I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
18th century theologian and founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley, once said that he believed in the, “optimism of grace.” I have to say that I too am a great optimist when it comes to my understanding of God’s grace. I am convinced that Christ died for our sins not so that we can just be forgiven, but so that we might be transformed. Being forgiven is an absolute great feeling, but I can’t help but think that an even greater feeling is the assurance that we have freed from trap of sin. This is the power of God’s grace!
Recently here at Camden Nazarene our teaching has been centered around 4 missional habits. I am convinced that those of us who follow Christ are called to live lives that stem from these 4 missional habits taking root in our hearts. The 4 missional habits are Gather – Grow – Go – Give. This past Sunday we focused on the missional habit grow.
Going back to thinking about plants…I continued to be amazed that when you plant a seed, and as long as you keep it well watered, the seed will grow into a plant without any type of coercion or convincing. Growing and developing is just something that comes natural to plant life. Many times Jesus used to agricultural metaphors and imagery in his parables when explaining the Kingdom. This was obviously a result of the historical context Jesus was in when he walked among us in the flesh, but perhaps Jesus’ choice of imagery went beyond just his context. I believe Jesus is trying to teach us something about ourselves and how we relate to the Kingdom in his parables.
We see Jesus using the agricultural imagery at its best in Matthew 13 when Jesus tells a parable about a farmer who went to plant his crop. The parable is told in all 3 synoptic gospels and I would argue even more significance because the parable receives even further explanation from Jesus. Anyone remotely familiar with any type of gardening will obviously understand the application of what Jesus is trying to say. I mean, of course, a seed is not going to take root on a walking path, nor will there will be successful plant growth when a seed is planted among thorns and weeds. However, we all understand that Jesus isn’t giving gardening advice here.
Another obvious conclusion that can be drawn from this parable is that Jesus must be talking about those who have no knowledge of the salvation that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. I am convinced, however, that Jesus’ words go beyond describing the condition of someone’s heart before they begin a relationship with Jesus Christ. The fact that it is a parable tells us that Jesus is trying to speak truth into the lives of those who claimed to be “spiritual.” In speaking in parables Jesus is fulfilling the prophecy from the prophet Isaiah that there will be a dullness among the people in their understanding so there will be a need for the people to be taught in ways they can realize their lack of understanding the truth.
The parable of the sower speaks to the need that we as believers are called to know Jesus beyond just as savior, but to know him on an intimate level that leads us to knowing him as Lord.
Jesus describes four types of soil that the sower spreads the seed on; along the path, on rocky soil, soil with thorns, and good soil. Jesus says that it is when the seed is spread upon the good soil that the seeds takes root and grows. The good soil is represented by a heart which hears the Word and receives so that it may bear fruit.
It could be that we live in a world where the majority is comfortable with lives which represent rocky or thorny soil. Jesus says:
“As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.“ (Matthew 13:20-22)
I am convinced that Jesus is describing a large majority of the church who are complacent in their spiritual lives and complacent with allowing Christ to be Savior, but not Lord of their lives. Within the church I’m afraid that we are seeing examples of being all for the Godly “things” but not a Godly lifestyle. (Tweet that!)
It burdens me when the cycle of sin keep people from living into the full image of God. When our hearts are the “rocky soil” we want so much to hear the good news of Christ and receive the joy that comes from salvation, but that joy can quickly fade because the joy is not truly rooted in lives that glorify God, but rather in a lifestyle that is simply just trying to find happiness. Having joy is more about having wholeness than happiness. Happiness is fleeting, but when we allow Christ to make us whole we begin to realize that no matter how troublesome our world gets we know who we are in Christ and we rely on the assurance that we are serving a faithful God.
Rocky soil can cause us to quickly loose focus of our relationship with Christ when situations change in our lives changes. In the same manner, when our lives represent “thorny soil” it can mean that we are still hanging onto the wants and the desires of this world and we’re unable to hear the voice of God in our lives. There are too many distractions that keep the transformative Word from taking root and doing radical work in our lives. Christ wants to radically change our lives, but this can’t happen while trying to pursue every other desire that pulls us away from God.
This is why I believe in the optimism of Grace! If you are tired of rocky or thorny soil that your keeps you from overcoming the power of sin in your life then the good news is that the Holy Spirit wants to take up residence in your heart and bring deliverance into your life. I am convinced that we don’t have to settle for rocky or thorny soil, but that our hearts can be good soil where the Word can take root, grow and bear fruit. Bearing spiritual fruit is a result of allowing the Holy Spirit to take us beyond the forgiveness of sins and into a place where we fully surrender our desires and will over to Christ. Essentially the Holy Spirit wants to take our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh which can be molded into the image of Christ. (Tweet That)
My prayer is that we allow the Holy Spirit to put good soil within our hearts so that the Word of God can take root and bear fruit in our lives. It can happen…it is the optimism of God’s amazing grace!