20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. -- Matthew 13:20-21
Idolatrous Ivan loves the gospel. Quite how he came to faith we don't know... it may have been an evangelistic event, an alpha course, a friend whose life he admired.
Ivan's joy is real. His worship is genuine and sincere. He is upbeat and inspiring to those around him. But his faith has a fatal flaw: he views the gospel as a means to some other end. Jesus is his tool.
There's something in Ivan's life that he values above the gospel, above salvation. Maybe it's comfort, maybe it's his family, job, some relationship. He comes to faith not with empty hands but with preconditions.
Suddenly that precondition fails. A loved one dies. He loses his job. He gets beaten up for being a Christian. Some storm enters his life and shatters his happiness and he throws in the towel.
The reason is distressingly simple: Jesus was not Ivan's God. He may have been his servant, his friend, his adviser, his helpmate, his guide - but comfort, or a healthy family, or financial security was the God Ivan really worshipped. And when there was a conflict and Ivan had to chose between gods, between idols to serve, he jettisons Jesus.
To reach Ivan, we must impress Jesus as the ultimate blessing of the gospel, not merely the means of blessing. According to the shorter Westminster Catechism, the chief end of man is to worship God and enjoy him forever: this fundamental understanding needs to be impressed upon Ivan. He must understand that a gospel of grace means that God sets the preconditions and the terms of salvation, not us.
Paul's fellow worker Demas (2 Tim 4:10) falls more in love with the world and, it seems, abandons his faith in pursuit of "the present world."
Abraham is the opposite - desperate for a son, an heir, he even sleeps with his wife's servant. But he refuses to place his son above God - and is would rather sacrifice him to God than disobey God.
- What do I really desire? What would really hurt my faith if I lost it? What have I made an idol of? Do I examine my heart and take stock of its desires?
- What is it that my friend really wants? Am I presenting Jesus merely as a means to worship some other idol, or I am presenting him as both Saviour and Lord? Do I warn my friends when I see temporary, empty things taking too great a place in their affections?