“If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:6).
Why is it that some people do not remain in Christ over time, and thus do not bear the fruit of the vine? Why is it that some people appear to be attached to Christ, but then leave the church and walk away from the Lord, never to be seen again? Jesus gives us several insights into this reality in Matthew 13:18-23 and 13:24-30.
First, some people hear the word of God and do not understand it because the devil has blinded the eyes of their minds. “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). And because they do not understand the word of God, they cannot properly respond to it and they fall away.
Second, some people hear the word of God and receive it with joy, but as soon as trouble comes they forsake the Lord and leave the church. I once discipled a new believer named Gil. He was a gang member who some how heard the gospel and found his way to our church. At first, he was very excited and engaged in the process but as soon as his car broke down and he lost his girlfriend he fell away. Why? Because the joy he had in Christ was contingent on particular blessings, and as soon as the Lord removed these from his life, his lack of authentic love for Christ was exposed and he fell away.
Third, some people hear the word of God but then get caught up in the things of the world and the pursuit of wealth, and these things choke out the word. “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).
Fourth, some people hear the word of God and become like weeds among the wheat, who for a variety of reasons work to undermine the word and do violence to the church. Prominent examples of this in the New Testament are Judas Iscariot (betrayer, Matthew 26:47), Ananias and Sapphira (deceivers, Acts 5:1-11), and Hymenaeus and Alexander (false teachers, 1 Timothy 1:20).
What is the destiny of these four types of people? According to John 15:6 it is this: God the Father will cut them off, throw them aside and let them wither, and eventually gather them up and burn them in a fire. I take this to mean that he will cut them away from Christ, expose their hypocrisy, and eventually send them to hell. “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death" (Revelation 21:8).
The high price of fruitlessness is eternal severance from Christ in hell.
Prayer Focus: Pray that God will keep us from being like these four types of people, and will instead give us the grace to be fertile soil that receives the word of God with joy, endures through many trials, and bears much fruit to the glory of the Father. And pray that God will give us extraordinary grace so that we can woo people away from the world and into Christ. Perhaps God will grant us the grace to snatch some from the fire, as it were.