Linda is driving down the freeway with her radio tuned to a Christian station. She hears the gospel clearly proclaimed and joyfully receives the message, believing in Christ for eternal life. Tragically, one minute later a drunk driver crosses the median and hits her car, killing her instantly. Would Linda go to heaven or hell? Most would agree that the Bible teaches that she would go to heaven since she had believed in Christ.
It is important to realize that eternal life is granted to a person at the very moment of faith. It isn’t bestowed after you have believed for a certain length of time. When you place your faith in Christ for eternal life, you are born again right then.
But there is a problem here. If the condition of eternal life is faith, what about the person who believes in Christ and then later stops believing in Him? What if Linda had survived that car accident, but suffered lingering physical impairment? Becoming increasingly depressed, she eventually rejects her faith, doubting that Christianity was ever really true. If she died in this state of unbelief, where would she spend eternity? Heaven or hell?
Surprisingly, many people would say that under those conditions she would go to hell. Some reason that a loss of faith results in a loss of salvation. Others conclude that loss of faith means one never had real saving faith in the first place. In both cases, however, heaven would be out of the question.
The Parable of the Sower is the perfect place to consider the issue of faith on the rocks. The second soil deals precisely with that.
The Sower, the Seed, and the Soil
The Parable of the Sower tells of a man who sowed seed in his field. Some of the seed fell on the footpaths between the rows. Birds ate that; it never germinated.
Of the seed which fell in the rows, some fell on very shallow soil that had a rock layer only inches below the surface. Seed that fell in those areas germinated and began to grow. However, because it had an insufficient root system due to the rock layer, the growth was stunted, and the plant did not come to maturity.
Some of the seed fell in soil that had weeds. The seed germinated and began to grow. However, the weeds grew even faster and stunted the growth of the plants. They, too, did not come to maturity.
Finally, some of the seed fell in soil that contained no rocks or weeds. The seed germinated, grew to maturity, and brought forth a good crop.
Note Jesus’ explanation of the meaning of the parable in regards to the first two soils:
11“Now [the explanation of] the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. 13But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away” (Luke 8:11-13).
Clearly the seed sown by the wayside did not germinate. It represents those who hear the gospel but don’t believe it and remain unsaved. However, the seed sown on the rocky soil represents those who hear the gospel and believe it, yet only for a time. Eventually they fall away. Were the people represented by this rocky soil saved for a time and then lost, never saved, or saved once and for all in spite of the fact that they fell away?
Can True Believers Ever Stop Believing?
Many Bible teachers mistakenly reason that the faith mentioned in v 13 is not genuine because it does not endure. John Martin writes:
The second group are those who listen and rejoice but then do not stick with the truth of the message for they have no root (v 13). The fact that they believe for a while but…fall away means that they only accept the facts of the Word mentally and then reject it when “the going gets rough.” It does not mean that they lose their salvation, for they had none to lose.1
According to this view, if a person stops believing in Christ, they prove that they were never really saved in the first place.
How can this view be reconciled with the clear statement of Jesus in v 13 that the people represented by the rocky soil believed. To say that they believed “mentally”—pulling the old “head faith” rabbit out of the hat when the going gets tough in a passage—is to skirt the clear meaning of the text.
What these people believed is nothing other than the saving message of the gospel. That Jesus was referring to saving faith is evidenced in v 12 when He spoke of the devil taking away the word out of their hearts “lest they should believe and be saved.” Thus when he comes to the very next verse and says that these rocky-soil type of people believe, we have no choice but to conclude that they are saved.
This, of course, raises another question. If a person is saved by faith, and later stop believing, do they lose their salvation? We now turn to that question.
Salvation Does Not Depend on Continuing to Believe
While not directly dealing with the issue of whether or not believers can lose their salvation, this passage indirectly affirms the eternal security of the believer. Jesus declared in v 12 that whoever believes is saved. Satan wouldn’t have such a sense of urgency if he could snatch the word away later and still keep people from heaven. Once the word germinates, eternal life has begun, and since it is eternal, nothing—not even Satan—can stop it.
Faith Needs Cultivation to Be Productive
Luke 8:11-13 challenges believers to be faithful and productive. The soil of our souls must be cultivated, fertilized, weeded, and watered. We do this by reading, studying, and meditating on the Bible, praying, having fellowship with other believers, and developing a spiritual mindset and worldview.
However, our eternal salvation is not dependent on our faithfulness. It is rooted in God’s faithfulness. We may fail, but God will never turn His back on His promise to us: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim 2:13).
Just as ships sometimes crash into rocks near the shore, believers do not always successfully navigate through the temptations and hardships of this life. Yet God guarantees all believers eternal life, even those who suffer shipwreck concerning the faith (1 Tim 1:19).
1John Martin, “Luke,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament Edition, p. 225. See also, Walter L. Liefeld, “Luke,” in Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary: New Testament, 2:238.