"So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." - Romans 10:17
" HEARING" THE WORD OF GOD"
WITH marvelous simplicity and in reverse order, arguing from the effect to the cause and from the last to the first, the apostle Paul traces the pattern of salvation in his letter to the church at Rome.
" For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things" (Romans 10:13-15).
The importance of hearing the Word of God is clearly emphasized in Romans 10. Paul declared that he preached " the word of faith" (verse 8). That divine message, received and believed, brings faith to the heart of the glad hearer and leads him to confess the Lord Jesus unto salvation (verses 9~10). Whether one is a Jew or Gentile makes "-no difference" (verse 12), the one Lord has but one plan to save the sinner. (cf. Romans 1:16-17). The way to faith is through the hearing of the gospel! " So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (verse 17).
Here, then, is the first step in God's plan for our soul's salvation. In our study of the greatest question of the ages - what must .I do to be saved? - let us not be in too great a 'hurry and overlook some critical principles and important considerations. For, if we do not begin right, how can we end right? A wrong first step and a misunderstanding of such basic Bible teachings will surely result in spiritual disaster.
It must be pointed out that much of the religious world has a mistaken notion and woeful misconception of this simple step. Many have imagined that the saving instructions of the Lord are received in a miraculous and immediate manner; one need not actively and persistently give heed to reading, studying and listening to the gospel message, for God, in some secret and mysterious way, will directly touch the sinner's heart in his own good time. It is urged by some that faith is a super- natural gift, a blessing to be gained independent of one's hearing and ready reception of the gospel message. All such theories bear the mark of a Calvinist influence and are without Scriptural warrant.
Jesus preached the importance of hearing God's Word in his familiar parable of the sower and the seed (Luke 8:4-15). The gospel, when planted in good and honest hearts, yields the fruit of faith (verse 15). "The seed is the word of God" (verse 11). There can be no harvest where no seed is sown! Just so, there will be a failure of faith when the gospel is not preached and received.
Let us give brief notice to these particulars of hearing the Word of God.
BE CAREFUL HOW YOU HEAR - Luke 8:18
Jesus observed that the Word falls upon the hearts of different types of hearers, just as seed planted by a farmer falls upon different types of soil. He likened the hearer who deliberately rejects and fails to under- stand the message as "way side" dirt, hardened and stubbornly resisting the penetration of the life-giving seed (Luke 8:12; cf. Matthew 13:19). Those weak in faith - believing for a while, only to fall away in times of temptation - are compared to stony and rocky soil (Luke 8:13). The hearer of the Word, preoccupied and choked by the cares and pursuits of the world, is identified as ground given over to thorns and weeds (Luke 8:14). The gospel yields fruit only when one willingly receives and keeps it, much like good ground being planted with seed (Luke 8:15).
Other kinds of hearers are pictured in the Scriptures. James tells us of the forgetful hearer (James 1:22-25). Paul predicted a time would come when men with "itching ears" would "turn away their ears from the truth" and hear only those teachers who tickled their fancy (II Timothy 4:3-4). Stephen's enemies literally "stopped their ears" in a stubborn refusal to hear the truth about Jesus (Acts 7:57).
We need to hear the gospel and imitate the worthy example of the Bereans (Acts 17:10-12). Those noble men and women "received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so" (verse 11). Not surprisingly, the next verse declares "therefore many of them believed!" The Corinthians also listened to the preaching of Paul with an open mind and the same willingness to be reached with convincing evidence; "and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized"(Acts 18:8).
BE CAREFUL WHO YOU HEAR - I John 4:1
The aged apostle John warned his beloved children in the faith to "believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (I John 4:1). Not every teacher who claims to speak in the name of Jesus is true to the faith. Paul pointed out that some religious leaders are in fact "false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ" (ll Corinthians 11:13). How tragic it is that so many sincere, yet gullible, religious people willingly follow after blind leaders, not realizing their destiny is only a ditch (cf. Matthew 15:14).
Man must hear the voice of Jesus if he is to have any hope of salvation. The Father speaks to us today through his Son (Hebrews 1:1-3).
"So great salvation" was first preached by Jesus and was "confirmed unto us by them that heard him" (Hebrews 2:3). Jesus of Nazareth was the prophet Moses declared God would raise up from among his people; "Him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you" (Acts 3:22). Only Jesus can speak the words of spirit and eternal life (John 6:63,68). Only Jesus has received the ringing endorsement from On High: "and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is mv beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him" (Matthew 17:5).
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU HEAR - Mark 4:24
Our Lord's illustration of the seed in Luke 8 underscores the extreme care one must take in what he hears and receives. Although the word of God - the gospel - is the pure seed, and when planted in good and honest hearts will bear the fruit of obedience unto salvation, it is also true that any other seed will grow where it is planted. There is no guarantee that even a perverted gospel (cf. Galatians 1:7) will not grow and produce a deadly harvest in the heart of a believer, his sincerity and honesty notwithstanding.
Paul spoke of some who would "believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth..." (ll Thessalonians 2:11-12). Just as weeds will grow in a garden as well as peas (if not better!), so, too, will a false gospel sprout and take root.
Each hearer must, therefore, be cautious and critical in his examination of every idea and doctrine urged upon him. Jesus admonished his listeners to "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees" (Matthew 16:6). Let us subject all religious leaders and their words to the same scrutiny today.
All who stand in need of salvation today are just as Cornelius of old (Acts 10). Although he was warned by an angel of his need for instruction and conversion, he still needed to send for Peter to "hear words...whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved" (verse 22; Acts 11:14) Cornelius gave certain evidence of a ready heart when he told Peter, "Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God" (Acts 10:33).
May God help us to have more of the attitude of the boy Samuel: "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth" (I Samuel 3).