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Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Two in the Middle

Hebrews 6:4-6 (NIV) 4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6 if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

This morning my quiet time was in Matthew 13 where Jesus gives the parable of the sower (though I would call it the parable of the dirt) and interprets it for His disciples. I have always known that the first person who has the seed sown "in his heart" was not a believer because he could not understand it. I have similarly always known that the one who bears fruit is a believer because he the gospel has grown within him to bear this fruit. I have struggled with those in the middle two categories.

Matthew 13:18-23 (NIV) 18 "Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. 22 The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. 23 But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown."

These are people who received the gospel. One does so with joy but quickly leaves the gospel. The other is choked by worries of the world. Neither of these produce any fruit. The evidence is that they are not truly believers because the "seed" of the gospel produces nothing. I have always wanted to say these people were believers and possess eternal life for I know so many people who fall in these categories.

This morning I rode my bicyle to work as I nearly always do. It gives me a lot of time to think as I make my way to work. (It also makes me work on my faith since not all auto drivers are courteous to cyclists.) I rode near a school where I had baptized one of the teachers. She gave every indication of faith. She eagerly grasped ahold of the gospel. I baptized her and she continued to come to church for some time. Now, I don't know what has happened to her. I haven't seen her in church for some time. I wonder if she is one of these two in the middle of the parable for she certainly received the gospel with joy. She may have had the worries of the world make her fruitless.

The Hebrews passage came to light as I thought about this as I rode along. Are the two in the middle those who have tasted the goodness of the word, recognized their sinfulness and though they knew the need for forgiveness through Jesus and wanted to accept Him as Savior stopped short of asking Him to be Lord? Did they taste but never swallow?

If this is the case, there is no hope for those who have come this close but did not make that commitment. It means that there are thousands of people who remain condemned even though they have made a public profession of faith in Christ and have been baptized. They would point back to these events as proof of their faith if asked but their lack of fruit would be a greater evidence that they really never knew the Lord.

Hebrews said that it is impossible to bring them to repentance again since they would have to crucify Christ again. Of course, that just can't happen.

My own life was not one of continuous faith though. I acted like a non-Christian for several months yet I was always "pulled" by the Holy Spirit as I ran from Him. I always knew to whom I belonged. Maybe that's why, all alone in my apartment one night, the Holy Spirit visited me and reminded me of the joy I had when I walked with my Lord. Maybe that's why I got on my knees and asked for forgiveness and asked Him to keep me from coming back to that place (my rebellious life) again.

I am far from perfect but He works within me. I bear fruit because the "seed" planted within me has grown. I am confident that I am not one of the two in the middle. I am also saddened by those who may be.

I suppose the only way to know you are not one of these two is to return to Christ if you have allowed yourself to slide away from His lordship. If you are one of the two, this will be impossible.

So, are you one of the two in the middle?


Anthony Chia said...

"The proof of the pudding is in the eating" is one way of putting it as to how God looks at this matter.

This proverb basically tells us that the true value or quality of something can only be judged when it is put to use, experienced and tested. Another way to viewing it is to say, "The actual transformation is what count ... it is NOT how you start but how you do in it, and finish up with."

But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matt 13:23)

The combination of the pudding proverb and the Parable of the Soil (Sower) is a powerful reminder for us all. We can put in, this, and put in, that, did this and did that, but it is how everything works together and our being transformed, that counts; and as a pudding, we know if it is any good, by tasting it; likewise, a true follower of Jesus can be known by his life, and it will NOT be a life idleness; but a life of yielding, and in his “yieldedness”, he becomes the planting of the Lord, producing the Lord’s crop, giving rise to multi-fold harvest. There is definitely a “works” redemption (NOT salvation by works), that we must walk in, apart from spiritual and physical redemptions, in the redemptive works of the Lord.

It is NOT appearance; a pudding may look very nice, but it is when we bite into it that we will know if it is any good. It is not our being seen in every church services, meetings and events that count, it is how sweetly yielding we are to what God wants to do, that counts. Yes, God does NOT judge by appearance (including, our seemingly hard at work, by going here and going there, for example), He looks at the heart (1 Sam 16:7). Also, in Gal 2:6, the Apostle Paul said that “seemingly important” is NOT good enough; rather actually contributing to the will of God being achieved is what is important.

Last Sunday, I had a mental picture (vision) in church service, and I saw a train of ants on the move. Have you ever taken time to observe this phenomenon before? If not, you should do so, sometime. The lessons to learn are of 2 folds:

One, the ants are plying between 2 points, on the one end, is a hideout or a home or a nest, and the other is probably a site where some goodie is found or an “extraction” site. The ants generally do NOT go off-tangent, they stick to the same trail or train, concentrating on executing the mission given from the nest, and working towards bringing back goodies for the home. It is the same with us, as servants of God, we too, should concentrate on our orders/commandments from our command centre, Heaven where God is, and work towards glorifying God, gather souls for Heaven, manifest God’s love, and draw people to thank, praise and worship God, and (they) to love Him when they became recipients of God’s love directly or through us. We should no longer go off-tangent, and go about doing all sorts of stuff, executing directions NOT from the true command centre.

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Anthony Chia said...

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Two, even as the ants stick together, work together, executing the instructions from the home centre; and you can see that some of the ants “exchanging information and knowledge” on the “highway” that they are plying, if you are observant enough; we, likewise, are to be similarly postured; we are also to stay on our highway of Holiness (Isaiah 35:8-10), alerting members (only believers travel on this Way of Holiness), of dangers, encouraging others, helping those struggling on the journey, and to encourage one another to stay the course, so that we do NOT go off-tangent, and fail to come back on the highway.

The 4 classes of people in the parable of the sower (soil):

1. Like the path the seed landed - Heard the gospel message, but he has NOT “received it in”. But Matt 13:19 said the message was in his heart; how do we reconcile this? This is how I understand it: When we, as non-believers, hear the gospel message, without the aid of the Holy Spirit, we do NOT understand it nor able to receive it in (1 Cor 2:14). Understanding comes from the Holy Spirit; we need the Holy Spirit to give a non-believer understanding of spiritual things of God. So, when the gospel is shared, it is the Holy Spirit who goes to work (and HE does go to work). That is why our responsibility is to speak the gospel message; we are NOT directly responsible for convincing the non-believers, and so, that is also why we should NOT feel guilty so long as we have done our best.

But some do NOT come to Christ, so, is the Holy Spirit slumbering or what? No, I believe the Holy Spirit is at work, and at work to give understanding of the message. With understanding, the message “drops” into the heart, but it is NOT abiding. It is only when the person receives it in, and that is a conscious decision, and it is then and only then, that the message abides in the heart, and when it is abiding in the heart, it is NOT easy to dislodge from the heart.

Matt 13:19 actually said that he “does not understand it”, even though it is in his heart, the “understand” there, was equivalent to the “received it in” that I just talked about. In other words, even though the Holy Spirit had given understanding or perception, and the gospel had dropped into his heart, the person did not receive it in. The Greek word used was “syniÄ“mi” (G4920), which has the connotation of abiding an understanding in the heart (or mind/reason of the soul}). The Holy Spirit gives the perception; it (the perception) and the thing perceived (the gospel message), both got to be set together in the heart, not just the perception and the things perceived, but also the heart, for the 2 are set or lodged in the heart. That is why it was said there, in Matt 13:19, “the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown IN the heart.” It is easily snatched away because it is NOT “received in” or lodged in firmly. That verse ended with saying that the seed (word) was sown along the path only.

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Anthony Chia said...

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2. Like the rocky place (shallow soil) the seed landed – Heard the message, and at once receives it in with joy. But the “receiving in” or lodging in the heart is NOT firm. Think of it this way: before a house is built, the foundation pillars must be established. The pillars are set into the ground (the gospel message, into the heart), it got to be set in, deep; if you do a hasty job, just “stick” the pillars into the ground, and pour a little cement around them, what do you think will happen when the house is built and the storm comes? Yes, the house, including the foundation pillars will be unplugged from the ground. That was precisely what it said there in the verse (Matt 13:20-21), that when trouble or persecution comes, it is NOT just faith is shaken, it is that the foundation pillar, the gospel truth, is also ripped away. Can the gospel truth be ripped from us? Yes, it was said right there. When the gospel truth is ripped from us, it means we no longer continue to believe in the gospel, and if we no longer actively exercising faith in Jesus, what will our lives become? Do you honestly think that the pudding will still taste good? What kind of actual transformation are we undergoing from thereon; what will we end up with? Once saved, always saved, regardless??? Think again. If you deny Him, He will deny you (2 Tim 2:12b).

3. Like the thorny place the seed landed – Thorns, here, symbolized the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth; they crowd out and choke the gospel truth. The result is that the person is unfruitful. Yes, unlike the 2nd class above, it did NOT say “he lasts only a short time”, and so, many tended to say “you are still ok”! But I think it is important we bear in mind that the whole purpose of us being saved is for us to be fruitful in the eye of God. It is like at the end of the day, we are to be making a pudding to be eaten; if the pudding is not fit for eating, what is that pudding to us? There are other parables in Scripture that talked about what fate of the unfruitful, is, and answer sounded awfully close to that of Hell, of weeping, of gnashing of teeth, of darkness, of Hell. You can give all kinds of reasons, or should I call, excuses; but how does God look at this matter?

4. Like the good soil the seed landed - Heard the message, and receives it in, and produces a crop of multi-folds. Although, NOT mentioned, implicitly by talking about the 1st 3 classes, this class of people are the ones who have heard the gospel message, understood it, and consciously received it in, letting the message abides in the heart; NOT only that, he then continues to ensure the foundation is deeply rooted and properly reinforced with full gospel teachings (as opposed to the elementary gospel message {Heb 6:1}). He also guards his heart against worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth (thorns), and he makes effort to be fruitful for the Lord. He tells himself, whose instructions, he must execute, and knows the purpose of his many actions, and he makes every effort to stay on track. He endeavors to turn himself into a pudding that can withstand the test of God’s eating.

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Anthony Chia said...

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Classes 1, 2, and 4 are clear. Class 1 = non-believers, NOT having consciously received the gospel in (did NOT decide to receive).
Class 2 = have fallen away or in danger of falling away, when trouble or persecution comes. If they have fallen away already, and they are still alive, they must repent and return to re-commit to follow Jesus again. The “impossible” in Heb 6:4 should be understood as “very difficult or extremely difficult” and NOT impossible as in “completely no chance”. To understand this, we need to know there is a Greek word, “dynatos” (G1415) which has the meaning of “very able”; the “impossible” in Heb 6:4, was the English translation rendered to the “adynatos” (G102), and was meant to denote the opposite of “dynatos”, meaning it was meant to say it was very difficult or extremely difficult for a thing to be done. I hope this simple revelation will reshape the lens of people who give up on those who had fallen away, because they read in Heb 6:4 that it is impossible to have them repent and return.

Class 4 = (I call them) the progressive believers. Thumbs up for these, yet do NOT be complacent and do let your heart grow haughty.

Class 3 is the class of the majority, and is (still) class of being saved, and yet are in grave danger of being snared by the evil one; they are travelling on the Highway of Holiness, yet every so often they got lured off the highway, they climb back on, to be enticed away again; for severe cases, they can end up falling away. They are in danger of not clearing “The proof of the pudding is in the eating”. We are NOT to condemn this class 3 believers, but we are to help them, counsel them, educate them, build them up (of course, they must eventually be willing), so that they become stronger and more able to resist the drag from the sides of the highway.