The parable of the soils (Matthew 13:3-8; Mark 4:3-8; Luke 8:4-15) is simultaneously a frightening and encouraging section of Scripture. It warns all those who hear the Word of Christ to take heed lest their heart or the hearts of fellow believers ultimately reject the word and become unfruitful. But it also encourages believers to pursue and protect what Jesus calls “a good and honest heart” that “bear[s] fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15). There are clues in the parable and the immediate context that help us discern how to cultivate a heart that readily accepts and profits from the Word, and believers should make it their aim to diligently apply these principles. Continue reading “Applying the Parable of the Soils”
A few years ago I made my way through John Frame’s excellent book on theological method, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. It was helpful in many ways. In particular is Frame’s section on “cognitive rest” and how genuine growth in our knowledge of God comes by way of spiritual maturity and growth in sanctification. Here is an important excerpt:
Many doctrinal misunderstandings in the church are doubtless due to this spiritual-ethical immaturity. We need to pay more attention to this fact when we get into “theological disputes.” Sometimes, we throw arguments back and forth, over and over again, desperately trying to convince one another. But often there is in one of the disputers—or both!—the kind of spiritual immaturity that prevents clear perception. We all know how it works in practice. Lacking sufficient love for one another, we seek to interpret the other person’s views in the worst possible sense (We forget the tremendous importance of love—even as an epistemological concept; cf. I Cor. 8:1-3; I Tim 1:5ff; I John 2:4; 3:18; 4:7ff). Lacking sufficient humility, too, we over estimate the extent of our own knowledge (155). Continue reading “Spiritual Maturity and Doctrinal Debate”
When we read Proverbs like, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15), we tend to think—and for good reason—of the benefit consistent discipline provides young children. But if God is our Father, and we his adopted and beloved children, then I think it is safe to apply this verse to ourselves as well. In other words, we can be confident God will bring the rod of reproof into our lives in order to drive folly far from us and we can understand the Lord’s discipline as the loving strokes of a Parent who desires our good and who will do whatever it takes to make us more like Jesus.
As I read through my journals, I find some entries that record specific times when I believed the Lord was dealing with me—through pain, discouragement, rebuke, confrontation and failure—in a disciplinary way. I cannot perfectly know the mind of the Lord nor infallibly interpret his ways, but during these times, and upon later reflection, I can see that God’s hand of discipline was effective in revealing sin and folly in my heart and life.
For example, upon several occasions, I have found my heart heavy with the weight of a burdened conscience and pierced by the pain I have caused after speaking too quickly and too harshly with others. There have been times when physical pain and sickness have been used by the Lord to wake me up to consider my ways and reorient my life toward eternity. There have been times of failure where the Lord has revealed impure motives and sinful attitudes. He has brought damage to personal property and financial crisis to rebuke my love of money and longing for ease. He has prompted rebuke to come by way of others in order to reveal pride, foolishness, and self-sufficiency. He has used preachers and teachers to bring the sting of conviction through his Word to reveal indifference and self-righteousness. And there have been times when the Lord has removed his face from intimate fellowship and dampened my affections because of unchecked sin.
No, none of these things are pleasant, and it would be naive to suggest they are. But the result of discipline, if we receive it, is sanctification and peace. The author of Hebrews writes,
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:11).
Notice that discipline brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. That refers to those who are willing to hear and to learn from the correction that comes from persecution, pain, rebuke, confrontation, failure, and disappointment. Those who stiffen their necks at the Lord’s discipline will eventually come to ruin: “He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing” (Proverbs 29:1).
In fact, learning how to recieve and profit from the Lord’s discipline appears to be the key to flourishing in the Christian life. On the other hand, despising and resisting reproof is the sign of great folly.
Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you. Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man and he will increase in learning (Proverbs 9:9).
Strike a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence; reprove a man of understanding, and he will gain knowledge (Proverbs 19:25).
Whoever heeds instruction is on the path of life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray (Proverbs 10:17).
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid (Proverbs 12:1).
Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored (Proverbs 13:18).
A fool despises his father’s instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent (Proverbs 15:5).
There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way; whoever hates reproof will die (Proverbs 15:10).
The discipline of the Lord is for our good. God loves his children, and he will reprove us and rebuke us, not because he is mean, but because he desires our holiness and (not separately) our happiness. He is a good Father. His strokes are, though sometimes unpleasant, kind and full of grace. The author of Hebrews assures us of this, and reminds us that discipline reveals our status as sons,
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons (Hebrews 12:7-8).
Proverbs 29:15 gives similar encouragement and reminder:
The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.
We can be thankful that we have not been left to ourselves, but that our gracious and loving Father corrects us and reproves us for our good. It is my prayer that we continually grow in our ability to receive, profit from, and appreciate the discipline of the Lord. We are his children, and he desires our joy. Our joy will only come as we are weaned off of this world and find greater delight in Him. And this can only happen by way of of discipline.
The longer I am a Christian, the more I realize of how great a sinner I am. This realization is not necessarily a virtue in and of itself: if I am only acutely aware of my sin, I will wallow in despair and fear. On the other hand, it is by recognizing the depth of our sin that we can be brought to greater joy in Christ. This appears to be Paul’s understanding in Romans 7:13-25. In verses 13-24, Paul openly and honestly wrestles with the sin that still resides in his heart and which actively opposes his new nature. The thing he wants to do—fully obey Christ—he is not able to wholly accomplish; at the same time, he finds himself committing the very sin he hates. This struggle with indwelling sin culminates in verse 24 where Paul cries out, “Wretched man that I am!”
Perhaps you have felt like this—perhaps you often feel like this. The question is whether or not the pervasiveness of our sin causes us to search for a remedy the way Paul did. Immediately after Paul cried out in agony over the depth of his sin, he asks rhetorically, “Who can save me from this body of death?” The answer? “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (25)! The implication? It is only God through Jesus Christ who can save Paul from the relentless power of sin. With this in mind, I see two conclusions we can draw from this passage.
(1) Dealing honestly with our sin can and should lead us to resting and rejoicing in Christ. Paul would not be a good example of spiritual growth and discipleship had he stopped at verse 24. Yes, we are wretched. Yes, we are sinners of the highest order. Yes, we have despised and ignored and spurned a holy God. But that is not the whole story. There’s more. It’s called the gospel. For Christians who have come to a saving understanding of their guilt before God and trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation, the ensuing battle against remaining sin can often seem overwhelming and mostly discouraging. But to remain in a state of doubt and despair too long without looking to Christ is neither wise nor helpful. Dealing frankly with our sin should lead us to confession, forgiveness and thankfulness in Christ, not perpetual hopelessness. (I realize that some people’s spiritual situations are far more complex than what I have implied here, but I do think God’s goal with someone who is beleaguered by battling with sin is that their battling would lead them to find hope and rest in Christ, not incessant misery).
(2) Our battle against sin will be life-long. Paul had been walking with Christ for several years at the time he penned these words, yet the intensity of his battle against sin had not lessened over time—it had increased. Growing in spiritual maturity means that we will become more discontent with ourselves, not less. That is not to say that we can find and should look for areas where the Lord has given grace and growth; even Paul had the spiritual capacity to say that he was mature enough to be imitated (Philippians 3:14-17) and had been able to accomplish many things by the grace of God. (I Corinthians 15:10). But the clearer our spiritual sight becomes as we grow in sanctification—from glory to glory (II Corinthians 3:18)—the more acute will be our recognition of remaining sin.
That is why Paul follows Romans 7:13-25 with 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Despite the fact that we are involved in a battle against enemies that seem, at times, immune to our attacks and unlimited in their resources, the glorious truth is this: the victory has already been won—on a cross outside of Jerusalem, 2000 years ago. These current battles with sin, though brutal and serious, are nothing more than the concluding skirmishes with a defeated and desperate insurgent force. Our Captain is also the uncontested Victor.