I was born in 1946. I was born again in 1967. A good doctor can easily tell the measles from the mumps. Telling Tares from Wheat is not so easy. Tares look like wheat in their early stages. It is not until the head develops that they can be distinguished one from the other. By harvest it is obvious that the tare is shorter, thinner and different from the wheat. In ancient times it was much more difficult to winnow, and was potentially poisonous due to a fungus that often infected them (but not the wheat). When the Lord Jesus told the parable of the Wheat and the Tares and described the dilemma of an enemy sowing tares over someone’s wheat, He recommended not trying to do the impossible: pulling out the tares like weeds. Wait for the harvest, He said. Yet this story is telling.
For years I tried my best to be wheat. I, like all children of the Nordic nations (they all still have crosses on their flags) was brought up in the wheat and barley fields of the Christian faith. I can’t remember when I did not believe in Jesus, the good, kind, gentle Shepherd. I remember seeing pictures of Him with little children on His knee. He was Good and we were the good little children that had been baptized, sang songs in the Sunday School and even had our own Shepherd and Bishop. We proudly received our Sunday School Pins and our dear grand-motherly teacher seemed to have a chain of hundreds proudly on display running down her blouse. We were wheat if there ever was wheat. We were confirmed as Wheat after completing the rite of passage of a Catechism Class, Confirmation, and First Communion. Not only did I believe in God and Jesus, I was an acolyte and took great pride in wearing the black cassock and white cotta.
There was a problem however. Trying to be good is hard work for a Tare. It took Ten teen years and a war in South-east Asia for me to admit that what Paul wrote in Romans was true, ”there is none good, no not one” (and that included me). I was the Rich Young Ruler (only I wasn’t rich, and I wasn't a ruler). I had to learn that only One is Good, God. Not that I didn’t try mind you, but try as I may, no amount of will power can make wheat from tares. Jesus told Nicodemus, “that which is flesh is flesh, and that which is spirit is spirit, Marvel not that I said unto you, ye must be born again.”
I am no farmer, and I am no doctor, and I might misdiagnose the mumps, but I know sincerity and service is no substitute for the new birth. That God has allowed me so many wonderful years in His grace is amazing. I tremble when I see many mistake Religion for Righteousness, and a Type A personality for spiritual leadership, and enthusiasm for the breath of God. I am afraid I recognize my former unsaved self, in the midst of many a casual conversation with some congregant, as my heart sinks seeing a tare pretending to be wheat. They look like wheat. They sound like Jacob, but somehow it feels like Esau. I have to remember to be as kind to them as others were to me, but I also must be clear. Luther became incensed that the church was selling Indulgences (certificates of safe passage to heaven). I am not as amazed that so many churches are still selling their own brand and version of Indulgences (like so many licenses, certificates, or stocks and bonds), as I am at how many are giving away a false assurance for free. Let me just say, You must be born again. -id