From “How to become a Christian”: Chapter 21 – Assurance of salvation
11“Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God.12“Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved.13“Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away.14“The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity.15“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 8:11-15 (NASB)
This is the famous parable of the sower. However, it ought to be called the parable of the soils, because that is what it really speaks about. The soils represent different types of heart attitude. The heart attitude we have, i.e. the quality of our ‘soil’, determines whether we properly respond to the gospel in the first place. It also determines whether we persevere and continue as Christians from conversion onwards. It is this post-conversion aspect of the parable that is most alarming.
In the parable there are four categories of person, or four types of heart attitude:
1. hard hearted people The hard ground beside the road, i.e. the path, represents the people whose hearts are so hard to begin with that they never respond at all when they hear the gospel. When the ‘seed’ of the gospel lands on these people it never even germinates. It just bounces off them. These people, therefore, never were Christians at any time, not even at the start.
2. shallow people The rocky soil (i.e. thin soil) represents shallow people. They believe for a short time, but the seed of the gospel takes no firm root. Therefore they germinate, but they quickly fall away. This group may, perhaps, have been real Christians very briefly. It’s impossible for us to be sure. Only God knows. However, my impression is that they were real for a while. What we can say is that they do not persist. The seed of the gospel never puts down takes any deep roots in them. Therefore they quickly fall away, near to the start of the Christian life, assuming they ever got started at all.
3. people who get distracted The soil that is infested with thorns and weeds represents those people who allow their faith to be choked by various other pressures and distractions in the world. This third group is similar in many ways to the second group, where the seed fell on thin, rocky soil. This third group, whose hearts are like soil that is full of thorns and weeds, may or may not have been real Christians to begin with. Again, only God knows. But the implication is that they were real for a time. At any rate, whatever they were to begin with, they clearly do not continue as Christians. As with the second group, this third group are clearly not saved in the end.
4. sincere and serious people These people’s hearts are portrayed as good deep soil. Their hearts are genuine and honest. This is the only group where the person continues as a Christian to the end and becomes fruitful. This is the only group which is saved in the end. The three other groups are not. The first group never were saved to begin with. The second and third groups probably were genuine for a while, but fell away. The two distinguishing features of this fourth group are:
- they persevere and they continue as Christians to the end, i.e. till death and
- they “bear fruit”, i.e. their lives are productive and effective in God’s service.
So, the point of the parable is that real Christians, can only be identified by those two features i.e.
- they continue as disciples until death and
- they bear fruit.
That means their lives change and they produce the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace etc). They are also effective, obedient and productive for Jesus. That is why Jesus warned His disciples that they could only ever know whether a person is a real or false Christian by looking at their fruit, as opposed to their words.