To all, the following is a compilation of Meditations taken from A.W. Tozer. I decided to post it here, because if moved me deeply, & I wanted to share it with anyone who cares to take the time to read it. I have divided it into 4 parts, & have provided my personal comments (following each part) as to how it applies to me, along with any particular conclusions that I have drawn from it. Following the 4 parts is a message I prepared a number of years ago, which directly applies to the things shared herein. You will be blessed if you take the time to read it…
PART I (A.W. Tozer Compilation)
“Because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction” (Thess. 1:5)
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation“ (2 Cor 5:17
“You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Rev 3:1)
To anyone who is a student merely these verses might be interesting, but to a serious man intent upon gaining eternal life, they might prove more than a little disturbing. For they evidently teach that the message of the gospel may be received in either of two ways: in word only, without power -or- in word with power. Yet it is the same message whether it comes in word or in power. And these verses teach also that when the message is received in power it effects a change so radical as to be called a new creation. But the message may be received without power, and apparently some have so received it, for they have a name to live, and are dead. All this is present in these texts.
By observing the ways of men at play, I have been able to understand better the ways of men at prayer. Most men, indeed, play at religion as they play at games, religion itself being of all games the one most universally played. The various sports have their rules and their balls and their players; the game excites interest, gives pleasure and consumes time, and when it is over the competing teams laugh and leave the field. The whole thing is arbitrary. It consists of solving artificial problems and attacking difficulties that have been deliberately created for the sake of the game. It has no moral roots and is not supposed to have. No one is the better for this self-imposed toil. It ends up being all but a pleasant activity that changes nothing and settles nothing at the last.
If the conditions we describe were confined to the ball park, we might pass it over without further thought, but what are we to say when this same spirit enters the sanctuary and decides the attitude of men toward God and religion? For the church also has its fields and its rules for playing the game of pious words. It has its devotees, both laymen and professionals, who support the game with their money and encourage it with their presence, but who are no different in life or character from many who take in religion no interest at all.
As an athlete uses a ball, so do many of us use words: words spoken and words sung, words written and words uttered in prayer. We throw them swiftly across the field, we learn to handle them with dexterity and grace, we build reputations upon our word-skill and gain as our reward the applause of those who have enjoyed the game.
But the emptiness of it is apparent from the fact that after the pleasant religious game, no one is basically any different from what he had been before. The basis of life remains unchanged, the same old principles govern, the same old Adam rules. I have not said that religion without power makes no changes in a man’s life, only that it makes no fundamental difference. Water may change from liquid to vapor, from vapor to snow and back to liquid again, and still be fundamentally the same. So powerless religion may put a man through many surface changes and leave him exactly what he was before. Right there is where the snare lies: The changes are in form only; they are not in kind.
Behind the activities of the non-religious man and the man who has received the gospel without power lie the very same motives. An unblessed ego lies at the bottom of both lives, the difference being that the religious man has learned better to disguise his vice. His sins are refined and less offensive than before he took up religion, but the man himself is not a better man in the sight of God. He may indeed be a worse one, for God hates artificiality and pretense. Selfishness still throbs like an engine at the center of the man’s life. True, he may learn to “redirect” his selfish impulses, but his woe is that self still lives unrebuked and even unsuspected within his deep heart. He is a victim of religion without power.
The man who has received the Word without power has trimmed his hedge, but it is a thorn hedge still and can never bring forth the fruits of the new life. Men do not gather grapes of thorns nor figs of thistles. Yet such a man may even be a leader in the church, and his influence may go far to determine what type of religion shall be with those over whom he has influence.
Part 1 Comments:
Not long ago I came to the uncomfortable conclusion that my life is not even close to displaying the fruit of the spirit described in Gal. 5:22 – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self –control. Against such things there is not law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.
Rather than the above described ‘fruit’, much too often I display the opposite – especially fits of anger, expressions of sarcasm, absence of love, selfish ambition, spiritual laziness. While the issues dealing with lust have subsided, these other things remain much too present, and I am powerless on my own to change them. And note the last sentence in the verses highlighted just above. To me, it teaches that IF I belong to Christ, there will and must be clear and observable evidence of that… And if that isn’t the case, I cannot help but to question how I received the gospel… because the power element is lacking. So I press on, determined to achieve a Spirit-wrought victory in these, and frankly all areas that are revealed to me…
Before I go further, I wish to clarify something. In order to really succeed in life, we need to apply the spiritual principles outlined in the word of God. For anyone wanting to overcome personal struggles, I am suggested that there is a straight & narrow way to do it. I am not suggesting that if someone doesn’t apply the proper principles, then they should start questioning their salvation. While the Word does say in 2 Cor. 13:5 that we are to examine ourselves to see whether or not we are in the faith, we do need to question our standing with the Lord if we are habitually practicing sin, and “giving up” as it were. The Bible does promise that when we walk the true spiritual path we will experience much difficulties, & tribulation even (Acts 14:22). Thus, the path is not easy. But if our self-defined spiritual path IS EASY, and we are tolerating sin, perhaps increasingly so, then there is a real danger in deceiving one’s own self.
TOZER, PART 2
The truth received in power shifts the basis of life from Adam to Christ and a new set of motives goes to work within the soul. A new and different Spirit enters the personality and makes the believing man new in every department of his being. His interests change from things external to things internal, from things on earth to things in heaven. He loses faith in the soundness of external values, he sees clearly the deceptiveness of outward appearances and his love for and confidence in the unseen and eternal world become stronger as his experience widens.
With the ideas here expressed most Christians will agree, but the gulf between theory and practice is so great as to be terrifying. For the gospel is too often preached and accepted without power, and the radical shift that the truth demands is never made. There may be, it is true, a change of some kind; an intellectual and emotional bargain may be struck with the truth, but whatever happens is not enough, not deep enough, not radical enough. The “creature” changes, but he is not “new,” and right there is the tragedy of it. The gospel is concerned with a new life, with a birth upward onto a new level of being, and until it has effected such a re-birth, it has not done a saving work within the soul.
Wherever the Word comes without power, its essential content is missed. For there is in divine truth an imperious note, there is about the gospel an urgency, a finality that will not be heard or felt except by the enabling of the Spirit. We must constantly keep in mind that the gospel is not good news only, but a judgment as well upon everyone that hears it.
The message of the Cross is good news indeed for the penitent, but to those who “obey not the gospel” it carries an overtone of warning. The Spirit’s ministry to the impenitent world is to tell of sin and righteousness and judgment. For sinners who want to cease being willful sinners and become obedient children of God, the gospel message is one of unqualified peace, but it is by its very nature also an arbiter of the future destinies of men. This secondary aspect is almost wholly overlooked in our day. The gift element in the gospel is held to be its exclusive content, and the shift element is accordingly ignored. Theological assent is all that is required to make Christians. This assent is called faith, and is thought to be the only difference between the saved and the lost. Faith is thus conceived as a kind of religious magic, bringing to the Lord great delight, and possessing mysterious power to open the kingdom of heaven.
Part 2 Comments:
This section caused me to examine the history of my own faith. I recalled pastors telling me that ALL I HAD TO DO WAS BELIEVE THAT JESUS DIED & ROSE AGAIN. THAT’S IT! (I also recalled that even the demons confessed that Jesus was the son of God.) Yet for YEARS, I subscribed to that partial gospel – No man is better for knowing that God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son to die for them. The devil knows that, and no doubt there are many in hell who know that as well. Theological truth is useless until it is obeyed. The purpose behind all doctrine is to produce moral action.
I also have been troubled by the following words of Jesus in Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. MANY will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name? And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’
Those verses tell me that there will be MANY, MANY Christians who falsely believe themselves to be saved. I don’t think those verses only apply to those who work miracles, as even citing scripture promises can be taken as a prophesy, or praying to remove problems from others’ lives that could be demon inspired. The point is, that we need to take VERY SERIOUSLY our own faith, as 2 Cor. 13:5 instructs us to test ourselves, to see whether or not we are in the faith, and many of those tests are in I John.
It is so easy to meditate on the pleasant promises of God, and casually avoid those verses that compel a rigid self-examination. There is a place for self-judgment, along with a need to exercise it (I Cor 11:31-32). I have found the following to be useful to discern our own hearts, and even at times will give us a good idea of other believers around us.
- Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. Just spend time with anyone, (ourselves included) and pay attention to what they talk about the most. Too often, even in the company of Christians I will hear about various sports events, or mundane day-to-day things of little concern. Now, once in a while I understand that casual topics will occupy our conversation. But altogether too often, honest conversations about the Lord are sorely lacking. For example, this happened with my own son, who not long ago took offense because I asked him about his devotional life. So I said to him, “’You say that you are very concerned with Christianity, and things of God, and just because you don’t ‘talk about it ALL THE TIME, doesn’t mean it’s not important’. Sure, I get that, but the fact is, you NEVER talk about God, or even spiritual things. We have had many conversations (sometimes for an hour or more as he is living in China), and the subject of God never comes up – unless I bring it up.” (He had no answer to that important point).
- What we want most. We have but to get quiet, calm our thoughts, wait for the mild excitement within us to subside, and then listen closely for the faint cry of desire. Ask your heart, what would you rather have than anything else in the world? Insist on the true answer, and when you have heard it you will have a good idea of what kind of person you are. I confess that I have often thought of financial security. How I can eliminate all debt, and retire in a (financially) care-free life?
- How I spend my money. Besides covering for the obvious necessities of life, this question concerns whatever is left over after that. How is it spent? Do we set aside money for monthly giving? Or even if we do that, do we dispense with the tithe if any type of financial difficulty confronts us – is that the first thing eliminated?
- How I spend my free time. I think the same principle of “out of the abundance of the heart” applies here. I think most of us have an inordinate desire for comfort. We want things easy, and prefer not to dwell on difficult subjects – like rigid self-examination. So we watch movies, play video or computer games, read novels, watch too much television, etc. To summarize, most of us waste our time – myself included.
- The company we keep. This one is really quite simple. We are known by the company we keep. A morally & spiritually healthy individual will not spend much time with someone lacking these attributes, nor will the opposite occur. We spend our time with those who are most like ourselves.
- Those we admire. I have expressed admiration for sports figures, especially those with fighting skills, as part of my nature is a deep-seated desire that I wish I possessed their skill set, and could then inflict physical punishment upon anyone if I so desired. I also used to admire someone I knew who was able to pick up almost any woman he met. Examining (perhaps unexpressed) admirations such as this can help us learn the true state of our minds.
Now please realize one thing. I realize that reading these things may produce a feeling of spiritual heaviness, as we consider the distressing moral effort needed if we are to honestly contemplate the many facets of our own sin. But please remember something very important! One of my absolute favorite verses in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” You know what that tells me – especially the part at the end? Eliminating the bad stuff, cleansing us – IS THE JOB OF THE HOLY SPIRIT! Our job is simply to confess – but we need to do that as rigidly honest as possible. Recall I shared months ago that I did not begin to experience deliverance from my own sin UNTIL I CONFESSED MY DEEP LOVE FOR IT.” Up until then, I was really only confessing because I felt bad, and deep down was looking forward to the next time that particular sin could be enjoyed. Thus my confession was not honest, and there was no deliverance, because deep down, I really didn’t want it. I only wanted to feel better.
TOZER, PART 3
I want to be fair to everyone and to find all the good I can in every man’s religious beliefs, but the harmful effects of the faith-as-magic creed are greater than could be imagined by anyone who has not come face to face with them.
Large assemblies are being told fervently that the one essential qualification for heaven is to be an evil man, and the one sure bar to God’s favor is to be a good one. The very word “righteousness” is spoken only in cold scorn, and the moral man is looked upon with pity. “A Christian,” say these teachers “is not morally better than a sinner, the only difference is that he has taken Jesus and so he has a Savior.”
I trust it may not sound flippant to inquire, “A savior from what?” If not from sin and evil conduct and the old fallen life, then from what? And if the answer is, “from the consequences of past sins and from judgment to come,” still we are not satisfied. Is justification from past offenses all that distinguishes a Christian from a sinner? Can a man become a believer in Christ and be no better than he was before? Does the gospel offer no more than a skillful Advocate to get guilty sinners off free at the day of judgment?
I think the truth of the matter is not too deep nor too difficult to discover. Self-righteousness is an effective bar to God’s favor because it throws the sinner back upon his own merits and shuts him out from the imputed righteousness of Christ. And to be a sinner confessed and consciously lost is necessary to the act of receiving salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
This we joyously admit and constantly assert, but here is the truth that has been overlooked in our day: A sinner cannot enter the kingdom of God. The Bible passages that declare this are too many and too familiar to need repeating here, but the skeptical might look at Galatians 5:19-21 and Revelation 21:8.
How then can any man be saved? The penitent sinner meets Christ and after that saving encounter he is a sinner no more. The power of the gospel changes him, shifts the basis of his life from self to Christ, faces him about in a new direction and makes him a new creation.
The moral state of the penitent when he comes to Christ does not affect the result, for the work of Christ seeps away both his good and his evil and turns him into another man. The returning sinner is not saved by some judicial transaction apart from a corresponding moral change. Salvation must include a judicial change of status, but what is overlooked by most teachers is that it also includes an actual change in the life of the individual. And by this we mean more than a surface change; we mean a transformation as deep as the roots of his human life. If does not go that deep, it does not go deep enough.
If we had not first suffered a serious decline in our expectations, we should not have accepted this tame technical view of faith. The churches (even the gospel churches) are worldly in spirit, morally anemic, on the defensive, imitating instead of initiating and in a wretched state generally because for two full generations they have been told that justification is no more than a “not guilty” verdict pronounced by the Heavenly Father upon a sinner who can present the magic coin of faith with the wondrous “open-sesame” engraved upon it.
If it is not stated as bluntly as that, at least the message is so presented as to create such an impression. The whole business is the result of hearing the Word preached without power and receiving it in the same way.
Now faith is indeed the open-sesame to eternal blessedness. Without faith it is impossible to please God, neither can any man be saved apart from faith in the risen Savior. But the true quality of faith is almost universally missed – its moral quality. It is more than mere confidence in the veracity of a statement made in Holy Writ. It is a highly moral thing and of a spiritual essence. It invariably effects radical transformation in the life of the one who exercises it. It shifts the inward gaze from self to God. It introduces its possessor into the life of heaven upon earth.
It is not my desire to minimize the justifying effect of faith. No man who knows the depth of his own wickedness would dare to appear before the ineffable Presence with nothing to recommend him but his own character, nor would any Christian, wise after the discipline of failures and imperfections, want his acceptance with God to depend upon any degree of holiness to which he might have attained through the operations of inward grace. All who know their own hearts and the provisions of the gospel will join in the prayer of the man of God:
When He shall come with trumpet sound, O, may I then in Him be found; Dressed in His righteousness alone, Faultless to stand before the throne.
It is a distressing thing that a truth so beautiful should have been so perverted. But perversion is the price we pay for failure to emphasize the moral content of truth; it is the curse that follows rational orthodoxy when it has quenched or rejected the Spirit of Truth.
In asserting that faith in the gospel effects a change of life-motive from self to God, I am but stating the sober facts. Every man with moral intelligence must be aware of the curse that afflicts him inwardly; he must be conscious of the thing we call ego, by the Bible called flesh or self, but by whatever name called a cruel master and a deadly foe.
Pharaoh never ruled Israel as tyrannically as this hidden enemy rules the sons and daughters of men. The words of God to Moses concerning Israel in bondage may well describe us all: “I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows.” And when, as the Nicene Creed so tenderly states, our Lord Jesus Christ “for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven as was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried, and the third day he Arose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father,” what was it all for? That He might pronounce us technically free and leave us in our bondage? Never.
Did not God say to Moses, “I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey…and thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Let my people go?”
For sin’s human captives, God never intends anything less than full deliverance. The Christian message rightly understood means this: The God who by the word of the gospel proclaims men free, by the power of the gospel actually makes them free. To accept less than this is to know the gospel in word only, without its power.
Part 3 Comments:
This part is more of what has been expressed already. Rev. 2:7 says “To him that overcomes, I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” So let me ask the following – what about those who do NOT overcome? Who persist in their sin? Or remain wallowing in it for many years? The struggle gets so difficult, that we may end up simply giving up, and giving in, living a frustrated, fruitless life…
Now I had a revelation about this just yesterday. And this concerns the story found in Numbers 13-14, regarding the children of Egypt, how they responded to the report of the 10 spies who spied out the land of Canaan, which God says was flowing with milk & honey.
The fact is, the vast majority of those people (and recall that ALL of them had even physically seen God’s ten miraculous signs in Egypt, not to mention the daily reminders of the pillar of fire or smoke that remained with them – along with the incredible parting of the Red Sea!). YET – In spite of all those amazing physical signs – the bible records that they “raised their voices and cried out loud all night” To put it simply, THEY DID NOT WANT TO FIGHT THE BATTLES TO POSSESS THE LAND. So they rebelled, and wailed, and moaned, and then they received the awful punishment from God: that because of their abject refusal to follow him, they would be consigned to spending the rest of their days, aimlessly wandering in the desert for the next 40 years! Did those people “believe in” God? Certainly. But did they obey his word? Nope. Why then do we think that these principles do not apply to us?
So how is this in any way different from us who don’t want to fight the battle against sin? We find all kinds of rationalizations why we have to give in – recall, that’s what the Israelites did too. Well, obviously, God HATES that type of thinking very, very much. Because when we do that, we are in effect saying that the gospel of Christ does not work for us. Our struggle is simply too great, the enemy too strong. So we give in, feel bad, ask for forgiveness, – rinse, repeat…
My point here is that WE MUST ABSOLUTELY WANT FULL AND COMPLETE DELIVERANCE, AND BE WILLING TO DO ANYTHING OR GO TO ANY LENGTH TO GET IT. If not, we are deceiving ourselves…
TOZER, PART 4
They to whom the Word comes in power know this deliverance, this inward migration of the soul from slavery to freedom, this release from moral bondage. They know in experience a radical shift in position, a real crossing over, and they stand consciously on another soil under another sky and breathe another air. Their life’s motives are changed and their inward drives made new. What are these old drives that once forced obedience at the end of a lash? What but little taskmasters, servants of the great taskmaster, Self, who stand before him and do his will?
To name then all would require a book in itself, but we would point out one as a sample of the rest. It is the desire for social approval. This is not bad in itself and might be perfectly innocent if we were living in a sinless world, but since the race of men has fallen off from God and joined itself to his foes, to be a friend of the world is to be a collaborator with evil and an enemy of God.
Still the desire to please men is back of all social acts from the highest civilizations to the lowest levels upon which human life is found. No one can escape it. The outlaw who flouts the rules of society and the philosopher who rises in thought above its common ways may seem to have escaped from the snare, but they have in reality merely narrowed the circle of those they desire to please. The outlaw has his pals before whom he seeks to shine; the philosopher his little coterie of superior thinkers whose approval is necessary to his happiness. For both, the motive-root remains uncut. Each draws his peace from the thought that he enjoys the esteem of his fellows, though each will interpret the whole business in his own way.
Every man looks to his fellow men because he has no one else to whom he can look. David could say, “Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee.” But the sons of this world have not God, they have only each other, and they walk holding to each other and looking to one another for assurance like frightened children. But their hope will fail them, for they are like a group of men, none of whom has learned to fly a plane, who suddenly find themselves aloft without a pilot, each looking to the other to bring them safely down. Their desperate but mistaken trust cannot save them from the crash that must surely follow.
With this desire to please men so deeply implanted within us how can we uproot it and shift our life-drive from pleasing men to pleasing God? Well, no one can do it alone, nor can he do it with the help of others, nor by education nor by training nor by any other method under the sun.
What is required is a reversal of nature (that it is a fallen nature does not make it any less powerful) and this reversal must be a supernatural act. That act the Spirit performs through the power of the gospel when it is received in living faith. Then He displaces the old with the new. The He invades the life as sunlight invades a landscape and drives out the old motives as light drives away darkness from the sky.
The way it works in experience is something like this: The believing man is overwhelmed suddenly by a powerful feeling that only God matters; soon this works itself out into his mental life and conditions all his judgments and all his values. Now he finds himself free from slavery to man’s opinions. A mighty desire to please only God lays hold of him.
Soon he learns to love above all else the assurance that he is well pleasing to the Father in heaven. It is this complete switch in their pleasure-source that has made believing men invincible. Thus could saints and martyrs stand alone, deserted by every earthly friend, and die for Christ under the universal displeasure of mankind. When, to intimidate him, Athanasius’ judges warned him that the whole world was against him, he dared to reply, “Then is Athanasius against the world!”
That cry has come down the years and today may remind us that the gospel has power to deliver men from the tyranny of social approval and make them free to do the will of God. I have singled out this one enemy for consideration, but it is only one, and there are many others. They seem to stand by themselves and have existence apart from each other, but it is only seeming. Actually they are but branches of the same poison vine, growing from the same evil root, and they die together when the root dies. That root is self, and the Cross is its only effective destroyer.
The message of the gospel, then, is the message of a new creation in the midst of an old, the message of the invasion of our human nature by the eternal life of God and the displacing of the old by the new. The new life seizes upon the believing man’s nature and sets about its benign conquest, a conquest that is not complete until the invading life has taken full possession and a new creation has emerged. And this is an act of God without human aid, for it is a moral miracle and a spiritual resurrection.
Part 4 Comments:
I sincerely believe that the real key to truly appropriate what it means to live the Christian life is found in prayer. For me, only when I became more & more aware of my own sin – and how I am (still) not exemplifying the fruit of the spirit – then something is wrong, & lacking. And the fault clearly cannot lie with God, who is perfect beyond all measure. This understanding has driven me to prayer, sometimes pushing me to take long, sometimes painful walks as I share as openly & honestly with God as I know how. After all, what is the point of not being honest? He knows everything! And he certainly is aware if I am hiding something!
So I firmly stand on the incredible promise of 1 John 1:9, and continue forward. Because I truly believe that we all ultimately will get what we truly want. A man is only as holy, and close to God as he wants to be.
Here is another point – you know how you will hear people say, “Oh, I don’t have time for that.” And it occurred to me, that what they are REALLY saying is that (whatever the subject was that would require their time) – IT WAS SIMPLY NOT IMPORTANT ENOUGH FOR THEM. (I am especially thinking here of those who have no time for prayer, or say it’s too difficult, boring, etc.) You see, we all have time for what is important to us. Most of us have a profession by which we earn our living. I went to Engineering school, putting in the time, money, & effort to achieve my Degree, because it was important to me. But my spiritual life is becoming far, far more important.
How we spend our time, thoughts, money, etc – all point to what is important to us. And if that thing (whatever it is) is more important than God, than trust me – it absolutely is an idol, which can end up destroying your life. All of these things are part of the “battle” we must all face in our Christian life. Recall what Acts 14:22 says: “…strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God..”
So that brings me to why I strongly desired to put this post together: to urge all readers (myself included of course) to TAKE YOUR FAITH SERIOUSLY, and do not accept pat answers regarding the gospel, like citing Romans 10:9-10, thinking that is enough – without a corresponding moral change.
Straight and narrow is the road to life, and few there be that find it. It is a way of hardship, & difficulty –which is NOT what we hear when the message of salvation is typically preached. Indeed, listening to that, it appears that salvation is quite easy – just say a prayer, raise your hand, walk down the aisle…
But that is not the entire picture. Sure it may begin that way, but never forget the parable of the sower (or the soils). I prepared a message on this a long time ago, (copied below).
Most of the hearers in the biblical story did NOT persevere. They either barely got started (rocky soil), or their faith became choked out by either by life’s problems (shallow soil) or the cares & pleasures of this life (weedy soil). The parable of the soils in my estimation is one of the clearest revelations of full surrender that exist in the entire bible. We must insist that the powerful truths of God (through his amazing Holy Spirit) pervade every part of our being, that we hold on to no secret desires, no secret pleasures, secret idols, selfishness, etc. All must be rooted out. And by the grace of God may we persevere to do so, and thus be able to stand at his soon coming!
Parable of the Soils (Sower)
Mark 4:1-9 Again He began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that He got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 And He was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching He said to them: 3 “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And as He sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. 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. 8 And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” 9 And He said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
In the parable, it’s clear what the field is – He sows seed in the field. He comes right out and says what it is – the field is the human heart. It’s you, and it’s me. He sows in the field and the field is the receptive human heart. One way to follow the spotlight of the Holy Spirit when you study the word of God – is to read it over and over again – so that you know what the Lord is truly saying in a parable. There are 3 emphases in the Parable of the Soils, or sower. The first emphasis first that is absolutely clear that the Lord emphasizes is: how the soil receives the seed. It is not possible to read this parable and not see that, as it runs thru the entire parable. Listen to what Luke 8:5 adds to that picture. “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as He sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it.”
Now that is an important detail – ‘trampled underfoot” – the idea is that it’s a path on the side of the field and it’s hard. It’s hard because it’s been stomped down from people walking on it. And so the seed didn’t penetrate the soil – not even an inch. It just laid on top of the hard ground. And because the seed was laying out where the birds could see it, they came and took it away. And He interprets that later as Satan coming and taking the word away. By the way, it is only on that hard ground where Satan has permission to come and take it away and steal the seed. If it penetrates even a little bit into the soil, Satan can’t touch it. But that’s another illustration.
In the 2nd illustration – the seed went a little deeper into the soil, and it’s first reception was wonderful. Matthew 13:20 says 20 The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and (note this): immediately receives it with joy. Because of that expression in vs 20 – (immediately receives it with joy), I have been very careful in my life NOT to put a lot of stock in an initial case where someone says they want to receive the Lord. The bottom line is we don’t really know how they have truly received it. First reception doesn’t tell you a lot. This is also why I don’t like altar calls … Ask me in 10 years, and I will have a clearer answer if someone truly came to Him. So there is no question about the fact that there is an emphasis on – did the soil receive the seed? Well at first it did, but it soon came to bedrock in the soil when it started to develop.
In the 3rd illustration, it looks like the soil received the seed, but then it got choked out, vs7: Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. Once again, reception.
And then finally we get to the good seed – Ch 4:20: And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, 30, 60 & 100-fold.” So whatever the chief point of this parable is, somewhere you must include the idea of reception – how did the soil receive the seed. OK, now hold that – because there is another point that this parable includes – It must include what is a working description of good ground. Because the parable is leading towards the good soil – and we hope that’s us! Because you may be saying, “Well, I hope that’s me! 30, 60 or 100 – fold. I want to be good soil.” So everything in this story is moving towards the good soil. 20 And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, 30, 60 & 100-fold.
When Luke was describing the seed that fell among the thorns, He made this comment in Luke 8:14 “and brings no fruit to maturity.” It seems to me that it was vital to Jesus that in teaching this parable that it the good soil not only receives the seed, but brings the fruit to maturity. That seemed like that was on his heart. So what is it about the good soil that allows it to develop to the point of bringing the fruit to maturity?
That has to be an important part in what the Lord has on his mind. So no statement about this parable is complete unless it includes something about reception, and secondly, it must also include something that about what is good soil & we have to know what that is. And there is a 3rd thing that must be included…
Since the details of the parable speak primarily about seed and soil – we must identify the relationship that the seed has with the soil – or to drop the figure of speech: the seed is the word of God, and the soil is the heart. So we must describe the relationship between the word of God and the human heart. If we can do that – consider reception, include a working definition of good soil, and the relationship between God’s word and our heart, we will have a good understanding about what this parable is trying to teach us. Once we get that, we go back and pick up the details and tie it into the teaching.
One way to identify the relationship between the seed and the soil, is by looking again at the 4 types of soil that are mentioned in the parable. The first soil that He mentioned is the wayside soil. What is the relationship between the seed and the soil? Mark 4:15 says 15 These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. I like to summarize this in one word – the word is contact. The relationship between the seed and the soil was only contact – there was no union. The seed never had union with the soil – It only had an external contact. It laid right on top of the ground – and that seed was quickly snatched up by the birds, which are explained as the enemy of your soul and mine – Satan.
What is the relationship of the seed and the 2nd soil – the rocky ground? Mark 4:5-6 Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. 6 And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.
Now this is more than contact. It’s not just the seed touching the soil – but it is only partial reception. The soil is shallow – there is no depth. And under a thin layer of soil there is bedrock – there is stone – or rocky ground. So the seed begins to mature, it’s received – and it starts doing well, until the roots go down until they hit rock, and it can’t go any further. And the sun comes out, and it withers away. This soil is only partially receptive. As soon as it hits resistance, it dies. Mere contact with the soil does not constitute good soil. Any partial reception of the seed does not constitute good soil.
The 3rd soil is the thorny soil. There is every indication that that soil it received the seed – it grew up – there was no rocks in there – but the illustration shows that it was not received exclusively. In other words, the soil was not only feeding the seed (the word of God) – but it was also feeding the thorns and weeds. Mark 4:7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. Once again the soil is the receiver – but not exclusively. The soil was feeding rival plants – thorns, weeds, and they were sapping the nourishment out of the growth of the seed – which is the word of God, and eventually they choked it out, and it could not survive.
Now given what I’ve said so far, I think that’s enough information to state for you what I think is the main teaching of the parable of the soils. So what is the main point that includes all of those 3 elements that I mentioned? The teaching is this – that the word of the Lord is only fruitful – when there is an exclusive union between the soil and the seed. To drop the figure once again – let me say, the word of God is fruitful when there is an exclusive union of the word of God with the receptive heart of man. Now let me develop this idea of exclusive union, because this is the heart of this message. Not just union – but exclusive union. 100% of the seed must be received by 100% all of the soil – with zero resistance. That’s what Jesus is teaching here. The soil is called good when the WHOLE seed is received into the soil – the whole soil.
This parable illustrates very accurately the truth of the truth of Mark – I receive all of his life, and his life matures in me. I don’t hesitate when I say I say the seed is the word is God. The word of God is not only written – He said that the seed is the word of God. You know who I am referring to – it’s our Lord Jesus. So I say exclusive reception of the seed. I mean exclusive reception of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let me go through the chief parts of the parable, and show in each case what I believe the Lord is saying here, because what we are really talking about is the pre-eminence of our Lord Jesus.
As I pointed out regarding the wayside soil – there was no union with seed & soil – only contact – no penetration, no union. Thousands as you know, have contact with Christ with the seed – with the word of God. They have contact in church, they have contact in bible study, contact in fellowship with God’s people, contact in nature, in books, on TV, on tapes, radio, in tracts – they have all kinds of contact. But Contact with Christ is not necessarily union. And because thousands have only contact – where there is contact and no union – the seed will be swiftly snatched up by the enemy. Satan will come in right away and steal it. If it’s only contact – it’s gone. Satan will steal it.
Now in the rocky soil, you have the same thing – but here’s the difference – in the rocky soil, it’s not all soil – it’s a thin layer of soil, and rock or stone underneath it. So it’s only a partial acceptance of an undeveloped seed. As soon as the seed starts to develop, and you realize what you are really called to accept – there comes a resistance. You may be a person that prays that prayer of salvation, and your faith begins to develop, but when you begin to understand that persecution and affliction go along with it – life outside the camp as it were – then you say, something like, “Hey – no, now WAIT – I don’t mind receiving his life HERE – but it’s got to be all flowers no trees, all honey no bees. “
In other words, once I learn the full message and come to realize this it might cost me something – that I then say no. What I’m effectively saying is – that I will take his life, or his forgiveness, but where his life begins to make my life uncomfortable, then I will resist his life. Partial acceptance of Christ will never produce – it will never do. In the language of the exchanged life – I can’t accept some of Jesus. I can’t say yes to some of Jesus, or yes to most of Jesus, or even yes to pretty nearly all of Jesus – if you are serious about being a Christian, then your soil, or your heart has to say yes to ALL of Jesus – no rock. The stony ground He has promised to remove by the new covenant. There is therefore no excuse for stony ground. We can come and be wide open to the Lord. The soil represents my openness to his life. The rock represents my resistance to his life. So if we are going to be good soil, we can’t have resistance. The same is true for the thorny ground.
I must say yes to the seed, and ONLY to the seed. Your heart and him – period. That’s it! You and Jesus. That must be exclusive to all other plants. Listen to Mark 4:18-19: 18 the others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who have heard the word, 19 but the worries of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desire for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. I can’t feed on Jesus alone, and still watch Fox news and get upset with all that’s going on in the world – I just can’t do it! The worries of the world contradict his command – be anxious for nothing. I can’t have Jesus alone and still be caught up with the deceitfulness of this world’s wealth.
Prov 18:10-11 is interesting. See vs 10. The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe. You are probably familiar with that verse – but have you ever read the following verse? 11 A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, And like a high wall in his own imagination. In his own imagination. The world runs to their wealth which is more real to them than anything else. So the desire for other things is referred to in Luke 8 as the ‘pleasures of this life.”
Those things that make you anxious, the things that make you worry – or thinking about money, and how to acquire more things –those things are ALL THORNS. And they will choke out the precious word of God. That’s a major point of this parable – it teaches an EXCLUSIVE RECEPTION of the Word of God. The seed and nothing but the seed. It’s not the seed plus – oh how am I going to make my ends meet? How can I pay my bills – gotta earn more, need more things – materialism, pleasures…etc.
When you have Jesus alone – many think that there are 4 types of people in the word, illustrated by the 4 types of soil. And so, when the word goes out – some people are like the wayside soil, and some are like the rocky soil, some like the thorny soil, and so on. And then they say, ‘I hope I am like the good soil.” The wayside soil is like those who simply refused to get saved. They want nothing to do with the gospel or with Christ.
Then there are those who start well (rocky soil), but end badly. They have a little acceptance, until they understand all that’s involved, they want to run away.
In the 3rd soil – that’s the worldly Christian. They want both. I want the seed, but I also want my money. I want the seed but I also want my pleasures, I want to have an impact in the world, I’m worried about the economy – and all that kind of thing. I want to have a comfortable life.
Then finally there are those who are the good soil – that take the seed. Luke 8:15 But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance. And somehow then we say, well there’s 4 types of people in the word – I sure don’t want to be #1, and sure don’t want to be #2 or 3 either – I hope I am good soil. Even if I only bear 30% or 60%, and am not 100% – I just want to be numbered with the good soil. I used to think that we are what we are – the soil just is, if you know what I mean. There’s not much we can do about it.
The key part just stated above is “Hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.” Because bearing fruit takes time, effort, & determination. So we will experience periods in our lives where there is little or no fruit. The question is, are we aware of that fact? Do we want to get better, to produce real fruit? Or is our heart in such a state that we simply do not want to go the full distance, and openly & honestly confess to the Lord ALL that is going on in our hearts & minds? My whole intent with this post is to cultivate raw, spiritual honesty in your heart before Him – which will lead to a rock solid determination to prevail over any particular sin you may be struggling with, which may indeed be a long struggle. But we must never stop, and be completely serious about overcoming all that we need to… Because nothing else will do…
But let me ask you this question. Is Jesus describing 4 kinds of soil in the world – or is He describing 4 kinds of soil in your heart – at any moment? Mk 4:15 says regarding the wayside soil – He says, “when they hear”. In Mk 4:16 He says about rocky soil, He says the same thing – “when they hear. The same applies to the thorny soil (Mk 4:18). The good soil – Mk 4:20 – they hear and accept it.
Here is the point: I’m suggesting to you that every time I hear the word of God – or Christ reveals himself, there are 4 different ways I can respond to that word. In other words, you can be good soil this morning, rocky soil this afternoon, or thorny soil this evening. Every time the word is preached you will receive it in one of 4 ways. Jesus is describing the 4 ways He is received, when He is presented.
Don’t think that if you are good soil – don’t think you don’t have to be warned about having just a mere contact with the word. Strong Christians need to be concerned about only having a contact with the word. Don’t think you don’t need to be warned about having just a partial acceptance of the word. You need to be warned and I need to be warned. And don’t think you don’t need to be warned about supplementing our Lord Jesus and his word with worrying about this, that and the other thing – and accumulating this, that and the other thing. We need to warned – until it is Jesus alone, and Jesus always, and Jesus only – with no resistance, no partial acceptance, no divided affection. When we allow these other things into our lives, the seed cannot mature, the seed cannot develop into maturity.
And good soil perseveres, and is patient: Rom. 2:7 says: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give eternal life…
The parable of the soils in my estimation is one of the clearest revelations of full surrender that exist in the entire bible. All of the seed, exclusively – received, by all of the soil. It is a total giving of yourself over to Christ. Now as I get ready to close, I want to consider the unique way that Jesus ends this parable. (vs23-25)
If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” 24 And He was saying to them, “Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it will be measured to you; and more will be given you besides. 25 For whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what He has shall be taken away from him.
What in the world does that mean? Mark says to ‘take care what you listen to. Luke has a different twist (8:18), where He says, ‘take care how you hear. Both are true – what you hear, and how you hear. Why is that right after He describes the good, receptive soil, the soil that receives the seed exclusively – does He mention Mk 4:24? By your standard of measure it will be measured to you; and more will be given you besides.
I believe the answer is found in the yield of the good soil. Have you ever wondered about the yield? Some 30, some 60, some 100-fold. How come if it’s good soil, it didn’t all produce 100-fold? In Luke’s version by the way, he doesn’t mention the 30 and 60, but only mentions the 100-fold.
So how do those percentages of fruit bearing tie into that verse (by the standard you measure it will be measured to you). I believe He is talking about spiritual capacity. But as you know, we all have different light. You see Christ in a certain way, I see Christ in a certain way – God has never called you to walk in my light, nor me to walk in your light.
You are to walk in the light that He has given you. Some have more, some have less. But if I am completely open to all the light I have, and responsive to it – that’s good soil – Christian A may only have 30% light- but if that person is completely open, he/she will produce 100% from that – and that from that measure, they will receive more light, and then will move up to 60-fold – and if you are completely open to producing from that level, 100% of 60, then you would move on to 100-fold. And it can move on upwards from there, since more will be given to you besides.
To what measure you measure – it will be measured to you again. He said that if that’s your light, more will be given to you besides. And your capacity will continue to increase – until you get to 100%, and I suppose you will be very close to heaven – and what’s after that I don’t know. Let me use Isaiah 9:7 to help make this point: Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end.
You know what’s amazing about that – no end to the increase of his government – I can know the Lord Jesus as my complete Lord this moment – and be totally surrendered to Christ as Lord, and be more surrendered tomorrow. You say – how can you be completely surrendered and more so tomorrow? The answer is that my capacity for surrender increases with the revelation of Christ. There is no end to the increase of his government. And as becomes more and more of my Lord of my life, I can become more and more surrendered to him. I can testify plainly before everyone one in this room today – I have peace in Lord – I don’t have a perfect past – but I have perfect peace about my imperfect past. I have perfect peace today, but I expect to have more peace tomorrow. Because of the increase of his government and of peace – there will be no end. And every forward step in the knowledge of God is a forward step in rest, and in peace in the Lord.
And whatever measure you have, live up to that measure – and more will be given you besides. And He that has, more will be given and He that has not – that which He thinks He has will be taken from him- He has it in his own imagination. He doesn’t really have it at all – just believes that He has it.
And that is my understanding of the Parable of the Soils – Be completely open to all of Christ – and be good ground, and then the word of God in you will increase.