Do You Have To Be Smart to Be Saved?

Here is a verse that seems to indicate that intelligent people are more likely to be saved.

But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. (NKJ Matthew 13:23)

This verse appears to tell us that the person with the intellectual capacity to grasp the message, “he who hears the word and understands it,” comprises the good ground, i.e. A prime candidate for salvation.

Of course, Scripture gives us numerous reasons to believe that this is not the case, that the capacity to be saved is not skewed toward IQ. In fact, Scripture gives some indication that it might be the other way around.

For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are…. (1 Corinthians 1:26-28 NASB)

That being the case, what do we do with Matthew 13:23 that seems to indicate otherwise?

We find the answer in the parallel passages in Luke.  Luke reports,

But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance. (Luke 8:15 NASB)

Here we find the New American Standard Bible describe those receiving the Word as hearing it with an honest and good heart. Likewise with the ESV. The NKJV describes them as having a noble and good heart.

This is one of those verses that gives translators fits because both of these adjectives would normally be translated “good.” So the translation would say that they “heard the word with a good and good heart.” What we have here are two distinct types of good expressed by two different Greek words. The first type of good refers to excellence in the abstract sense. “He built a good house” means that the quality is good: the design, materials, and workmanship are all of an excellent quality. The second type of good refers to being beneficial. This house not only is qualitatively good but also good in the sense that it will provide benefit to those living in it: an attractive environment, shelter from the elements, etc.

Those receiving the Word, the good ground, had hearts possessing both of these qualities. Their response was qualitatively good in that they responded honestly to the message. They were like those in Berea who searched the Scriptures to see if these things were so. They were unlike the Pharisees who resisted the truth because it did not support their agenda. The hearts of those comprising the good soil were also good in the sense of the second meaning in that they wanted to do that was beneficial, that which would make your lives useful to God and others.

So what does this have to do with the description in Matthew and their understanding the message? Everything. These verses are telling us that our understanding of truth is not so much a matter of the mind as it is a matter of the heart.

This reality is expressed in various places in Scripture. Jesus teaches in John,

If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself.” Here Jesus makes the point that apprehension of the message is related to a willingness to do the will of God.

We find the same concept taught in Romans 1:

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools…. (Romans 1:21-22 NASB)

These verses not only provide a warning for unsaved people who are being presented with the gospel, but I believe they apply to Christians as well. Reading the word with an open and honest heart will lead to understanding it. If we try to make Scripture say what we want to say, we will not understand it, and a part of our hearts will experience scriptural eclipse.

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