You are here

8. Do You Have the Spiritual Root in Your Inner Being?

– Chapter 8 –

Do You Have the Spiritual Root in Your Inner Being?

Matthew 13:20–21; Colossians 2:7

Hong Kong, March 20, 1983

Spiritual root in your inner being

Today I focus on the following two verses in the very important Parable of the Sower (note the words in boldface):

But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when trib­ulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. (Matthew 13:20–21, NKJV)

I am quoting this passage from the New King James Version because two important Greek words are omitted (not trans­lated) in the NIV. Whereas the Greek text says, “since he has no root in himself,” the NIV has “since they have no root,” omitting “in himself” (these two words are, however, found in ESV, NASB, NET, RSV). We now turn our attention to the words “in himself,” which H.A.W. Meyer cor­rectly translates as “in his own inner being” (Critical and Exegetical Hand­book to the Gospel of Matthew, p.256).

Some Christians have this root and some do not. If you don’t have it, you will not survive. This root is a matter of spiritual life and death; it is absolutely vital for your survival. So we need to ask: Do you have this root in yourself?

Some people from overseas have said, “We hear that the church in Montreal is quite alive, but some who have returned from Montreal seem to be quite dead.” And you are right. In the spiritual atmosphere of the Montreal church, they are like coal in a fire. When you put a piece of coal in the fire, it gets heat from the other pieces of coal, and everything is fine. But if you remove this piece of coal and place it somewhere in isolation, it cannot perpetuate the fire within itself.

To use the picture of the Parable of the Sower, these people have no root in them­selves. This is a big concern for me regarding the church in Montreal, but also you in Hong Kong. I would like you to ask yourself, do you have this spiritual root in yourself? When a Christian has this root in himself, one of the first signs is that he is not much affected by external circumstances, for he can draw strength from within. He has an inner source of power. Do you have this source?

Can you withstand opposition to the truth?

Matthew 13:20 says that when a person of the second type hears the Word of God, he “immediately receives it with joy.” So he says, “Wow, it’s so good!” But verse 21 says that he lasts only for a short time. He seems to be fine for a while, but only until “tribulation or persecut­ion arises because of the Word.”

Troubles will always come to the Christian life. People are always giving me trouble, and I praise God for that! If Satan doesn’t give me trouble, I will get worried: “What’s wrong with me that Satan’s not interested in me?” The Lord Jesus says that when people think well of you and say good things about you, you are in trouble (Luke 6:26). But when you go deep into God, the enemy will get annoyed with you. I know some people who are keen to bury me! The Word of God produces very strong reactions when it is preached with power. But if you preach the Word with no power, nobody bothers you; nobody cares what you say because it doesn’t touch them.

As we see in Acts 7, when Stephen preached the Word with power, the people were furious with him. The Word of God is like a knife cutting into their hearts, and they even put their fingers in their ears. Have you ever seen anyone in the church put their fin­gers in their ears, and grind their teeth? This was a powerful reaction to Stephen’s message. When that did not work, they killed him. When you preach the Word of God with power, you are going to have tribulation and persecut­ion. When this situation comes, the Christian with no spiritual root in himself won’t stand.

When you go home and say to everyone, “I’ve become a Christian,” your family will say, “What? Have you gone out of your mind? Don’t talk to me anymore!” They will give you a hard time, so you say to yourself, “I can’t take it! I surrender!”

When I was training to serve God, my parents didn’t want to talk to me anymore. Whenever I came home, the first question my mother would ask was, “When are you leaving?” I am an only son, so when they treat an only son like that, they must be really annoyed. Can you stand this kind of persecution? If you are not persecuted at all by anyone, maybe you are making little impact with your Christian life. I don’t mean that you go out and provoke people to persecute you, but when you live in God’s power, in holiness, the natural reaction to you will be oppos­ition. And I am concerned that you can stand firm. Do you have this root inside you?

Root: God’s Word changes you in your heart

I preached on the Parable of the Sower before, but the Word of God being very rich, I have never approached the parable from this angle, with the root as the key to this whole parable.

The Word of God is pictured as a seed. What happens when this seed is developing in your heart? It produces a root. Just as when you are planting a bean in moist soil, a root comes out. When you first listen to the Word of God, you just hear it and understand it, but nothing much happens yet. But later the Word of God reaches down into your heart, and a root grows from your mind to your heart. Until the Word of God reaches your heart, there is no root, but when that happens, there is a root, and your life begins to change.

This point is vital because some people go to theological seminary to study the Bible, but when you look at their lives, there’s nothing there. I was given a deep impression of this when I watched some students in the students lounge debat­ing about predestination until their faces turned red: “You’re wrong! I’m right!” The attitude to one another was like lions ready to eat each other up! When I saw their behavior, I felt sick to my stomach. I couldn’t run out of that place fast enough! They treated the Word of God as some kind of philo­sophy. If some day I could take you to a seminary to see the arrogance of some students, you would know what I mean.

In this particular college, we all had to put on black gowns. As you are walking, the sleeves would fling about. As soon as you put on a gown, you feel important. Your head becomes very big: Look at these lesser people down there! This is what happens when you treat the Word of God like that. It’s a disaster! I have spent years with these theological students as one of them, and I have often wondered, why are they studying the Bible? It is all in the head so that they can show their knowledge. They treat it as a profession. Their life is pitiful! That includes even my professor. I was under the supervision of a Hebrew professor who knew Hebrew very well, but it is all technical when I talk with him. I might as well be talking with him about chemistry or physics; I don’t even feel I am talking about the Bible. I would sometimes wonder if he knows God. I don’t know the answer to this, because talking to him is like talking to a non-Christian.

What am I saying? You can read the Bible every day and be as dead as a stone. Don’t think you are a good Christian just because you study your Bible. Theological students study the Bible every day, and some of them are worse than non-Christians in their behavior. They don’t have the root of life inside them. I beg of you to under­stand this root. I repeat: When the Word of God reaches into your heart, the root grows, and God’s power changes your life such that others say, “Hey, your life is changing!” Then of course the root has to go deeper.

Study the Bible to draw God’s life into you

It means that there are two different ways of studying the Bible. One is to study the Bible as technical knowledge, which is what theo­logical students do. The other is to go into the Word of God with spiritual perception, drawing life from God’s Word into your heart, just a root draws water and nourishment from the soil. Not only does the Word of God reach into your heart, it becomes a point of contact with God Himself.

Colossians 2:7 says “rooted in Christ,” and verse 9 says “in him the whole fullness of deity [God] dwells bodily.” There are two aspects to this: the root in us, and the extension of the root all the way to Christ, who is in union with God. We make contact with Christ first, by being united with him at baptism to become a new person. The Word of God becomes a source of life to us through this root, otherwise God’s Word will merely be a source of knowledge. I don’t mean that there is anything wrong with knowledge, but knowledge isn’t the point of God’s Word which is meant to give us life.

Let us now look at the characteristics of the one who has the root “in himself”.

1. A person with root in himself is stable

In Scripture, root signifies stability. In both the Old and the New Testaments, to put down root means to be stable, having a firm grip on the ground. Psalm 80:8-9 says that God took a vine out of Egypt and cleared the ground for it; then the vine (Israel) “took deep root and filled the land.” We have seen in Colossians 2:7 that to be “rooted in Christ” is to be connected with God through Christ. This root — the Word of God in your heart — will make you stable, which is vital. When one is unstable, it shows that the root is not there or not deep enough. One of the things we look for in those who request the full-time training is stability. We cannot accept anyone for training who lacks stability.

2. He loves God’s Word, not money

In the Bible, root also symbolizes source, cause, or motive. Take for example the well known words in 1 Timothy 6:10, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” If you want to destroy the source of evil in yourself, you must cut the root. It is an absolute law of the Christian life that when a Christian is in love with money, he has evil in himself. It is amazing what people will do out of the love of money: sell their sons or daughters or parents for money. If you want to get rid of an enemy, just hire someone to murder him. The love of money is the root of evil. With many Christians, that root is still there.

So there are two roots: one is the root of God’s Word and the spiritual life; the other is the root of this world, the love of money. These two roots cannot coexist in us, for the one will choke the other, just as the roots of the thorns choke the seed in the parable.

3. He has initiative, and sets achievable objectives

The spiritual root is a source, a cause, a motivat­ion, so when a person has this root in himself, there is another mark in addition to stability: initiative. We look for spiritual drive or initiative in those who request the full-time training. There are some Christians who move one step if you push them. If you push harder, they may make two steps. If you don’t push them, they will come to a standstill. You just can’t get them to move! There is no inner dynamic, no motivation, no initiative.

But the Christian with spiritual root will press towards the mark. Such Christians always work towards the next objective, setting new targets. But they don’t set a goal so far away that you can’t see it except with a telescope. If you are a Christian who has initiative, you will be very practical, and set achievable objectives.

Praise be to God, when I was a young Christian, God was work­ing in my life with power. As a result, I kept on setting objectives. My first objective was to know the Word of God. So I worked on God’s Word whenever I could find a spare moment. Even if it was a holiday, I would work all day on the Word of God. There was a time I was not studying theology but some other subjects, but whenever I found the time, I would work on God’s Word.

I would set objectives to approach God’s Word from this direction and that direction. For example, I wanted to study God’s Word in a way for learning more about God’s charact­er. I worked right through the Scriptures to understand what God is like. Then I studied the Word of God from another angle: what does God require of me? Then I would study the Bible from yet another angle: what is God’s purpose for His church today? What kind of church does He intend to build in this world?

In God’s Word, I see a new society of God’s people

In studying God’s Word, I saw a vision of God’s plan for His church: a new society of God’s people. Oh, I got very excited! The fire burned in my heart!

I became a Christian in China where I spent seven years under the Liberation, and during which I saw the Commun­ists try to build a new society. At first, everybody had to smelt iron in their backyards, but eventually this ended up as waste because you cannot get usable iron out of it. We were supposed to wipe clean the whole existing society, and build it all back again. I do admire their attitude. They wanted to create a new society because they knew that the old one was not good. I sym­pathize with that. But they need to know where they are heading before they can assess whether their strategy will work or ruin a billion lives.

If God permits, we will implement a new society in the church in Montreal and here in Hong Kong. We will work towards God’s new society in which people don’t live for them­selves but for each other. If you care for yourself, you will have only one person to care for you. But in a society where everyone is living for the other, you will have many people to care for you. The root of God’s Word transforms our lives, and when everyone has that root, there will be a new society.

Yet I see many churches in the world always begging for money. They need money for this building, and money for that cause, as if the church cannot live without money. I once went to a church, and the first thing I saw was a gigantic placard showing a thermometer. I was won­dering what a thermometer was doing in a church. Was it so cold that you need this gigantic thermometer? On closer look, I saw money figures on it. The offering had reached $500,000, with a long way yet to reach the goal of $1,200,000. So don’t forget to give an offering!

I have been to churches where the offering plate comes around three times. By the second round, I had already put all my offering in the first round. Then came a third offering plate. The “trick” is that if you intend to give $3, just give $1 each time. But I put in $3 all at once, in the first round. What is the idea behind three offering plates? I don’t understand it.

The love of the brothers and sisters in our Montreal church really touches my heart. A new society is coming. They constantly give to those in need. We had a brother whose leg was amputated because of cancer. I suggested that he go to Switzerland to benefit from a natural treatment — a special water treatment — not a medical one, in order to get a rest as he was very tired. I had hardly mentioned this when the gifts kept pouring in for this brother! Two thousand eight hundred Canadian dollars in one weekend! I looked around at the church and wondered where all the money came from. We don’t have any mill­ionaires. And when someone’s mother died, they all collected money for the family. When someone got married, the gifts were coming in for this new couple!

When I was about to leave Montreal for Hong Kong, I knew they were going to start a collection again. I was begging them the Sunday before my departure, “Please don’t give me any­thing because I don’t have a need.” I was wonder­ing whether I should kneel on the platform! It was to no avail because the treasurers passed me a gift that was enough to cover my flight to come here and go back. I was begging the people not to give, because I was afraid that they won’t have anything to eat! Since begging didn’t work, I had to “threaten” them: “I’m going to visit your home at din­ner time to see if you have enough food on the table!” So all in all, they collected money three times in one month for three different causes!

I don’t know what to do with a church like that! You have to beg them not to give, and you can’t win because, by God’s grace, they are learning to care for one another. God’s power is bringing into being a wonderful new society in which you never have to worry. When you get married and have no money, there is a whole family to support you. When a family member dies, you don’t have to worry. When the mother of one of our sisters died, I was so touched to see the church comforting her, supporting her. Oh, my heart is full of joy! That is what the new society — God’s family — is about. The root of God’s Word reaches deep into the heart, transform­ing every life. So how do you like God’s new society compared to what you see around you?

Have root: Be in constant touch with God

I would like to close by discussing how this root affects our commun­ion with God. Picture the root. A root remains planted in the ground. You don’t pull it out, wash it, and stick it back into the ground. That would destroy the plant. It must be perma­nently fixed in the ground.

The true spiritual life is in constant communion with God, some­times consciously, sometimes unconsciously, but always in touch with God. How is your spiritual life? Some people think of the spiritual life as praying once or twice a day, like making “day visits” to God. In the morning, you would say, “Hi God! I had a nice sleep. It will be a busy day, so I’m sorry I don’t have much time to talk to You. You do under­stand, don’t You? You know what life in Hong Kong is like. I already said good morning. If I have time in the evening, I might say good­night.” This sounds funny, but isn’t it true to life? There is no root in such a person. Remember, the root is something permanently fixed.

Let’s change the picture. The Lord Jesus speaks of the branch abiding in the vine (John 15:4). The branch doesn’t just stay in the vine two minutes in the morning, goes away, and then comes back in the evening, does it? It must always remain grafted into the vine — into the Lord Jesus who is the way to God. If you find it strange that a new person in Christ can be in constant communion with God, you clearly have a problem understanding the root.

In the Old Testament, this root connection is called walking with God. Enoch walked with God. Noah walked with God. To walk with God doesn’t mean to visit Him once or twice a day for two or three minutes. It means that all through the day you are walking with Him and living with Him. And it is not just Enoch or Noah. Micah 6:8 says, “What does God require of you, Israel? That you love kind­ness and walk humbly with your God.”

This verse may ring quietly in our ears without ever reaching our hearts, because we still don’t have the root. We need to under­stand that the root is fixed permanently, and that you, with the new life in Christ, have to constantly draw strength from God. We don’t recharge the Christian life like a nickel-cadmium battery which you plug into the wall for recharging, then pull it out. The battery will have enough power for a few hours, after which the meter will show the power going down. When you are fully charged in the morn­ing, you are bright and smiling. Then the power decreases as the day progresses, and the smile grows weaker. By the time your power approaches zero, you get irritable, impatient, annoyed, and you need a recharge. This seems to me like drug addiction, with your Christian life taking a dose of drugs once in the morning and once in the evening. This is not the right understanding of the root.

Have power as God answers your prayers

Finally, in regard to prayer and communing with God, many people gauge whether their prayer time is a success or a failure by whether they “feel” some­thing. If prayer gives you a satisfying floating feeling, then the prayer time must have been a success! But at other times of prayer, your fellowship is as sweet as talking to a blank wall. You were plugged in, but the connection failed because you were looking for a feeling.

Does my arm seek a wonderful feeling when it is attached to my body? Normally it doesn’t feel anything of that kind. But when I fall asleep on my arm, I sometimes wake up won­dering where my arm is. The arm went to sleep, and when it restores connection with the body, you will know how uncomfortable the pins and needles are!

The point of this illustration is that when my arm is connected to my body in a normal and right way, I don’t feel anything. But if the blood supply is cut off, I begin to feel uncom­fortable. When I com­mune with God, sometimes I feel won­derful things, but most of the time I don’t feel anything. In fact, I don’t want to feel anything. If I want to feel something, I can simply burn myself with a lit cigarette!

We are talking about life. When the life connect­ion is functioning normally, I should not feel anything. But if my hand gets a cut or has a cancer, I would feel something.

In fact, what happens in prayer is quite different from an emotion­al feeling. What I know is that I am being charged with God’s power all the time. When I pray for something, God answers. Isn’t that better than a feeling? I can testify that not a day goes by without seeing God’s power working. I see my wife’s life being changed. The lives of the people I come into contact with are exper­ien­cing God’s transforming power. That is the normal Christian life. When you see God’s power at work, you don’t seek emotional feelings. Feelings go up and down. Don’t seek that.

I have experienced times of exceptionally sweet commun­ion with God, and felt I was walking in Paradise, having wonderful fellowship with Him. I was as conscious of God walking next to me, as I am conscious of my translator who is standing with me right now! But I have never looked for a feeling. Never look for a feeling. If God wants to give me an experience, I thank Him for it. If He doesn’t, I thank Him all the same. I don’t need it.

People who need feelings are like addicts. I don’t need feel­ings. I only need the power of life within me. How God’s power is constantly manifested is beyond my understanding, but I know this: When you live this way with your root in constant connection with God and in communion with Him, you will see His power changing other people’s lives through you. The closer you walk with God, the greater that power. God’s power will work right through you to break through to people who seem quite impossible to reach.

One of the deepest impressions in my life was when my mother came to God, which is so precious to me. She had been so resistant to the gospel. When I come home, she would ask me when I will be leaving. But God’s power was working in me. Have you ever led your own parents to God? Do you know what that is like? My mother knelt down with me, with tears pouring down her face. So great was God’s power working in her life that I just watched with amaze­ment! Her whole life was transformed! I know what my mother was like before, and I know what she was like afterwards — a totally different person! Isn’t that better than feelings, which come and go in a few minutes?

Draw power from God when you have this root planted in Him, by being united with Christ. Then you will see wonder­ful things happen, just as the Lord Jesus said in John 15:16 that those who follow him can ask his Father for what they want, and God will grant it to them.

Put your root down into Christ

If God is not true, nobody would dare say what I have just said. This is something you can test any time, and if the test fails, you can tell me to my face, “This is rubbish! I have put my root in God through Christ, but it doesn’t work!”

I have committed myself to God for over 20 years, so if that doesn’t work for me, my first responsibility would be to tell you that this is rubbish, and you should forget the whole thing. The least I can do for you is to tell you the truth. But the truth is that God is real and He does work! I have proved it all my life of walking with Him, and I am appealing to you to prove it for yourself.

Put your root down into Christ. Let the Word of God reach into your heart, into your innermost being, and let God trans­form you into a new person. Be in constant touch with God. When you live like that, ask what you will, and see if He will not answer. Then you will know whether God is speaking the truth or not.


(c) 2021 Christian Disciples Church