Thorns, Thistles and Withered Plants
March 28, 2012, 1:44 pm
Filed under: Law/Gospel Distinction, Lordship Salvation

written by David Bishop

Hebrews 6:1
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and 
holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.  Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. 10 For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. 11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

Hebrews 6:7-10 is one of those passages that some people quote out of context and then use to argue that a change of ethical behavior is a necessary indicator of whether one’s faith is genuine.   But the passage does not begin at verse 7.   It begins at verse 1.

Let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, says the writer, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God. 

Obvious conclusion is that he did indeed find himself having to go over these elementary doctrines again and again with some of the folks to whom he was writing.   Why should that be though?  Obvious answer too.   Because they were the sort who just simply did not “get it.”

You know what I mean when I say “get it”, right? You know those people. You’ve explained the gospel to them already who knows how many times.   And at first it seems they understand and accept it, but you see them again two weeks later and they’re right back to examining themselves by their works.   The gospel just doesn’t sink in.   You explain to them and explain to them and explain to them the gospel of grace, but they just don’t get it.   They blaze brightly for a moment or two, but then flicker out.

The result of such flickering is that such people never get around to preaching the gospel properly.   They may preach something, and they may even build churches and preach from pulpits and draw numbers of people every Sunday, but their preaching and church building is just so much thorns and thistles.   None of God’s elect are ever brought to faith in Christ by this preaching.   Rather than producing a crop that is useful to the ones for whom it is cultivated (the elect), all they ever produce instead are more thorns and thistles for the lost.

The same idea is present in Matthew 13, in what is known as the Parable of the Sower.   The title is actually a misnomer.  The parable is really about the soil, for that is the only thing in the story that changes.  All the same, in Matthew 13, verses 5-8, we read this:

Matthew 13: 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.

Later, Christ explains the meaning of the parable to His disciples; saying to them in verses 20 and 21:

20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.

There are any variety of reasons for why they have no root.  The fact remains however, that they have none.  They receive with joy the message of Christ’s established righteousness imputed to His elect by grace, but two weeks later they turn right around and assure us that a change in ethical behavior is evidence  that our faith is genuine. Maybe the trouble and persecution comes from within their family, or from within their group of friends. Maybe they’re troubled by the fact that their family and friends are lost.   Or maybe they’re just troubled by the trouble that generally follows true conversion.  Whatever the reason, for such people there is only a stern warning.   It is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.

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