Two, Part I: Death, Death


The concept of two runs throughout Scripture. The storyline of Genesis 2 speaks of two trees in Eden: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Jesus speaks of two “ways”; the narrow way leading to life, and the broad way to destruction. Paul speaks of two vessels: mercy and wrath. There are two spirits – the Spirit of Truth and the spirit of error, and two “gods” – the one true God, and the false god: He that is in you (Christ) and he that is in the world (the god of this age).

There are also the two soils of Matthew 13. “But wait,” you say, “Aren’t there four soils?” Well, yes, but they are really two sets of people – those in whom the seed takes root and those in whom it doesn’t.

There are many more sets of two in Scripture but now of all things because of Russ I’ve got to think of brevity.

God said to Adam in Gen 2:17 “…but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” ” I looked up the Hebrew phrase “you will surely die.” What it actually says is “dying, you shall die.” That’s one more “two.” Death, and then death. Two deaths – a first dying, and then a second dying.

Revelation 20:12-15 speaks of this second death: “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Emphasis mine).

According to their works. The second death comes from being judged according to our works, and then our name not being found written in the book of Life. “Sorry, Perfection is required. Are you in Christ?”

Eden’s death-death tree can be charted like this:
It is obvious that “good and evil” here are relative in many respects. Both good and evil as charted here end up in an evil place – forever. In that sense people quite rightly say that “good and evil are relative.” We can easily see Death 1, at the end of the earthly life, and Death 2, after the Great White Throne judgment. Hooked into this Tree, it won’t matter what we chose in the end; it’s all relate-ive to the finality of separation from God – that is, being eternally cut off from all that is truly good.

This is the unbeliever’s choice between good and evil on this temporary plane. Worldly success or sensual sin. His identity as a person comes from what he does or doesn’t do; it is based in his performance. Thus we have people who get their identity from being “good” (“I am successful” or “I do a lot of community service”) or “bad” (“I’m a Hell’s Angel” “I am an alcoholic”). The unbeliever has no other options until his mind is illuminated by God choosing to bring the man’s will to its knees. The lie of “human potential” on this chart is obvious. The potential only goes so far, which is not nearly far enough.

This is “the spirit of error,” the mindset that drives the “vessels of wrath.” It is a performance-based, avoid-pain-and-find-pleasure mindset. Whether that means indulging forbidden sensual pleasures or the intellectual and spiritual pleasures of “being above the sensual rabble” is of little consequence in the end, though of course societally it makes a big difference. But Pharisees and philanderers alike will face the second death. Those on the left of the chart are actually in more danger, because worldly success and “goodness” of any kind can blind us to our need for redemption. Those on the right of the chart are often aware their lives are not working out; that’s why Jesus hung out with “such awful people.”

The unbeliever can opt out of this system: Jesus said in John 3:3, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” If we have been doomed to die twice in Adam, we must be born again in Christ to die only once, to escape the second death.

This satanic system, this kingdom of death-death, is shown in the first two soils of Matthew 13:18-21 – those from whom the Word is stolen, and those who don’ t go deep enough to have the Word really take root. These first two soils are unbelievers; the next two are believers.

We’ll dig into how this satanic mindset infects the thought life of the believer and the third soil of Matthew 13 in Part II.

Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he's not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin' on audiences around the world, he's taking care of his donkey named "Trash" and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.


  1. Don Smith

    In other words, I may continue on my self-chosen path and gain relatively good or bad temporal consequences (“freewill”) or I may be rescued by the Master and set on His path (redemption).

  2. Gretchen Emily

    I think it’s amazing how God chooses numbers to bring very important threads in the Bible to our attention – 12, 3, 7, and 2. I’m not sure if there are any others, but I’m sure there are. I sometimes wonder why He picked the numbers He did.

  3. Bryan Berry

    I am interested to read your thoughts in more detail on this statement, “These first two soils are unbelievers; the next two are believers.” This third soil is the ground we (affluent America, western culture) are living in, “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” So, can an individual be a believer and yet be unfruitful?

  4. Ron Block



    In Matt 13 Jesus doesn’t say of the third soil that the plant dies. It becomes unfruitful.

    1Cor 3 talks about those who build upon the foundation of Christ (Christ in them) with wood, hay, stubble. Their works will be burned up, but they themselves will make it through. They will be as refugees escaping through the flames. These are the unfruitful ones.

    I agree that affluence chokes the word. Any kind of success can do that, whether it is monetary, relational, or even religious success. The third soil is really the believer having the Tree of Life in his heart but not renewing his mind to that. Instead, superimposed in his mind over the Tree of Life, he has the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. I dig into these concepts in Two, Part II.

    E. Stanley Jones, writer of the devotional “In Christ”, said, “Success or failure is irrelevant.” What matters is that daily inner choice and attitude of trust in God which results in doing God’s will.

  5. Ron Block



    The thing that is really stunning is the integrity of the Word. As we read it through, study it, dissect it, there is a consistency to the themes and messages that make us realize, in Chuck Missler’s words, that the Bible is “An integrated message system from outside our time domain.”

    The first two soils are the “vessels of wrath” and the last two are “vessels of mercy.” We see the same parallels in “the son of the bondwoman” and “the son of the free woman,” Ishmael and Isaac. We see it in Esau and Jacob. The consistency of the last two soils of Matt 13 with the wood/hay/stubble believers vs gold/silver/precious stones believers in 1Cor 3 is striking in itself. We see the third soil believer in Lot, and the fourth soil believer in Abraham. We see the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in Abraham and Sarah’s minds when they choose to use Hagar as a means to accomplish God’s will. Human effort to achieve “good,” trying to attain the promise by works of our hands. We see the same thing in Cain and Abel; Abel brought the appointed sacrifice, a lamb, doing it God’s way. Cain brought the works of his hands (fruit of his labor), choosing to do it his way. “I Did It My Way” is never an esteemed theme in God’s Book.

    A wonder-ful book is Bullinger’s Number in Scripture. In the era before computers, E.W. Bullinger put in a lot of page turning to pull together some amazing study resources.

  6. Steve


    Although I’ve not read much of Bullinger’s “Number in Scripture” his other works are amazing with respect to detail. It’s worth “Looking Inside” his “Companion Bible” on Amazon just to get some idea of the amount of hours he must have devoted to the study of Scripture.

    His book “How to Enjoy the Bible” was very instructive during my early years of devoaring the Word. Thanks for the post and the reminder.

  7. Stacy Grubb


    An unfruitful believer would be, among many other things, someone who doesn’t share God’s Word or incorporate His Will into their lives. I’ll be very honest and say that, for a very long time, I was one of the most unfruitful believers that I know. Although I had accepted Christ and allowed Him to live *in* me, I’d never stepped out on faith and allowed Him to live *through* me. I had no initiative to learn more about what God wanted from me or how He could impact others through me. I wasn’t being a vessel at all. I was a Christian saved from going to Hell. To me, that’s what Salvation meant: When I die, I go to Heaven and not to Hell. It never occurred to me that maybe I could and should be doing greater things while I’m still alive.

    I’d been told over and over throughout my life that God created me with a plan for me and all of that jive, but I had no idea how I was supposed to figure out what it was. So, for years I just went on about my business, dreaming my little dreams, spinning that little hamster wheel. Over the past couple of years, a huge shake up in my world and everything I knew, thought I knew, or was too lazy to know occurred. It left me stunned, confused, flailing, running scared, and eventually, flat on the floor. Sometimes, I tried to visualize what the scene would look like if it happened in a movie and I always had this vision of standing in the middle of a completely dark, smoky, war-torn area with flaming chunks of wreckage pelting the ground all around me. Naturally, I wanted out of that situation and that’s exactly what God had to put me through to finally get me to seek Him fully and focus my life on being a more fruitful believer. Just as He promises to do, He has sent me everything and everybody that I need to facilitate that. When I didn’t understand something, lo and behold, here comes Ron out of the blue to explain it. I started really noticing those orchestrated ironies more and more and it finally dawned on me how God communicates with me when I’m receptive to what He’s saying. Aha! So, *this* is how I become a fruitful believer. This is how I live the plan that God had for me when He created me.

    The beauty of it is that, by opening myself to God’s plan, the fruits occur as a by-product of that. They aren’t fruits of my own labor, but fruits of what Christ does through me. When your life is a living testimony, it bears fruit because of who and what it influences. Others, even non-believers, see you and can form a favorable opinion of you. If you are successful, charitable, and of service, and if you remain faithful during troubled times, and openly give God the credit for who you are and what you have, that impacts the people around you. You can be a believer and all of those things, but never openly praise God, therefore never bear fruit. On the inside, you may thank God for His blessings, but that will never have any influence over the non-believer who could’ve been made a believer by your example. That doesn’t keep you out of Heaven if you’re a believer, but it’s not pleasing unto God and, essentially, it’s a wasted, unfruitful life.


  8. Bryan Berry


    I see your point in 1 Cor. 3 regarding the foundation (Jesus Christ) and agree, to an extent. The concern I have is to equate “hearing” or “receiving” the word, as it says in the third soil, with a foundation. Christ quotes Isaiah after the parable that many will “hear” but never “understand.” Now the parable explains the fourth soil is the one who receives the seed as “the man who hears and understands”. I would equate a foundation or being fruitful with one who understands. Thanks.

    Peace and Blessings

  9. Ron Block



    The second soil is someone who has had no foundation laid – the hearing which lays the foundation of 1Cor 3. That is initial salvation. The third soil is concerned with what happens after that initial foundation is laid. Jesus specifically says that the second soil “has no root in himself,” while the third soil grows up and is a big enough plant to start bearing fruit, but the fruitfulness is choked out by weeds. The failure of the third soil doesn’t have to do with initial salvation (the foundation of 1Cor 3), but the following walk of reliance on Christ and maintaining a focus on what is truly important in this life. Instead, the third soil gets caught up in the affairs of this life, riches, deceitfulness of sin, and all that. This soil is the wood/hay/stubble believer.

    A foundation is not the building; fruitfulness is not the seed growing into a tree. Fruit takes awhile; building upon a foundation takes awhile. I see the person you are thinking of as the second soil – the person who thinks, “I said the Sinner’s Prayer when I was 12 so I’m a Christian even though I haven’t ever followed Christ.” I see the third soil as someone who has the Root of Christ within himself – a saved person – but this person does not understand what the point of being saved is; he has not come into “the full assurance of understanding” and is not walking in Christ, abiding in Christ. He thinks salvation saves him from Hell, but doesn’t realize Jesus came to save us from our sins – not just from our ‘sin-debt’. I dig into this in the next segment. Definitely come back for Two, Part II – I’d like to dialogue with you again. Some of the clarity in what I am saying will come then (even of course if we still disagree on this point).

  10. Bryan Berry


    Thanks for the discussion. I think I will wait and read your Two, Part II before making any further comments. I look forward to it.

  11. Tony Heringer


    I also disagree about the third soil being a believer. I know that is one interpretation, but I believe followers of Jesus Christ produce fruit. I think the context and other passages bear this out.

    The next parable in Matthew 13, also points to fruitfulness – i.e. there two types of plants: weeds and wheat. They aren’t distinguishable (i.e. unbeliever vs. believer) until the wheat buds (i.e. produces fruit). In John 15 Jesus teaches in Him we bear fruit and apart from Him we bear no fruit. He also says unfruitful branches are cut off and eventually thrown into the fire. Paul says believers are set apart for good works (fruit) in Ephesians 2. James gives further clarity to this point when he tells us that faith without works (fruit) is dead – i.e. not true saving faith.

    Therefore, based on these passages and others like them, it would appear that an unfruitful believer is an oxymoron. A true follower of Jesus Christ produces fruit or works because he or she is in Christ.

    This brings us to the passage in 1 Corinthians 3. I’ve not studied this letter in a while, but here’s my take. It would seem the works in view here are the handling of truths that come from the Gospel and its impact on the local body in Corinth (and by implication any church). Paul also notes if these teachers have not made the work of Jesus Christ alone as foundational to their teaching, they are not true followers of Christ and will not be saved. If these teachers are basing their teaching on the work of Christ, but this teaching is in error, then the error will not survive. The teachers will survive due to the calling upon their lives that has led these teachers to proclaim the Gospel (fruit).

    God set us apart for good works. If a person does not see or give evidence of a changed life (fruit) then they should not assume that their faith will save them.

  12. Stacy Grubb


    I think that the parable you referred to in Matthew 13 is talking of works. In other words, the unfruitful branches that are cast into the fire refer to the works that were done in self-effort as opposed to Christ working through the believer. Even as believers, we can live a life largely apart from Christ, therefore our lives will not bear the fruit that God intends us to bear. I think it’s the difference of standing before God and hearing, “Well done thy good and faithful servant,” and not hearing it. We can live a believing life that never touches the people around us. Our most important role as Christians is to spread the Word and allow Christ to bring others to Him through us. That is the fruit we can choose to bear or not. I was saved for years, but wasn’t bearing fruit for Christ because I wasn’t using my existence as a testimony to Him. I was just saved from Hell and never free from what burdened me in this life because I wasn’t cashing in on God’s promise of rest. An apple tree is still an apple tree even in the winter when nothing on it blooms.


  13. Ron Block



    The third soil – Jesus describes the end of it. It is choked by weeds and becomes unfruitful.

    Now, here’s the thing –

    I spent the early years of my life, well into my teen years, with a legalistic concept of God.

    I spent the next part with a faith attitude, but with license. I trusted Jesus to save me from Hell and provide for my outer needs (food, shelter, clothing). I bore little fruit, as far as I can tell.

    These two phases took me to about 30 years old.I was largely an unfruitful believer.

    I don’t think the third soil is the person who “accepts Christ” and then falls out of it after awhile – that’s the second soil. The third soil is someone who is a definite plant. It was seeded, it took root, and it grew into a plant that is ready to produce fruit. That takes time.

    But the cares of this life and all that choke the word, making it unfruitful. This is a believer caught up in the world – whether in sin or religious activity. And as the next section of this three part series will show, this is a lot more prevalent than we think.

    The passage in 1Cor 3, yes, Paul is talking about teachers. But teachers aren’t the only ones responsible for our growth. We are responsible as well – Acts 17:11. Thus, instead of saying, “Teachers work shall be made manifest,” he says, “Every man’s work shall be made manifest…” We share in the responsibility. The foundation is laid; how will we build upon that foundation? With religious activity (“good”), sensuality (“evil”), or by a total giving of ourselves over to Christ, who is now our life – for we are dead and our life is now hidden with God in Christ.

    Paul’s point is to get them to stop glorying in men; the point is building our lives on gold, silver, precious stones – in fact using the same building materials as the foundation: Christ. “He that overcometh, and keepeth MY works to the end,” says Jesus in Revelation. 1Cor 3 speaks to our responsibility, individually and corporately, to keep our eyes on the prize: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

    Unfruitful branches are first pruned. We can’t forget that part. I was pruned between 26 and 30. Again pruned at around 38-43. The fruit this is bearing is definitely worth the pruning. God doesn’t just give up on the third soil. Jesus’ words are a warning to us, like many warnings in the Word, to give ourselves over completely to God as living sacrifices – to pray to Him to make us into the hundredfold soil. Romans 8 is another example of this kind of warning: The Nestle-Aland Greek NT words 8:13 literally like this: “If for by flesh you live you are about to die if but in spirit the practices of the body you put to death you will live.” It is a warning. And then KJV says, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” The Bible Knowledge Commentary says, “…huios means a child mature enough to take on adult family privileges and responsibilities.” A full grown son. Those who are led by the Spirit are full-grown sons taking part in the family business. It also says that the tense for “led by” means “are being led by.” Present. What does that make those who are walking according to the flesh?

    Whether religious or licentious, it means they are immature. It doesn’t mean they are unsaved. There is enough root there, and plant growth, for weeds to choke out the fruit bearing. I get more into this in the next part of the series.

  14. Stacy Grubb


    Sorry, I hate it when I think of add-ons after I’ve already posted. I think your last statement is in contrast to what Ephesians 2 says about works and faith. 8: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9: Not of works, lest any man should boast. Maybe I misread what you meant, but I took it that you are saying that we need something else in addition to faith in order to be saved.


  15. Ron Block


    2Cor 5:10-11, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. 11 Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.”

    This “good or bad” has everything to do with what we are trusting in. This judgment seat of Christ is “the day”” spoken of in 1Cor 3. The passage there is primarily discussing teachers, yes. But what of the believers that the wood, hay, stubble teachers taught? Will they not face the same burning up of their works and doctrines?

    What we are believing drives our actions. That’s why we are to make certain that what we are believing is, as Shaeffer calls it, “True truth.” It is not merely the teacher’s responsibility to make sure we have correct doctrine; it is ours as well. And a life built on false doctrines, of whatever kind, will be in those areas a false life, not the life of the Holy Spirit, Christ living through us.

    So when we come right down to it, Tony, all of us are or have been at least partly the third soil. That’s what sanctification really is – moving from three to four, and then from the lower fruit production to higher. Because none of us are stuck where we’re at. We have an option – to call upon Christ to make us fruitful. If we do that He’ll blast in there, rip up some of the weeds, dig up the ground around us and fertilize us.

    The question is, “Am I trusting in religion, or believing certain doctrines, or my denomination, or my church attendance, or my Bible study, or my prayer life, or ________? Or am I trusting in Jesus Christ, the Savior, who now indwells me by the Spirit, through whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge? Am I relying on His life in me, His power, His grace, His wisdom, His mind? Or am I trusting in my own ways and means of coping with life that I learned as a child?” Those are the relevant questions. The one way leads to a choked life – whether we are choked by religion, our talent, or money doesn’t matter. The other way leads to increased freedom, joy, and fruit – and at the end, “Well done.”

  16. Tony Heringer


    Wow! Thanks for the follow ups. I’m heading out to catch a movie with my wife. I look forward to reading your responses and give my rebuttal tomorrow.

    In the meantime know that I love you both and appreciate our working these things out. That’s the cool thing about this place.

    Be God’s,


  17. Ron Block


    A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments:
    19. And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in—or “the pleasures of this life” (Lu 8:14).

    choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful—First, “The cares of this world”—anxious, unrelaxing attention to the business of this present life; second, “The deceitfulness of riches”—of those riches which are the fruit of this worldly “care”; third, “The pleasures of this life,” or “the lusts of other things entering in”—the enjoyments in themselves may be innocent, which worldly prosperity enables one to indulge. These “choke” or “smother” the word; drawing off so much of one’s attention, absorbing so much of one’s interest, and using up so much of one’s time, that only the dregs of these remain for spiritual things, and a ragged, hurried, and heartless formalism is at length all the religion of such persons. What a vivid picture is this of the mournful condition of many, especially in great commercial countries, who once promised much fruit! “They bring no fruit to perfection” (Lu 8:14); indicating how much growth there may be, in the early stages of such a case, and promise of fruit—which after all never ripens.

  18. Gretchen Emily


    I completely agree. The very fact that all of these threads in the Bible are so interwoven, intricate, and seamless proves it’s authenticity. I mean, who could make it up?

    Thanks so much for the name of that book, I’ll be sure and check it out. You can never have too many great theological books to read. =)

  19. Benjamin Wolaver

    Great post, Ron. I think it’s fair to say that Jesus is probably speaking in the Parable of the Sower from an eternal perspective. In other words, trying to define the passage in time-based ideas of salvation will probably not add up. From our perspective, some people seem saved and aren’t; others might not seem saved but are or will be; many say a prayer and think they’re saved, but to God their salvation began earlier and/or later. Jesus is thinking of the final state of the believer and unbeliever.

    But if the question is whether or not a seed by itself is “salvific”, I think Tony is right. The thorns destroy the seed. Jesus’ nature parables, especially when he gave the parable of the Fig Tree, always assume that the plants that don’t bear fruit are thrown in the fire. There is no such thing in real life as a seed that is choked out by thorns and still has “value”. If it doesn’t produce, the seed is lost.

    But this is a sideline issue, I think. As Bob Ewell said in To Kill A Mockingbird, “I agree with everything Mr. Block said.”

  20. Ron Block



    Aye, as George MacDonald would say. “Ye cannot fully understand the relations of choice and Time till you are beyond both.” (Lewis, The Great Divorce)

    Luke 13:6-9, “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.”

    The parable of the third soil is there as a spur to desire Christ. In The Great Divorce, a female ghost will not relent and come into Heaven. The bright spirit attempting to persuade her says, “Will you not come with me to the mountains?” And the ghost replies, “I have already given you my answer.” The bright spirit then says, “Then only one expedient remains” and blows a horn, calling a herd of huge unicorns. Fear in her case was the last resort, fear to drive her to God.

    The Hebrews writer says this:
    Heb 10:26-29: “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?”

    And then he ends, before the great encouragement of chapter 11, with this: “Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.”

    Heb 6:8-9, “But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned. But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.”

    Take note that both times he gives the possibility of what could happen – and then encourages them by saying, “But that’s not who you are.” A fearsome statement – and then encouragement. It is a way to drive them into their real identity.

    That’s what I see consistently in the New Testament. What seems at first like fear and rules and all that turns out to be our real identity. God is intent upon driving us right into that identity – to Himself as the source and ground of our being. Because if my salvation depends on me being a fruit producer by my effort, I am certainly hell-bound.

    It makes it easier if we embrace our real identity rather than fighting it. To me the third soil is a warning to make sure we are not caught up in the world. I have been the third soil; I have lived there. And God did not give up on me, nor did I have to “get saved” all over again. I believe in blessed assurance, but it really comes later in our walk; assurance of salvation does not come from intellectually believing “Once Saved Always Saved” but rather it is centered in a growing, vibrant, life-changing relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. As we grow into that real identity, we become assured. Reading the third and fourth soils always makes me say, “I don’t want to be the third soil, Lord. Keep me from that. Make me a hundred fold soil, no matter what the cost.”

    We’re of course talking about theoretical possibilities, and so yes, a completely fruitless person is likely not saved in the first place. I would place him as the second soil. I just don’t believe the third soil is the same. It is a plant grown up and ready for fruit production, but it gets caught up in the world’s junk. The Corinthians did it, the Galatians did it, several of the Seven Letters churches in Revelation did it. They were rebuked – and rebuked out of love and a desire for their lives to become fruitful.

    These are certainly sideline issues, Benjamin. In all this discussion (mostly me yakking) I hope no one misses the main point of this series, which is this:

    A fruitful life will hear “Well done” and it will resound eternally. How do we bear fruit – how do we get to that “Well done”?

    Onward and upward!

  21. Tony Heringer

    Whew! While I was having some silly time with my wife watching “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” you guys were being serious. With tongue planted firmly in my cheek, I give you this passage, the first I read this morning:

    Job 401-5
    1 The LORD said to Job:

    2 “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?
    Let him who accuses God answer him!”

    3 Then Job answered the LORD :

    4 “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?
    I put my hand over my mouth.

    5 I spoke once, but I have no answer—
    twice, but I will say no more.”

    Like Job and in keeping with our theme, I will speak twice and no more. There is a Part II coming, so we can banter more there also (or is that too?).

    Stacy, you hit upon a theme that Ron echoes in his posts, so I’ll start with “Well done, good and faithful servant!” That comes from the “Parable of the Talents” in Matthew 25 which is between the “Parable of the Ten Virgins” and the “Parable of the Sheep and Goats.” All make the point of judgment. This is a key hermeneutic in dealing with parables – they typically drive to a single point. I try not to mine too much from them. The same mistake can be made with the book of Revelation, my current study. We attempt to extract too much from the symbolism; segregating them to a point that we lose context.

    In the parable you sight, the unfruitful or wicked servant is punished and his punishment is this: And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’. That sounds like hell to me and would imply final judgment.

    The same thing happens to the five foolish virgins and the goats. I agree we have seasons of life where we may be or feel we are unfruitful. Even then I’d be careful about our own judgments related to what is and isn’t fruitful. But, that isn’t my point.

    My point is, I believe all true followers of Christ produce fruit or works in keeping with their repentance. What that fruit looks like varies from Christian to Christian. God is the final and only Judge of what qualifies as good fruit.

    When Christ imputes His righteousness to us it is not without effect. We are declared righteous and in the process given a new heart – one that is alive. Out of that heart comes the fruit or works or what is called demonstrative righteousness. This is over the whole of a life – not a single season. Again, I’m don’t get caught up in the analogy of how fruit is produced. The key to the “Parable of the Sower”, in my opinion, is the presence or absence of fruit which is evidence of a life producing plant.

    Your second post proves my point. If I ask what saves us? You might answer faith but that would be wrong.

    The work of Christ on the cross saves us from the wrath of God. Sing these words if you know the hymn: “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.”

    The last line in this great hymn, “Jesus Paid It All” gets to my point, again, sing it if you know it:

    “And when before the throne
    I stand in Him complete,
    I’ll lay my trophies down,
    All down at Jesus’ feet.”

    Jesus paid it all, so you and I can have it all. It is the love of Christ that compels us to live for Him and nothing else.

    Faith is a gift born out of a work done in our hearts by the Spirit who calls us to Himself. Jesus says plainly in John 15:16 that He chooses His disciples to bear fruit – fruit that will last.

    This takes us back to Ephesians. You quote 2:8-9, my reference was mainly to 2:10 (made popular in early CCM by Keith Green). The whole of that passage 2:1-10 describes our journey from death to life. Our life in Christ is shown to be a life by its fruit or works. The works don’t save us, they only give evidence of salvation. That passage in James really hung Luther up for a season of his life.


    Unfruitful = no fruit. You seem to want to credit folks for something they are not doing and I submit can’t do. The second plant in the third soil is unfruitful. This soil produces no different outcome than the first two soils.

    You note near the end of your posts last night, that the fruit or perspective is eternal and that is my point too. Along the way, you make statements like this one “I bore little fruit as far as I can tell.” These types of thoughts are ones we all have alonhg the way in life but they are speculation on our part. In the end only God’s opinion matters on this subject.

    You also say “I was largely an unfruitful believer.” Were you? By that one question I mean to state two points. Were you a believer? Were you fruitful? I’d say no one really knows the exact point of their salvation much like we don’t recall the exact moment of our physical birth. It happened, because we have physical evidence, but you and I have absolutely no recollection of that event and likely many of the events of our early development and conception.

    We can press this analogy further by going to the seed and egg stage, but I think the point is clear. A lot happens going from nothing to something – i.e. not being a follower of Christ and becoming one. Who are we to decide what God considers good fruit? We’d have to know the whole counsel of God to make that determination. That is where Job and his “friends” fall down. They are making a case without all the facts. As a reader of that story its painful to read, but I do the same thing and over much more trivial matters than what Job faced.

    Like our formation and birth, we had no control over it. It came upon us. We are His workmanship. He is the Potter and we are the clay. We produce works which “which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

    Going back to your comment about the second soil, that plant is a plant. How do you figure it is not? The difference in the four soils is the soil not the seed or the plant. You don’t want to mince a parable too much, as noted above, it is only after a single point.

    Therefore, I tread lightly here and claim the point, in conjunction with the following parable and an overall theme in the book of Matthew is that of fruitfulness and its implications. For example, read the words of John the Baptist in chapter 3. His words to the Pharisees and Sadducees end with “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:10).

    John 15 teaches that fruitful branches are pruned. A text note in some translations says “cleans”. I see this as being our sanctification. Unfruitful branches are cut off. This is because, if they are not cut off, then they would draw away energy from the branches that will produce fruit.

    The same can be said of Luke 13:6-9. In an orchard, the unfruitful tree is cut down in order to allow the owner to get the most out of his vineyard, other trees and worker. I guess, we could take these two passages to be about church discipline and the excommunication of a church member. However, I don’t know if I want to give to much weight to that thought as it seems to be a stretch of the basic teaching here.

    That teaching being that unfruitful people are cast into hell which is what happens to those who don’t hear “Well done.” I don’t want to press a point beyond that.

    When are we fruitful, when are we not? How do we really know? We can have confidence because of the teaching of Scripture, the affirmation of the Spirit and the confirmation from the Body of Christ. That’s assurance of the fact that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 1:6)

    It is important to remember God doesn’t just judge the action, but the motive for the action. Do I love because God loved me? Do I show mercy because of the mercy shown to me? What struck me in our conversation about self-help books is that even true “self-control” is a fruit of the Spirit. This reinforces Jesus words in John 15 “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” As the great theologian Billy Preston said “Nothin’ from nothin’ leaves nothin’

    I see no evidence that a fruitless person can have any hope of salvation. We pray and work to see that all of us are saved because you and I don’t know the final outcome. But in the end, there will be sheep and there will be goats. The goats will be the unfruitful ones that never had a relationship with Christ even though they produced works or fruit that we call good works. Jesus essentially calls them bad fruit because of the origin – self-righteousness vs. Christ-righteousness.

    I like your terms religious or licentious. I think both are dead, i.e. unregenerate, lost. Tim Keller uses similar terms in an article I ran across on a website for one of our church plants. The article deals with the power of the Gospel and in it he talks about the legalist, the liberal and the person empowered by the Gospel (the gospelist?). He changes up the terms, but I think its worth mentioning because it contrasts the life the Gospel produces to that coming out of the fruitless deeds of darkness. Here’s a quote from that article that ties in well with our theme of “2”:

    “Tertullian said, ‘Just as Christ was crucified between two thieves, so this doctrine of justification is ever crucified between two opposite errors.’ errors continue to “steal” the gospel from us. They are “legalism” and “liberalism”. On the one hand, “legalists” have a truth without grace, for they say or imply that we must obey the truth in order to be saved. On the other hand, “liberals” have a grace without truth, for they say or imply that we are all accepted by God regardless of what we decide is true for us. But those with truth without grace, do not really have the truth, and those with grace without truth, do not really have grace. In Jesus we behold the glory of the one “full of grace and truth”. De-emphasize or lose one or the other of these truths, you fall somewhat into legalism or somewhat into license and you eliminate the joy and the “release” of the gospel. Without a knowledge of our extreme sin, the payment of the gospel seems trivial and does not electrify or transform. But without a knowledge of Christ’s completely satisfying life and death, the knowledge of sin would crush us or move us to deny and repress it. Take away either the knowledge of sin or the knowledge of grace and people’s lives are not changed. They will be crushed by the moral law or run from it screaming and angry.”

    You can read the rest of the article here: It concurs with your idea that the religious and the licentious will bear no fruit. I would just submit that the lack of fruit is evidence ultimately that they are lost.

    A recent post by Stephen Lamb extolled Tim Keller’s new book “The Prodigal God” and here you have another 2. The two sons: the younger is licentious and the older is religious. I haven’t read the book, but I listened to the message on the site Stephen gave out: I’d recommend it to you as further clarification on this point.

    All that to say, the Gospel has effect, power, energy which produces fruit in the lives of believers. I love this phrase from Paul in Colossians 1:29“To this end I labor, struggling with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me.”

    Our work for Christ is powered by Christ first and foremost. In addition to that, we should note that God always works in relationship. The biggest example of that is the Church. The Body of Christ is meant to operate together with each person offering up the gifts and talents that God has given him or her for serving the other members of the body, the community it serves and beyond.

    In dealing with the Epistles, including the 7 letters to the 7 churches in Revelation 2-3, we see God calling out to His Church, the Body of Christ, to bear fruit. These letters, as a whole, form our teaching and equipping and all of it is part of the process of sanctification – i.e. setting apart the people of God for good works. These works or fruit bring honor and glory to God.

    Alright, I’ve rambled enough. Like Job, I will metaphorically place my hand over my mouth and look forward to reading Part II. Thanks for pushing my heart and my mind. It is very good to wrestle together over these truths with you all.

    Be God’s,


  22. Ron Block



    Then my question would be – what is the carnal Christian? A fleshly one, as in Romans 8, 1Cor 3, Galatians, etc. What defines “carnal Christian”?

    The phrase “because it had no root,” referring to the second soil, differentiates it from the last two soils. The first soil obviously had nothing take root; the second looked like it did, but deep down there was no root. That phrase has a definite, designed meaning which separates the first two from the second two. In the second soil it was a plant, yes, but a plant with no root – a plant destined to die.

    I would say we are saved by grace – through faith. Faith is the agency or channel; grace is the saving force which comes down the channel. Faith itself in its natural state is a God-created function of every human being; we all operate by faith in the natural realm – I sit on this chair because I faithe in its rear-end holding power. But the revelatory faith which trusts Christ is a gift of God.

    You make some good points and I appreciate your openness to the overall truth in what I am saying, rather than just focusing on picking out particular things with which you disagree. It’s this kind of openness about the Rabbit Room that I love.


  23. Stacy Grubb


    I know you’re holding out for part 2 before you say anything else, so I’ll clarify a couple things from over here on my end.

    First of all, for my own sake, let me make it clear that I do completely agree that Salvation depends upon work – Not our own, of course, but the work that has already been done. If there had been no work, then exactly what would we be putting our faith into to begin with? And I also completely agree that Christ in our lives then performs great works through us. Maybe where we begin to differ is in the fact that I think God lets us know when we’re not being a fruitful believer by way of that still small voice. I don’t think He would lay it on my heart that I’m not living up to His plan for me if He thought I was. I agree that “what constitutes fruitfulness” will depend on the person. Naturally, someone with a wider platform (ie, a pastor, celebrity, etc) stands to bear more fruit if we’re talking number of lives touched. Obviously, that doesn’t make one more saved than the next. Neither does it make one more or less valuable in the eyes of God. I do believe, though, that we have been given the ability to recognize whether or not we’re living up to our potential as a servant of God. Just to give a ferinstance, Joe Blow may opt out of noticeably praying before his meal while in public because he doesn’t want others to see him doing it. Joe’s cousin Mo may not spend time alone with God praying when there are no eyes to see him do it or when someone else isn’t leading the prayer. Both are believers, but Joe is unfruitful because he’s not an open testimony to Christ. Mo is unfruitful because he’s not developing a personal relationship with Christ so that he can learn God’s will for him. I’ve been both Joe and Mo and God has put a nagging in my heart that I was in need of change.

    I’m terrible at gardening and such and nearly every plant that someone gives me, I’m able to maintain just enough to keep it alive, but not enough for it to bloom. I’ve got an African violet plant in my kitchen right now that hasn’t bloomed a flower since the ones that it came home with died. I cared for my last African violet plant the same way. The plant is still alive and the leaves are green, but it’s not living up to its full potential and doesn’t look nearly as beautiful as it could.

    I agree with Ron that taking root separates the second soil from the first.

    So, I think I insinuated that I would make a point somewhere, but really I don’t think I did. Maybe this is a good time for me to put my hand over my mouth.


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