By David A. Huston
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain.”-John 15:16
Every person Jesus saves is appointed to bear fruit. For this to happen, however, a person must grow to a minimum level of maturity. Immature plants do not produce fruit. In the context of this chapter, we can think of the fruit as being the spiritual qualities that mark a person as being Christ-like. Jesus once told His followers a very important story which has come to be called the parable of the sower.
A parable acts as a window enabling us to see into the otherwise invisible spiritual realm. In this story about farming, Jesus has revealed some extremely important information about the heart of man information that would otherwise be unknowable. The theme of this parable is the growth process. The seed, representing the Word of God, was deposited in four types of soil, each representing a condition of the human heart. Clearly, the purpose of sowing the seed was that fruit would be produced. Though the quantity of fruit may have varied from person to person, the purpose was the same in each situation fruitfulness.
Still, three of the four types of ground Jesus described failed to develop sufficiently to produce fruit. Why? What is it that hinders some in their quest for transformation into the image of Christ? The parable is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, each account providing slightly different information. By placing all three accounts side-by-side, we find that Jesus described seven factors that affect the growth of the seed in the hearts of those who hear it:
1. Hardness of heart
2. The cares of this world
3. The deceitfulness of riches
4. The desire for things
5. The pleasures of life
6. A lack of spiritual depth
7. Good ground
The “Good Ground”
The last factor Jesus described is the ideal, and it reveals the receptive soil that God desires to find in every human heart. He described it this way: “But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:23). Luke’s account adds: “Having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15).
The “good ground” represents the noble and good heart of the person who hears the Word, understands the Word, and keeps the Word, all significant factors in fruitfulness. James warned that the man who hears the Word but does not obey it deceives himself. It remains a common deception today that whether or not a man obeys God is optional. It is not. James therefore admonished: “Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).
According to Solomon, keeping the commandments of God is the “whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13, KJV). But the deceived person either doesn’t know or doesn’t care what he is responsible for. The man with a noble and good heart, however, accepts his responsibility for possessing the Word and bringing forth fruit. Keeping, or embracing, the Word is what maintains the flow of spiritual nutrients from God, which enables the production of fruit. Without the nutrients there can be no fruit.
The psalmist wrote: “You have commanded us to keep your precepts diligently” (Psalm 119:4). “Good ground” is well-tended and protected. The property limits are clearly defined. Property with poorly defined boundaries is usually not cared for very well. It therefore fails to bear fruit. The lines, limitations, and boundaries established by the Word of God prevent the spiritual nutrients from being lost and direct them down to where they can produce life.
A person who accepts his responsibilities in the Word has a system through which the nutrients can be received and retained. Paul affirmed that the Word “effectively works in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13). “Good ground” is a heart that takes responsibility for its condition. It is one that is carefully guarded. It is tender, yielded, and open to the Word. The Bible says of Lydia: “The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 16:14). Clearly, this woman’s heart was “good ground.”
Key thought #4: “Good ground” is a heart that takes responsibility for its condition. It is one that is carefully guarded. It is tender, yielded and open to the world.
This does not mean that a person with “good ground” will never have a struggle obeying God and serving Him. Everyone must overcome the resistance of what the Bible calls “the flesh” in submitting to the will of God. We would all rather do whatever we want to do, irrespective of the will of God. But despite these struggles, the man of “good ground” will persevere, for the desire of his heart for God compels him to continue coming to Jesus for the grace to be faithful.
To such a man, failure is not an opportunity to accuse God or justify his disobedience. It is a learning experience, a time to receive the mercy and restorative power of the Savior and to continue following Him. The goodness in those with the “good ground” is not their own. The Bible clearly teaches that “no one is good but One, that is, God” (Matthew 19:17). These are the words of Christ Himself. He went on to say, “But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
In other words, none of us has “good ground” inherently within us. All we can do is yield ourselves to the One who is good, God Himself, and allow Him to bring forth good fruit. Our responsibility is to continually cultivate the soil of our hearts by striving to obey His commandments. Furthermore, not one of us has a heart that is entirely good. But the struggles we face in conforming every area of our lives to God’s Word break up the hard places of our hearts and gradually allow the “good ground” to prevail. Paul put it this way: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). We must work at being obedient because it is God Himself giving us the desire and the ability to do so. To resist His workings in us is to frustrate the grace He has given us (see Galatians 2:21).
The richest soil is produced by mixing it with formerly living things, such as scraps of vegetables or animal dung. This creates what is called “humus.” Paul wrote to the Romans, “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:11). The pathway to a fruitful life in Christ will be littered with many deaths of the flesh as we turn our backs on sin and pursue the righteousness of God. Everyone has the potential for “good ground.”
The factor that will determine who is ultimately fruitful will be the diligence with which each person seeks to know the Savior and obey His commandments. Seeking God supplies the water and the light, while obeying God supplies the richness of soil brought about by our dying to sin. The process of becoming a fruitful believer is an agonizing struggle for some, especially for those who have come to God in bondage to strong external influences such as tobacco, alcohol, drugs, or strong lusts of the flesh.
The abuse of these substances and the constant yielding to lust are often strengthened by hindering demonic spirits, who flood the minds of believers with such a persistent barrage of tempting thoughts that the person may feel absolutely helpless to stop what he has been doing. For this reason, a person with an otherwise submissive heart may need the help of prayerful believers in order to break free from such external influences.
Addictions are actually relationships with created things or activities that substitute for a relationship with God. They are idolatry. To gain and maintain his deliverance from these unhealthy and ungodly habits, a person must meet the following conditions:
1. He must see his behavior as sin, not as just a bad habit.
2. He must recognize that if he continues to practice this sin, it may result in his loss of salvation.
3. He must have a strong desire to be free from it.
4. He must recognize that he chooses to do these things and must commit to choosing not to do them any longer.
5. He must want to be free, not just so he can feel better, but so he can better serve the Lord.
6. He must believe that regardless of how severe his bondage may seem to be, Jesus Christ is able to give him deliverance.
The fact that a person finds himself deeply involved in sin or bound with demonic forces does not preclude his becoming “good ground” that brings forth fruit. The ministry of the Word, however, can only reach its full effectiveness if men and women are free from the spiritual forces that hinder them from obeying what is taught. For this reason, authority over unclean spirits is part of the arsenal that God has provided for the sons of oil. Jesus said, “Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy” (Luke 10:19).
Paul demonstrated the use of this authority when he said to the spirit who had tormented a young maiden, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her” (Acts 16:18).
The sons of oil should be prepared to pray with confidence for the deliverance of those to whom they minister. They should exercise their authority with boldness, commanding the spirits to depart and to cease from hindering the person whom God loves. They should pray fervently (with enthusiasm) and effectively (with purpose). According to James, this kind of praying “avails much” (James 5:16).
Before praying for a person bound with spirits, ministering Christians should do their best to ascertain whether or not the person meets the conditions outlined above. They may interview him with such questions as, “Do you believe this is a sin and will cause you to be lost if you don’t stop?” By this, you do not mean to convey the sense that the person cannot be saved. God is very patient with our struggles, as long as our heart’s desire is to do what is right. We only run into a problem with God when we love our sins and don’t really want to give them up.
If a person willingly confesses his sin and expresses a strong desire to be free from it, yet in spite of prayer cannot cease, one of two things is wrong: either he has no faith that God is able to help him, or, more likely, he doesn’t see his addiction as sin. He fails to appreciate that by continuing his relationship with the addictive substance he is placing severe limitations on his relationship with God, the only One who can deliver him.
Ministers must keep in mind that a person’s confession is not always in accordance with his heart. In Hosea 7:14, the Lord laments, “They did not cry out to Me with their heart.” Some today cry out to the Lord, but not with their hearts. God is not deceived, however; He knows the heart of every man and woman and will not act on the basis of a false or deceptive confession. The sons of oil must be prepared to acknowledge in their own hearts that when a person does not receive the needed deliverance, the problem is not with God; the problem is in the heart of the person, regardless of how sincere he or she may appear to be on the surface.
In contrast to the “good ground” is “the wayside.” Jesus described this type of heart by saying, “Some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them” (Matthew 13:4). He later explained what this meant: “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart, This is he who received seed by the wayside” (Matthew 13:19).
The people Jesus is describing here have never believed and never received salvation (see Luke 8:12). They are blind to the truth and are unwilling to repent and obey the Gospel, that they might see. Two things need to happen in such people: first, the hard ground of their hearts needs to be broken up; and secondly, they need to have additional seed sown. The role of the sons of oil is to sow that seed.
As long as such people are open to receiving instruction, someone ought to continue to sow the Word in them, in hopes that it will somehow find a crack in the hardness and take root. It is then God’s part to break up the ground in the manner He chooses.
The only way that blindness can be taken away is through the obedience of repentance. Concerning his ministry to people whose minds were blinded and whose hearts were covered with a veil, Paul wrote, “We use great boldness of speech” (2 Corinthians 3:12).
This bold speech was the only hope for those who were lost in spiritual blindness. Paul’s goal was that they repent, as he also wrote, “Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (verse 16). Once a heart is changed by turning to the Lord and being cleansed and filled with His Spirit, the wicked one has no power to keep the seed from taking root and bringing forth fruit.
According to Paul, those who are blind to the Gospel have been taken captive by Satan and are actually opposing their own salvation. In explaining how to treat such people, he wrote, “Be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil” (2 Timothy 2:24-26). The sons of oil are not responsible for assessing whether or not a particular individual is salvageable; they are instructed to simply love and teach and wait patiently for God’s determination.
Key Thought #5: The sons of oil are not responsible for assessing whether or not a particular individual is salvageable; they are instructed to simply love and teach and wait patiently for God’s determination.
The “Thorny Ground”
Between the “good ground” and “the wayside” are two other types of ground. Jesus described one of them this way: “He who received 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” (Matthew 13:22). In Mark’s version of this parable, “the desires for other things” is added (Mark 4:19). Luke’s version adds the “pleasures of life” (Luke 8:14). These four “thorns” result in a fruitless and ultimately useless Christian life.
The “thorny ground” is a heart that has received the seed of the Word, but because the thorns are left to grow as well, they eventually choke out all spiritual life. The Greek word translated “choke” means “to strangle completely; to crowd out.” In other words, the self-centered desires are never overcome.
The believer lives for the Lord for a while, but eventually, concerns such as how he can make more money, how he can obtain more material possessions, or how he can experience more pleasures in life begin to crowd out concerns for the Kingdom of God. It doesn’t have to be this way, but the believer allows it to happen. He refuses to heed the Lord’s admonitions, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow” (Matthew 6:34), and “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).
Who or what a person is serving is manifested by how he spends his time. Does he spend more time studying the Bible or watching videos? Does he spend more time praying or trying to figure out how to make more money? How we spend our time is a choice. Everyone has twenty-four hours in each day, and we all have the power to choose what we will do with that allotted time. The idea that some people don’t have time to pray or to study the Word is nothing more than an excuse for half-heartedness. People can always find time to do what they really want to do. Those who fail to spend quality time seeking God are simply revealing that their hearts are filled with thorns.
Key Thought #6: A person reveals the God he is serving by how he spends his time.
Once a person reaches the place where the thorns have begun to choke the Word out of his life, the only thing left for the sons of oil to do is to encourage the believer to honestly acknowledge his condition and repent. We must help the person to see that his life is out of balance and that he must immediately begin giving more attention to his relationship with the Lord.
The problem with most people in this condition is that they are so controlled by the thorns that they feel helpless to change. They need to understand that they are, in fact, unwilling to change. Demas must have been such a person. At one time he was one of Paul’s closest companions; yet Paul wrote, ”Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10).
John wrote that if anyone loves the world and the things that are in it, “the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). Those who have God’s love seek to give, while those who love the world seek to get. The transformation process begins with the forsaking of the world and the renewing of the mind.
This renewing begins when the seed of the Word is implanted in the heart. But if the lustful thorns of worldliness and pleasure-seeking are never rooted out, eventually, whether it takes two months, two years, or twenty years, those worldly influences will choke out the Word of God and cause the believer to wither and die spiritually.
Paul described the “end” of those who allow themselves to be overcome by thorns: “For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned” (Hebrews 6:7-8).
Before examining the last type of ground Jesus described, let us take time to look at another type of person found in many local assemblies. These people are not saved and never have been; yet they act as though they are part of the Body of Christ. They are the tares that Jesus spoke of in the parable that follows the parable of the sower. In this parable He said, “But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way” (Matthew 13:25). The enemy was the devil, and the tares were “the sons of the wicked one” (verse 38). These tares grew up right alongside the sons of the Kingdom.
When asked if they should be gathered up, the householder said, “No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them” (verse 29). These verses reveal that there will always be some children of the devil in our local assemblies, and in most cases, the Lord wants those serving in oversight to simply allow them to remain where they are. But why would this be? First of all, it is because some honest believers would be destroyed if the church attempted to remove everyone who was not actually saved. Rather than casting people out of the local assemblies, Paul taught that the true believers should simply take note of those who cause division or conduct themselves in an improper, unchristian manner and “avoid” them (Romans 16:17).
Paul told Timothy that in a “great house,” there are some vessels “for honor” and some “for dishonor” (2 Timothy 2:20). The vessels of honor are “sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work” (verse 21). He discussed this same situation when he wrote, “I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you” (1 Corinthians 11:18-19). Light is most conspicuous in darkness; therefore, God always allows some darkness to dwell among His people, that the light may be even more conspicuous.
The end awaiting these tares, however, is destruction. Jesus concluded this parable by saying, “The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire” (Matthew 13:41-42).
He was speaking of these same people when He said, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. …. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:19, 21). Ultimately, the test of every professing believer’s relationship with God will be his obedience to God’s will. In the day of judgment, our actions will either confirm or discredit our words.
Key Thought #7: Ultimately, the test of every professing believer’s relationship with God will be his obedience to God’s will.
The sons of oil should realize that it is not their place to go around making superficial judgments as to who is truly born of God and who is not. They must be kind to all and do their best to help all who are under their care to learn and grow. But they should also not allow themselves to get overly frustrated, trying to transform professing Christians who stubbornly refuse to do the will of God.
Any Christian can inadvertently commit sin on occasion, but John wrote that the child of the devil is he who “does not practice righteousness” and “does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). The verbs in this verse are present participles, which indicate that John was not speaking of those who occasionally fall, but rather of those who live a sinful, self-centered lifestyle. How then can we differentiate between those who have simply fallen and those who are willfully continuing in sin? Just be patient. Time will tell.
The Stony Ground
The final type of ground, or condition of the heart, is what Jesus described as “stony ground.” He said, “But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles” (Matthew 13:20-21). This is the condition we want to discuss at some length because it is the one that the sons of oil can most greatly affect with their intervention.
What are these “stones” that prevent a person from ever developing depth in his or her relationship with Jesus Christ? Simply stated, a stone is a grudge, a hardened, angry, disobedient area within a person’s heart. It doesn’t really matter who these grudges are against. The unfortunate fact is this: Grudges prevent a person from getting closer to God. They limit the relationship to a superficial level. Furthermore, grudges may eventually contaminate every area of a person’s life.
A grudge, once it has settled deep within a person’s heart, will produce what the Bible calls a “stronghold.” Paul wrote, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2Corinthians 10:4-5). Let’s examine each of the key words used in this important passage.
Key Thought #8: Simply stated, a stone is a grudge a hardened, angry, disobedient area within a person’s heart.
The literal meaning of the word translated “stronghold” is “a walled city or fortress.” In ancient times, cities were built with walls around them to provide a defense against those who would attack the inhabitants of the place. Paul, however, applied the word “stronghold” to areas within the human heart. His use of this word suggests the idea of being in a defensive position. Some would call it a “defense mechanism.”
Defensiveness is not necessarily a negative thing, for it is God who has created within us the ability to defend our hearts. We must defend ourselves against false doctrines and wrong attitudes and against our adversary, the devil, the accuser of the brethren. Solomon advised, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23). In the original Hebrew, the word “keep” means “to guard, to protect, or to defend against.” Since our lives are lived based on the contents of our hearts, we must be careful as to what we allow in them.
Problems begin when, due to hurt and unforgiveness, we become defensive with God. The strongholds of our hearts then become compulsive efforts to defend our selfish desires and strike back at those whom we perceive to have wronged us, including the One who died for us.
Key Thought #9: Strongholds become compulsive efforts to strike back at those whom we perceive to have wronged us, including the one who died for us.
It is important to understand how strongholds operate. When a person feels threatened, these inappropriate defense mechanisms go into action, seemingly automatically, in an attempt to protect the person from mental or emotional anguish. Such defenses frequently operate totally apart from reason and fortify the human condition called “pride,” which is the compulsive effort to exalt oneself in one’s own eyes, even if this self-exaltation takes the form of “self-pity”
Most people know without ever being taught that the best defense is often a good offense. For this reason, strongholds are often manifested as offenses. If a person cannot defend himself from the one trying to hurt him (or the one he perceives as trying to hurt him), he can become offended at the person and accomplish the same results.
These strongholds are buried deep within a person’s innermost being and become part of his belief system. They rest upon the foundation of destructive fear, which is the product of pain, unforgiveness, and guilt. But the only reason pain is able to produce unforgiveness, which always produces guilt, is because a person’s belief system is distorted. He or she has an inaccurate and incomplete knowledge of Jesus Christ. Any person who does not really know God will almost always perceive pain as evidence that God is cruel.
Therefore, he judges rather than forgives, which results in guilt. Guilt is the innate knowledge of God’s judgment on sin. Strongholds attempt to exonerate a person from judgment by blaming God. They reason, “If God is really good, then why am I hurting?” This is pride: putting oneself above God. The truth is, God has a good purpose in the pain we all suffer.
Key Thought # 10: God has a good purpose in the pain we all suffer.
The word translated “arguments” means “a reasoning or the contemplation of action.” When the motive of reasoning is protecting oneself from pain and justifying one’s anger (rather than an honest desire to know truth), the reasoning becomes rationalizing. This means that it becomes an effort to deflect attention away from the real issue, one’s own disobedience to God. It is an effort to keep “self” on the throne of one’s life.
The dictionary defines “rationalizing” as: “to devise superficially rational, or plausible, explanations or excuses for one’s acts, beliefs, desires, etc., usually without being aware that these are not the real motives.” In other words, rationalizations are never completely true, and those who rationalize are usually unaware of what they are doing. God desires “truth in the inward parts,” but strongholds and arguments exalt themselves “against the knowledge of God” (Psalm 51:6 and 2 Corinthians 10:5). Since the goal of every believer is to increase in the knowledge of God, Paul says that strongholds must be “punted] down.”
The terms “pull down” and “cast down” are both translations of the same Greek word, which means “to pull down by force or to destroy” This word is used in Acts 13:19 to refer to God’s destruction of the pagan nations dwelling in the Promised Land. These nations lived in walled cities, but the armies of Israel overtook them by pulling down their defenses and routing them in the battles that ensued. This left the Israelites free to serve God without the hindrance of competing forces. It also enabled God to reign in Israel as the sovereign Lord. This must also happen in the heart of every believer. The reason the Israelites were successful was that God was with them. The battle was His.
The word translated “thought” refers to “that which has been thought out.” It suggests that a purpose or device has been decided upon. In this context, thoughts are the result of rationalizing. They are the rationalizations themselves. They are the conclusions that lead directly to words or actions. Paul wrote that every thought must be brought into captivity “to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
What was the obedience of Christ? It was that even though He was God, He did not defend Himself against the attacks against Him. He did not put up a wall to protect Himself from pain. He refused to strike back at those who struck at Him. In a prophecy describing the sufferings of Christ, the Bible says, “You have brought his strongholds to ruin” (Psalm 89:40).
In Jesus Christ, the Mighty Creator God made Himself completely vulnerable to His creation. All His defenses were pulled down. He made Himself “of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant,” being “obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7-8). This is what the Scriptures mean by the obedience of Christ. Most of us don’t think in that same way. Our fear of pain inhibits us from making ourselves vulnerable to others.
Key Thought #11: Our fear of pain inhibits us from making ourselves vulnerable to others.
Transformation into the image of Jesus Christ requires a renewal of the way a person thinks, but a believer’s mind cannot be fully renewed until his heart has been cleansed of all grudges and his conscience cleared of guilt. Any person with an offended conscience seeks to justify himself rather than seeking the justification God provides through faith. This is dishonesty, both with God and with self. It is a denial of responsibility for one’s own sins. It results in distorted reasoning, which hinders growth in the knowledge of God. The sons of oil can help remove these stones so that believers can become fruitful Christians.
Key Thought #12: A believer’s mind cannot be fully renewed until his heart has been cleansed of all grudges and his conscience cleared of guilt.
Ministers should keep in mind that these offending stones dwell within the heart of man, not in the conscious mind. This is why Paul wrote, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:23). The spirit of the mind is deeper within us than the conscious mind. For this reason, most people are not consciously aware that they are bound by inner strongholds. But Paul says, “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal [they did not originate in the mind of humanity] but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4).
The sons of oil are involved in warfare against stony ground, against the unspiritual, self-justifying reasoning’s of believers that compete in their minds against the knowledge of God. We must not, however, attempt to remove these stones through carnal methods such as psychology or psychotherapy. We must rely only on the golden oil. And let us remember that we are the conduits of healing, not the healer, the sons of oil, not the oil itself. Apart from Jesus we can do nothing!
As ministering Christians, we must learn how to pour out this healing oil, using the spiritual “weapons” that God has made available to us. This will require a thorough understanding of God’s Word and a continuous pursuit of God Himself. Ultimately, the key to effective ministry will be recognizing the voice of the Lord as He directs our words and actions. This is the basis of all true ministries. The words which we minister must act as conveyors of His Spirit, His life, His healing virtue.
This article was taken from “The Sons of Oil” By David A. Huston