Jesus (in Matthew 13) described “hard soil”– hearts that are unreceptive to God’s message. But one can’t assume that those hearts that are “hard soil” are all the same. Commonly those in this category can be looked as those who are invested in a different faith to the point that they reject a new faith.
Brian McLaren (“Finding Faith”, 1999, page 31) defined faith as “… a state of relative certainty about matters of ultimate concern sufficient to promote action.” This definition makes clear that atheism and other “non-religious” beliefs can still involve faith. But faith can be divided into at least four categories.
-True versus False faith. One can have faith in something that is untrue. Strong faith does not necessarily make that faith true any more than a rejection of a belief makes it false.
-Good versus Bad faith. This designation is also from Brian McLaren… and has to do with how faith manifests itself. After all, if faith is a belief strong enough to promote action, faith is demonstrated by how it manifests itself through actions. McLaren describes some characteristics of “good” faith and of “bad” faith. (The terms “good” and “bad” are to be interpreted on a human, practical level… not on a theological level.)
Bad Faith (some characteristics): arrogant, unteachable, dishonest, apathetic, regressive. In other words, faith that creates a bad, unloving, destructive individual is bad faith… even if the faith is true.
Good Faith (some characteristics): humble, teachable, inquisitive, grateful, honest, active, tough, and relational. Faith that generates a kind, loving, constructive individual is “good” faith… even if the faith is false.
The result is the development of 4 possible combinations.
The four choices are:
A. True and Good Faith. This is the goal for a Christian. One hopes and should expect that the Christian faith should manifest itself in goodness (salt and light to the world).
B. True and Bad Faith. Sometimes one has a strong Christian faith, but carnality has resulted in a Christian with a hateful, bitter, even violent behavior. This is very difficult to deal with. Jesus had more trouble from religious leaders who had true but bad faith than any other group.
C. False and Bad Faith. This is easy for Christians to understand. If one accepts a false faith, it is very easy for Christians to expect these individuals behaving in a recognizably bad way.
D. True and Good Faith. This is difficult for Christians. Because we recognize that we are unable to please God in our own ability, we tend to have trouble with those of a false faith who behave good. Yet, the term “good” here is defined in human, not divine terms.
Group A (good and true faith) is certainly the goal. However, the other groups can be described as hard soils. How do we disciple those who have a true faith but demonstrates it in bad action? How do we share true faith with those of false and bad faith. Do we attack the bad faith? Do we act surprised that a false faith leads to bad behavior? And what about those people who (at least on a human level) are good as the outworking of a false faith? How do we share faith?
Much of our methods for evangelism target “good soil” or receptive people of weak faith. But Jesus targeted, at times, hard soil… particularly those of true but bad faith. Only God can change a heart, but God has made us part of his plan for change. What do we need to learn to work with hard soil?