You fellows along with Pastor John are even at your young ages pretty savvy consumers, I expect. Especially with techie-toys you know most of the time what product is good and what similar product is lacking. You have an eye for the real thing and can mostly spot something that is bogus. So then, how do you decide if something is genuine or not? Do you remember the visual examples Pastor John gave us? Specialman versus Superman, Sunbucks versus Starbucks, Ill-tempered birds versus Angry Birds, and so on. Sometimes being able to spot the difference is really important: if somebody gave you a $100 bill in payment for something, could you tell for sure if the bill is genuine or not? Plenty of counterfeit $100 notes are out there, and if you get stuck with a bogus note because you weren't careful, the loss is yours! There are real medicines for various illnesses, and also fake ones that can harm you if you mistakenly take them for your sickness. So, being able to tell genuine from counterfeit is important in this world.
It is even more important when you think about eternity. Is your faith genuine or not?
Last time we worshipped together, Pastor John began the service by reading Matthew 13:1-8: That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
This passage reminds us that not everybody who hears the Good News actually stays the course until the days he passes from this earthly existence to eternity. For one reason or another, many or most people fail! That is scary yes, but very frankly that is how it is, and Jesus reminds us of it many times in the Gospels. Read this: Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. And from the Apostle Paul: 2 Timothy 2:5: “Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.”
So what about assurance of salvation from genuine faith? As Pastor John reminded us, here Jesus drew a line; He was very strict about who was actually saved. Read the Gospel of John 2:23 – 25: “Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.” and again from John chapter 6. Read all of it. Jesus miraculously feeds the huge crowd but that just got the crowd to thinking that Jesus was the one who could evict the Roman occupiers from their homeland and so to make this happen they should forcibly make Jesus their earthly king. The crowd only had such earthly thoughts. So, Jesus “withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” Still in John 6, Jesus tells another large crowd of would-be followers that unless they can “eat His body and drink His blood”, they could not follow Him. This was not urging cannibalism but a metaphor to show the degree to which true followers had to commit themselves to following Jesus. Total commitment! Now we come to the crux of the matter. Read John 6:66-69: From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Do you fellows see it? Most people cannot stand the consequences of really following Jesus. So they turn away. But a few, like Simon Peter, are utterly convinced about who Jesus is, and so stay the course.
So again reference to the passage from the Gospel of Matthew that Pastor John read at the beginning. The four kinds of soils represent the four kinds of mentalities of people who receive the “seed”, that is to say, the Good News of the Gospel.
The seed that is snatched up immediately represent people who prompted by Satan reject the Gospel from the get-go. Rocky soil represents people whose faith never goes deep, and so it withers and dies when real adversity in life comes. Thorny soil pictures people who have a lot of competing claims on their attention, and so they never follow Jesus wholeheartedly.
Okay, let's be honest: those three illustrations represent most of humanity. They may or may not START on the road to salvation, but they do not make it to the end. Scary? Sad?
Unless you have good soil you are not saved. That is the reality. Only good soil bears fruit. It is not quantifiable; it is a matter of perseverance, through thick and thin. I know from last year that some of you fellows have been introduced to John Bunyan's “Pilgrim's Progress”. That novel written more than 300 years ago uniquely illustrates the long difficult journey of salvation. Hopefully all of you fellows will read it through to the end sooner than later.
One way to illustrate such perseverance and commitment needed to stay on the road to salvation to the end is questioning how you use your time. As Pastor John told us, all time is a gift from God, just as all money is a gift from God. You only have so much time in this earthly existence; exactly how much for each of you you don't know. Only God knows.
How much of your time do you give back to God, in worship? In quiet time? In prayer?
So then: do you have real faith? Does it matter?