These posts are summaries of the messages on Sunday and are put here mainly for the benefit of our regulars who either missed the service, or would appreciate the chance to review the big ideas.
“Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some va hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”
“As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
Jesus says there are two types of people: those whose hearts are like the bad types of soil, and those whose hearts are like good soil. Now immediately many people today will want to push back. How can it be right for Jesus to divide humanity in this way? Isn’t this exactly the problem with Christianity, that it is so judgmental and superior?
We need to clarify straight away that Jesus is not saying the “good soil” is “morally good”, but rather that it’s “fertile”. And fertile soil is full of manure! These are hearts that are more likely to receive the message of Christianity because they are not morally good, but are dirty and broken. From such people God produces fruitfulness; lives that embody his intentions and will. What is Jesus talking about?
1. THE CONDITIONS FOR FRUITFULNESS
What kind of soil is ready for the gospel? When is a human heart most receptive to the message about Jesus? It’s important to restate it’s not if you’re a better person. And it’s not if you’re smarter, more religious, more spiritual, or anything else.
Instead, Jesus says very simply: “this is the one who hears the word and understands it.” This is it. What does it mean?
It means you really get it. You don’t just know the bare facts of Christianity, but somehow the message has sunk into you in a profound way.
The best picture is of Paul himself. He is the most vehement opponent of Jesus (hardened soil). But after his vision of Jesus, his experience of being struck blind, and Christ’s call on his life, everything changes. When he is finally prayed for to receive his sight we’re told “immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight” (Acts 9.18). This is a vivid picture of what happens to a person internally when they hear and understand the gospel – the scales fall off their eyes.
It’s important we don’t think this will look or feel the same for everyone. It can be slow or fast, quiet or dramatic, careful or impulsive. It doesn’t really matter what the process looks like, provided this thing has happened: that you’ve heard and understood.
2. THE PROMISE OF FRUITFULNESS
Does it always work? Does the good soil (the one who hears and understands) always bring about a fruitful harvest? Can it work in you? Can you change?
The all-important thing is this: the power is in the word, not in you. Your heart might provide the right conditions for the word to grow, but the power, the life, is in the word itself.
We can compare Psalm 1. There the analogy is reversed. The plant is the man, he’s a tree, but he’s planted near streams of water (Psalm 1.3). The streams of water represent his nourishment from the word of God (v.2), because he chews on it, meditates on it, and it has a powerful effect on his life. In fact, it is so powerful that we can see a number of good results that spring out:
- He’s “blessed” or “happy” (v.1). He experiences heightened joy because of favourable circumstances from God.
- He is fruitful (v.3). He is like a tree that keeps on bearing fruit. He doesn’t fail.
- He does not wither (v.3). A tree that loses its leaves is going to die; no more fruit. Withering is the fear of every man. But the righteous man keeps on bringing life. He doesn’t plateau or backslide.
- His work prospers and rushes ahead (v.3). The word for prosper carries with it the sense of rushing ahead, moving forcefully, which powerfully puts across the point that his work does not experience the delays and frustrations that others face.
- The Lord knows his way (v.6). That is to say, God is with him, watching, loving, providing, guiding, and blessing the way of the righteous man.
Let me reiterate: this is the result of the word of God in his life. And we ought to read these blessings as promises, not possibilities. The gospel is not about us becoming performers, it’s about the power of God in our lives.
3. THE FRUIT OF FRUITFULNESS
So what does it actually look like when the gospel bears fruit in your life? What concrete difference does it make? There are three main ways the word “fruit” is used in the NT.
(1) It is something to do with personal transformation. The gospel is a message of transformation. It’s not that God demands you change and then he’ll accept you, but rather he accepts you and then changes you.
It begins with conversion when God says you are a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5.17). That may be totally unseen at first: as subtle as the appearance of a positive indicator on the pregnancy test kit. But in time that new life will start to show.
As the new life (gospel life) develops in you, there are certain real changes you should see. We could look at Galatians 5.22, where the “fruit of the Spirit” is all about the transformation God works in you. You are more loving, more joyful, more peaceful, more patient, and so on.
(2) It is something to do with your actions, your “good works”. While we aren’t saved by good works, we are saved for good works (see Ephesians 2.10), and this is often called fruit.
Paul prays for “the knowledge of his will” in order that we’d be “bearing fruit in every good work”. Similarly, Paul puts this very strongly in Romans 7.4 – we’ve been saved “in order that we might bear fruit for God.”
This means that as Christians we recapture the calling God placed on Adam: to bring God’s rule on the earth. But the ways we do this (our good works) are not narrowly confined to acts of charity and kindness. Rather, it’s the sum total of our life’s output, done for God’s glory — job, relationships, money, etc.
(3) It is something to do with reproducing the life of God. Obviously, when a plant produces fruit that has the potential to reproduce. In the OT this idea of being fruitful meant having descendants Peter speaks this way in Acts 2.30, where “descendant” is literally “fruit”. But this idea is taken up in the NT to refer to spiritual children.
In fact, this was Paul’s great desire. In Romans 1.13 he talks about his intention to visit Rome to “reap some harvest” (literally “some fruit”). In Philippians 1 he’s torn between the exciting possibility of death, and the desire to stay on earth for a while longer in the hope that he could have more fruit, more spiritual children (see Phil 1.21–25).
This should be the burning desire of every believer – that their life would be fruitful in all three ways: changed character, good works, and spiritual children.