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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:What is True Faith?
Text:LD 7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 67:1,3                                                                                

Hy 2:1,2,3

Reading – Matthew 13:1-32

Ps 115:1,5,6

Sermon – Lord’s Day 7

Hy 28:1,5,6

Hy 61:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, what is true faith? Lord’s Day 7 is all about this question. And it quickly becomes a personal question. What is faith, and do I have faith? Probably most of us can affirm that we do believe. We say with conviction, “I believe in God the Father, the Creator of heaven and earth. And I believe in Jesus his Son as my Saviour.” We are blessed with a sure knowledge of what God has revealed in his Word, and at the same time we can have a firm confidence that it’s all true (cf. Q&A 21).

Lord’s Day 7 lays out faith in a simple way—and that is helpful. Yet we can still wonder what our faith is really all about. At times, faith can seem wrapped in mystery. If you have it, what does it look like? Where did it come from? And can you lose your faith?

God doesn’t want us to live in the dark about these things. After all, faith is essential. As the Catechism says, “Only those are saved who by a true faith are grafted into Christ” (Q&A 20). It’s essential, which is why God tells us in his Word what faith is like. He tells us where it comes from. He tells us how it can be weakened, and how it can be strengthened.

Many places in Scripture tell us what it means to believe. But the text we read is one of the clearest. Matthew 13 is a picture of that mysterious and invisible thing called faith. What cannot be seen with the eye is made clear to the mind, so that we might understand. I preach to you God’s Word from Lord’s Day 7,

What is true faith?

  1. it is the result of the scattered seed
  2. it is worked in suitable ground
  3. it is productive of good fruit


1) faith is the result of the scattered seed: In Matthew 13, Jesus is speaking in a whole series of parables. These were vivid and colourful scenes that Jesus painted for his hearers. Probably for that reason, the people flocked to listen to him down by the lake—everyone loves a good story, and Jesus knew how to use stories as a great tool for teaching.

The first parable in this chapter is the most important one, for Jesus spends much time telling and explaining it. And this parable gets right to the heart of the matter for his whole ministry: Will people understand his message, or will they ignore? Will Christ be received in faith, or rejected in unbelief?

To illustrate, Jesus imagines a scene that would’ve been very familiar to his listeners: “a sower went out to sow” (v 3). When we hear about sowing seed, we might think of the equipment that farmers use today. They fill up a seed-drill, connect it to their high-powered John Deere—airconditioned and GPS-guided—and off they go cruising through the fields. They can seed hundreds and hundreds of acres in a single day.

For farmers at the time of Jesus, it was a lot different. Sowing seed was a hard and time-consuming task. With a heavy bag on their shoulder, they would walk the land. Taking handfuls of seed as they went, they’d scatter it over the freshly-tilled ground. And sowing grain, or barley, or oats, a farmer would take his time. He didn’t want to miss any parts of the field.

There’s much more to say about what happens to the seed, but jump ahead to verse 18 and following. There Jesus explains the meaning of this parable to his disciples: “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom…”

That is the first aspect of the parable: the seed that was scattered. Jesus says that it’s the Word of the kingdom, the message of the Scriptures, about who God is and what He has done. More specifically, the seed is the message about Christ Jesus.

And this is exactly what Jesus has been doing during his ministry so far: He’s been sowing the seed, preaching the gospel. If that was true in Jesus’ day, and during the time of the apostles, it’s still true today. The message of Christ is broadcast through the whole world—and it’s a world, the Catechism reminds, in which all people are perishing in sin (cf. Q&A 20). To this sinful humanity, lost in their misery and condemnation, the word of salvation goes out, like seed scattered from the sower’s hand.

Today there are many millions who’ve heard about Jesus Christ and the Word of God, in one way or another. How does the message get spread far and wide? Missionaries have gone into the big cities of China, and to the highlands of Papua New Guinea, and the villages in Indonesia. So many pamphlets and gospel tracts have been handed out, telling people about the riches of salvation. You can watch TV shows, and listen to podcasts, and read websites that will explain to you God’s Word. In countless hotel rooms across the world, there are countless Bibles in countless bedside tables. And across this globe are multitudes of Christians, who dare speak of the hope we have in Christ. The message of salvation is being spread.

It’s true that the gospel is always brought in weakness. Maybe people brush off the witness of Christians. Missionaries will often face hostility. There still remain far too many who have never heard the gospel. Yet many have heard that there is salvation from sin! Many sinners have been told that there is a way to be restored to fellowship with God. Right to the four corners of the world, the Sower has made sure that his seed is scattered.

The seed has also come to us. For many, God made sure that his Word came into our lives very early. Even when we were young, we were allowed to hear it and learn it. It came through our parents’ instruction and their good example. More seed was scattered onto our hearts when we went to church, and sat under the preaching of the Word, and received Catechism lessons. God added another layer at Christian school, in so many classes and subjects. Still more seed is scattered whenever we take up the Scriptures for our personal devotions. The Sower has been busy in their lives, and that is rich gift.

What have you done with the seed? It’s not enough to hear or study or know the message of the gospel. It must be believed! And in order to receive it, we depend on God. If God didn’t give us faith, we’d be like so many who stumble in the dark. The Word will take root only through the power of God. As the Catechism says, “This faith the Holy Spirit works in my heart by the gospel” (Q&A 21). We need the Holy Spirit to bring the seed to life.

Jesus knew that not everyone believes in him. This is the point of the interlude in verses 10-17, between the telling of the parable, and the explanation. In that interlude, Jesus says that it’s just like Isaiah had once prophesied. Some people will see and hear the Christ, even know all about him, but not perceive who He was: “Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull” (vv 14-15).

That was definitely happening in his ministry. There was faith in Jesus, but lots of opposition too. There was short-lived enthusiasm, which soon turned into doubt, and there was also lots of misunderstanding. So it is today, sometimes even in the church. Not everyone has faith. Because the seed falls on different kinds of soil.


2) faith is worked in suitable ground: As you watch the sower working in Matthew 13, remember again the difference between sowing then and now. Today the seed-drill races along behind the tractor, as the seed is put directly into the ground, covered with soil, and then dosed with some high-quality fertilizer. Wherever the farmer wants, the seeds are properly planted.

Certainly the sower of Matthew 13 tries to do the same. Yet because he’s doing it by hand, the seed lands in ways that he can’t always control. The wind catches some seed. Some leaves his hand too early. Some is thrown too far. Some seed lands in good places, others in bad.

Jesus focuses on those different parts of the field. The four kinds of ground are well-known: there is the hard path; the rocky places; the area overrun by thorns; and then there’s the good, fertile soil. Let’s look at each kind of ground.          

First, “As he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them ” (v 4). Fields in Palestine often had paths running between them, so people could avoid walking over freshly-seeded areas, or through areas of new growth. But because these paths were well-used, the ground was hard-packed. A seed could hardly penetrate and send down roots. As the seed sat there on the path, it was easy pickings for the birds.

Jesus explains in verse 19, “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart.” Let us affirm right away that it’s not the fault of the seed that it doesn’t grow. The seed—God’s Word—always has the potential for growth in itself. Paul says that the gospel is “the power of God to salvation” (Rom 1:16).

But in this case, the message isn’t welcomed. Christ says that some people fail to ‘understand’ the Word. When Jesus talks about ‘understanding,’ He’s not saying that you need to be an ‘A’ student to believe, that it takes a certain level of intellect. He’s also not saying that we’ll comprehend every mystery of God.

So what do we need to understand? The Catechism answers: “All that God has revealed to us in his Word” (Q&A 22). In his Word, God has revealed enough for us to be saved. That’s what we have to know, more than anything else.

We have to understand that by ourselves, we are dead in sin. We have to understand that we are saved out of mere grace, through Jesus Christ. And then we also have to know that when we belong to the Lord Jesus, it’s our calling to love him with everything we are. This is what we must understand and accept—and it’s a message that the Bible says is simple enough even for children to know and believe.

But Christ says that if we ignore this gospel, leave it on the hard path, we’re inviting the devil to steal it away. No wonder Jesus cries out at the end of his parable, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (v 9). Embrace the gospel with all your heart! Let the Word sink into your life. Don’t wait until you’re older to pay attention to the preaching, or to get serious about church. Don’t put your daily devotions off a few times per week because your schedule is so full. Whenever the Sower sows the Word, be ready to receive it!

Even if your faith is struggling, even if you wonder sometimes if you have faith, keep listening to the Word. Keep coming to church and keep opening the Scripture, for this is the tool God uses to work faith in his people.

Jesus continues, “Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away” (vv 5-6). Maybe you have a corner of your garden like this: rocky and dry. A seed can take root there, but its roots will only be shallow. And without good roots, a plant is doomed.

Jesus explains, “He who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy” (v 20). It’s true that some people are very glad to hear about Jesus. He seems to be the best friend, one who takes away our troubles. And maybe we love the warm feeling of God’s love, or the emotion of worship. From our feelings, you might think the seed has sunk in. But when that’s all there is—when our faith is dependent on receiving good things from God and having good times—then it can’t endure.

Jesus describes such a believer, “He has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles” (v 21). It is possible to have something that looks like faith, but it’s not faith. We might love God when all is well with our life, but does this faith persevere on the difficult days?

See how the Catechism includes two key words in its definition of faith: True faith is a sure knowledge… [true faith ] is a firm confidence” (Q&A 21). Our faith needs a deep root. Faith needs a strong connection to the source of life.

For one of Jesus’s recurring promises is that his believers will face trouble. We wish He didn’t say it so much, but Christ often says there’s going to be things that hurt you and bring you pain. So you might come into a time of life when things you once accepted as true suddenly seem doubtful. A long illness can bring this kind of doubt. The mockery of an unbelieving world, and an unconfessed sin can do it too. However it happens, your faith will be tested.

This calls us again to know the Word. Even if you’re thriving right now, and can’t imagine life any differently, work on making your knowledge sure and your confidence firm. Make preparations against the day of trouble! Solidifying and stabilizing your faith happens this way: through worship week after week; taking in the Word of God, day after day; and surrounding yourself with godly people who can help you.

The third kind of ground is infested by thorns. Along the perimeter of fields there are often weeds and brambles. This is where other seed fell. But at once there is a battle: “The thorns sprang up and choked them” (v 7). There was a battle for sunlight, for moisture, for nutrients—there was a battle, and the thorns won out.

That is true to life, isn’t it? Weeds have amazing resilience. Even when it’s summertime and everything else in your garden is struggling to stay alive, the weeds keep sprouting. That’s a lot like the power of sin. It’s so stubborn, and needs so little encouragement from us. We have to work hard at good things like faith and holiness, while sin somehow gets so easily rooted in our lives, and so hard to pluck out.

This is what Jesus says: “Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful” (v 22). There can be many attacks against faith, things that choke it out.

For there are ‘cares,’ says Jesus. Maybe you’re worried about your health, your family, money. You worry about your future, your career, your friends. So many cares, sprouting all over the place like those weeds in your garden. Why is our worrying such an enemy to faith? Because faith is all about us trusting in God, resting in him. When we give into worry, we’re acting as if we’ve forgotten the gospel of Christ. We’re listening to our fears instead of his promises. Try not let worries overtake you, but bring them to God!

Jesus also warns against the deceitfulness of riches. He says ‘deceitfulness,’ because wealth always lies and says it can make us happy. If we just have a bit more, we’ll be satisfied. But against this lie, faith is “accepting as true all that God has revealed” (Q&A 21). Over against all the deceitfulness of wealth, and the lies of temptation, the Word is true. Count on it!

After so much seed has come to ruin, it’s a wonder that there’s any left. But there is: “Others fell on good ground and yielded a crop” (v 8). Notice that only this seed really comes to life. It wasn’t taken by the birds. It didn’t wither in the heat. It wasn’t choked by the thorns. It falls on good soil, and it begins to grow.

Jesus explains, “He who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it” (v 23). This is when a person accepts the gospel and believes what it can bring: “forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation” (Q&A 21).

When there is true faith, it has an unbreakable power. Peter says that we have been “born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever” (1 Pet 1:23). Incorruptible seed: that means its effect will be sure. If you have this faith, it will not die or be removed. God will bring to completion his good work in you!

We are comforted by this, and we are humbled. For such a faith is not our own doing. If the Lord didn’t help us receive his gospel, we’d be like so many today: we’d have hard hearts, rocky hearts, hearts that are overgrown. But Christ makes us fertile soil, so that the seed of his Word might produce a plentiful crop.


3) faith is productive of good fruit: Now for the last kind of the four soils. In the fertile ground, the seed sends down good roots. Here it receives proper moisture and sunlight, and something begins to develop and it yields a plentiful crop. This is the good result that the Sower was looking for all along.

When the gospel takes root in our hearts, something miraculous takes place. It grows, emerges, and bears much fruit. It’s true, faith in one sense is invisible—you’ll never see faith on an echocardiogram or a CT scan of our heart. Yet faith always becomes visible! It becomes visible in how we love God, and in how we love our neighbor.

Jesus says that a single seed can yield thirty, or sixty, or a hundredfold. Think of that word, ‘a hundredfold.’ It means that there is a hundred times what was there before! In a hundred different ways—even a thousand different ways—true faith fills our lives with good things.

When you have true faith, it shapes the way you think about the world, and how you speak to your spouse when you’re frustrated, and how you behave on the oval at school. True faith bears fruit in what videos we choose to watch online, and in how we choose to spend our money. Faith changes how we deal with one another when we disagree, and it gives shape to how we plan our future. The gospel, once it has taken root, will impact our lives in endless ways. So as we look at our lives, and think about the fruits we are bearing, it can be good to ask the question: What kind of soil am I showing myself to be right now?

Am I a hard path, often ignoring the Word, even letting the gospel be snatched away?

Am I a section of rocky ground, giving the message a home that is only shallow?

Am I slowly being choked out by thorns, the worries and attractions of this life?

Or am I fertile soil? Do other people look at my life and see many fruits? Does God look at my life, and see a faithful harvest? What kind of soil am I?

Our faith isn’t always strong and steady. Even if we are growing in fertile soil, Jesus knows there will be attacks from the evil one. All of his believers will face worries and fears. He knows that our production of good fruit can sometimes slow down to almost nothing because faith is weak and life is hard.

Then we should cultivate and nurture our faith so that it bears more fruit. Pray for God the Son to shine on it. Pray for the Holy Spirit to blow on it. Make sure that you are a good home for the seed of the Word!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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