Sunday, May 22, 2016

Day 72: Mark 4:1-20 & Psalm 73 - What Does Real Salvation Look Like?

Today's Reading: Mark 4:1-20 & Psalm 73

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What Does Real Salvation Look Like?

"And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable?
How then will you understand all the parables?" - Mark 4:13, ESV

Today's passage features Jesus' most important parable, the parable of the four soils. We can tell this is His most important parable because He asks His disciples, “Do you not understand this parable? 
How then will you understand all the parables?" (v. 13) So, what makes this parable so important? It's because it reveals to us the essence of what a saving response to the Gospel looks like. 

This is also one of the few parables that Jesus explicitly explains to His disciples. All three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke) include this parable and its full explanation. Mark places it here as the first parable in His Gospel, making it the key for understanding all other parables. So, what does it tell us?

Whenever anyone hears the Gospel, they can respond in one of four different ways:

1. They can just completely ignore or miss the message. Jesus says that these people have the word stolen from them by Satan before it can find any soil and take any root. These people can be the most puzzling to understand, because they sit and hear the life-changing message of salvation in Christ and don't really hear it at all.

2. They can respond with enthusiasm to the free offer of forgiveness and eternal life and profess faith in Jesus as their Savior, only to quickly fall away as soon as it becomes difficult. Some of these may be people who respond to an invitation at an evangelistic meeting but never join a church or pursue discipleship. 

3. They can respond with a profession of faith and begin on a path of discipleship only to get distracted by cares, concerns or worldliness. They might be caught up in any one of a number of things that take them away from Christ, but they end up abandoning the Gospel, the church and their faith for worldly matters. 

4. Finally, there are those who, by God's grace, hear the Gospel and respond in saving faith. They truly trust in Christ alone for their salvation, for forgiveness and righteousness and eternal life. They profess Jesus as their Lord and King and they join the church, grow in their faith and bear fruit in their lives for the glory of God. This fourth group, and only this fourth group, has found real salvation in Christ.

So, how can you know if you're in the fourth group and not the second or third? Many Christians struggle with identifying with the third group, as they feel like the word is being choked out of their lives by worldly cares. But every garden needs weeding and every good crop has struggles on its way to fruitfulness. 

If you're trusting in Jesus and still seeking to grow in Him, and if the word is bearing fruit in your life in changed attitudes and actions, this is evidence that you have found salvation. Keep trusting in Christ and run to Him when you feel doubts and fears and shame rising in your heart. 

Prayer Based on Psalm 73:

Psalm 73 goes well with today's Gospel lesson, because it is written by a believer who experienced the choking power of worldiness, as he envied the wealthy wicked. But he finds hope in worship, which is where we must turn at those times, too. 

Truly You, O God, are good to Your people,
    to those who by grace are pure in heart,
    trusting in Christ and not in themselves for salvation.

But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
    my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
    when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For they have no pangs until death;
    their bodies are fat and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
    they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
    violence covers them as a garment.
Their eyes swell out through fatness;
    their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
    loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens,
    and their tongue struts through the earth.
And they say, “How can God know?
    Is there knowledge in the Most High?”

Behold, these are the wicked;
    always at ease, they increase in riches.
I thought that it was all in vain that I had sought
    to keep my heart trusting in Christ
    and had washed my soul in the blood of Christ.
For all the day long I was stricken with envy and persecution
    and rebuked every morning by my doubts and fears.

If I had allowed myself to give voice to my envy and doubt,
    I would have betrayed the generation of your children.
But when I thought how to understand this,
    it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
    and when I sought You in worship,
    in Your house and among Your people,
    then I discerned the true end of the wicked.
Truly You set them in slippery places;
    You make them fall to ruin.
How they are destroyed in a moment,
    swept away utterly by terrors!
Like a dream when one awakes,
    O Lord, when you rouse Yourself, You despise them as phantoms.

When my soul was embittered,
    when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant;
    I was like a beast toward You.
Nevertheless, I am continually with You;
    You hold my right hand.
You guide me with Your counsel,
    and afterward You will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For behold, those who are far from You shall perish;
    You put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to You.

But for me it is good to be near You, my God;
    I have made You, Lord God, my refuge,
    that I may tell of all Your works.

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