V. We Reap The Full Harvest Of The Good Only If We Persevere: The Evil Comes To Harvest On Its Own
(verses 6,9,10; cf. Gal. 6:9; Heb. 12:1-3; Rom. 5:3-4; Ps. 37:7; Heb. 10:32-36)
We have come to point 5 in your outline, and this is a very important part of harvest. You will not reap if you do not persevere. Perseverance implies that there are difficulties and that we are tempted to quit from time to time, and that is exactly what Paul says here. Verse 9 says, And let us not grow weary while doing good. The last phrase says, if we do not lose heart. OK? You are not giving up. This is a call to perseverance. And so, in a nutshell point 5 says, “We reap the full harvest of the good only if we persevere. The evil comes to harvest on its own.”
Now let me begin with a question: If we have planted the seeds of righteousness, what is it that we need to persevere in in order to gain the harvest? Just as an example, a once saved always saved person might object that the seed is already in the ground, and God is the only one who can give the increase. There is nothing for us to persevere in. But anyone who is a farmer knows that it doesn’t stop with planting. If you just leave the garden after you have planted, you will find a jungle of weeds, but not very much produce. And it takes perseverance to deal with the weeds, to fertilize to water, to detassle, etc. Those all deal with the perseverance of a farmer.
There are several times in my life when my task seemed to be a hopeless task that I couldn’t persevere in. One of them was when I was a kid not much older than Elizabeth. We were living on Durami station out in Ethiopia, Africa. And everything that we ate we had to grow. So we had huge gardens. I remember shelling beans and stripping the corn off corn cobs by the hour. And that wasn’t so bad because I had other people with me to keep me company. So the time went fairly fast. And (just as a side note) I think there is a lesson to be learned from that. Hebrews exhorts us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together as is the habit of some, but to gather together and to exhort one another. It is easier to persevere in the Christian faith when we can hold each other accountable, encourage, support, pray with and ask questions of each other. It just helps. That’s one of the reasons for home groups and fellowships and hospitality.
But anyway, back to my story — I remember my father giving me a hoe one hot day and sending me to the garden to hoe the weeds. And that garden in my mind seemed to stretch out to the horizon. If there was any definition of infinity that would have captured my young mind, it would have been how long it would take me to finish this garden. It just seemed so huge that it was impossible. I lost all heart and just started crying standing in front of the garden. It was too much. Well, my dad wasn’t one to let me give up that easily. He showed me how to focus on one task at a time and not worry about whether I would be able to finish the whole. He told me that after an hour I could show him the progress I had made, and I should focus on that progress. And that helped. But the Christian life is definitely a life that is a call to perseverance.
And sometimes Christians are like me as that young boy. We look at the task of conquering our anger, our lusts, our thought life, our poor relationship skills, and communications skills, etc., etc., etc. and we just feel like giving up. Why don’t you turn with me to Mark 4? We might think, “I’ve become a Christian and I pray and go to church. Why do I have to weed. I’m just not going to worry about it.” And what happens? We discover that nothing stands still. Weeds grow all on their own. You don’t have to work at that. Any of you who are gardeners know exactly what I am talking about. It’s not enough to put on a new behavior. We also have to put off old habits. And its not enough to weed. We also have to plant. Farmers are busy from spring through fall in weeding, fertilizing, watering, and cultivating.
Anyway, look at Mark 4:7,18-19
Mark 4:7 “And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. [Go down to verses 18-19]
Mark 4:18 “Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word,
Mark 4:19 “and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.
Christ likened three things to weeds. Here are the three things we need to persevere in taking out of our life: first, the cares of the world. It is easy to get ourselves so busy with life that we don’t have time for the Word. Let me assure you that we must be able to spend regular time with God or the Word will get choked out. Don’t allow the tyranny of the urgent to crowd out the important. Just like weeds, the cares of the world will choke everything out if you don’t continually nip them in the bud. Don’t life happen. You take dominion.
The second thing that needs to be weeded is the deceitfulness of riches. Riches become deceitful when they give us false promise of security, fulfillment, happiness and satisfaction. Only God can give that. And yet the temptation continually is to think we cannot be secure if we don’t have x amount of dollars. Or that can’t be fulfilled or satisfied or happy. If you need even one more thing in order to enjoy God and to grow in your Christian walk now, then you will still need one more thing when you are rich. That is the deceitfulness of riches. Notice that he didn’t say riches are the weed. My O my. Riches are not the weed. They are a tool. They are a blessing. It is the deceitfulness of riches that chokes out the word. If you are not taken in by riches; if they are not an idol; if you have learned with Paul to be content in whatever circumstances you find yourself in, then the riches are an asset. So don’t weed riches out of your life. Weed out any deceitfulness that they might bring to you.
The third thing that Jesus said that we must weed out is the desires for other things. This is called coveting or envy. You must be ruthless with this horrible weed because this weed demands more and more and more that your spiritual soil until it is sucked dry and you are not able to function.
Obviously we should weed out all sin, but these are big ones. So we need to persevere in weeding.
The next thing that we need to persevere in is watering. We continually need the Spirit in our lives or we will dry up and lose the harvest. It is so easy to coast in our own strength and to not water all our fields (even your financial fields) with the Holy Spirit’s presence and power. Pray every day to be filled with the Spirit and get rid of any things that grieve the Spirit of God. It is not automatic. We must persevere in being dependent upon Him.
Another area of perseverance between planting and harvest is fertilizing. I like to think of the fertilizer as the various conditions that God puts on getting a harvest. And if you look at Deuteronomy 28 you will see that there are conditions to blessing, such as obedience to God’s law, humility, quickness to repent, submission to authority, etc., etc.. There is no condition to salvation, but there are conditions to blessings and rewards. 2 John 1:8 says, “Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward.” He is saying that when we don’t persevere, it is possible to lose some of the potential reward. Is that a violation of grace? No. Grace produces the works needed to receive the rewards. Another way of saying it is is that we persevere only because God preserves us. But there is no getting around this law. If we don’t put the work in, we will have a poor return at harvest time.
Now here is what happens when people get started on counseling or they get started on their own in overcoming a problem. They get all enthusiastic and excited for a time – you know, sort of like with a New Year’s resolution. And they will work hard at overcoming their sin or putting on a new righteous habit. And they slog it out for three or four days and then fall because it is so hard to quit this sin. And after experiencing several falls, they forget about how wonderful the harvest will be. They forget about the principle of compounded growth over time. They forget about the other encouraging principles that we have looked at. All they can think about is how hot the sun is and how much they want to give up. This perseverance is the oil in the machinery. It is the thing that holds all the principles together.
Let me try to illustrate it this way. Just pretend that I was a millionaire who could afford to pay you extremely high wages, and I thought you were so good that you were worth the high wages. I was really in a generous mood and I gave you a choice of one of two salaries for one month. Now I’ve given you this illustration already, so you know which one to pick. But I asked you if you want $1000 a day in wages, or if you would prefer to receive 1¢ on day one, 2¢ on day two, 4¢ on day three, 8¢ on day four and I kept doubling those wages each day. If you were smart, you would pick the penny on day one. And the reason is because of the power of compounding growth.
Initially it all seems to pay back so little. After ten days of hard work, when you come to me to get your wages and all you get on that particular day is $5.12. Five dollars and 12 cents!!! It seems insulting And you think to yourself, I should have taken the $1000 a day wage. I’d be way ahead. But you do some calculations and realize – “Oh I guess that’s not true. I need to persevere.” At the end of 15 days you are getting $163.84. But that’s when things really start to take off. On the twentieth day you are making way over $5000. And by the end of the month you are a multimillionaire. And this principle applies across life. If you can start investing money at a younger age and have at least 20 years in which to have it grow, you will be better off. Now that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t save when we are 55. It’s just that perseverance at any stage is key.
Now here’s the problem. The people who are trying to overcome their sins at the beginning of their life are immature, and we saw last week that one of the signs of immaturity is that immature people have a hard time being driven by the future. If there is not an immediate return now, they grow discouraged and give up. [And just as a side note I should mention that Larry or someone pointed out to me last week that God can make some seeds grow overnight – like that gourd that grew up and provided shade over Jonah’s head in one day. Even if we don’t have time to compound our money, God can make it grow. God sometimes takes away a besetting sin overnight. But usually there is a longer season.] And so a person gets to day 10 and has put in a long hard struggle and fight against sin or against an addiction - and they only get $5.12 and Satan tempts them to believe that God is unfair. Here you are suffering under the hot sun. And Satan says, “You deserve a break today. Don’t weed. Don’t water. Don’t fertilize. After all, everybody’s a sinner. What difference does it make? It’s only one sin.” And you listen to Satan. And what happens is that you sin, and you are set back a few days maybe to day five and have to start over. And you keep doing that. Sometimes you may get to day 15, but it just doesn’t seem worth the struggle. And so you fail to persevere. And if this keeps getting repeated and someone doesn’t come in to intervene, the immature Christian concludes that the Christian life is simply a grin and bear it experience. They keep trying and failing and all the time feeling miserable and begin to doubt God’s promises concerning a big harvest. They’ve never experienced it. Some of these immature Christians will hear others say how wonderful the harvest they are experiencing is, and they feel like they have to pretend to be happy to fit in with the crowd. And this makes life even more miserable.
I have found that with most deeply ingrained habits of sin, it takes about 6 weeks of daily practice before the person no longer is tempted by the old habit and can do the righteous thing without thinking. We’ve got to get them over this two or three week hump and help them enter into the glories of sailing along on weeks three through six. And there are several things that can help them to be motivated to persevere.
First of all they need to be given hope. And there are tons of Scriptures which promise the individual Christian success, victory, holiness. They need to keep the hope of these Scriptures before them.
The second thing that is needed is accountablilty. Now if you don’t want to grow, you won’t want accountability. But it is that extra little incentive that often keeps a Christian from falling into sin on day 10 or 15 of the process. And there are many different forms of accountability. A friend can provide it one on one. Maybe a traveling businessman faces temptation with pornography at the hotel. He can tell his friend that he wants to call him that night and for him to ask him if he has watched any. Just knowing that he will ask can be the motivation to keep him from doing it. And the booklet on the backtable dealing with overcoming temptation to pornography gives several other forms of accountability. Home groups are a form of accountability and encouragement. So we have seen that there is hope, accountability.
Thirdly, it is good if new believers can immediately be given some success on smaller easier to conquer issues so that they can see God’s grace at work.
Another one is just hanging out with God’s people.
So that’s the general principle. And this principle of perseverance definitely has applications in education, in church planting, in your relationships with each other and with me – the call to perseverance. There are applications that could be made to economics and other social issues like politics.
This morning however, I want to speak primarily of salvation and our eternal harvest because there is huge misunderstanding in this area. I want to talk about the perseverance of the saints. We will reap the harvest of everlasting life that verse 8 talks about only if we persevere. This passage has troubled some people because it applies the laws of harvest to salvation. When verse 9 says we will reap if we do not lose heart, does Paul include the harvest of verse 8? Many have denied that. They have said that if we give up on our sanctification or even if we have never worked at sowing to the Spirit we will still gain the harvest of eternal life. This is the doctrine of “once saved always saved,” or what I refer to as carnal security - that you can live like the devil and still go to heaven. That is different than the perseverance of the saints. Two point Calvinists who say they believe in the fifth point of Calvinism are actually not Calvinists at all on any of the points. They are Arminians with a twist. These people believe in God’s preservation, but they deny the need for the perseverance of the saints.
So during the remainder of this sermon I want to distinguish the Biblical doctrine from three false views of sanctification. Some deny perseverance, others affirm perseverance but deny preservation (they think that you can keep losing your salvation), others combine the two in an unbiblical way. This is an extremely important point, so please don’t put your minds in neutral for the next few minutes. If Paul says that we will not get to heaven without perseverance, then it is important to know in which way this is true and in which ways it is not true. Let me quickly outline four views of what it means to sow to the Spirit in this regard. These are man’s attempts to answer the question: “What is the relationship between the Spirit’s work and our work in sanctification?” Some say it is 0% us and 100% God. Others say it is 100% us and 0% God. Others say that it is 50-50 man and God in cooperation. The Biblical position is that it is 100% God and 100% us. For example, Scripture says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” God works it all in, and we work it all out.
The first group says that while the Holy Spirit regenerates us and may influence us, our sanctification - what verses 9-10 refer to as doing good - is 100% a work of man. They will point out that verse 7 says a man sows and a man reaps. Each verse emphasizes human’s activity. They emphasize the freedom of man’s will so much that sanctification is seen as being only the response of the renewed heart to God. They say that man does not need the Spirit’s further help to be sanctified. But I want you to notice the way Paul words this in verse 8: he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. It is of the Spirit that we reap. Now that means that the Spirit obviously has a role in our sowing and reaping and therefore this theory of sanctification could not be true. Look at chapter 5:25. It says, If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. It is not just our initial life which is given by the Spirit; day by day we must walk in the Spirit’s empowering. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. It is both and. God produces regeneration and God also is involved in sanctification.
The opposite extreme is taught by people like radio counselor Bob George who says that sanctification is 0% us and 100% God’s Spirit. They have a view of passive sanctification. They actually discourage people from trying to obey commandments or trying to live the Christian life. They say that is living by the flesh. They say that we can just relax and go about life since the Spirit will sanctify us entirely apart from our efforts. Now it is true that verse 8 assures us that our flesh can contribute absolutely nothing spiritual to our life. Christ said, that which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Now that may seem to imply that sanctification is 0% of us. But it doesn’t say that. It says that it is 0% of the flesh. The flesh is the energizing principle of our old nature. But a believer now has a new energizing principle which the Holy Spirit produces in us. We have the ability to live by the flesh and we also have the ability to live by the Spirit. And when we do live by the Spirit, we are still the ones who are very much active in such living. Though God is working in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure, we are truly working out very diligently what God has worked in. Verse 7 says, whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. It doesn’t just say that the Spirit is doing the sowing. We are sowing. Verse 8 says, he who sows to the Spirit. Verse 9 says, Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore as we have opportunity, let us do good... There can be question about the fact that everything that is being sown and reaped we are sowing and reaping. We are very much active. So this rules out the 0% us and 100% God position.
What about the 50-50 theory? Again we need to remember that flesh produces nothing spiritual, and that the Spirit alone can produce that which has life. If it was 50-50 that would mean that there is 50% that is not produced by the Spirit. But what good can come out of the natural man. Paul says, “I know that in me, that is in my flesh dwelleth no good thing.” Christ said the flesh profiteth nothing. Verses 7-8 are clear about that. Look at Galatians 3:2-3: This only I would learn from you; Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made mature by the the flesh? That is impossible. The flesh can produce nothing spiritual. I have read books that say the key to a godly walk is self-discipline and they show you how to structure your life, how to pray, fast, memorize and do other Christian disciplines. Those things are good, but let me point out that like a Pharisee you can do them by the energizing power of the flesh, or like Paul you can do them by the energizing power of the Holy Spirit living Christ’s life through you. For an example of the latter, look at Galatians 2:20. Paul says, I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Paul said that he exchanged his life with Christ’s. Daily he appropriates Christ’s life and leaves his life at the cross. The old identity with Adam was crucified and thrown away and so Paul says, “It is no longer I who live.” But with the exchange of life Paul has a new identity with Christ, and there is a new life that Paul truly lives.
Maybe I can illustrate it this way. I read about a man by the name of Yates who lived in Texas during the depression years. He had a great deal of land on which he raised sheep. He lived in extreme poverty, struggling just to feed and clothe his family. His situation worsened to the point where he was in danger of losing his property because he couldn’t pay the taxes. As he was contemplating bankruptsy, an oil company approached him and said that they thought there was oil on his land. They asked permission to drill. Thinking he had little to lose, he gave them permission. The oil company found the largest oil deposit at that time in the North American continent, producing 80,000 barrels of oil a day. Overnight, Mr. Yates became a billionaire. Or did he? If you think about it, he was a billionaire ever since he first got the land. It was always there, but he had never appropriated it. When he had faith in the oil company and proceded to act upon his position, he received everything that he needed.
That is the way it is with the believer. Paul says that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. He says to believers who are living beneath their potential, I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. The Ephesians didn’t know about those riches. They didn’t know about the surpassing greatness of God’s power working in them. They didn’t know that a harvest potential was there. He says that as long as we are ignorant of these spiritual riches we will not grow. He wants us to by faith lay claim to those riches. And don’t just pump oil from the well on day one. Persevere in drilling oil, in bottling it and in trucking it. Galatians 5:6 speaks of faith working through love. “Faith working.” It helps us to persevere. Sanctification is a working of faith.
A Pharisee can have all the disciplines of the Christian life, and not be sowing to the Spirit. As Paul said, you have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof. Though the disciplined life is important, none of it is useful unless God’s Spirit is working in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure. So Paul in effect asks, “Why are you trying to live the Christian life in your own strength.?” Sow in the field of the Spirit. Operate within the energizing of the Spirit who causes things to sprout.
So we have done away with three theories of sanctification. It’s not 0% us and 100% God. It’s not 100% us and 0% God. It’s not 50-50 or 60 40.. But you might still have trouble in knowing how it can be 100% God and 100% us. Let me give a couple of illustrations: When the man with the withered hand came before Christ, Christ told the man to stretch forth his hand. The man could have replied, “I can’t Lord. That’s why I’ve come to you. I have been paralyzed since youth. I need you to heal me first, then I will stretch it forth.” But if he had disobeyed Christ, no healing would have taken place. It was as he by faith did the impossible, that the impossible happened and his hand was healed. Did God stretch forth the man’s hand, or did the man do it? Well, obviously both are true. Apart from God healing and moving the hand, the man could not have done it. But apart from the man moving the arm, he would not have realized the healing. And God typically works this way. The Jordan river was not parted until the priests feet got wet. Both God and man were active.
Let me give you another example. Corrie ten Boom recounts the story of meeting one of the cruelest and most heartless of her German guards years after she was released. He was one who had repeatedly humiliated and degraded both her and her sister. Then one day, years later, she saw him making his way towards her after one of her talks. She recounts her turmoil:
Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: “A fine message, Fraulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!”
And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocket book rather than take his hand. He would not remember me, of course - how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?
But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face to face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.
“You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard there.” No, he did not remember me.
“But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein” - again the hand came out - “will you forgive me?”
And I stood there - I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven - and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place - could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
I stood there with coldness clutching at my heart, but I know that the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. I prayed, "Jesus, help me!" Woodenly, mechanically I thrust my hand into one stretched out to me and I experienced an incredible thing. The current started in my shoulder, raced down into my arms and sprang into our clutched hands. Then this warm reconciliation seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. ‘I forgive you, brother,’ I cried with my whole heart. For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard, the former prisoner. I have never known the love of God so intensely as I did at that moment! To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.
She experienced something supernatural. She couldn’t forgive on her own. She knew that. From her flesh, nothing good could come. But God gave her the faith to stretch forth the proverbial paralyzed hand. She could have ignored the Spirit’s leading and chosen to live by the flesh. But as she exercised the faith God had given her and she reached out to do the impossible, the Spirit of God forgave through her.
Now hopefully that picture will help to take it out of the academic world. We are not just talking about theory or poetic language when we speak of being led by the Spirit, walking in the Spirit, sowing to the Spirit and reaping of the Spirit. We are talking about the reality of Christ powerfully living through you so that where you were dominated and ruled by something before, now Christ switches the tables and by His grace enables you to get the upper hand; enables you to reign through life. She had discovered as you can, that this is not positive thinking; this is not sheer willpower. This is something supernatural. Galatians 2:20 again, I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Paradoxically I am doing nothing, but as the Spirit empowers me, it is I who am truly doing it. I am sowing to the Spirit.
When we are tempted to sow to the flesh the selfish ambition of Galatians 5:20, the Spirit of God nudges us to sow love and faithfulness in His field. We don’t want to. But as we yield to Spirit, against all desire, suddenly the new desire of God’s Spirit courses through us and we rejoice in the harvest that comes from this supernatural fruit of love and faithfulness and self-control. As we crucify the desires of jealousy, outbursts of wrath, licentiousness and against all desire we swallow our pride and ask for forgiveness and begin loving the unlovable; as we stretch forth our withered hands in the obedience of faith, God enables us to have joy, peace, kindness, goodness where none existed before. And the more we persevere, the more compounded growth of the supernatural we experience. And Christ died to accomplish that. He did not die to leave us in our sin. Titus tells us that Christ died to purify to Himself His own special people zealous for good works.
On the other hand, Hebrews 6 warns us that if we give up and do not persevere we will never inherit the glories of heaven, but then it goes on to say, But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation. You see, that is quite different than carnal security. That is quite different than once saved always saved. He is saying that without perseverance you will not be saved, but in the same breath he says that perseverance always accompanies true salvation because God’s grace indwells you and carries you along. You cannot separate the saints perseverance from God’s preservation. Hebrews 10 says much the same. It says there is no salvation without perseverance. Some sample verses are, For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins. He urges them, Therefore, do not cast away your confidence which is great reward, for you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise. For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him But in the next verse he distinguishes those who draw back and do not persevere with a true believer. But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.
This may cause a great deal of concern, as it should. God’s Word was not meant to be totally comfortable. It is intended to stretch us in holiness. But let me end with the last point of encouragement very briefly. Scripture affirms that all of us sin and backslide. And God does not give comfort to those who are backsliding except to say that if you return, God will receive you. Point 5 says, “We reap the full harvest of the good only if we persevere. The evil comes to harvest on its own.” Let’s pray.