by Matthew W. Bassford
Classical Calvinism teaches that it is impossible for the unregenerate to understand the word of God. We first must be anointed by the Holy Spirit before we can comprehend it and be saved. At first glance, Matthew 13:11 appears to support this doctrine. Here, Jesus says to His disciples, “Because the secrets of the kingdom of heaven have been given for you to know, but it has not been given for them to know.” Sounds like the elect versus the reprobate, doesn’t it?
However, a study of the context reveals that something very different is going on. In the first eight verses of Matthew 13, Jesus relates the parable of the sower, a description of agricultural events with no apparent spiritual application. In Matthew 13:9, He offers an invitation: “Let anyone who has ears, listen.” In Matthew 13:10, while the multitudes mill around in bafflement, the disciples come to Him and ask Him to explain His teaching methods. In Matthew 13:18-23, He explains the parable of the sower to them.
In this context, the clear difference between the enlightened disciples and the ignorant multitudes is not the anointing of the Spirit. It’s plain and simple want-to. The people who wanted to figure out the meaning of the parable exerted extra effort and got what they wanted. The people who didn’t want to bother did nothing extra and remained in the dark.
This same pattern plays out today, even among baptized believers. When it comes to figuring out the Bible, some Christians have want-to. They study their lesson before Bible class. They listen intently. They ask questions. They engage the preacher about his lesson after the sermon is over. They read the Bible daily. And so on. Though such brethren never satisfy their desire for the truth, they steadily grow in understanding.
On the other hand, there are Christians who don’t have that want-to. They do none of the things that their more diligent peers do. However, they are very good at manufacturing excuses for their lack of diligence.
“I’m too busy,” is a favorite. “The preacher/teacher is boring,” is another. Strangely, they don’t find the latest episode of “Tiger King”, with its constant parade of ungodly freaks, to be boring, but those who proclaim the word of life are. Perhaps they would be happier if the Bible-class teacher were more like Joe Exotic.
Regardless of excuses, the outcome is the same as it was 2000 years ago. The motivated gain enlightenment; the unmotivated remain ignorant. This is no mere academic difference. A greater understanding of the word increases faith, produces hope, builds character, and protects from temptation. Those who are not growing become more faithless, more hopeless, more useless, and more godless.
Over time, many such brethren fall away, astonishing those who had worshiped with them for years or decades. In reality, their collapse is no more surprising than the collapse of an old, dead tree. On the outside, little change was evident, but within, rot and termites were hard at work.
The risks are too real for any of us to take chances with our salvation. Each one of us needs to return to the word with zeal and Berean love of truth, not because we love academic minutiae, but because we love God and His Son. With such a spirit, we bring joy to the Lord’s heart and make the devil’s job that much harder. We have ears to hear. Let’s use them.