John 17:8 “For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them. . .”
Mark 4:16-17 “And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.”
What does it mean to “receive” the word of God? This word “receive” is used in both passages above, but it has two different meanings – one talks about receiving in a way that is commendable and one in a way that is not. In Jesus’ prayer to the Father about His true followers in John 17, He identified them as people that had received the words He had given them. These words were indeed God’s words, the same words we have in the Bible. In John 17, Jesus identifies these receivers of His word as those who had, based on the words they had received, believed them (vs 8) and also obeyed them (vs 6). By contrast, the people Jesus spoke about in Mark 4 were those who heard the word, “Immediately received it with joy” but then, when trouble came on account of the word, “immediately fell away.” They were quick to receive, but just as quick to turn away.
Apparently, then, true “receipt” of the Word of God has a time element. It may take a long time for someone to be convinced that God’s Word is true. They may have lots of doubts, at first. They don’t just accept everything someone tells them. They aren’t gullible. They must be convinced. But when they are truly convinced as God slowly but surely tears down the walls they have built up in their lives against His Truth, they hold to that Truth, no matter what. They may waver when they can’t understand why difficult things have happened to them, but in such times, they dig deeper into the Word and hold on to it. They don’t look elsewhere for something else. Like Peter, they say “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). The Word truly changes their lives. Its Truth is taken into their lives, and they act on it. They put it into action by obeying it, no matter what. Then they prove it to be True. They become ever more convinced of its Truth as they live it out and see its claims manifested in their own lives.
On the other hand, there are those who really like what they hear from the Bible – at first, or at least to a degree. They may even be enthusiastic about what they hear. It sounds good and appeals to their emotions. They may “receive” the Word because a friend has recently believed, they respond to the emotional urgings of a pastor or an evangelist, or they are influenced by the music at a church service. They respond based on joyful or other emotional feelings. But when they take those first steps to obey it and things don’t work out so wonderfully as they had mistakenly expected, they get offended by it and are just as quick to walk away from it as they were to “receive” it. When it “feels good” they receive the Word, but when they are mocked, which doesn’t feel so good, they walk away. They didn’t opt in for that kind of thing. They were never truly convicted and convinced in their minds that the gospel message was true.
You see, the gospel isn’t for those who follow the motto, “if it feels good, do it.” No, it’s all about the idea that “if it is true, believe it.” And if it is true, believe it, no matter what may come.