The Problem of Shallow Roots
“But he who received the seed on stony places (or on rock), this is he who hears the word (of God or of the kingdom) and immediately receives it with joy; yet 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 (or falls away).” Matt. 13: 20-21 (see also Luke 8:13)
The above quote is from the explanation that Jesus gave for His parable of the sower. In this parable, Jesus compares the spreading of the truths of His word to planting seeds and the plants that spring up from the seeds. One problem that He defines is a plant that has shallow roots, and therefore when the sun comes up the plant is scorched and dies because the roots are not deep enough to supply moisture. The analogy is that Christians too who have shallow roots will not survive when difficult times are encountered.
In my previous blog post I pointed out that many churches are not focusing their ministries on increasing or enhancing the spiritual maturity of their members, but rather, they are concerned with attracting more people. They are measuring success by the number of people they “convert” and/or become members of their church organization. One of the major problems that I believe is the result of this false focus on attracting people is what I call “shallow conversion” that results in shallow roots.
New converts are not presented the full picture of the Gospel message and therefore do not understand the full cost of their decision to follow Jesus as His disciple. This approach of presenting only a partial Gospel message is likely to make a conversion shallow resulting in a weak foundation.
Let me first make it clear that the Holy Spirit works with each individual differently and reveals truths to them through various events in their lives. Eventually though, people reach a place where they are ready to hear and receive the Gospel message and it is the responsibility of the Church (and individual Christians) to deliver this message. It is important that these people receive the full message in a very clear manner so that they can make the deep, serious decision needed to follow Jesus as His disciple with “deep roots” and a firm foundation in place that can be built upon. Paul the apostle mentions this foundation in one of his letters:
“For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay that that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” 1 Cor. 3:9-11
It is my view that unfortunately there are very few wise master builders who can lay the proper foundation that can be built upon with confidence so as to make it through the stress of a storm or flood, or that will produce the deep roots needed to endure difficult times.
Historically, there came a point within the last century that evangelical preaching was reduced to a formula, or a quick recipe for conversion. There is first a message about how we all have “fallen short and have sinned” and are in need of a savior. Then the message that God loves us and sent Jesus as the savior who has died for our sins, and we need to put our faith in His forgiveness and realize that He has paid the price for our sins. The conversion, where we are “saved”, is presented as occurring when we recite a “sinner’s prayer” where we admit that we have sinned and are in need of a savior, and that we accept Jesus as that savior, believing that he died for our sins and has given us a fresh, new start in life. The new Christians are usually assured that God loves them and has a plan for their lives. Some include that once they have said the “sinner’s prayer” they are “saved” and are now a part of the family of God and will go to heaven when they die.
There are many evangelists on television and with worldwide crusades who have made this approach popular, boasting of preaching to billions and having multiple millions of people who came forward at evangelical meetings or responding to radio and television shows and movies, who have recited the “sinner’s prayer” for conversion. It would stand to reason though that there is a disconnect between the number of supposed converts and the impact this would have on society if all of these conversions were legitimate and were showing forth the fruit of a true, deep conversion.
I am not saying that all evangelists in our modern western Christian organizations are false teachers who are purposely misleading people. I must assume, though, that they see quantity, or the number of respondents, as a measure of success and design their method of communication and presentation to increase these numbers. It would seem, whether their motives are sincere or not (God knows), that the result is that the Gospel message is changed to be more of a “sales pitch” with any offensive elements removed so as to result in the most respondents.
It appears also that this shallow, non-offensive Gospel message has been propagated for so long and by so many that it has become accepted as the proper approach to evangelism. Many preachers and evangelists, I suspect, are not even aware of the problem with the message.
I am also not saying that all of these conversions through these evangelist’s efforts are not Christians. God is able to work in people’s lives regardless of their exposure to truth or lies. I say again, my point is that many of them had or may still have shallow roots or a weak foundation that leaves them vulnerable.
You may be saying, “What’s wrong with the Gospel message that was described above?” Well, as I stated earlier, there is nothing that is blatantly false. The problem is that important parts are missing, creating an improper shift of focus and areas that are not addressed. The fact that the message contains many truisms is what causes confusion. Again I emphasize that a message that is true but incomplete can be just as problematic as a message that is totally false.
The problem with this current faulty Gospel message is that it typically leaves the new Christian with the impression that the main goal of their new faith is to improve their lives here on earth. Their focus remains on their earthly existence, thinking that now with God on their side they can prosper, be happy, have any negative situations and events removed from their lives, and have the power of God at their disposal. I have seen this message presented in the same way as other “self-help” or “self-improvement” methodologies or philosophies. In other words, living the Christian life becomes just another wholesome way of living, and a means of improving a person’s current situation, including getting out of jail, or recovery from addiction, or healing from physical problems, or a way out of poverty, etc.
The confusing part is that Christianity does bring about all of these improvements, but there is a paradox in the true Christian message, and it is this: If we love our life we will lose it, but if we lose our life we will gain it. Here is how Jesus said it:
“He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” John 12:25
The true, full picture, Gospel message shifts the focus of the new convert onto eternal life, removing their focus from the temporary life here on earth. This may not seem to be too important, but it is an extremely critical component in the conversion act. This shift of focus from this life to the next life is radical and extreme. The Scriptures compare it to a death experience, and what could be more extreme than death? We are told that we should consider ourselves as having died to this world, and we should live the rest of our lives as temporary residents here on earth with our future hopes and desires set on the eternal life we will have with Jesus in heaven.
“Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations – do not touch, do not taste, do not handle, which all concern things which perish with the using – according to the commandments and doctrines of men?” Colossians 2: 20-22
“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set you mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” Colossians 3:1-4
I have been criticized by some Christians for presenting the Gospel message in this manner for the following reason: they say that new converts cannot absorb this idea of dying to this life and living for the next, and that it should be presented later in the Christian’s walk when they are ready for it. I disagree – the thinking behind this criticism is carnal thinking, using the natural mind and not considering the power of the Holy Spirit to work in people’s hearts. I also see it as disingenuous to present the Gospel without this context, only to later extend the requirement for discipleship. How will the potential convert weigh the cost of discipleship without knowing the full extent of what is required of them? Jesus made this very clear when He spoke of becoming one of His disciples:
“Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, ‘If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it, lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.” Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.’” Luke 14: 25-33
It is critical for Christians to understand the commitment that they are entering into upon deciding to follow Jesus as His disciple. They need to understand that they are no longer a part of this world system in the same way that they had been. True faith understands that this world and everything in it is temporary and pursuing these things is vanity. True faith also understands that this world has been cursed and is under the influence of Satan, and will not change until the Lord Jesus returns at His second coming to destroy the devil and his work. True Christians are patiently enduring through this life, proving our loyalty and commitment to Jesus, trusting Him in all circumstances not matter where He sends us, and allowing His Spirit to purge us through various trials and hardships to transform us into vessels of honor to bring glory to Him.
Unfortunately, Christians who initially hear an incomplete message about salvation are never filled in on the full message later, at least that has been my observation. Older Christians become resistant to the message of dying to this world, or to not loving their life here on earth, and desire to continue in their immaturity. Once the poor foundation has been laid and build upon, it becomes much harder to correct the misconception, very similar to attempting to repair the foundation of an existing building. It’s much better to build it correct in the first place.
Obviously, this true Gospel message that I just described is very different than a self improvement approach to our life. It is very different than seeing Christianity as a way to better one’s life that also removes guilt and has heaven as a bonus guaranteed at the end, like some ticket you previously acquired that will assure entrance to heaven, but you have stored away and don’t need until that time.
I once had a conversation with someone who claimed to be a Christian and when I mentioned our hope in heaven, his response was, “Heaven, oh, I have that covered.” I was confused and asked what he meant. He said, “I took care of heaven when I got saved. I don’t have to think of it anymore.” He meant that since he was “saved”, he was assured of heaven and therefore he didn’t have to think or worry about it anymore since it was taken care of when he first came to the Lord. My response was, “How can you not think about heaven if you have placed you hope there, unless your hope is still focused on the earth? How can you store up your treasures in heaven? Are we as Christians not instructed to set our affections on the things above, where Christ is, and not on earthy things?” I don’t think that his attitude or thinking was unique, but rather, I think it is a common result of our modern faulty Gospel that leaves out the important principle of shifting our hope from what this world offers to the eternal hope that we have in heaven. We are clearly instructed by God’s Word to stop loving our life in this world, but to instead cherish our eternal life, and to place our full hope and focus on the eternal, permanent, spiritual things of heaven.
“Do not love or cherish the world or the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh [craving for sensual gratification], the lust of the eyes [greedy longing of the mind], and the pride of life [assurance in one’s own resources or in the stability of earthly things] – these do not come from the Father but are from the world [itself]. And the world passes away and disappears, and with it the forbidden cravings (the passionate desires, the lust) of it; but he who does the will of God and carries out His purposes in his life abides (remains) forever.” 1 John 2: 15-17 (The Amplified Bible)
True Christianity requires that a person makes a drastic change in their life. They must no longer love the life that they have in this world, but rather they must put it to death. They must consider themselves as dead to this world, and recognize that their life is in Jesus Christ, that is, that they will have eternal life with Him if they continue in this mindset. They must no longer seek the things that this world offers like success, wealth, prominence, security, or happiness.
The paradox is that when we seek after the things that the world has to offer, we never really get the full satisfaction that we really desire but we end up empty and still wanting, even after we attain them. When we turn from these things and look towards heaven, we are free from the bondage and experience a true satisfaction that come from our spirits. We attain the fruit of the spirit, that is, love, joy, peace and more.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Galatians 5:22
In summary, a major root cause of the immaturity and carnality of modern western Christians, and what has caused a shallow root or a weak foundation, is the faulty modern Gospel that is presented with partial truth and results in a shallow conversion. The Gospel message must include a clear statement regarding the prerequisite for discipleship that involves a shifting of focus from this temporary life here on earth, and the things that this life offers, to the permanent, eternal life promised by God through the redemption of Jesus Christ. True Christian converts become pilgrims on a journey, only passing through this life as temporary residents. This shift of focus, that can only occur as a result of a deep, sincere faith, will cause a deep change to take place in a person’s heart and mind, constituting a “deep root” in their lives. A transformation will then begin to take place with a renewing of their minds, no longer conforming to the worldly ways of thinking and perceiving their surroundings and circumstances. The result will be maturity and spiritual fruit.
Christians like to use the term “Born again” to describe their experience. In order to be truly born again of the spirit, you must first put to death your life in the flesh. The old nature that was based on the flesh and this physical world system must die and be replaced with a new nature that is based on spiritual things.
In the future I want to discuss more about the Scriptural basis for my conclusions and other complication that result from this error. I would like to look deeper at what it means to be spiritual, and also look at the importance of hope in our lives, or more specifically, that we should live with our lives with our hopes set on the promise of heaven. If the Lord wills and allows, I’ll continue this discussion in a future post.