What Kind of Soil Are You? (The Shallow Ground Hearer)
In this post we meet the shallow ground hearer. The shallow ground hearer and the crowded ground hearer (next post) are both professing believers but their faith is at best meager and superficial and not genuine and saving. What kind of soil are you?
There can be various responses to the Gospel that appear on the surface to be genuine – but the real test of whether there has been a true work of grace in conversion that consists of repentance to God and faith in Christ is proven only by time. In the shallow ground hearer there is an immediate response to the word that is sown. This person receives the word with joy. There is an overt response. There is germination of the seed. There is evidence of life. It would be easy to conclude that this person has become a Christian – a follower of Jesus Christ. Yet there is a problem. The problem is that the heart is shallow and underneath that shallow depth of topsoil there is ledge. There is more than beaten down and hardened ground. There is a rock under surface that will not allow the roots of that germinated seed to grow deep into the heart providing not only stability but the necessary means to draw nutrients into that young plant. So when the heat of troubles and persecution arise on account of the word what immediately grows up just as quickly falls away.
If there is no real longing to grow in the Christian Faith – to stretch your mind and your heart so that your capacity to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ expands and deepens, then you need to beware lest you are a shallow ground hearer. It is not merely a matter of intellectual yearning (but it is not less); to know more facts about the Word. It is rather a matter of deepening your apprehension and appreciation of the value of the Gospel – its preciousness and worth. Yes, it does entail growing in knowledge and wanting to know more about the truth, but it is also a yearning to know God who is true. To make sure that the realities of the Gospel go deep into your heart, those realities must impact your thinking, your affections and your will – your whole person. You should want to learn and know as much about the Bible and the Gospel as you can. We all have different intellectual capacities but each of us should be using our minds to the fullest in seeking to know God better. You must yearn to have deepening affections and passions for the true and living God. This means that your desires will change and the concerns of eternity become more and more precious to you. You therefore grow deeper in your capacity to make godly choices and hold to priorities that are shaped by the kingdom and by your relationship with Christ and not by self-centered concerns. This is what it means to go and grow deep in the faith and to overcome a shallow Christianity.
The Psalmist highlights the pursuit of going deep with God when he writes, “Great are the works of the Lord studied (sought eagerly) by all who delight in them” Psalm 111:2.
The Apostle Paul’s prayers for the churches to which he addressed his letters are often filled with requests that his hearers come into a fuller and deeper knowledge, awareness and understanding of God. He prayed that the Colossian believers be filled with "the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God." Colossians 1:9-10.
A shallow ground hearer has an initial receptivity to the word but there is no depth of heart and soul and at bottom the heart is really no different than the hardened ground hearer. There is a superficial response. There is an immediate exuberance when the Gospel is heard, but there is simply no depth. There is no place in the heart for the word to take deep root. There is no maturing in the faith and in the word.
It is extremely important that every professing believer examines himself or herself to be sure he or she is in the faith. For it is not only likely but certain that every professing believer whose heart has not been transformed by the saving grace of the Gospel will fall away from their profession. They will not fall away from Jesus Christ for they never had him to begin with. They will fall away from their profession of faith in Christ.
How will this happen? It will occur when the cost of following Jesus Christ begins to be felt. This is what Jesus means when he says that the shallow ground hearer endures for a while but when trials or persecutions arise on account of the word, immediately he falls away.
Now trials that test faith in Christ are part of the Christian life. There is no way for any of us to avoid such matters. It is God’s intention to grow your faith. In the parable Jesus likens trials and persecutions that arise on account of the word to the sun that rises and scorches the plants that have grown in the heart of the shallow hearer. The problem was not with the sun but with the shallowness of the ground and the rock ledge that lay under the surface of the ground. The trouble was not with the trials but with the heart. The sun is necessary for growth yet on some plots of ground the sun burns and scorches the plants that are found there because there is no depth or they lack sufficient moisture. Yet on other ground the sun brings forth the life that is living in that ground.
So what kind of soil are you? Beware of possessing a shallow Christianity – a convenient Christianity that makes you feel good but fails to stretch you or place the requirements of the kingdom upon you. Beware of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” A grace that costs you nothing in terms of living out your discipleship to Christ. Grace that is certainly freely given by God to you in Christ will so take hold of your heart that it will transform your life, your wants, thinking, priorities and values. This will enable you to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions and live a self-controlled, upright and godly life in this present evil age, which will put pressure on you in the form of afflictions, trials and hostility. But if you are a genuine believer because of adversity your roots will grow only deeper. So what kind of soil are you?