Growing as Disciples of Jesus
Topic: Discipleship Passage: Luke 8:4–8, Luke 8:12–15
The Discipleship Journey
Grace Community Church
June 26, 2022
Growing as Disciples of Jesus
Thank Brad and Joel for stepping in last minute last week!
Let’s turn to Luke 8. This will be the final message in the series The Discipleship Journey, but it’s definitely not the end of our journey as we will be seeking ways to do discipleship more effectively as a church. Discipleship is a journey that begins when we hear Jesus say “follow me” and we say yes. As a church community we want to help one another take that “next step” in our discipleship journey.
There’s a tree in our neighbor’s back yard (which abuts our back yard) and sometime between last year and this year it died. Right next to it is a tree that is very much alive. They are in the same soil. They are about the same size. Both are hubs of activity as birds and squirrels scurry about in their branches. But one tree is green with leaves and the other tree is barren of leaves. Not a single leaf on it.
Life produces growth. Living things grow. In Luke 8 Jesus tells a familiar parable and the main point of the parable is about growth…and lack of it. Let’s read beginning in verse 4
4 And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable, 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6 And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. 8 And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Luke 8:4-8
Jesus tells a parable about a farmer with a seedbag tied to his waist, who goes about sowing seed. Some of the seed falls on hardened paths where the traffic of people constantly walking on it has so packed the ground that the seed just sits on the surface and cannot penetrate. Other seed falls on shallow ground. In Israel there are many places where a thin layer of soil covers a bedrock of limestone. The seed bursts forth in life, but has no root and quickly dies when the sun heats up. The third seed falls among thorns which grow up and choke out the seed so it bears no fruit. Finally some of the seed falls on good ground and grows and thrives and bears a hundredfold fruit.
The seed is the same. The soil the seed falls into is different. Jesus says, he who has ears to hear, let him hear. His closest disciples come to him later and ask him to explain the parable to them. Jesus explains that the seed is the word of God, full of all the life and potential that is contained in the word of God! Then he describes four hearts – four soils – that have different responses to the word of God.
- The hardened heart produces no growth
The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Vs. 12
This is the heart that is so hard the seed cannot penetrate or germinate. The seed just sits on the surface – but not for long. The devil snatches the seed away “so that they may not believe and be saved.” A person with a chronically hard heart will not become a Christian.
The hope for a hard-hearted person is that they plow up the hardened ground so that it is soft and receptive to God’s word once again. Unless that happens, the hard heart produces no spiritual growth – all the life-giving potential of God’s word sits dormant and untapped to the hard heart.
- The shallow heart produces quick growth that doesn’t last
13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. Vs. 13
This is the person who receives God’s word with a burst of joy, but the word never takes root deep in their heart.
As I was preparing to fertilize my lawn this spring, I was all set to fertilize in early April, thinking the sooner I can give nourishment to the lawn after a hard winter the better. Then I read something that made me hold off a few weeks. If you fertilize your lawn too early in the spring, what happens is all that nourishment goes into the grass blades making the lawn look lush and green. But because the grass blades are getting all the nourishment they need quickly and easily, they don’t need to work to push their roots down deep to draw up needed nourishment. All its energy is spent going upward to the blade instead of downward to the roots.
That’s what Jesus says happens here. Explosive growth upward, little or no growth downward in the roots. So when the heat of trials come, they wither away because they have no root. God cares more about the depth of our roots than the height of our fruits. When hard times come, our roots need to go deep into Christ to get us through. Slow, steady, growth nourished by deep roots is better than explosive growth and shallow roots.
- The cluttered heart chokes out growth
And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. Vs. 14
I used to think this also described someone who isn’t a Christian but I have changed my mind. I think this describes the stunted growth that far too many Christians experience today as our hearts are cluttered with the worries and pleasures and riches of the world. Notice that worry can choke good fruit out as effectively as greed for riches. These are thorns that suck so much of our attention and affection that the word bears little or no fruit in our lives.
Their fruit does not mature. At best this believer barely gets by. Think of the farmer whose crop is so choked and overwhelmed by weeds that when it’s time to reap, there’s little fruit to be reaped.
When our lives are choked by worry and worldly cares, the best antidote isn’t to go on a “weed-killing”
rampage – it’s to cultivate healthy spiritual growth. We’ll talk about how in a moment.
But I’m trying a new strategy for our lawn this year: in years past I’ve focused on killing the weeds – to the point where I’ve killed whole sections of the lawn to get rid of the weeds. This year I’m focusing on strengthening the grass, believing that a strong and healthy lawn is the best antidote to weeds.
The same is true with our physical health: the best road to health is to do things that promote health: things like boosting our immune system, eating healthy, regular exercise, proper amount of sleep, etc. Sometimes we have to take steps to address illness but we won’t get truly healthy if we’re putting 100% of our focus on getting rid of sickness.
The answer to all these distractions isn’t spending all our time weeding. We do need to do some weeding, but the answer is to grow. Grow in Christ. That brings us to the fourth ground.
- The good and honest heart produces good and slow growth
As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. Vs. 15
This is what Jesus wants for our lives. He wants us to thrive in our walk with God and to help others thrive in their faith too. You know what fruit does? It reproduces itself. Jesus wants our lives not only to be strong in Christ, he wants us to impact other’s lives positively so those who don’t know Jesus come to faith in him, and those who do know Jesus grow stronger in their faith through the fruit of our lives.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
What does that mean? Everyone in the crowd heard Jesus. But did they? All four people in this parable heard the word, but did they?
I got a letter from Chip Ingraham this week that asked what I thought the most urgent need in the church today was. It went on to say the #1 need in the church today isn’t revival or unity, missions focus, bible literacy, or cultural relevancy. The #1 need is for discipleship. Christians aren’t being discipled. Ingraham writes that without discipleship,
- Pastors look the part and preach lively sermons only to burn out and renounce the faith
- Parents never reflect Christ to their children and therefore raise unbelievers
- Children pray to accept Christ but walk away from their faith once they leave home
- Converts never crack open a Bible, find a home church, or bear spiritual fruit.
- Churches don’t grow in spiritual maturity and don’t have much of an impact for the gospel in the world
In other words, the church might look big, it might be a hub of activity, but if there isn’t life, if there isn’t fruit, it’s dead, like that tree in our neighbor’s back yard.
More than ever we live in dangerous spiritual times. I’m not an alarmist, but I’m seeing believers that looked so alive – so full of fruit, so large and strong and healthy, and then suddenly, the tree is stripped bare and there’s no spiritual life.
I’m seeing marriages that you’d have never thought would end in divorce, and then one or both spouses harden their hearts, probably slowly, gradually, over time, and suddenly it’s over. 20, 30 years of marriage end in divorce.
This is not a day to be a weak, barely believing Christian. We need to grow. We need to be discipled and we need to disciple others. As a church family we really need to be serious about helping one another take the next step in our discipleship journey. Anything less than that isn’t loving.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
- Hear God’s word by reading God’s word
I have said many times that knowing God’s word doesn’t equal spiritual maturity, but we won’t mature without knowing God’s word. The seed doesn’t guarantee growth, but without the seed there definitely won’t be growth.
Nothing will take the place of daily bible reading. If you don’t read the Bible consistently pretty much every day, you will not grow. Spend time each day feeding your soul with the word of God, meditating on the word of God, and allowing the word of God to speak to you. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
But, everyone in this situation is hearing. So what else does Jesus mean?
- Hear God’s word by doing God’s word
When Jesus says they hold the word fast in good and honest hearts, he’s talking about applying God’s word to our lives. Doing what the Bible says. James urges us not to be hearers only but doers also.
Growth is the opposite of stagnation. Growth means change and maturing and fruit-bearing. Growth comes at the intersection of application and action. The power of God’s word is activated when we do what it says!
God’s word challenges us to change. It challenges the unbeliever to believe. It challenges the hard heart to plow that fallow ground up. It challenges the sinner to repent. It challenges the unloving to love, the unforgiving to forgive, the worrier to trust God. God’s word loving challenges us to change.
The change challenge is that growth comes from taking even small steps to progress in our faith. Growth is so often the product of God’s word speaking a word of change to us – a “do” – and our obeying it. And then God meets us as we step out to obey with His great grace. Here’s the thing: when we hear God’s word challenge us to change, our first reaction might be to challenge the change.
- I can’t love this person because…
- I can’t forgive that person because…
- I can’t stop worrying because…
- I can’t give generously because…
- I can’t serve because…
- I can’t obey God’s word because…
And we give excuses. If we’re theologically savvy, we get all reformed and say I can’t obey God in my own strength. It’s got to be God; it’s got to be grace. I totally agree with that! But the Bible never uses our need for God to paralyze us from obeying God, instead it assures us we have the power of the Holy Spirit working in us enabling and empowering us to obey. We are saved by Christ and Christ alone, but our growth as disciples is a cooperative work between His Spirit and our obedience.
As we trust and obey, God works in us to help us grow.
- Let’s be patient with slow growth in ourselves and others
Jesus says the good soil bears fruit with patience. You only need patience when something happens slowly. The parable shows us this: seed doesn’t sprout up overnight, crops don’t grow overnight. It takes work and time and patience.
I’ve noticed something that I need to be careful about. I can have an area in my life where I’m not growing as much or as quickly as I should be, and I can give myself grace for that. And then turn around and be impatient with someone else for the same slow growth in their life.
God’s word has all the potential in the world for producing life and salvation and joy and peace and good fruit in our lives and through our lives. Let’s embrace God’s word by reading it, obeying it, and patiently cultivating fruit. Healthy, lasting growth is more important than fast, short-lived growth.