The gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and that power is demonstrated in all three tenses of our salvation–justification, sanctification, and glorification. The finished work of the gospel is not just our conversion but our complete transformation that takes place from one degree of glory to another until we are completed conformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We are formed by the gospel, daily transformed by the gospel, and conformed ultimately through the gospel. All of this the work of Jesus in and through us, that is, Christ in us, the hope of glory.
Paul explains the continuing work of the gospel in his introductory remarks to the Colossian church, commending them for how they have and continue to embrace the gospel. He writes,
Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth (Col. 1:5-6).
Paul likens the gospel to a seed that has been planted (which has come to you) and continues to blossom in their lives (is bearing fruit and growing). He is saying that the great work of the gospel does not end when “you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth” but rather you continue to hear it, believe it, understanding it, and treasure it throughout your life. The gospel seed is to increasingly impact our lives as it powerfully produces the fruit of Christ-likeness in our words, our thoughts, our affections, our decisions, our relationships, our mission, and the entirety of our lives.
When a large crowd had gathered around Jesus, He began to speak in parables, explaining the nature and advance of His kingdom. He uses the same illustration of the seed and the fruit in the parable of the sower, showing the different responses based on the kind of soils wherein the seed was planted. Only one soil was fertile ground for the gospel seed because they heard the word and understood it, thus bearing fruit thirtyfold, sixtyfold, and a hundredfold. I believe this is a picture of a heart and life dominated by the gospel, where the gospel seed “is bearing fruit and growing” (Co. 1:6) continually whether it is thirty, sixty, or a hundred. It should be our desire that our hearts would be such fertile ground for the gospel seed that its fruit becomes evident in our lives as we embrace it, understand it, and live out it implications for all of life.
But here’s where heart idolatry factors into the situation. Jesus spoke of how the gospel seed is choked, how its nourishment is sapped, how its flourishing is smothered. This is the seed among thorns, and read how Jesus explains the heart and life of such a person:
And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful (Mark 4:19).
The gospel seed is choked and proven unfruitful in the soil of an idolatrous heart. How do I know it is heart idolatry? The “desires for other things” are the evidences of covetousness–of thinking and believing that you have to have certain things in order to be satisfied, find your identity, and experience a fulfilling life. Paul explains that he would have not known sin but for the commandment, “You shall not covet” (Rom. 7:7-8), and this command against covetousness is not about behavior or actions but the inner disposition of the heart of being restless and dependent on other things besides God. This is why Paul tells the Colossian church that they are to put to death covetousness which is in them because it is idolatry (Col. 3:5).
The fertile ground in which the gospel seed flourishes is in the heart of one who rests satisfied in all that God has given them in Jesus. He is enough for them. He is all they want. It is the opposite of covetousness because it is contentment in the treasure they have found in Jesus. Heart idolatry, however, wants to turn our hearts into a thorny patch which quickly spreads and suffocates this gospel seed, to choke the life out of it and prevent the heart from being nourished by its life-giving power.
When you are worried and concerned about the cares of this world, you are saying that the God who spoke the world into being is not great enough to care for you. His daily provision that should free you to enjoy Him and seek the advance of His kingdom is not a daily reality, and therefore you become enslaved by your fears, worries, and concerns and live paralyzed with no kingdom advance either in the King’s rule in your heart or the world around you.
When the deceitfulness of riches ensnare you, you are failing to remember that the great gain is “godliness with contentment” (1 Tim. 6:6) not “greediness with covetousness”. Your heart is chasing the fleeting pleasures of riches and the unfulfilled promises they entice you as you find your identity, meaning, and acceptance in them. Jesus is not your treasure, the pearl of greatest price, and so when like the rich young ruler He calls you sell all that you have, you are unwilling to part with your riches because you treasure them more than Jesus. The grip on your idols has ironically enslaved you and prevented you from experiencing the exceeding riches of His grace (Eph. 1:7; 2:7; 3:8).
When the desires for other things rule your affections, you fail to realize that your heart was made to delight in God alone, that He is the well of living water you were intended to drink deep from, that He is the Bread of life that you are to regularly feast. You question the goodness of God in giving Himself to you, as though something or someone other than Himself will bring you greater joy and satisfaction.
These are the thorns of heart idolatry that we must face and “put to death” (Col. 3:5). If we do not, the slavery of idolatry will result in barren lives with no fruit of the gospel’s work, no advance of the kingdom in our hearts, and give us and others every reason to ask whether you have ever really tasted and seen that the Lord is good. The design of the Christian life is that the gospel seed would find fertile ground in our hearts wherein our delight and satisfaction in God increases with unspeakable joy, where the kingdom of God advances because of the unrivaled rule and reign of Jesus, and where the resulting transformation of our lives will be a lasting tribute to sovereign grace and unceasing exultation in the cross of Christ.