Note: This is Part 7 of a series of sermons based on Pastor J.D. Greear’s study, Gospel Revolutions.
Part 1, Gospel Change
Part 2, Gospel Discovery
Part 3, Gospel Acceptance
Part 4, Gospel Approval
Part 5, Gospel Response
Part 6, Gospel Faith
Part 7, Substitute Gospels
Part 8, Gospel Depth (Coming March 25, 2012)
Text: John 17:6-19
Think back with me a minute to the time when you accepted Christ as your Savior, if you in fact have done so. What was that moment like? Perhaps you had been in church all of your life, and it was just a natural “next step” that didn’t really rock your world. You still went to church like you had always done. You still attended special events. You still hung around the same friends. The exterior of your life largely remained the same. What about the interior of your life? What changed?
Perhaps your story is different. Maybe you went to church when you were young, but you eventually dropped out. Then sometime later in your teen years or as a young adult you found yourself talking with someone about the work of Christ. Suddenly you did find yourself with a different social circle and different ideas swarming your head. Suddenly you were spending your money differently, spending your time differently, looking at your life differently. What was that like?
Nearly universally, salvation begins here: with utter, excited euphoria. There is this spiritual high we climb up upon realizing and accepting God’s wondrous grace. And, at least for a time, that high carries us through all kinds of life circumstances. Jesus talks about this in the parable of the sower, recorded both in Matthew 13 and in Luke 8.
In the parable, the sower casts his seed, and it falls on four different types of ground: there is the path, where birds eat the seed; some seeds fall on rocky ground, where there is no room for roots to grow; others land among thorns, where the plants are choked before they can blossom; and a few seeds find themselves in the good soil. When Jesus later interprets the parable for his disciples, he reveals that the seed the sower is casting is the word of God, which is the truth. The various types of ground reflect ways that people respond to the word. In the case of the path where the seed is eaten, the hearers simply don’t understand the word and Satan comes and carries it away.
But listen starting in verse 20 of Matthew 13, where Jesus starts describing those who do hear the word. He says, “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy…” When we first hear the truth in God’s word, and really hear it, this is how we receive it. This is how everyone first receives it, even those who wind up being the rocky ground where the word of truth fails to take root.
We receive the word with joy. We are excited about it. This is where it starts for all of us, once we actually hear the truth. The challenge is what happens next. Jesus goes on, still talking about the rocky ground: “yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.” In other words, once it becomes difficult to retain belief in the truth of Christianity, once faith becomes hard, this kind of person simply throws it away for something more advantageous or acceptable.
The thorny soil is no better. In verse 22, Jesus describes those who are reflected by this type of soil as being carried away by “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches.” The good soil reveals 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,” as Jesus interprets the last part of the parable in verse 23 of Matthew 13.
In John 17, Jesus prays for the disciples because he knows that his time has come to its end, and he is about to depart from the world, leaving the disciples without his physical, abiding presence to guard them and to guide them. He knows that their soil is about to be tested. In verse 8 of John 17, Jesus prays to the Father for them, knowing that these are those who have received the words that Jesus received from the Father. More than just receiving the Word, they have “come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.” The disciples are saved. They are believers. The seed has found soil and is growing, but the environment is still to be tested. It is still unclear whether they are rocky, thorny, or good ground.
This is where all of us who are saved and remain breathing on this earth remain, with our ground still being tested to see what it is that we are able to yield. We have heard the truth of the Word, we have accepted what it says, and we have come to believe it in our hearts – to let it be a foundation that grounds the rest of our lives. This is what we know. But we are still in the world, and the world is going to test this seed of truth that is in us. This present world and its ruler are going to challenge the growth of truth in us, just as the disciples would go on to be challenged.
Our faith in the Gospel faces a variety of intense challenges. Jesus listed some of them in the parable of the sower: he includes such things as trials, tribulations, the temptations that come with the cares of this world, and the allure of riches that this world throws in our path. They amount to two things.
One, they can be idols, other things to which we direct our worship. We spend our time, our money, and our energy devoted to them. These are the cares of the world that we follow and pursue, the riches that we lust after, the pleasures we seek after with all of our hearts. These things steal our attention and pull us away from God. They are no more than idols.
Idols have the luxury of being in our face. We can see them. We can taste them. We can feel them. We can carry them with us from place to place, as Rachel carried her father’s gods after being married to Jacob. This was why Jesus was so concerned with the fact that he was about to leave the apostles behind as he prayed for them in John 17. When the people of Israel were left alone while Moses and Joshua went up on the mountain to receive the law, they crafted themselves a golden calf to worship. We are, as one pastor has noted, idol factories. Without constant attention, we will lapse into the draw to worship what is right in front of us rather than the true God who created us.
But there is another danger in our environment. And it is that these things will become for us more than just idols, but also substitute gospels. We start turning to other sources for our redemption and our salvation. We think we will be saved by anything other than the work and blood of Jesus, and that simply is not true. We think our good deeds will save us, that God has a big scale where he will weigh what Hindus call karma. But that’s not true. God will examine our deeds, but they will not be examined to determine our salvation. That is solely based on Jesus and our acceptance of his sacrifice.
If we do not seek to achieve our salvation by our good deeds, then we think our good religious practices will save us. This is what cursed the Galatian church. If we keep doing what God tells us to do, then he will have no choice but to accept us, so we think. It didn’t work for the Pharisees and it won’t work for us. No amount of Sunday morning quiet reverence will get you into heaven. No amount of visiting prisoners and attending to widows and of serving the poor will earn your salvation. No amount of law keeping will keep it perfectly.
No, this is the one and only truth: Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” The truth of Jesus’ words – the truth of the Gospel – is the only truth. Nothing else will be found to measure up. Nothing else can adequately substitute. Nothing else can save us. It is this truth, this one and only Gospel, this hope that is in Christ, and it is this alone.
But we face diverse challenges, and so Jesus prays in verse 14 of John 17, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”
What, then, do we hold to in order to secure our grip on the true Gospel? How do we prove to be the good soil with the deep roots that produce such great fruit, yielding thirty, sixty, or even a hundredfold? Jesus continues, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” This is the way to being good, fruitful soil with the truth of the one Gospel that is our only hope. We stay in the one, true Gospel as we stay committed to the mission that Jesus came to begin and that he commissioned us to complete.
We hold to this: our salvation includes a mission. We are a sent people. Jesus was sent from God. We are sent by Jesus. We have task, a duty, a job. And this mission, this job, this task must be always in the forefront of who we are and what we do. The God of the Gospel will stand no partners, no cohorts. We must be sold-out to the Gospel. And everything that we do must be for the sake of the Lord who has saved us, is sanctifying us, and has sent us.
We are a people who are on mission. We have a magazine produced by the North American Mission Board called On Mission. This is who we are. We are a people on mission for the Kingdom of God. And we will be judged in salvation by whether or not we are bearing fruit. For seed scattered on good soil bears fruit. Disciples saved from the evil one are sent on mission into the world to proclaim the one, true Gospel. What kind of ground are you? Are you proving to be fruitful?
There is no other truth. There is no other Gospel. There is no other salvation. There is no other way to God. There is no other hope. There is Jesus and the truth that he carried to us from the Father and has entrusted to us as His people. This is it.
Don’t abandon yourself to the lures of the world and the wiles of the devil. There is much in this world that would appear attractive, but it is folly. It is fleeting. It is empty. It is a failed, false gospel that offers no hope and no redemption, no salvation, no eternal love of God the Father. There is one truth, one way, one path, one Savior, one Lord, one God and Father of all. It is all we have. It is all we need. And it is all that we need to be about in our lives, whatever we find for our hands to do while we are here.
This prayer of Jesus in John 17 is not just for the disciples who were with him in that upper room for one last supper. It is also for you and for me. Know the truth. Accept it. Believe it. Allow nothing else to stand in the place of this one Gospel for your salvation. There is no other salvation. Jesus in THE way , THE truth, and THE life. He is the only way to the Father. Hold fast to Him. Be kept in the name of the Father. Be sanctified. Be protected from the evil one. Be sent.