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Surviving Death -- Part 2
Matthew 13:24-30
(If you haven't yet read Surviving Death: Psalm 127; 128 and you'd like to do so,
please click on the title. Reading that article first will provide a better
background for understanding this one).



II. The Churched


Several years ago, I was privileged to attend a Billy Graham crusade at The Myriad in Oklahoma City. Rarely speaking in local churches, Dr. Graham agreed to speak at my friend, Bailey Smith's church, First Southern, Del City, on Sunday morning following the crusade. Bailey Smith asked Billy Graham, "Why is it that every night during this crusade you have made some reference to lost church members?"


"Bailey," he said, "I still preach what I did when we began our crusades years ago in Los Angeles." "Why?" Bailey asked. Billy Graham said, "For two reasons. First, I was a lost church member myself. I was the vice-president of my youth group at church, but I was not really born again. Second, I remind people that they can be church members and still be lost because the greatest mission field in the world is not the foreign field or the home field, it is the mission field of the membership rolls of American churches!"


My friend, there are more than 160 million church members in America. If they were all truly saved, this country would not be in the spiritual mess it finds itself in today. Opinion polls continually tell us that the number of professing believers is growing and that more Americans claim a born-again experience than ever before in our nation's history. Yet, America is overrun with immorality, pornography, alcohol, and drugs. Robbery and murder are on the rise. Teenage pregnancies are epidemic. Over one million babies are aborted every year. Something is deeply wrong with the moral fiber of our nation.


I am convinced that one of America's greatest problems is that of unconverted church members. Our churches are filled with people who profess Christ, but who do not possess Him. They claim His name, but they have never submitted to His Person. They want His blessings without His authority. They want His favor without His leadership. They want Him to accept their will for their lives instead of submitting to His will for their lives.


Though God has used Billy Graham in phenomenal ways over the years, one study reported that 70% of those converted in his crusades are church members.


But just like Jesus told a parable to help the unchurched understand their lostness and be saved, so He tells a parable for the churched so that they, too, can be gloriously saved. The passage? Matthew 13:24-30. The parable? The wheat and the tares.


In this parable, our Lord Jesus vividly depicts the distinction between the saved and the lost. The saved are pictured as bearing fruit, and the lost are pictured as being without fruit. This is identical to what Jesus said in the parable of the sower where He stated that believers might vary in the amount of their fruitfulness, but He did not allow for a true believer who produced no fruit. Some believers might prove to be more fruitful than others, but no true believer is totally fruitless. Look at what Jesus said in 24-30:



Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. "The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?' "'An enemy did this,' he replied. "The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?' "'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.' "



Parables are designed to teach a lesson by illustration. However, they can be easily misunderstood if we try to press every detail of the story. This parable serves as a warning to the "laborers" in the "field" or world. We are sent by Christ to proclaim His gospel throughout the world. Those who are genuinely converted are represented as "wheat," but false "converts" are depicted in the parable as "tares."


Tares are indistinguishable from the real wheat. They look exactly alike. If a farmer were to walk in here today with a shock of wheat and a shock of tares, we could examine them side-by-side and not be able to tell the difference. Even the farmer can't tell them apart until he breaks open the head to see which contains the grain of wheat. The one with the fruit is the wheat, and the one that is empty is the tare.


In the parable, the "kingdom of heaven" refers to the church, which is the subject of all the parables in Matthew 13. Thus, while the gospel is to be preached in the world, it is among the believers that the enemy has sown his tares. Since the tares are identical imitations of true wheat, it only stands to reason that they simply profess to be real.


Listen to what Ed Hindson says about them: "Unlike the Jewish form of the kingdom in the Old Testament where citizens could be easily recognized, during the Church Age, converts will be made from all over the world and received upon their profession of faith. Thus, it will be easier to slip in some counterfeits who profess what they do not possess."


The key to understanding this parable is the interpretation of Jesus Himself. In verses 36-40, Jesus identified the sower as Himself, the "Son of man," and the enemy as the devil. The wheat represents the "children" of the kingdom, in contrast to the tares who are the "children of the wicked one." The harvest is at the "end of the age," when the angels will serve as God's reapers. The clear implication of the parable is that God alone knows who really are His children. In the end, the saved will be taken to heaven, and the unsaved will be burned in fire, an obvious reference to hell.


In 2 Corinthians 13:5, the apostle Paul challenged his readers: "Examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith." One of the most important questions you can ever ask yourself is whether or not you are truly saved. Our churches are filled with people who seem to be living for themselves and seem not to have a heart for the things of God. They are not always the worst church members. Sometimes they are the best church members. I'm not talking about those "church bunnies" who hop in only on Easter. Nor am I referring to those who live in open disobedience to their profession of faith. It is easy to distinguish that kind from truly committed believers.


I'm speaking of those who attend every service, sing in the choir, teach in Sunday School, tithe, serve on the deacon body, and outwardly appear like the real thing. But inwardly, they have never been born again by the Spirit of God. They are the tares. Outwardly, they look exactly like the genuine article, but they produce no spiritual fruit.


The Bible tells us that at the Judgment, Jesus will be the great Separator. He will know the true believers from the false professors by their fruits. In the meantime, it is my task to challenge the tares in the church to become wheat. The powerful conviction that happens when a church member is saved causes two things to happen: 1) Other lost church members begin to examine their lives and they come to Christ; 2) Truly saved people in the church gain an even greater assurance of their salvation.


In light of the biblical command to examine the genuineness of our faith, we need to do two things. First, go back in your mind to that time when you professed Christ as Savior. What really happened? Did the Lord Jesus become real to you? Did your life begin to change? Don't rely on what others said happened to you, ask yourself what happened.


Second, examine the fruit in your life since your profession of faith. Have you developed a heart for God and His Word? Are you growing spiritually, producing the fruit of the Spirit, and giving evidence of new life in your walk with God? Remember, there is a significant difference between human works and spiritual fruit. Anyone can go through the motions of being an usher or singing in the choir without experiencing a new heart from God.


Next time we'll look more closely at what happened to the wheat and the tares as they grew together.

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