As for [the seed that] was sown among the thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful (Mt. 13:22).
In the parable of the sower, Christ intimates that there are four responses to the hearing of the Word of the Kingdom, three negative and one positive. Three of the responses to the Word are responses that are rooted in the heart of man and therefore bear no fruit, and one response in rooted in the work of God and therefore bears much fruit. In each of the negative responses there is the proclamation of the Word (i.e. the sowing of the seed), and in each there is a different enemy that destroys the effectiveness of the Word.
In the first, the seed is cast upon the hardened dirt of the path, and it is a picture of hardened man who hears the Word, and then the god of this world snatches the Word away so as to leave the man unchanged by it. In the second, the seed is cast upon the rocky ground where there is little soil. This is a picture of the man who perceives the goodness of the Word of the Kingdom, yet when tribulation and persecution befalls him, he falls away since he has no root in himself. In the third, the seed is cast upon the thorns, and it grows up, yet the thorns entangle it and choke out its life. This is the picture of the man who esteems the Word of the Kingdom for a time, but then the cares of this world and / or the deceitfulness of riches choke the Word so that he is unable to bear fruit and dies.
And lest there be any confusion, each of these three negative cases are pictures of those who are outside of Christ. For John says earlier in the Gospel to those who presumed they were the children of God, saying:
You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father,” for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children of Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown in the fire (Mt. 3:7-10).
And Christ speaks later, saying:
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (Mt. 7:15-19).
And the apostle Paul testifies later concerning those who are in Christ:
Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ so that you may to belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit for death, but now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code… So then brothers, we are debtors not to the flesh to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live (Rm. 7:4-6, 8:12, 13).
All of these texts, in addition to several others, bear witness to the reality that those who are rooted in Christ and in the Word of his Kingdom are those who bear fruit. If anyone does not bear fruit, he is not in Christ, for Christ has called his people to faith in him for the sake of good works (cf. Eph. 2:8-10). For, “He will render to each one according to his works. To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury” (Rm. 2:7, 8).
For this reason, all who claim to be in Christ are called constantly to examine the fruits that they produce. As the apostle Paul exhorts, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work his good pleasure” (Ph. 2:12, 13). Therefore, all of us, regardless of our time in the faith and our doctrinal rightness, are called to fear and to tremble before God, because anyone of us at any time could prove ourselves to be either the rocky ground or the thorn-infested soil, having received the Word of God with joy and later turning from it to our destruction.
My greatest fear is that we have no fear. For I have surveyed the fields of American Christianity and have perceived that most of our church is comprised of thorn-laden ground,
and instead of witnessing godly fear that calls the church from the cares of this world and from the luxuries it affords, she instead has erected for herself false doctrines that are designed to quell godly fear. For rather than doing as Christ and the apostles call us to do, namely to find our security in the fruits that we bear wrought in us by the Spirit of God through the emancipating work of Christ, we look solely upon an event in the past where we received the Word of the Kingdom with great joy. Yet, from Christ’s parable, receipt of the Word of the Kingdom with joy is not by itself evidence of the work of God. The evidence of the work of God is found in the fruit that one bears, not in some profession that has been contradicted by the untransformed lives that we live.
O, that we might grasp this, American church! O, that we might see the error of our ways and the shifting and sandy foundation upon which we have built our hope! So many times, so many times, I have seen those who have claimed Christ with great joy only later throw him away for the sake of good things. How many among us have put Christ on the backburner for the sake of our families? How many of us have forgotten Christ for the sake of our careers? How many have traded the wealth in Christ for the wealth of the world? How many among us have substituted the pleasure of knowing our God and Savior for shallow Christian morality? It is so deceitful! It is so wickedly deceitful! For oftentimes it is not the evil things that turn us from Christ, but it is the good things.
My plea with you, dear friend, is to examine yourself. Do not believe the lie of some evangelist who persuaded you to write a date in your Bible so that he might put another notch upon the bedpost of his gospel adultery. Look upon your fruits and by them determine that you are indeed in Christ. Do you love Christ more now than you did the day you first professed him? Do you love others more and are willing to sacrifice the pleasures of the world for their sake? Do you love the truth more and proclaim it boldly with your words and deeds? For even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees, and those who bear no fruit or the fruit of unrighteousness will, despite profession and vanquished joy, be cast into the fire.