The Sower and the Soils

A good friend sent me a link today to a sermon by John MacArthur at T4G 2010. God is so good to His people to provide the right leaders with the right message at the right time for His people. Many of us have been in discussion about the very things he covered very well in his message. One of those things is the growing divide that is becoming more and more apparent seemingly every day between genuine Christianity, that which is Christ based and focused, and man-made, false Christianity, that is man based and focused. The former, orthodox Christianity is made up of regenerate Christians who are in the Kingdom of God by the hand of God, not by any works of man or because of religiosity. On the other hand, the latter is so complex and multifaceted that it defies description yet it has one defining attribute. It is the product of man and his religiosity and his philosophy and his works and his traditions.

Here is the link to that sermon. I pray that you do watch it, even though it is about an hour long, and then come back here to read the following post that I wrote back in January 2006. Right at the beginning of the sermon, John MacArthur reads a quote by someone who is complaining about his lack of “missional focus” and what this will cause. My brethren, I have the very same understanding of how the gospel works as John MacArthur. It is not our servant. We serve it. Also, people are not saved by our efforts. Yes, we are to be sowers of the seeds of the Gospel, but that is our role. The deciding factor in whether a person believes the Gospel or not is not in that, but in the condition of their heart to begin with. Carefully read the follow article. It was one of the first articles I wrote when I began this ministry back in 2006 before I joined CRN. – Mike Ratliff

The Sower and the Soils

by Mike Ratliff

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:1-9 ESV)

There’s something about Jesus’ parables that has always fascinated me. I have heard “stories” from others that were designed to drive home some relevant point, however, His parables are succinct and not only drive home His point, but reveal mighty truths straight from God to our hearts. The parable of the sower is not only important and relevant, it is vital for our post-modern Church to understand. Our complacent society has infiltrated the Church. No one seems to have an attention span longer than a few seconds. If some entertainment feature isn’t before our eyes or pounding into our ears, then panic sets in because our hearts are desperate for fulfillment, yet we are lazy and addicted to media, games, or music which tie directly into our flesh bound souls.

People who belong to a “Church” may or may not be authentic. With rampant spiritual immaturity coupled with bondage to entertainment, it can be hard to tell many “believers” from the lost. How can we tell if we are actually “in Christ?” Let’s start at the beginning by looking at salvation from our Lord’s perspective.

Jesus’ parable of the sower is just as relevant to us as it was to those who heard if from His own blessed lips. Before we start working through this parable let’s define the terms Jesus used. The sower was a farmer who went to his field to sow seed. In Jesus’ time, farmer’s fields were long narrow strips of land that they would break up with a plow to prepare the soil before planting. These “fields” were separated from other fields by pathways of compacted earth. These paths would be just a few feet wide. The soil composition of the paths would be the same as that of the fields on each side. The soil in the field and pathways was the same, however, in parts of the field there would be places where weeds grew more prevalently than in other parts because the soil was contaminated with weeds and weed seeds. In other parts of the field the soil would not be very deep because of an under layer of limestone. However, there would also be good soil in the field. It had good depth and was not contaminated. The sower wanted his seed to go to good soil because it would grow and produce good fruit; however, seed that went to the rocky soil and weedy soil would not. Any seed that ended up on the pathways was a waste because none of it would grow. In the parable, Jesus said that the only soil that produced a crop was the good soil. Some produced a hundredfold, some sixty and some thirty. Then Jesus tells the hearers, “He who has ears, let him hear.”

After Jesus told this parable, His disciples came to Him and asked why he taught that way instead of speaking plainly. He told them that many of those who heard Him speak were not going to understand because their hearts had been hardened. Then he explained it to them when they were alone.

“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this 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. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matthew 13:18-23 ESV)

Who is the sower? In this case, it was Jesus. However, the sower is anyone who shares the gospel. What is the seed? It is the word of the kingdom. That is the gospel of the good news of Jesus Christ.

The first soil from the parable is the pathway. This soil is compacted and hard. Any seed falling there will simply bounce and set on top. It will not sink in so it can germinate. What happens to it? Birds came and devoured it. In the parable, who is represented by the birds? This is Satan, the devil. However, what is this soil’s problem? It is hard and compacted. Jesus was referring to hardhearted individuals. Their consciences have become hardened by their repeated sins and unrepentance. These are unbelievers; we know this because the gospel is being shared with them. The gospel has no affect on these people. It just bounces off their hard hearts and is grabbed up by the enemy. He lies to them by having them believe false teachings or points them to humanism or some other false religion. The soil of the pathway represents people who are the reprobate lost.

What does the rocky soil or ground represent? Remember this soil looks like plowed ground, but is shallow with a hard limestone layer just a few inches below. What happens when the gospel is heard by this soil? The seed springs up immediately. These people receive it with joy, but there has been no root development into the deeper moist soil. As soon as the heat comes the plants from these seeds die. In the analogy, these believers are those who hear the gospel and receive it joyfully, but there has been no regeneration in their heart. This represents those believers who are merely “converts” to religion. They have not truly believed. They look great at first, but as soon as they are called to get serious about their faith through discipleship or by public praying they simply fall away. They could also not bear up with the criticism from non-believers about their new faith. They prove that they were not truly regenerated by giving in to the persecution. The rocky or hard layer in their hearts represents an inner hardheartedness. They are still clinging to their fleshly past and will not repent. That is why God did not regenerate their hearts. The soil of the rocky soil represents people who are “temporary believers.”

What does the weedy or thorny soil represent? These people hear the gospel and appear to be genuine, but they are far more interested in money, possessions, entertainment, their job, or any other idolatrous thing than they are about abiding in Christ. By this, they prove they were not genuinely saved. How do we know this represents non-believers in church? They do not produce or bear fruit.

What I am getting ready to say may not be popular with many; however, the truth is the truth. How can we tell Christians from non-Christians? Genuine Christians are fruitful in the Kingdom. Disingenuous Christians are not.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:1-8 ESV)

According to this passage, genuine believers not only bear much fruit, they abide in Christ. Abiding in Christ is remaining and living completely attached in Him. That means the genuine believer is not in Christ for a season then not for another season then back in Christ for a season, etc. No, the genuine believer remains in Christ. Those who remain in Christ are fruitful. What happens to those who appeared to be attached to Christ for a while, but were unfruitful? The Father removes them and casts them into the fire. What is the fruit that genuine believers bear? Some is character fruit such as the fruit of the spirit which the Holy Spirit will manifest in the lives of those who abide in Christ.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25 ESV)

Did you notice what those who belong to Christ Jesus have done? They have crucified the flesh with its passions and desire. That means they are not living for self, but are living for Christ as they abide in Him. This is behavioral fruit. It is closely associated with the character fruit. Genuine believers will not resemble the world. They will not be “summer soldiers.” That means they will remain in season and out. As the believer matures the fluctuations between obedience and disobedience they experience should become less and less. The more mature we become the more we abide in Christ and less we seek what the world offers in His place. We do that by applying Romans 12:1-2.

What is the last soil? It is the good soil. It represents believers who hear the gospel and understand it. These are genuine believers. They produce much fruit. As we have seen only those who abide (remain) in Christ are genuine believers. If they abide in Christ then they will be fruitful in the Kingdom.

The salvation of those represented by the good soil was a function of its condition instead of the proficiency of the sower. Anyone can throw the seed out there. The presentation of the gospel message by obedient seedsowers is what the Holy Spirit uses to plow the ground of the good soil. Salvation comes as He regenerates the hearts of those who will believe.

The condition of the soils is the determinant of the outcome of sowing good seed instead of the professionalism of the seedsower. The tendency of our post-modern Churches to revert to the world’s methods of marketing to “sell” the gospel to people is simply another indication that those “Christian Leaders” are ashamed of the gospel. They are far more concerned with numbers than with presenting the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit. They water it down so there is no call for repentance from sin. They produce large numbers of “converts,” but very few genuine believers.

Let’s pray for God to convict us to get out there in the world to present the gospel to any who will listen. Remember, just because someone is of the pathway, or rocky or thorny soils now, does not mean that the Holy Spirit is not plowing their hearts to break up their soil unto good soil that can hear and understand the truth of the word of the Kingdom.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

5 thoughts on “The Sower and the Soils

  1. Great article, Mike. The Parable of the Sower is so important to understand, especially in these days where the majority of the professed church today may find themselves in the 2nd and 3rd soils. Many of them are tares and believe their churchianity will save them, but they have never committed their lives to Christ. Their works are done in vain, and they heap up teachers to tickle their ears because they do not want to face the reality that their flesh is killing them. I hope I get a chance to listen to the MacArthur’s message soon – thanks for posting, brother!

  2. Mike, this is so timely. Please keep showing the different facets of these truths. I for one feel like I am surrounded by a few true Christians. But on the other hand everywhere I look are people sitting in church and in my circle of influence who are either religious or even confessing Christians but they do not bear fruit. You cannot have a biblical conversation with them. They have no real interest in the things of God. They do not respond to the gospel or to anything about the Lord Jesus, but they typically change the subject. They can make speeches about their interests: TV, fashion, Oprah’s latest book recommendation, sports, movie trivia, etc. They know every popular movie and TV show and the corresponding stars’ names and faces, but they cannot tell you one thing about their religion except they had an experience or made a confession once upon a time. They do not grow in grace; you see no change from one year to the next. They may even be going through motions (i.e. church attendance) but they really have never changed otherwise. I know of three men who have sat in church for YEARS and I am talking about solid churches, whose hearts and lives really have not changed at all. We Christians often assume that all those around us in church are saved and I submit that they are not. It might be good to start to hear one another’s testimonies and then perhaps we can witness to them if these seem lacking. A true Christian will not be offended by the gospel!

  3. Julie, thanks for sharing that, though it is quite sad. It is an indictment against the church in our time. I was think of these things in church Sunday. I was standing in the lobby after a fantastic sermon. Our congregation is really growing, but like all churches, I would say that it is about 50/50 or so genuine believers and false professors. There are those core people there though that I can walk up to, grasp their hand and we can go deep into God’s truth. On the other hand, the vast majority would be offended. Some of those are immature believers to be sure, but I would say that more than half of them are probably not genuine. God knows. I am not their judge. He is. They hear the Gospel every Sunday so they will be without excuse. I find that so many are so much more interested in the things of religiosity rather than in actually knowing God and our Saviour. That is tragic. I have been in places that are far worse to be sure, but I have never been a church that is perfect. We are all sinners saved by grace and we are all in process. Let us pray for God to save those people, to draw them into the light for His glory alone.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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