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The Parable of the Four Soils:
Do the Middle Two Soils Represent Believers or
by Bob Wilkin
In Matthew 13 we read these words of
Jesus Christ concerning two undesirable
types of soil:
20But he who received the seed on stony
places, this is he who hears the word and
immediately receives it with joy;
21Yet he has no root in himself, but
endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution
arises because of
the word, immediately he stumbles.
22Now he who received seed among
the thorns is he who hears the word, and
the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke out
the word, and
he becomes unfruitful.
Recently I received a question from a
reader regarding this parable. The reader
wanted to know how I viewed the spiritual
condition of the people represented by the
second and third soil types, the ones mentioned in Matthew
13:20-22 cited above.
The text notes that the second soil type
of person does receive the word. With joy
even. Only believers receive the word. Indeed, the parallel
account in Luke actually
says that this second soil type of person
believed (Luke 8:13).1 The problem with
the second soil person is that he falls away
when affliction and persecution arise
(Matthew 13:21). Other passages of Scripture confirm this
implicit warning: believers, if not careful, may fall away from
faith (Luke 8:13; James 5:19-20; 2 Peter
3:17). The thing which distinguishes the
second, third, and fourth soils is not
whether they receive/believe the word--they all do--but whether
they produce fruit
The expression "yet he has no root in
himself, but endures only for a while"
(Matthew 13:21) leads some to doubt the
plain meaning of the text. If one believes
that anyone who fails to persevere proves
that he was not a believer in the first place,
he must conclude that the person in question here is an
unbeliever. But note why
he comes to that conclusion. It is not the
text which compels him. It is his presupposition. Thus the texts'
explicit assertion that
the second soil person received and believed the word (Matthew
8:13) is treated as though it didn't exist.
Verse 21 pictures a believer who fails
to grow and mature and become well
grounded in the word and in a local church.
Such a believer is unstable. He lacks the
depth of character and commitment needed
to endure persecution for Christ's sake.
The third soil, the thorny soil, represents
those who receive the word, believers, who
then allow the cares of the world to stunt
their growth and block their production of
fruit. Once again, there can be no doubt
that believers are in view--unless of course
one predecides that no believer is ever overtaken by the cares of
the world and becomes unfruitful.
Let's accept for the moment the premise
that the second and third soils picture unbelievers. What would
we then conclude
about salvation and assurance?
We would say that there is a type of
faith in Christ which does not save.
We would surmise that unfruitful people
in the church probably/surely are not saved.
We would doubt our own salvation since
the world's cares sometimes seem to get
to us and we sometimes wonder how fruitful we really are.
We would stop giving anyone immediate
assurance of salvation since only those who
endure in good works prove that they are
saved. We would give up thinking that anyone could be absolutely
sure that he was
saved since no one can know for sure if
he will endure in the future or how long
he must endure in order to prove absolutely
that he is saved.
Are these conclusions valid? No! The
Scriptures are clear that there is no such
thing as a faith in Christ which will not
save. Whoever believes in Him has everlasting life (John 3:16).
And, all believers--even brand new Christians--can have
absolute assurance of salvation which is
based on the promises of the Word and not
on the prospects of our works (John 5:24;
Romans 8:38-39; 1 John 5:13).
The Lord did not give us this parable to
cause us to question our salvation. Rather,
He gave it to motivate us to strive to produce much fruit. When
we appear at Jesus'
Judgment Seat He will judge our faithfulness and fruitfulness (2
If we have overcome the cares of the world
and the deceitfulness of riches and have
faithfully served Him in spite of persecution, then He will say
"Well done, good
servant; because you were faithful in a very
little, have authority over five/ten cities"
(Luke 19:16-19) and He will give us
heavenly treasure (Matthew 6:19-21; 1
Corinthians 3:10-15; 9:24-27).
However, if we prove to be unfruitful,
while we will suffer the loss of rewards
that we could have had, we will nevertheless enter the kingdom
and enjoy our Lord
and His people forever (1 Corinthians 3:15;
Nothing can separate us from the love
of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord
(Romans 8:38-39). Nothing.
1In the Lukan account the text explicitly says
regarding the first soil that the devil came and
took away the word lest they should believe
and be saved (Luke 8:12). Thus when the next
verse says that the ones represented by the second soil believed,
it is clear that it is saying
that they were saved. While the text does say
that they believed "for a time" (pros kairos),
that doesn't call into question the genuineness of their faith or
their salvation. Compare 1 Corinthians 7:5 where the same
expression "for a time" is used. It is impossible
to get around the fact that Jesus in Luke
8:13 said that they believed for a time. Unless
He was teaching there that salvation can be
lost if and when one stops believing--which
He was not teaching (cf. John 3:16; 5:24;
Romans 8:38-39)--He was saying that the
second soil people believe, are saved, and
then fall away due to testing. While Jesus
doesn't say what fate awaits these type of
believers--other than that they will be in
the kingdom since they are saved--we know
from other teachings of Jesus that rebuke
and shame, and loss of reward and rulership
are in store for them (cf. Matthew 6:19-21;
Luke 19:11-27; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15; 9:24-27; Galatians 6:7-9;
Colossians 1:21-23; 2
Timothy 2:12; 2 Peter 1:5-11; 3:14; 1 John
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