Sep 10, 2009

Believers Who Fall Away

"They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away."

"Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have."

These two verses are from Luke chapter eight, verses 13 and 18. The first is part of Christ's explanation of the parable of the soils (or sower and the seed), dealing with the shallow ground hearer. The second is a summation, I believe, of the entire parable. It tells us what is the chief lesson in the parable. "Take heed how you hear" means "take heed how you receive and respond to the sowing of the seed to your heart."

In discussions about salvation, this parable is extremely important. Several major issues in soteriology come into intense discussion in the parable.

Who are the saved and the lost? What distinguishes the saved from the lost? What is it to be saved? When is one saved, or is a child of the kingdom? Did any saved lose their salvation? If so, which hearers?

Is The Shallow Ground Hearer Saved?

Clearly, as Jesus said, those who "receive" the "seed," that is, those who hear, understand, believe, and obey the "word," are they who shall be "saved." This is discovered by what Jesus said about the wayside hearer, the one who rejected the seed outright. He dismissed the word, failing to heed, understand, believe, or obey the word, and all this "lest they should believe and be saved." (8:12)

However, the shallow ground hearer is said to have "believed," yea, even to have initially "received the word with joy." Many believe this is enough to pronounce the shallow ground hearer a "saved" person, a genuine "child of the kingdom."

Yet, even though this shallow ground hearer is said to have "believed," yet he is never said to have been "saved." It is clear that he progressed further than the wayside hearer, for he both "understood" and "believed" the word. Yet, he was never truly converted, as I shall demonstrate.

Why Lost?

How do we know that the shallow ground hearer was never actually "saved"?

First, his heart condition is contrasted with that of the "good ground" hearer, who's heart was "good" and "honest." Thus, his heart was not "good," being like the soil to which it corresponds, being "shallow" or "rocky," lacking sufficient depth.

Such soil represents a sinner not properly prepared in heart by grace. People who "believe" and "rejoice" at the preaching of the gospel without a prepared heart, and prevenient grace, and without having "root" in themselves, and without honesty of heart, do not experience real salvation. I will give examples of these shallow ground hearers later.

Second, the terms descriptive of him indicate his lack of salvation. He is "shallow," and "rootless," and without "patience" (perseverence). His "believing" is, therefore, "shallow" and "without foundation." His "believing" is not "rooted," either in himself, or in truth, or in Christ. His "shallowness" is exhibited in the words describing him and his faith, such as "for a while believe," and "for a while endure." He is temporary, quick to start, and quick to tire.

Third, the things he is said to lack indicate he is not saved. Already it has been observed how he lacked goodness and honesty of heart, not being "good soil." Also, how he lacked "depth" or "root in himself," and how he was deficient in "stick-to-itiveness." The shallow or stony soil "lacked moisture," or the Holy Spirit.

Third, the "engrafted word" is to be received "with meekness" James 1: 21 KJV) but the shallow ground hearer receives the word not so.

Fourth, the shallow ground hearer represents that precipitate or hasty disciple whom Jesus warned against, as I shall show shortly in the examples of shallow ground hearers in the scriptures.

Fifth, none of these shallow ground hearers produce "fruit," for they soon die before growing to sufficient maturity, as a plant, to produce fruit.

Sixth, truly saved people, like the Bereans, have "received the word with all readiness of mind," being prepared in heart (soil) for the reception of the word.

"These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so." (Acts 17: 11 KJV)

Some translations say, of the good ground hearer, that his heart is "honest" or "noble."

True believers "receive" the word with deep "joy," not with superficial joy.

"For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance...And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost." (I Thess. 1: 5, 6 KJV)

"...when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe." (2: 13)

Not only do true believers receive the word with joy, but with soul affliction, or with conviction of sins, and also receive it "with power." It is not human emotional joy, but joy "of the Holy Ghost." The shallow ground hearer receives the word as the word of men, without deep "assurance."

Finally, the shallow ground hearer did not have a pentitent heart to accompany his believing, for the soil was not ploughed or "broken up" by the work of the Holy Spirit in conviction.

Now that it has been established that the shallow ground hearer was not saved, being a hypocrite or imposter, let us take notice of how Christ says that he

1. "Perseveres" (endures) only a short while, as a shallow rooted plant endures the heat of the sun very little.

2. "Believes" only for a short while, for he is said to "Fall away." The Greek word ("aphistēmi") means to depart or to withdraw.

Now, if it has been established that the shallow ground hearer was never really converted, but was deceived, then what does it mean for him to "fall away"? Those who contend that a real believer may lose salvation argue that such terms as "depart," "fall," "apostasize," etc., can never be used to refer to pretenders but can only be said of those who have been truly saved. It is much the same argument made regarding the many warnings given in scripture to professing servants of God. Are they meaningless warnings? Do they speak of real threats to real Christians, regarding keeping saved?

This is a question dealing with "implication." Do the above words imply that one has genuine salvation? When the shallow ground hearer/believer "fell away" or departed from the faith, does this imply that he was actually saved? Is he "departing" or "removing" from real or pretended salvation?

One can see why those who make this argument are keen on insisting that the shallow ground hearer was actually saved. They must make him a genuine born again Christian for he "fell away," and only genuinely saved people "fall away." On the other hand, if I have proven that the shallow ground hearer was never truly converted, then the argument that the words "fall away" can only refer to the genuinely saved, is false.

Besides, Christ speaks of those in the judgment day, in the verse cited at the heading, who have "taken away" what they only "seem" to have, not what they actually have. Again, those who say words such as "take away" can only refer to taking away what one actually possesses, must disagree with Christ.

Received the Word with Joy

Do some sinners receive the gospel "with joy" and "believe" it and yet are not converted? Yes, and the shallow ground hearer depicts him. Notice these words of Jesus to some Jews who had not accepted Christ.

"He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light." (John 5: 35 KJV)

Shallow Ground Hearer #1 - The Precipitate Disciple

"And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." (Luke 9: 57, 58 KJV)

"And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? (or has "root in himself" - SG) Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able (or has "root in himself" - SG)with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14: 27-33)

In both of these examples, the "hasty" or "precipitate" disciple is the one who corresponds to the shallow ground hearer.

Other Examples

Example #2 - Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8: 9-24)
Example #3 - Forgetful Hearer (James 1: 21-25)
Example #4 - Vain Believers (I Cor. 15: 1, 2)
Example #5 - Chief Rulers (John 12: 42)
Example #6 - Temporary Followers (John 6: 65-67)
Example #7 - Fruitless Branches (John 15: 1-5)

A. W. Pink said:

"In His interpretation the Lord Jesus explained the different soils as representing various classes of those who hear the Word. They are four in number, and may be classified as hard-hearted, shallow-hearted, half-hearted, and whole-hearted."

(The Prophetic Parables of Matthew 13 - Chapter 1 - "The Parable of the Sower")

See here

The case of apostasy of the shallow ground hearer, and that of the thorny ground hearer, demonstrate a principle that believers in eternal security often assert. It asserts that the causes of apostasy of professing believers are to be traced to some defect in first conversion.

Apostasy reveals this previously unknown defect. Perseverence gives evidence of genuine salvation, of being a good ground hearer. Apostasy gives evidence of false salvation, of being a shallow or thorny ground hearer.

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