Wednesday, October 06, 2010

"And These Have No Root..."

What about the parable of the sower and the seed that falls on the rocky ground? It is possible for someone to have a certain type of faith (shallow/temporary), and yet not be saved?

That "type of faith" is not really faith at all. It is a counterfeit faith - one which appears to be genuine, yet is not; obviously, since it has no root. If one does not have the root of faith (that bond with Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit), then all the confession and appearance of true faith in life and doctrine are nothing but hypocrisy. Such people are "white-washed sepulchres".

The Good Shepherd did not teach this parable in order to terrify His sheep, but in order to condemn the goats. It is a classic case of stretching the analogies within a parable too far, if people claim that this is speaking about a "type of faith" which is indistinguishable from true faith except by observing the fruit of it (this only serves to make people examine their works in order to find justification, and live in such a way that their perseverance depends upon their works, and removes all their confidence and comfort, so that in the end they cannot even begin to pray as Christ taught us, "Our Father...", so plagued are they by doubts, since our works are always imperfect and polluted with our sin). We understand, even from the parable itself (and the clear testimony of the rest of Scripture) that Christ was speaking of people who appear to "believe for a time", but fall away. The explanation is that they had no root - and therefore we conclude that they actually had no faith - not even a certain kind of faith.

When Christ says that they "believe for a time", it is incorrect to jump to the conclusion that He is teaching that they truly had faith. Rather, the context is the appearance to others. As we observe plants growing up quickly and then withering, so we observe people who initially seem to have faith, but then fall away. Christ delivers us from any doubt or terror by explaining that they withered because they had no root - they were not planted into good soil, and therefore they could not truly believe - they could only give a good show before men - but not before God or in their own consciences (because God leaves the reprobate without excuse before Him, and condemns them in their consciences).

But by the certain knowledge and assurance of the faith which we have in Jesus Christ, we know and are assured by the Spirit in our consciences, through hearing and believing the preaching of the Gospel, that God declares us righteous on the basis of His atoning sacrifice and merits on our behalf.

The solution to ungodliness in the church is never to preach in such a way that doubts are encouraged (rather doubting ought to be condemned because it is sinful!), but Christian discipline must be practised so that those who live impenitently are officially declared outside the kingdom of Christ, unless (and until) the Spirit brings them to repentance. This is the God-ordained means for removing dead branches and to keep wicked leaven from spreading, and also for chastising the elect for their sanctification.

This is important because except one is assured of their eternal salvation, they do not have true faith in Christ, and will not be saved. Such a person cannot pray, or experience anything of the Christian life, because all our blessedness, and the fruit of the Spirit in our lives flows from faith, which itself flows from our election and the atonement made for us by Christ, which the Spirit applies to us individually and corporately, bringing us into communion with God, from whom all our spiritual life flows, and without whom we are nothing but dead branches. All must be exhorted not to doubt, but to believe and be comforted in Christ.

Furthermore, it is wrong, unhelpful, and greatly damaging, to tell a person that their sorrow over doubts or even the slightest work of theirs, be it the smallest tear or sigh, is any part of the means of their justification before God. We are justified by faith alone without any works. True, when we do good works, we are encouraged and our assurance is strengthened, and when we fall into grievous sins, and walk in disobedience for a time, we are plagued with doubts (through the agency of Satan, which God righteously rules over in order to drive us to the cross for admonition, comfort, and power to repent), but the only way to repent is to first of all exercise the faith we have in Christ alone. Even though works strengthen assurance, our assurance itself first of all comes from, and is even an integral part of our faith.

A vital part of a pastor's calling is this: "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD's hand double for all her sins." - Isaiah 40. It is an essential part of the everlasting covenant of God, that God makes known to us, in love and fellowship through the Mediator of the covenant, Jesus Christ, that He is our God, and we are His people. We are united to Jesus Christ by means of the bond of faith produced by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and therefore bound to God in the covenant of grace. Since we are in this covenant of grace, in fellowship with God, God makes known to us that our sins are forgiven, and that we have been saved eternally.

This is the fundamental practical difference between Rome and the Reformation (which of course is rooted in wholly opposite theologies, one resting on free will, the other upon the sovereign free grace of God); one cultivates doubt, the other cultivates faith. And let it be known, that doubt is the work of Satan who seeks to destroy God's people, but faith is the work of the Holy Spirit who effectually seeks their salvation.

The only way to experience the blessedness of this assurance is by hearing the biblical preaching of the Gospel by ministers of the Word, who have been officially appointed to this glorious ministry, in a true church (which is known by the marks of a true church, biblical preaching, sacraments and discipline). To hear this biblical preaching is to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, and only in this way do we experience to blessings of being in the covenant of grace growing in fellowship with God.
"Those that be planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God." - Psalm 92:13.