3…. —-

Then the Lord replied: ‘Write down the revelation       and make it plain on tablets       so that a herald may run with it.
For the revelation awaits an appointed time;     it speaks of the end     and will not prove false.                          Though it linger, wait for it;     itwill certainly come       and will not delay.’

 Habakkuk is different from every other prophet in the history of Israel. What makes him different is that he never says a word to another person. Habakkuk is somebody with questions for God, and he’s not shy about asking.

The book opens with a question of frustration. “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you ‘Violence,’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?” The situation during Habakkuk’s life was difficult. As he looks around at the way the world is, the injustice and pain that are a natural part of life, he asks God why He doesn’t do something.

Have you ever felt that way? In the wake of a personal tragedy, or when you were waiting for some good thing to happen and the only thing that keeps happening is bad stuff, have you ever just wanted to try to wake God up? “Come on God, don’t you see I’m dying here? Why don’t You do something?

The context of Habakkuk’s questions are that his people, the Israelites, have been taken captive by the evil conquering Babylonians. Other prophets had warned that this will happen as a means of God’s discipline of His own people.

So Habakkuk complains (?), “How long O Lord? C’mon! This isn’t fair!

Habakkuk lived more than 600 years bc! We have learned over the last several months that prophecies of the coming Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior of the world started in Genesis 3, and then were re-articulated dozens of times throughout the Old Testament stories – Noah, Abram, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Ruth, David – in probably every book of the Old Testament we find the promise of God’s Covenant to be fulfilled stated. So, by the time we get to Habakkuk it has been at least 3,300 years of waiting for the Savior to come. No wonder Habakkuk cried out, “How much longer?!

And it took approximately 620 more years before Jesus actually came! Why did it take so long?

The New Testament book of Hebrews opens by proclaiming the fulfillment of all these Old Testament prophecies in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Look at the first three verses of this magnificent presentation of the Good News of Jesus Christ, Hebrews 1:1-3 …. —-

“Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. This shows that the Son is far greater than the angels, just as the name God gave him is greater than their names.”

Habakkuk coined the comedian’s timing-phrase, “Wait for iiiit.” “Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.” It will be right on time! It will not be a minute too early; and it will not be even a second too late. If you trust God, just patiently wait for it.

Man that is hard to do. When you’re waiting to hear the results of a test; or looking for a job; or to see your 20-year-old son who has been on the other side of the world for several months. But if we trust God, can we wait for His perfect timing?

And, in the fullness of time, Jesus was born in Bethlehem when Caesar Augustus called for a census in the provinces of the Roman Empire – fulfilling hundreds of time-connected prophecies.

Why did it take so long? Simply because that was God’s perfect timing.

Hebrews goes on, in chapter 9, and says …. —-

28 So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”

Jesus is coming back – for the sole purpose of bringing salvation to those who are waiting for Him! – The author of Hebrews said this almost 2,000 years ago!

How long, O Lord, must we wait?!

And, while there are all kinds of biblical warnings about what to keep our eyes open for, for nearly 2,000 years biblical scholars have been saying we are in the last days. And it certainly feels like that could be very true today, too!

Back in my day as a young Christian, and when something called “contemporary Christian music” was just starting to be invented, one of my favorite Christian bands was Michael & Stormie Omartian; they sang a song that said:

Let us worship gold, quenching our desires,
And we will later pay the price.
The burning of our souls is quite a noble sacrifice.
Isn’t it nice to know,
Nice to know we’re always right.

We don’t look at hate.
We don’t count his offspring,
We’ll just say that they are gone.
Let’s sit inside our gates, pretend it isn’t going on.
Isn’t it good to see,
Good to see just what we want.

I believe the signs are clear – the end is near.
I believe the signs are clear – the end is near.
I can see the end is near – the signs are very clear.

Families are torn, ripped apart and broken till no shred of life remains.
Must be evolution, or it could be “growing pains.”
Isn’t it nice to know,
Nice to know it’s all O.K.

I believe the signs are clear – the end is near.
I believe the signs are clear – the end is near.
I can see the end is near.
Just like He said, He’s coming to take us home;
All who wait and believe.
He’ll make the broken whole, the blind to see,
And we’ll be completely free.

Ignore the battered child, treat the guilty well while the innocent are shot.
It could just exist in someone’s mind as well as not.
Isn’t it nice to know,
Nice to know we’re always right.

Sanctify the rape, disregard insanity and let the weak be scarred.
Surely it’s their fault, a thing they secretly desired.
Isn’t it good to see,
Good to see just what we want.

I believe the signs are clear – the end is near.
I believe the signs are clear – the end is near.
I can see the end is near – the signs are clear.
I can see the end is near – the signs are clear.
I believe the signs are clear.
Just like He said, He’s coming to take us home;
All who wait and believe.
He’ll make the broken whole, the blind to see,
And we’ll be completely free.

But, seriously? 2,000 years? How much longer? Most Christians will join this band wagon – unless of course, they’re getting married this Summer, or their baby is due next month, or they’re about to start a new job. “Hurry up and return Jesus, right after I’ve had my chance ….”

This where Peter’s words offer the reminder of our hope. II Peter 3:8-10…. —-

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.”

The Bible uses two different words for time:

Chronos time is the time we watch when the preacher is talking too long – How long, O Lord? Earlier this year, I have a good friend who had had his house on the market for over a year with very few nibbles – but he was hoping to start a new job which necessitated him downsizing. We prayed for God to act. Waiting seemed to last forever. Chronos time, chronological time, sometimes takes forever!

Kairos time is the right or opportune or perfect time, what the Bible describes as the appointed time in the purpose of God. This is when God acts. In the fulfillment of time. My friend sold his house within a month of our praying, and exactly when he needed to to start his new job. Kairos time is always exactly when it needs to be!

Can we wait for our completely trustworthy, all-loving and all-powerful God to act?

God our Redeemer, You greet us each morning, protect us each night, and constantly reveal Your justice and mercy. Saturate us with a desire for Your presence and then overwhelm us with assurance of Your love, so that we can say with the Apostle Paul that “to live is Christ and to die is gain” – and mean it. Hear us in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Resources:

Omartian, Michael & Stormie; The Builder: “The End”; Myrrh Records; 1980.

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 387.

Questions from the Street: “What Must I Do to Be Saved?”

Mark Wheeler

May 11, 2014

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Romans 10:9

Questions from the Street: “What Must I Do to Be Saved?”

God of strength and peace, sometimes the enemies who surround us threaten everything we know and love. But You are closer than any evil and more powerful than any threat. Help us live today in that joy, and rest tonight in that peace. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

On my way into church this morning I got a flat tire, on Nevada St. where there is no shoulder to pull over to – so I got out of my car and got the jack and started to change the flat tire when I accidentally stepped back into the lane of traffic, and that’s when I heard the horn of a Mac truck barreling toward me – at 45 mph – I froze in place and the truck smacked right into me at full speed; that hurt; so I got up, and shook myself off and finished changing my tire.

OK, obviously that whole story is a lie. How did you know right off the bat that it wasn’t true? Because I’m not Captain America and I’m still standing here, looking “good”, telling it to you! Usually when people are run over by a speeding Mac truck, they look different than they did before they were hit!

I told you that story (“lie”) for two reasons: 1) to convey a truth; and 2) to point out another truth.

In reverse order: the truth I want to point out is, we never know when we will take our last breath! Never! No one! Accidents, violence, disease, old-age; we never know! “My story” would have been way less funny if it had been true, because someone else would have been telling it! But it certainly could have been a possible news event.

We’ll hang on to the first “truth conveyed” for a few more minutes.

Today is the second message in a series addressing questions people off the street might ask. This particular question actually came from a neighbor of one of our members – so I want to thank this “neighbor” and our anonymous member who invited her to ask it. The question asked was “What do we need to do to be saved?”And that was coupled with, “How can we be sure of our salvation?” If any of you are run over by a Mac truck this afternoon, I want you to know if you have salvation!

When I was given this question, my first thought was, “Yes! An easy one!” And then the more I started preparing, and reading Scripture, and asking it, I realized how big a question this is! And one we should probably all be asking ourselves daily! Show of hands: Who here today has ever asked if you know for a fact that you are saved? Good! Even after you “know the answer”, keep on asking it!

For a lot of people, their favorite words of Jesus are in the Sermon on the Mount; this 3-chapter teaching from Jesus begins with the beatitudes (blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, and so on) and holds some great promises (seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you); and in the middle are some powerful teachings about the ten commandments (you have heard that it was said, but I say unto you). But we often overlook the climax of that sermon, where Jesus says, in 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.’

What is particularly poignant about this terrifying warning is that He begins by saying, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Then He repeats that by saying, “On that day [the day of judgment] many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord.’

I am forced to ask, what if that’s ME? Do you ever wonder if Jesus is talking about YOU?

Lord, Lord, did I not help serve coffee every week? Did I not attend every Bible study offered? Did I not pay a full 10% tithe to the church? Did I not pray every day? Did I not feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned?” And, even so, Jesus might say, “I don’t know you. I never knew you! Go away from me.

Isn’t that the scariest passage in the whole Bible? How can I know – for sure – that I’m a sheep and not a goat?

The Roman Catholic Church, at the Council of Trent in the 16th century, said that it is impossible for the average church member to have assurance of salvation except in rare circumstances. And there are some Protestants who believe that we can have assurance of salvation for today but no assurance for tomorrow, because they accept the possibility that people who have faith at one time can fall away into faithlessness and lose their salvation. So, not all Christians agree on how firmly we can answer this question.

Then there is the family of Reformed theology, in which the Presbyterian denomination is rooted, which teaches that we not only can know today that we are in a state of grace, but that we can have full assurance that we still will be in a state of grace at the times of our deaths.

With deep respect for Jesus’ words in Matthew 7, we also hear Him address the question of who is and who is not genuinely saved in His parable of the sower in Matthew 13:1-9 …. —-

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”

A little later in the book of Matthew, Jesus gives an explanation of His parable of the sower. It is one of the rare times in the Gospel accounts where we are given an explanation of a parable. That explanation is most helpful because this parable differs from normal parabolic instruction. Most parables have just one point. It is generally dangerous, therefore, to turn parables into allegories, which tend to have symbolic meanings sprinkled throughout the story. But the parable of the sower approaches the level of an allegory as Jesus makes several points of application.

Jesus begins His explanation by saying: “Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path” (13:18–19). The first group He is talking about is represented by the seed that fell on the path. In antiquity, at planting time, a farmer sowed his seed first, then plowed the ground. But any seed that fell on a roadway or pathway was not plowed under. Lying on the hardened path, it had no way to take root, and was devoured by birds. Jesus likens the birds to Satan. Many people are like this seed. They hear the preaching of the gospel, but it makes no impact on them. It does not take root in their lives.

Jesus continues, “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away” (13:20–21). If you go to an evangelistic meeting or watch one on TV, you may see huge crowds thronging to the front of the church in response to the call of the gospel. I always wonder how many of those decisions for Christ were true conversions and how many of them were spurious. People like what they hear at these events and can be emotionally moved to make a decision to follow Christ. Some of us in this room may be people who walked forward at a Billy Graham Crusade or a Luis Palau event. However, it is an established fact that many of those who come forward at evangelistic meetings soon abandon their commitments altogether. Their spur-of-the-moment responses are often groundless. I am not saying these events are bad, only that not every new convert proves to be genuine.

Explaining the third type of seed, Jesus says, “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (13:22). This seed represents a category of people who also hear and receive the Word, but who are overwhelmed by the cares of this world. Like thorns, worldly cares “choke the word.”

Lastly, Jesus says: “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit” (13:23a).

Clearly, then, there are many who respond to the message of the gospel with joy but ultimately do not continue in the faith. Not everyone who hears the Word of God is saved, and the same is true for many who respond to it initially. Those who are genuinely saved are those who prove themselves to be doers of the Word. When the seed takes root and grows, there is fruit.

 Remember my opening story about being hit by a Mac truck this morning? If it were true, you could tell simply by watching me – I would look different today from the last time you saw me. The same is true for when we are “saved”. We will look different. We are likely to talk different. We certainly might act different. We will probably have new/different hopes and dreams for ourselves and our families.

I started my college days as a Sociology major. I love the study of people, and groups of people, and how different people respond to the same situations. That’s always a fascinating study for me.

When we talk about things like the theme of salvation, we will run into four different kinds of people. And each of these four types requires a different approach to help them communicate with each other.

1)   The first type are those people who are saved and KNOW it. These people have full assurance that they are in a state of grace. It is a settled matter for them.

You probably have been in discussions where you asked someone a question, he gave some affirmation or assertion, and you replied, “Are you sure?” He said, “Yes, I’m sure.” Your next question was, “Are you sure you’re sure?” When we talk about absolute certainty, we’re talking not simply about philosophical categories; we are describing, in a sense, our emotional state with respect to various assertions.

R.C. Sproul says that “assurance of truth claims operates on a broad continuum. For example, someone could say to you, ‘Do you believe that God exists?’ There is a range of answers you could give to that question. You could say, ‘No, I don’t,’ ‘I don’t think so,’ ‘I don’t know, but I hope so,’ ‘Maybe,’ ‘Yes, I believe in God,’ or ‘Of course I believe in God.’ Each of those answers describes a different level of intensity of confidence that attends a proposition or an assertion.

So when we speak of assurance of salvation, we’re not talking about mathematical certitude, such as belief in the idea that two plus two equals four. We’re talking about assurance of a personal state, and the intensity of that assurance vacillates from day to day. There are days when someone might say to me, “R. C., are you sure you’re saved?” and I would say, “Absolutely.” The next day, if I’m under the burden of guilt, I might say, “You know, I think so.” There are ups and downs in the Christian life.”

Yet, true assurance survives the doubts, for as we will see, it is based on more than feelings. The person in this category has a foundation from which he can say, “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (II Tim. 1:12, NKJV).

2)   The second type are those people who are saved but do NOT know it. I know that some of you are seriously questioning my intelligence right now, so let me explain. We already mentioned that there are some Christians who think we cannot know for sure if we are saved (the whole Roman Catholic doctrine on salvation is based on hope, but not assurance). There are others who insist that if you are saved you would know it because you can name the date and time of your conversion.

Part of the problem has to do with a popular view of Christianity that insists on a dramatic conversion. Some people do come to Christ that way. Billy Graham, for example, can tell the day and the hour when he became a Christian. He points back to a particular day when he went to an evangelistic meeting after playing in a baseball game. An itinerate evangelist named Mordecai Ham was preaching, and Graham went forward and had a sudden conversion that turned his life upside down.

Other people, however, cannot identify even the year when they became Christians. For example, Ruth Graham, Billy’s wife, did not know when she was converted. She was nurtured into a living faith in Christ as her living Lord and Savior.

The truth is that God brings different people to faith in different ways. What becomes key is that we define our faith not by how we feel or what we have experienced, but by what the Bible says and the fruit that is produced through our lives.

It is this category of people that is in view when Peter urges believers to diligence in making their calling and election sure (II Peter 1:3–11). It would be foolish to give such an admonition to people who are already sure. Peter’s teaching, then, signifies that people can be in a state of salvation without actually having the assurance of it.

3)   The third type are those people who are NOT saved and KNOW it. It may seem strange to us that there could be such people, especially since many today assume that everyone goes to heaven when they die. However, the apostle Paul speaks of this category of people at the end of Romans 1. After giving a list of all the various sins and vices that fallen humanity practices, he comes to the conclusion that fallen people not only do these things but encourage others to do them—despite knowing that those who do such things are deserving of death (1:32). You probably also know people who know they are not saved because they do not believe in such a thing as salvation.

You might have heard the story of W. C. Fields, who, when he was lying on his deathbed, he astonished those who knew him by leafing through a Bible. One friend said to him, “W. C., what are you doing?Fields replied, “Looking for loopholes.” Though his answer was couched in his typical humor, it is clear that Fields was aware that he was in a very precarious state as he was about to meet his Maker.

4)   The fourth type are those people who are NOT saved but do NOT know it. These, I am afraid, are the most common type of people. They think they are saved, but they are wrong. This seems to be the people Jesus is talking to in Matthew 7; those who say, “Lord, Lord”; and Jesus says, “I do not even know who you are.”

George Barna is a man who is known for his extensive research and statistical reports concerning things religious. About 15 years ago there was a random sample survey done in Spokane, confirmed by a follow-up survey of church attendance, that said that only 17% of Spokane attends a Christian religious worship service on any given weekend. 17%. That means that 83% of our families and neighbors, our classmates and colleagues, do not think that church-involvement has enough value to make sure it happens. That suggests that at least 8 out 10 of our friends and associates do not have a saving faith in Jesus Christ. Add to that George Barna’s research which says that 50% of those that do attend Christian Church services do not have a real/true faith in Jesus Christ; that means 90% or more of our friends are not saved – but many of them think they are! Including many who go to church every Sunday!

This is where it gets real personal for me. Am I one in that last category? How do I know?

Paul answers this for us with what I want to say is your memory verse. In your Sermon Notes Page, you’ll see Romans 10:9. Read it with me. “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

That is more than just words. It involves your heart, which means it requires your trust and your life!

On Judgment Day, when we face our Final Exam, I believe the questions will be something like what Jesus asked Peter in John 21:15-17. I believe the questions will be something like: Do you love Jesus perfectly? Well, Jesus tells us that perfect love casts out all fear – and I get afraid, so … no. Jesus also tells us that if we love Him we will obey Him – and I have certainly not obeyed Him with absolute perfection, so … nope; I do not love Jesus perfectly. And neither do you.

That will be followed with, Do you love Jesus as much as you ought to love Him? Whelp! Since we ought to love Him perfectly, the answer is still, no.

And the final question will be, Do you love Jesus at all? Well, to that I can say “Yes!” I do love Jesus, and I want to be able to love Him and serve Him and honor Him better. I declare with my mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and I do believe in my heart that God raised Him from the dead – therefore, Scripture teaches me, I can be sure of my salvation.

We are saved by faith alone, not by our good works! Martin Luther once said, “We are justified by FAITH ALONE, but NOT by faith that is alone.” Our faith must be accompanied by our lives which reflect God’s glory. We must live like we believe what we say we believe! Like me after being hit by a Mac truck, we must look different than before.

Do you love Jesus at all? If you said YES – then you’re good – but don’t settle. Produce fruit that demonstrates that saving faith!

God of strength and peace, sometimes the enemies who surround us threaten everything we know and love. But You are closer than any evil and more powerful than any threat. Help us live today in that joy, and rest tonight in that peace. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Resources:

Mohrlang, Roger; Paul and His Life-Transforming Theology; Wipf &Stock Pub.; Eugene, OR; 2013; Pp. 132-138.

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 379.

Sproul, R.C.; Crucial Questions No. 7: Can I Be Sure I’m Saved?; Reformation Trust Pub.; Lake Mary, FL; 2010.