Daily Archives: August 16, 2017

10 Things You Should Know about Repentance

The Four Soils: The Rocky Ground

Luke 8:6

Code: B170816

Just a short drive from the freeways and congestion of Los Angeles you’ll find barren hills and mountains. During the rainy season they suddenly spring to life with luxuriant-looking greenery. But they quickly revert to a parched brown. The green that looked so promising turns into lifeless scrub, good for nothing but feeding California’s wildfires as tinder.

That’s a perfect metaphor for the way some people respond to the gospel. They are the polar opposite of the hard-hearted hearers we discussed last time. They are the “rocky soil” in Christ’s original parable.

The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great. (Luke 8:5–8)

The soil spread thinly over a layer of rock illustrates a shallow-hearted person who responds immediately but only superficially. Without deep roots, vegetation cannot live long in a dry climate. It grows green and leafy quickly, but dies just as quickly, before reaching fruit-bearing maturity. Such growth is useless for any profitable purpose.

Psalm 129:6 similarly compares the wicked to “grass upon the housetops, which withers before it grows up.” In the thin layer of dust that accumulates on a flat roof, grass or weeds may sprout and even look lush for a short season, but it is in a location that cannot sustain long-term life. It is doomed as soon as it sprouts—and even the dead straw left in the end is useless for any good purpose. The psalm goes on to say that “the reaper does not fill his hand [with it], nor he who binds sheaves, his arms” (Psalm 129:7, NKJV).

Rocky soil hearers seem receptive. They show a keen interest. Jesus says they “receive the word with joy” (Luke 8:13). They are exhilarated by it. But all that enthusiasm obscures the fact that there is no root. They “believe for a while.” That’s an important fact to acknowledge: intellectually, at least, they are receptive, affirmative—even quite enthusiastic. There is a kind of temporary credence that is not authentic faith, precisely because it is superficial—shallow, rootless, totally at the mercy of the hostile elements that are sure to test its viability.

It’s not a question of if but when such “faith” will fail. It usually (but not always) happens sooner rather than later. Each person who responds positively to the Word of God will face a “time of temptation.” The Greek word translated “temptation” in Luke 8:13 can also refer to a trial or a test—and that is clearly the sense here. The new disciple’s faith will eventually be put to the test under the threat of persecution, by one of life’s calamities, or by the sheer difficulty of maintaining the pretense of deep, abiding belief. If it’s superficial, rootless, heartless faith, no matter how enthusiastic the response may have seemed in the beginning, that person will “fall away”—meaning she will abandon the faith completely.

Jesus said in John 8:31, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine.” Hebrews 3:14 says, “For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.” The apostle Paul said you can know you are truly reconciled to God “if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard” (Colossians 1:23).

Those whose faith is merely temporary hear the gospel and respond, quickly and superficially. Perhaps they have some selfish motive (thinking Jesus will fix their worldly problems or make life easy for them). They don’t truly count the cost. For a while they bask in some emotion—a feeling of relief, exhilaration, euphoria, or whatever. There are tears of joy, embraces, high fives, and a lot of activity—at first. That tends to convince other believers that this is a true conversion, well rooted in genuine conviction. We might even be inclined to think that’s a better response than the quiet restraint of some genuine believer who is so deeply convicted about his sin and unworthiness that all he feels is a profound sense of meekness and quiet gratitude.

An outburst of joy is not the distinguishing feature of an authentic conversion. Joy is a fine and appropriate response, of course. All heaven is filled with rejoicing when a soul is converted. “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). But as Jesus makes clear in our parable, great joy sometimes accompanies false conversion. Neither hyperactive joy nor grateful quietude proves anything one way or another about whether someone’s profession of faith is an expression of superficial, temporary belief or deep and lasting conviction. The person’s fruit (or lack of it) will reveal that. “The tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33).

It doesn’t ultimately matter how much enthusiasm the shallow hearer shows in that initial response to the Word of God: if it’s a shallow conviction with no real root, that person will eventually fall away. And when that happens, it proves definitively that in spite of all that apparent joy and zeal, the person never truly believed in the first place. “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).



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The Four Soils: Beside the Road

Luke 8:5

Code: B170814

Ineffective evangelism can cause a lot of soul searching for the one evangelizing. Some re-evaluate the message while others question their methodology. But those are only worthwhile endeavors insofar as the message remains faithful to the one true gospel (Galatians 1:8–9) and the methodology is obedient to Christ’s command: “That repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all nations” (Luke 24:47).

Beyond that it all boils down to something we have absolutely no control over—the heart condition of those who hear the gospel. When Jesus started to teach using parables, He began by explaining that very issue.

The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great. (Luke 8:5–8)

This is a foundational truth that the church desperately needs to be reminded of—set in an agricultural story analogous to evangelism. Jesus went on to explain that the seed represents the message and the soil represents the heart of the hearer (Luke 8:11–15). And the various soil types in the story cover the whole range of human heart conditions.

The Hard Soil Beside the Road

The first soil type we encounter is the pressed-down, dry, and hardened soil “beside the road” (Luke 8:5). It pictures a heart that is impervious to biblical truth. This is perhaps the most disturbing and hopeless of all the conditions Jesus depicts. Unbelief and a love of sin have made the heart a dense, rocklike environment where truth cannot possibly penetrate, much less take root. The hearer is therefore oblivious, hopeless, spiritually dead—and totally susceptible to the stratagems of Satan.

Jesus explains: “Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12). That verse, by the way, explains the true goal symbolized in the work of the sower. His aim is that people might “believe and be saved.” There is only one way to sow the proper seed for such a goal: by proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. The sower is an evangelist. He is hoping for a harvest of souls.

Inevitably, he encounters hearers whose hearts are like concrete. The Old Testament calls them “obstinate” (Exodus 32:9) people who “stiffened their neck” (2 Kings 17:14). The clear implication is that such people have deliberately hardened their own hearts. “They have stiffened their necks so as not to heed My words” (Jeremiah 19:15). Of Zedekiah, the evil young king who “did evil in the sight of the Lord his God” (2 Chronicles 36:12), Scripture says, “He stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the Lord God of Israel” (2 Chronicles 36:13). He deliberately steeled his own will against repentance. Men like that were the ones who stoned Stephen, and he called them on it: “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did” (Acts 7:51).

Such a person is depicted by the well-worn, barren footpath around the field. This heart is a thoroughfare, crossed by the mixed multitude of iniquities that continually traverse it. It is not fenced, so it lies exposed to all the evil stomping of everything wicked that comes along. It is never plowed by conviction. It is never cultivated with any kind of self-searching, self-examination, contrition, honest assessment of guilt, or true repentance. The heart is as hardened against the sweet beckoning of grace as it is against the dreadful terrors of judgment. Indifference, insensibility, and a love for sin have made this person’s heart dense, dry, and impenetrable.

This is the fool of Proverbs—the person who despises wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7) and “has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart” (Proverbs 18:2, NKJV). What’s interesting here is that Jesus is not describing atheists in His parable. He is speaking to people in a highly religious culture, and the hardest of all hearts in His audience this day are the religious aristocracy—the top scribes and Pharisees, the same ones who had so recently blasphemed the Holy Spirit, cutting themselves off from grace altogether. Their sin epitomizes the absolute ultimate in hard-heartedness. The rank atheist is in a better state spiritually than they are. Elsewhere, Jesus said to them, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father” (John 8:44).

In explaining His parable, Jesus again says hardened hearts are utterly at the mercy of the evil one. “The devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12).

How does the devil snatch the Word of God away from a heart? He has many devices, and we should not be ignorant of them (2 Corinthians 2:11). If you think Satan and his works are always obviously diabolical, you are going to be defrauded by him. He uses deceit. “He is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). He transforms himself and his servants as angels of light and ministers of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:14–15). He confuses people through false teachers who come in Christ’s name but subtly attack or undermine the truth of the gospel. He also exploits sinful human passions: fear of what others might think, pride, stubbornness, prejudice, or various lusts. He appeals to the fallen heart’s love for the pleasures of sin. He knows

that people love “darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds [are] evil” (John 3:19), and he takes advantage of that. It is easy for him to make himself appealing to those who love darkness. Then having gained the sinner’s trust and attention, he diverts the mind from the truth of the Word, effectively snatching it away from the person’s consciousness.

That hardened soil by the roadside was emblematic of many in Christ’s audience. Jesus’ followers abandoned Him in droves once He stopped feeding them physically and started talking about the bread of eternal life (John 6:26–66). But the impenetrable surface of the roadside didn’t typify the hearts of all who followed him—including those who did so superficially. That’s why Jesus discussed three other kinds of soil in His parable. And as we’ll see in the days ahead, those different soil types run the whole range of human responses to the gospel.



Available online at: https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B170814
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August 16, 2017: Verse of the day


Elizabeth’s closing statement, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord,” supplements her earlier blessing of Mary. Mary was blessed not only because of her privilege in being the mother of the Messiah, but also because of her faith in believing that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord. But Elizabeth’s use of the third person pronoun she broadens the blessing beyond Mary to encompass all who believe that God fulfills His promises.

Mary is not the mother of God, or the queen of heaven. She plays no role in the redemption of sinners, and does not intercede for them or hear their prayers. But she is a model of faith, humility, and submission to God’s will. She is an example to all believers of how to respond obediently, joyfully, and worshipfully to the Word of God. Therein lies her true greatness.[1]

45 “Blessed” describes the happy situation of those God favors. Elizabeth gave the blessing Zechariah’s muteness prevented him from giving. See vv. 68–79 for the blessing he later pronounced on the infant Jesus. Luke uses the blessing Elizabeth gave Mary to call attention to Mary’s faith.

The way in which v. 45 supplements v. 42 is noteworthy. In v. 42, Mary is called the “blessed” one because of her maternal relationship with her son Jesus. In v. 45, however, Mary is recognized to be truly “blessed” because of her faith in and obedience to God. The same contrast is developed later in the Lukan material. In 8:19–21, for example, Jesus redefines family relationship in terms of one’s faith in and obedience to God: “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice” (v. 21).[2]

45. And blessed is she who believed,

Because there will be a fulfilment of the words

Spoken to her by the Lord.

Although the rendering “And blessed is she who believed that there will be,” etc., is also possible, the first translation has the following in its favor:

  1. The positive assurance that God is going to fulfil his promises to Mary is a more solid ground, a more valid reason, for calling her “blessed” than her own subjective faith in the fulfilment of these promises.
  2. “Blessed is she who believed” is a richer expression than “Blessed is she who believed that,” etc. The first rendering more definitely than the second describes Mary as a woman of faith.
  3. “Blessed is she who believed” is in line with “Blessed are those who, though not seeing, are yet believing” (John 20:29). See also Gen. 15:6 (cf. Rom. 4:3; Gal. 3:6, 9; James 2:23).
  4. As to conciseness of phraseology, the beatitude “Blessed is she who believed” is also more in line with the familiar beatitudes of Luke 6:20 f., cf. Matt. 5:1 f.
  5. Finally, the construction, “Blessed is she who believed,” describes more adequately than does its alternative what had been Mary’s reaction to Gabriel’s message.

That reaction, it will be recalled, had been: first, alarm and astonishment (verse 29); then, an earnest request for an explanation (verse 34); and finally, the complete surrender that characterizes the person who lives by the rule, “Trust and obey” (verse 38). For the rest, see the note on verse 45 on p. 99.

As to … “there will be a fulfilment,” etc., note the following: the words of the Lord (via Gabriel) recorded in 1:31a, 35a (unique conception) had already been fulfilled, and the promises contained in 31b, 32, 33, 35b (still largely unfulfilled) were going to be realized, as the rest of the Gospels, etc., abundantly prove.

What deserves special attention is this outstanding fact, namely, that in Elizabeth’s entire exuberant exclamation (verses 41b–45) envy never raises its head. Elizabeth was, after all, much older than Mary (cf. 1:7, 18, 36 with 2:5). Yet this aged woman is deeply conscious of her own unworthiness and genuinely rejoices in the joy of her much younger relative!

How can this complete absence of the begrudging attitude be explained? The answer is found in 1 Cor. 13:4: “Love does not envy.” Is not this a good reason for calling this poem “Elizabeth’s Song of Love”?[3]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2009). Luke 1–5 (p. 72). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] Liefeld, W. L., & Pao, D. W. (2007). Luke. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 64). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke (Vol. 11, pp. 97–98). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.