The One Who Endures: The Parable of the Soils
The Bible is very clear that those who make genuine professions of faith will continue in those confessions of faith. The genuine believer will bear fruit as a consequence of God’s working in them. Thus, Scripture often brings to the believer this motivating command: bear fruit. We are to “work out our salvation” (Phil. 2:12), ‘make our calling and election sure’ (2 Pet. 1:10), and “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:8; Luke 3:8).
One of the best passage to remind us the important of bearing fruit is the parable of the sower, found in Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 1:1-20, and Luke 8:4-15. It is a very basic parable. In it, a farmer sows seeds in his field. He walks along the field scattering seeds. The seeds fall four different places: (1) the hard path, where birds eat it up; (2) rocky ground where it springs up immediately but is soon scorched by the sun because it cannot develop deep roots; (3) seed falls among thorns where again it grows up but then is quickly choked out by the stronger weeds; (4) the good soil where it not only sprouts but bears fruit thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times itself.
In both Matthew and Mark’s account Jesus teaching the parable, they add an interlude before the explanation. The interlude is details why Jesus speaks in parables. He speaks in parables because not everyone is given the secrets of the kingdom of God (Mark 4:11-12). Matthew specifically quotes Isaiah 6:9-10 to this end. The speaking in parables makes it clear that it is only by God’s revelation into our hearts that we understand the message. Many in Jesus’ day heard his word and some even liked what he said, but they never understood with their heart and produced the fruit of repentance. However, there are those to whom God has given understanding: “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear” (Matt. 13:16).
After this, Jesus goes on to explain the parable. The soil of the hard path are those who hear the message of the kingdom but do not understand or believe. To switch metaphors, they are blind and the devil snatches away the Word they heart. It never even sprouts in the heart.
The second and third types of seed concern us the most when it comes to the perseverance of the saints. The seed on the rocky ground is “the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 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” (Matt. 13:20-21). Note that Matthew uses “immediately” twice here because just as quickly and as excitedly as this person embraces the Word, they are all too eager to depart from it when the heat of trials are turned up. They are all too concerned with saving their own skin than enduring persecution that comes from embracing and standing firm of the Word. Thus, they abandon God’s Word, the kingdom, and the profession of faith.
The third type of soil also hears the word. It seems that the word of God does begin to take some root in their life but it passes quickly. “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (13:22). This person quickly discovers that they cannot serve two masters and so they choose money and mammon over the Lord of the kingdom. No fruit comes to bear from this person.
Notice in both these types of soil the end is a turning from and rejection of the Word. This is not a person that struggles to bear fruit. We have all known Christians who are plagued by these struggles yet over time and through hard fought battles they begin to bear fruit. This is why it is so important to encourage and exhort believers to continue in the faith.
Finally, the last is the soil the good soil. The seed lands in the soil and it grows and bears fruit. These individuals experience the joys and the blessings of the kingdom.
Some people think that this parable refers to three categories of “saved” people and only the last category receives heavenly reward although three of the four soils are saved. First, it is clear that the middle two soils do not hear and truly understand. This goes back to the Isaiah passage: who really has the ears to hear and the eyes to see? Lasting fruit is the evidence of these things. Second, if we compare Scripture with Scripture we come the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. In this parable the servant who does not bear fruit is rebuked. The master says, “And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’” (Matt. 25:30).
The believers are those who continue in their profession of faith and bear fruit. This warning is to motivate us to avail ourselves to all the gifts and blessings of the Lord. It does not make salvation dependent upon our good works but rather says true salvation will produce effect and results precisely because God has made the believer a new creation with a new nature.
Paul reminds in Colossians of this important means that God uses to bring people to salvation: perseverance.
Col. 1:21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,
Col. 1:22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,
Col. 1:23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
Consider your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Is it bearing fruit? Does it continue stable and steadfast in the Lord? Are they subtle ways that it is shifting from the gospel? Just as one might see warning signs as you drive down the road and you apply the brakes and respond responsibly, so God uses these warning to motivate the genuine believer: be careful and persevere in your faith because it is God who is working in you.
Tim Bertolet is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College and Westminster Theological Seminary. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pretoria, South Africa. He is an ordained pastor in the Bible Fellowship Church, currently serving as pastor of Faith Bible Fellowship Church in York, Pa. He is a husband and father of four daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @tim_bertolet.