Growing in the Grace and Knowledge of the Lord
2 Peter 3:18
Discipleship Lesson #01
July 22, 2018
“Father, we’re thankful for this opportunity we have to be refreshed by Your Word, to be encouraged, to be in some cases reproved, corrected,, and challenged, that we might be thoroughly equipped in our spiritual life to serve You, to worship You, and to serve as lights in a perverse and crooked world.
“Father, we’re thankful that we have the truth of Your Word. We pray that You will use it as we study today in our spiritual life, our spiritual growth. As Jesus prayed to You, “Sanctify them in truth. Thy word is truth.”
“Father, as we open Your Word, we pray that we might come to understand how these things directly impact our own lives, and how God the Holy Spirit can use Your Word to change and transform us into the image of Christ.
“We pray this in His name. Amen.”
This morning we’re going to begin a short series, for the duration of the summer, on discipleship. It’s not going to be like most series that are typically given in our generation on discipleship.
We’re going to focus a little bit more on what Scripture teaches, and what the challenges are in discipleship. In many ways, discipleship is basically the challenge of the spiritual life.
We noted in our previous studies on Matthew 28 and the Great Commission the concept of discipleship—that terminology is not used but a little bit beyond the Gospels. We have different terminology in the Epistles, one which relates directly to the idea being an imitator of Christ.
That’s really the challenge of being a disciple.
This morning as I was refining this, I thought this would make a good title for the message, only to discover that the volunteer that we have who does the graphics work for us had her laptop die last night, so it may be a while before we get the accurate image up there in relation to this as the title for the series.
But this series, as I was originally conceiving it, related to what the Bible teaches in terms of spiritual growth, that when we are saved, the Bible talks about that as being a new birth. The theological term is regeneration. We are born spiritually dead—we’re physically alive, but we’re spiritually dead—which means we’re separated from God.
Nothing that we do counts for eternity, or has any spiritual value, or impresses God whatsoever. It is all dead works; it is all the product of a fallen, corrupt nature. And no matter how moral we may be, no matter how good we may be, it doesn’t matter to God.
Jesus recognized that we all do relative good—but it is not absolute good—when He spoke to His disciples and He made the made the statement, Matthew 7:11, “… You being evil give good gifts to your children …”
We probably would not find too many people around us who would look at the disciples that Jesus had and think of them as being evil, but that is a statement in relation to our sin nature that we all have.
Even after we are saved, though we are no longer slaves to that sin nature, we are still corrupt. We are fallen sinners, and when we as believers walk according to the sin nature, then we produce evil and corruption, and it is self-destructive.
But the alternative is succinctly stated by Peter at the end of his second epistle, and that is that we are to grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s essentially what discipleship is: taking up the challenge that Jesus laid down, not just to be saved and spend eternity in Heaven, but to take up the challenge to grow, and to mature, and to serve the Lord with our lives.
As we look at this verse, and we will look at others as we go through this series, we need to be reminded, all of us, myself included, each day that we are to respond to this challenge of discipleship.
In other words, am I going to live today for me, for my personal pleasures, for my personal desires and goals no matter how wonderful they may be, or am I going to live today to serve the Lord Jesus Christ and to have my life count for eternity: living today in light of eternity?
In 1973, I was still in college and a spiritually young believer. Even though I had been a believer since I was six years old, I was still relatively immature. I had had a lot of Bible teaching in my formative years, but I don’t believe anybody who is 19 or 20 years of age is necessarily spiritually mature.
Like many of you, at different times, different ages, I hit what appeared to be a major roadblock, a dead end in my life. I had a desire and ambition to spend a career in the military, went to college on an ROTC scholarship, and hit a dead end in terms of that direction, and it was God’s way of getting my attention.
I was at one of those turning points we have many times in our lives where I had to sit down and say, “Where am I going? What is the purpose and significance of my life?” I knew that I had to primarily focus on the spiritual aspect and my own spiritual growth.
I took one afternoon off and walked off campus a couple blocks to a Christian bookstore and walked in. That was back in the days when Christian bookstores weren’t selling trinkets, they weren’t selling greeting cards—they might have had a few of those—but they really had good study books for biblical studies—something that you don’t find much anymore.
As I was perusing the shelves, they had quite a few books by men whose names I was vaguely familiar with who were professors at Dallas Seminary, and I ran across a book that had been published in 1971 by Dr. Dwight Pentecost named Design for Discipleship.
Dr. P, as we came to know him and refer to him when I was at Dallas [Theological Seminary], had done an excellent job of trying to define what discipleship was, making it clear that being a disciple was not equivalent to being a believer, and stating what the various challenges were in the Scripture in relation to being a disciple.
It was at that time, through that book and through some others, that I came to recognize that my life needed to count for something other than my own personal desires and my own personal ambitions. That is really the essence of the whole challenge that we find in the Gospels - to be a disciple.
So, starting this morning, I want to springboard off the end of the Gospel of Matthew, where we spent four lessons looking in Matthew 28:19-20, and to begin a further study on what it means to be a disciple.
The main idea of this is that we need to face the fact and ask ourselves the question, “Are we becoming convinced, focused, and committed students of Jesus Christ and pursuing excellence in our spiritual lives?”
That is the basic question we always need to ask ourselves, because it’s real simple and easy for us to fall off track and get distracted by the issues of life. Are we becoming convinced, focused, committed students of Jesus Christ and pursuing excellence in our spiritual lives?
Matthew 28:19-20, as I taught in recent lessons, is often called the Great Commission, but it has parallels in other passages in relation to Jesus’ directions to His disciples following the Resurrection. It is succinct and it’s direct, and He tells them,
“Go therefore …” Or, “while you’re going,” but there is that certain imperatival sense that even though it’s a temporal participle: “… while you’re going, make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
If we are to make disciples, that presupposes that we have become disciples. As I just stated, what the question we need to ask ourselves as we study this is, “Are we becoming disciples?”
I use that participle form, “becoming,” because we never quite fully get there, because we never reach the end of that spiritual maturation process. Some of you who are listening—maybe online or listening to this lesson later—may be chronologically new Christians.
You’re fairly young, you’re baby Christians chronologically because it’s only been a few years, maybe, since you trusted Christ. Others of you may be long-time Christians, but you’re not very advanced in terms of your spiritual growth. Others of you are well along on your way to spiritual maturity.
This is the process. Some of you are still like you were not long after you were saved, and you still have an insatiable hunger to know the Bible, to know the God of the Bible, and to have your life truly count for eternity.
That is the essence of what is needed to be a disciple. It’s not just about learning the Bible. It’s about learning the Bible, learning doctrine, learning what the Bible teaches as a means to the end of having a mature relationship with God and serving Him with our lives.
In this series, I am going to challenge each of us to give a little more time and thought to where we are in our spiritual lives.
In Dr. Pentecost’s book on discipleship—he was more of a preacher and was quite fond of alliteration in a lot of his messages—he had developed three words that he used to describe the process of discipleship, where you are on a spectrum. Those three words were “curious, convinced, and committed”.
Some are curious. They are interested. What did Jesus have to say? Some of the curious are believers, some of the curious are not believers. Then there are others who become convinced that Jesus is the Messiah, and they grow a little bit. Then there are those who are committed.
It’s a nice little catchy alliteration. If I were to add something, I would add the word “comfortable,” and that’s a problem for a lot of Christians—they get comfortable. And if you’re comfortable, you’re not going to like this series.
None of us like this series. Remember in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 when it says all Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for—what? For teaching, for reproof: we don’t like reproof. Correction: we don’t like correction.
But that’s what we need if we are going to be thoroughly equipped, which is the final stage in that progression there in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. We have to be thoroughly equipped in order to be able to serve the Lord.
Unfortunately, what happens with many of us, pastors included, is we reach stages where we just want to sit back and relax. We just are comfortable with where we are spiritually, we’re comfortable with the amount of biblical knowledge that we have, and we think that we can be fairly successful as believers without pushing on to the next level.
However, there are’ almost an infinite number of levels, and we dare not grow comfortable because, in my experience, those who get comfortable regress.
When I was young I thought of my own life, “Life is a lot like having a car and you’re driving uphill spiritually, and you have two gears, neutral and drive, and you have no brakes. When we get comfortable we just slip into neutral, which means we slide back downhill. The only option is to really keep it in drive and keep moving forward.”
There are a lot of believers that I have witnessed over the years that had a great foundation, and they understood the basics. Then they just sort of go on with life and never pursue that spiritual growth, and they fall into the trap of thinking, “I know enough; I’ve heard enough. When I go to church, I’m not necessarily learning anything new,” and so they begin to regress.
I discovered in my own life experience, and I think it’s true for most people, that when you and I were first saved we were young, we may have been saved when we were, like I was, six years old or 10 years old.
But when you get into your adolescent and young adult years you begin to ask questions. And if you’re really interested in finding out the answers, then that curiosity is what drives you to read about the Bible, to learn the Bible, and to get answers to your questions.
If you’re really growing, and you’ve begun that process of growing as a disciple, then at some point most of your questions are going to be answered. In those early years from your spiritual birth until what I think is spiritual adolescence, you’re motivated to gain knowledge and to get answers to your questions.
But once you get answers to your questions, if that’s your sole motivation, then what happens is you tend to coast, because your motivation has simply been to satisfy that intellectual curiosity.
If you’re growing properly, then what happens during that time is you begin to realize that it’s not about just getting knowledge about God and about the Scripture, it’s about serving Him.
You make a slow transition to realize you’re not just learning about the Bible, but the Bible becomes the means by which you’re coming to know God and enjoy that personal walk and relationship with God. Which is what’s necessary to transition into the next stage into spiritual adulthood and spiritual maturity.
I remember almost to the year when I was sitting in Bible class and realizing that I knew most everything that was being taught. I realized, though, that I needed to be reminded of that on a daily basis, because my sin nature’s just as nasty as your sin nature.
It’s easy to sort of relax and fall back and forget the importance of intensity. Remember the image in the Gospels of the Gentile woman who just grabs hold of Jesus’ robes, and she won’t let go. That pictures the intensity that we should have in our spiritual life. We just metaphorically want to grab hold of Jesus’ garment, and hold on, and not let go.
As we make that transition in our spiritual maturity, the reason we’re going to church isn’t just to satisfy curiosity and to grow in our knowledge of the Word, but that that transitions us to a closer relationship to know God—not just to know His Word, but to know Him.
As a result of that, I believe, when we come, one of the things that we are constantly reminded of is that God is real, He’s deeply involved in our lives, He is faithful and trustworthy in all things, and no matter what happens, I have to hold onto that because that’s the only stability I’m going to have in life. That is part of that transition.
I have seen so many people over the years who reach that stage of spiritual adolescence where their questions are answered, and then they just sort of give up. Because their whole motivation was to get answers, and they’ve had their questions answered, so they quit. They think they’ve had enough.
When we study this topic of being a disciple, it is really a study on the pursuit of spiritual maturity and developing a mature relationship with the God of the Bible. That is part of the emphasis here.
A long time ago, I had a job for a short time in sales. The sales manager used an illustration that I thought was quite apt, and as he said it, I directly applied to the spiritual life. He was pointing out that in sales anybody who’s a good salesman can make a lot of money.
But he said, “What I find is that every individual sort of has a glass ceiling that they create for themselves.” Maybe that’s making $100,000 a year, maybe it’s making $500,000 a year, maybe making $100,000 a year, or maybe it’s only making $50,000 a year. But once they hit that, even if they can go much further, they relax and coast.”
What I’ve seen in the spiritual life is there are a lot of people who know they’re not going to fail because they believed in Christ, and they’re going to be in Heaven. But they’re happy with a “D–.”
Others are happy with a “C.” They just want to be average. They look around at other believers and they say, “I’m not any better, any worse than most Christians I know. I’m just happy with being average.
Others want to do much better. They want to be a B, but they’re afraid, “Well, I’m never really going to be spiritually mature, so I’m not going to pursue excellence.”
Then there are those who just have to pursue excellence. They want the best because they want to serve the Lord. They want to be those “A+” students.
We see an example in Matthew 8:21-22 where one man comes to Jesus and wants to be a disciple, then when Jesus tells Him what’s involved, he says, “Well, wait a minute. Let me go back and bury my father.” And he’s using that is an excuse to put off any commitment in terms of his spiritual life.
In this series, what we need to think about is what Jesus has called us to be: “What does it mean to be a disciple, to be a follower of Jesus, to be an imitator of Christ,” in the language that Paul uses?
It’s not going to be a series that necessarily makes us comfortable, but it is one that is going to, I hope, stimulate every one of us to go to the next level in our spiritual lives.
As we closed out Matthew—I spent four hours talking about the meaning of Matthew 28:19—we looked at this verb.
One of the things that I pointed out in that is that we live in an era when this concept of discipleship has become one of the most overused buzzwords and jargon terms of our generation—that we are to make disciples.
Lots of people talk about discipleship, and churches state their mission statements in terms of discipleship, and missionary organizations state their goals and objectives in terms of discipleship, but very, very few of these people, and even very few of the books written on discipleship, take the time to define it.
The other part of that problem is with the popularity of the use of this word is that it has lost its significance and its meaning through overuse. That’s what happens with a lot of language. We just hear the same words over and over again.
Words like “holy.” Most churches just so overuse it. People don’t know what it means, but they know it’s important. Well, it’s the same thing with discipleship. We are to make disciples.
To review a little bit, I know we covered this a few weeks ago, but for this series I want to review what these words mean.
The verb form that we find in Matthew 28:19-22, “to make disciples”, is the verb MATHETEUO. It may surprise you that this word is only used four times in the New Testament. If you listen to modern-day pastors and church leaders, you would think that this word shows up on every page of the Scripture.
But it doesn’t; it’s used three times in Matthew, one time in Acts, and it’s not used at all in any of the Epistles. Let me remind you that those Epistles are what’s written by the apostles to the believers in the Church Age.
So, you have one of two options: either discipleship is no longer important in the Church Age, or it really isn’t the keyword, the buzzword, the major word that we should be going to. It wasn’t used that way in Scripture.
It’s an important word, but it’s just one of several ways that spiritual growth, learning, receiving instruction are emphasized. The word basically is translated “to learn,” or “to be instructed.” It is used in Matthew 13:52 when Jesus is interpreting one of the parables, and He says, “Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven.” There it just means to learn. It has no significance in relation to what is normally taught about being a disciple.
In Matthew 27:57 it’s used in relation to Joseph of Arimathea, that he had also become a disciple of Jesus. That doesn’t tell us a whole lot about what it means to be a disciple, and it certainly doesn’t seem to indicate this as a primary word that is used for the spiritual life.
In Acts 14:21 we’re told that when Paul had been to the cities in Lystra, Iconium, and Derbe, that “… when they preached the gospel to that city …” That’s the word EUANGELIZO, which really is just “giving the gospel.” That just focuses on the evangelism aspect.
Remember, to make disciples you do two things: that as you make disciples, they are baptized. That summarizes the whole initial salvation aspect, where they hear the gospel, they respond to the gospel, and then in the early church they would be baptized. That almost went without exception.
Acts 14:21, says, “When they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples …” That’s the closest we get outside of Matthew 28:19-20 to the meaning in Matthew 28:19-20. So, the evidence for discipleship being used in the Bible as the key word is somewhat missing.
MANTHANO is a cognate term. MATHETEUO to MANTHANO is the direct verb which means simply “to learn.” It’s used six times in the Gospels, but only in one passage is it somewhat related to being a disciple. In Matthew 11:29, when Jesus is talking about following Him and being a disciple, He says, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me …”
That’s the word, so we see that part of discipleship involves learning from Jesus—learning about Him and developing that relationship.
The noun itself simply means someone who’s a learner, a pupil, a student, and often translated a “disciple.”
We learn that this noun is used 245 times in the three Gospels, and including Acts, where it’s used only 26 times. It’s predominantly used to refer to the 12 disciples.
In the Epistles, the verb MANTHANO says, “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and God of peace will be with you.”
That expresses the idea of discipleship in Philippians. We’re to learn; we’re to receive these things and practice them.
2 Timothy 3:14, “But you must continue in the things that you’ve learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them.”
This emphasizes that process of learning. That’s basic to being a disciple.
Now back to the noun. For MATHETES it’s used to describe something other than the Twelve in two places: Matthew 1 and Luke 1, which give just a general statement about a disciple.
It is used for John’s disciples: in Matthew it’s used four times, Mark two times, Luke two times, and John two times. You could be a disciple of someone else, so that doesn’t necessarily by that usage mean you’re a believer.
General principles: a disciple is not greater than his master. Those types of general principles are stated in Matthew three times, Luke one time, in John three times.
The disciples of the Pharisees in Matthew 1 were students of the Pharisees and would follow a senior Pharisee around and learn from him.
Joseph of Arimathea is called a disciple in Matthew (one time) and in John (two times.)
The vast majority, it simply refers to the Twelve that followed Jesus.
In Acts, it seems like it’s used more as a general word for believers. Now that’s important, and we will refer back to that several times.
As we look at this study, we realize that the term “disciple” really isn’t used in a technical sense to refer to a believer. It’s not a synonym for a believer. The basic meaning is simply being a follower or a student. The emphasis is on learning from Jesus. Learning what the Scriptures teach. That’s the focal point.
Therefore, the Christian life is grounded upon a principle of study and learning—knowledge acquisition—but that’s not the end of it. It is the means to an end in order to learn about God: to learn everything that God has given us, provided for us in terms of salvation, the spiritual life; to learn about Jesus, to learn about Who He is, to learn about His life, to learn about what He taught, to learn about God’s plan and purpose for every single believer, and to explore all of that. Frankly, most of us in our age barely scratch the surface.
As I go back over the years of my professional ministry and the volumes of books that I have read written in prior centuries, I’m amazed at the depth of teaching that took place in times that modern man tends to look down on as not being so scholarly. Many generations prior to us were much more educated in the Scripture, in the Bible, in theology than our generation.
As we have seen in just our generation, education has become very much dumbed down. It just keeps going down to the lowest common denominator, and the church has not been immune to that.
Often what I find is believers thinking they’ve reached a high bar of excellence and knowledge in the Scripture, and yet when you look at other generations, it’s pretty poor.
I look back and I read about men who memorized all of the Bible, and they were involved in ministry, but they weren’t necessarily professional ministers. When you didn’t have television, reading the Bible at night and memorizing was a great family activity.
We have so many distractions today, not that they’re inherently wrong, but they take us away from that which has eternal value.
Primarily when we think of a disciple, the issue is, the question for us is, “Am I really a student of the Word of God.” What does a serious, convinced, committed student of the Word of God do with his time?
We all have other things in life that we do. Aside from being in full-time professional ministry, as I am, most of you have jobs and careers that are demanding, that involve a lot of reading and a lot of study just to excel in what you do, and just to keep up with all of the things that change.
On top of that, though, we have this vocation from the Latin word vocare, which means “a calling”—this spiritual calling and challenge to be a disciple. Which means that of that small amount of disposable time that we all have, we have to figure out how much of that I must dedicate to really learning how to serve the Lord and responding to the challenge of discipleship.
This basic meaning of the word means a “pupil,” a “student,” and a “learner.” When it comes to its usage in the Scripture, we learned that a person could be a disciple and not even a believer, as we see with Judas Iscariot in John 12:4. Judas was not a believer, but he is consistently lumped in with the disciples.
We also see that someone could be a disciple first and then become a believer. This is what we see in John 2:11. In a little while we will look at John 1 when Jesus calls Peter and Andrew and James and John—they become disciples in John 1.
But we find in John 2:11, after His first miracle at the wedding at Cana of Galilee, “This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.”
That’s the starting point. That’s when they truly believe that He is the Messiah. That is very clear from the text that this is talking about, at this point He only has the four probably, and that’s the reference to the disciples. So, you can be a disciple first and then become a believer after that.
Then the word is used to refer to others who have a more consistent commitment to their Savior and to spiritual growth, and they are described as “disciples indeed.”
In John 8:31, “Jesus said to those Jews who believed in Him—they’re believers—… if you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.”
This has been taken—the interpretation has been distorted—by those who hold to Lordship salvation. That’s one of the things we will address at times in this study: there are those who believe that if you’re truly a disciple, then you’re a believer, but if you’re not truly a disciple, you’re not a believer.
They confuse Jesus’ statements about commitment to be a disciple with His free offer of salvation. Salvation is something that we neither earn nor deserve. We don’t have to commit to Jesus to be saved. In fact, we are told to trust in Him.
There are those like John MacArthur—a very well-known, most popular radio Bible teacher and pastor—who is at the forefront of the popularization of Lordship salvation over the last 40 years. He argues that if you’re not a disciple, you’re not a believer, you’re not truly saved, because only those who are truly saved are believers.
The offer of salvation is a free gift, but all of these other statements related to being a disciple involve commitment activity, obedience on the part of the believer. They would be then establishing these as conditions for salvation, not just faith alone.
Here, Jesus is addressing those who are already believers. They already have salvation, they’re justified, and He is challenging them to be disciples, and the thing that He says here is that they have to abide in His Word.
That word “abide” is often used in relation to fellowship, in relation to that ongoing intimate relationship with God and with Christ, and if we sin, then that is broken, and we need to recover that ongoing dynamic of that relationship through confession of sin.
Here we have this stated, “… if you abide in My Word …” The emphasis there is being a student of the Word of God, letting it be part of your life and including that and being at the very heart of your spiritual life.
The idea of growing and maturing comes out in the terminology Paul uses in the Epistles, talking about imitating Christ. As far as he is concerned, when he says, “imitate me,” he is saying “imitate my imitation of Christ.”
1 Corinthians 11:1, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.”
Christ is the pattern; we are being conformed to His image, Romans 8:29.
Ephesians 5:1, Paul says, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.”
We are to reflect His character in our lives.
That is the foundation of what it means to be a disciple, but we have to recognize that learning isn’t always enough. We are warned in 2 Timothy 3:7 that there are those who are always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. It doesn’t mean they’re not saved. In some cases, they may not be saved, they may be the curious who never trusted in the gospel.
But there are many, many believers who are saved who come to church; they come to Bible class. From the outside, it looks like they are amassing great spiritual knowledge, but they’re never coming to a knowledge of the truth. They are simply going through the motions, they are getting a lot of intellectual facts, but they’re not developing any spiritual growth, because there’s no application.
As we close out this word study part of our study, in Titus 3:14 Paul says, “And let our people also learn to maintain good works …” That’s the application of the Word, not just learning facts; those are important, but “… to maintain good works—that’s the application—to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful.”
That’s an important statement at the end, because what he’s emphasizing there is that in spiritual growth, the end result is that we should produce fruit. We will talk more about that as we go along in the study, because the first thing that comes to people’s minds usually is producing fruit equals getting people saved, winning converts to Jesus, and that’s not the main emphasis in the Scripture.
The first thing we should think about is Galatians 5:23 and following, emphasizing the fruit of the Spirit. That’s character quality, and it’s what Paul talks about in Romans 12:2—being transformed in our thinking, so that we reflect the thinking of Christ.
This idea of producing fruit is something that we find in many different passages. In John 15, a passage we will talk about as well, Jesus says if we abide in Him, we will produce much fruit.
Let’s look at a foundational passage. Turn with me to Luke 8, a parallel to Matthew 13. But it’s a different setting and has a little different explanation. It is still giving parables related to the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.
That is not a mystery form of the Kingdom, as I have taught many times, but it is talking about new information revealed about the Kingdom of God.
We know that this extends between this period of the rejection of Jesus and the time that He returns in judgment. So, the period of the parables—that the parables describe—is the period that is basically the Church Age. It would also include the Tribulation, and it would include the second half—the second part—of Jesus’ ministry.
Let’s just look at it for one particular purpose this morning. We’ve gone through a study of this in the past: in Luke 8:5-8 Jesus gives the parable.
“ ‘A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside, and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it.”
Luke 8:6, “ ‘Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture.”
Luke 8:7, “ ‘And some fell among the thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it.
Luke 8:8, “ ‘but others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop hundredfold.’ When He had said these things, He cried, ‘He who has ears to hear, let them hear.’ ”
This is parallel to Matthew 13. I think this emphasizes some things; we will go to Matthew 13 at the end.
He interprets this starting in Luke 8:11, “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.”
The seed goes forth, and it produces basically four responses. The first response is, “Those by the wayside are the ones who hear, then the devil who comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.”
These are unbelievers, the only one of the four that are unbelievers. It’s very clearly stated in Luke, “… lest they should believe and be saved.”
The removal of the gospel shows that they do not believe the gospel, and they are not saved.
The second response: Luke 8:6 describes those who hear the message, they rejoice at the message, they believe for a while. So, they believe; there is germination and life—that’s regeneration—but there’s no fruit. They believe for a while, but then they fall away.
“Some fell on rock and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture.”
Jesus interprets this in Luke 8:13, “But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy—that’s a parallel word that is used in the Gospels for believing the gospel message—when they hear they received the message with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while.”
Lordship will come along and say, ‘Well, unless you believe continuously, you’re not saved. So, they would say they’re not saved because it was a temporary faith, and therefore wasn’t saving faith. But Scripture teaches that if you believe Jesus died on the Cross for your sins, you’re saved eternally, permanently. You cannot lose that salvation.
They “… believe for a while, but in times of temptation they fall away.” They don’t grow much.
I don’t know how many of y’all are gardeners, farmers, raise vegetables, but we live so far away from the farm these days that most people don’t understand some basics about growing plants. I like to grow tomatoes. I’ve grown tomatoes for probably 40 years. A tomato vine is not too different from a grapevine.
One of the things that happens when you plant, sometimes the seed will germinate, but you’ll only get a seedling, and for whatever reason, I’ve never figured out, it doesn’t grow much more than a seedling, and that’s it. It never grows, and it never produces fruit, but there is life there.
That’s analogous to a person who believes the gospel, but never grows. Then as you feed it and nourish it, water it, give it all the fertilizer that it needs, it will grow. You don’t see fruit for a long time.
Growth and fruit are not identical. A lot of Lordship people look at growth and fruit as the same thing. Growth is growth, fruit is fruit, and fruit in almost every plant I’ve ever seen is produced only after there is a lot of growth.
Look at an oak tree. It doesn’t produce acorns for years. That’s the fruit of the oak tree. You have other plants that will produce fruit in a shorter time, some in a longer time.
What we see here in this second example is there’s a little growth. It’s a seedling, but there’s no fruit. That doesn’t mean it was never alive. That’s important to understand in these parables.
In Luke 8:7, “And some fell among the thorns—this is the third response—some fell among the thorns, the thorns sprang up with it and choked it.”
Here is the interpretation in Luke 8:14, “Now the ones that fell among the thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches and pleasures of life—what’s that last phrase?—and bring no fruit to maturity.”
That phrase is interesting. It is a compound word, which means exactly that. It’s from the beginning of the word TELEIOS, a word we’ve studied before that indicates maturity, and the word that means to bear fruit. It doesn’t say it doesn’t bear fruit. It says it doesn’t bear fruit to maturity.
This is a slightly more mature growing believer than the first, but there’s no real fruit production per se, because it grows enough to where it puts out the blossoms, it shows a little growth, and I’ve seen this many times on tomato plants. You’ll see a little beginning of the tomato, but it never grows, and it never produces or never ripens to fruit.
The Matthew 13:22 parallel says, “Now he who receives seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.”
It’s a slightly different phrase in the Greek, and it has the idea—almost implies—that it may have started to produce fruit, but it becomes something it wasn’t: unfruitful.
This is what you see in a lot of believers. They grow to adolescence, they never really start producing fruit in terms of their spiritual character and their spiritual growth, and then they reverse course.
The last one: this is where you see the endgame for those who wish to be a disciple.
Luke 8:15, “But the ones that fell on good ground are those who, having heard the word with the noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.”
That is endurance. They stay with it over time. They don’t drop out when their kids come of age. I’ve seen that a lot. Parents are really good about going to church. They want to be an example to their children, get them started out right, but as soon as the kids are out of the nest, their attendance and involvement in their spiritual life falls off.
I remember I had one man, one of the leaders in a church I was in years and years ago. And he couldn’t believe it. His mother had died. His dad was in his 70s. He said, “I just can’t believe it! My dad was such an example to me when I was growing up. He was always a leader in the church. He was an elder, all these things, but after mom died, now when I go visit him, I find out he’s sleeping around with four or five different women in his 70s!”
You have to bear fruit with endurance. You keep at it until the Lord takes you home. You don’t reach an age and you say, “Okay, I’ve reached maturity. That’s it. I can go on and do what I want to.”
In Matthew 13:23 Jesus says, “But he who receives seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces—see, this is the difference in some disciples—some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”
There’s a different proportion in terms of fruit production. The issue when it comes to spiritual discipleship is that we’re focused on that endgame of spiritual maturity and fruit production.
But production takes time. It often involves failure. We recover from that failure, we not only confess sin, but we try to stay with Christ or abide with Christ, and grow, and mature, and take in the Word, and keep growing. Sometimes we reverse.
Most people have an up-and-down chart on their spiritual growth, and I think that’s rather normal, but we keep going forward. Even if we failed for a while, we always had that opportunity to recover, to keep moving forward, and to be reminded of what the endgame is.
I just want to go through this briefly in John 1, using Peter as an example. In John 1, we’re introduced to three days in the life of John the Baptist, and on the second day Jesus shows up, and John looks at Him and He says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
On the third day, Jesus begins to call His disciples, described in John 1:35-37, “On the next day—this is the third day—John stood with two of his disciples—they are not named yet, but they will be shortly—and he sees Jesus coming. Again, he said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God.’ And when the two disciples heard him speak—what happened?—they followed Jesus.
When they follow Jesus, they’re not believers yet. We find that out from John 2:11, that they believe Him after the sign, but they are curious—“Who is this that John is talking about?” They thought John was the key guy to follow, and now John says that this is the Lamb of God, so they need to follow Him.
As we read down through that passage in John 1:40 and following we read, “One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He found his own brother Simon, and said to him, ‘We found the Messiah,’ (which is translated, the Christ.) And he brought them to Jesus. Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, ‘You are Simon the son of Jonah.’ ”
So, what we simply see here the first stage for Peter. Peter is introduced to Jesus. He’s curious—“Is this guy the Messiah?” I think the clearest statement we have of their salvation, these four guys, is there at the turning of the water to wine. That’s when the text says they believed in Him, which is John’s normal term for salvation, and so he becomes a believer.
In Luke 5, which is what I read earlier, what we discover is that Jesus, sometime later, is in Galilee, and He takes Peter out in the boat, and James, and John. I think all four of them are there because they were partners in their business. Jesus tells them after they have fished all day and they can’t catch anything, “Put your nets down,” and they put their nets down.
In Luke 5:10, they bring in just an unbelievable load of fish that’s just about to break the nets. Jesus makes a lesson out of this, “Follow Me, and you’ll catch men.” He’s teaching that He’s the One who provides and produces the fruit. It’s not up to them or their methodology. It’s up to Jesus, Who will provide the results.
Mark 1:17 states that, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.”
They leave their nets and everything, and they will follow Jesus. That’s the next stage in Peter’s growth. We all are on this line of progression.
Then we see a third stage in Matthew 16:15-16, when Jesus is talking to the disciples, and He says, “Who do people say that I am?” And they say, “Some people think you’re Elijah, some think you’re John the Baptist,” and Jesus says to Peter, “ ‘Well, who do you think I am?’ And Peter said, ‘You’re the Messiah, you’re the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ ”
He’s reached the stage where he is convinced of Who Jesus is, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t fail, like the rest of us.
In John 18:25-27, we learn of his denials of Jesus. After Jesus’ arrest and His trials, and Peter’s out there warming his hands in the courtyard of the high priest, and they start recognizing him, saying “Aren’t you one of Jesus’ disciples?” He said, “No! I never heard of Him.” Three times he denied Jesus, so there’s failure.
After the Resurrection, Jesus and Peter had a private meeting, when he realizes his forgiveness. In John 21:15-17, which we studied not too long ago, Jesus confronts Peter, “Do you love Me?” Three times He asked Peter that. Three times Peter says yes, he loves Him.
There are important things to learn from the synonyms that are used in the Greek, but the bottom line is Jesus gives him responsibility: “feed My sheep”.
What happens in the process of becoming a disciple is that we have to keep pressing on, persevering, realizing forgiveness when we fail, but continuing to press on to spiritual maturity, serving the Lord no matter what happens.
The question that we all have to ask ourselves every day is, “Am I going to continue to become a disciple today, or am I going to live for myself?”
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to begin this study, to be reminded of the challenge before us, every one of us, to serve You, to become a disciple, constantly pushing on, pressing on, enduring to the end of our days, serving You that we might glorify You fully in our lives.
“Father, we pray that if there’s anyone listening to this message here this morning realizing that the challenge to be a disciple isn’t the means of eternal life, it is what comes after our salvation. That salvation is not by works, it’s by simply trusting in Jesus Christ’s work on the Cross, believing that He died on the Cross for our sins.
“But after we are saved, and we are born again, and we are new spiritual infants, the challenge to us is spiritual growth. Do we want to pursue excellence in our spiritual life? Do we want to truly get to know You?
“Then that means becoming a learner, a student, putting the knowledge of Your Word first, and the application of it in terms of our spiritual growth.
“Father, we pray that You would challenge us with these things as we reflect on them today and throughout this week, in Christ’s name. Amen.”