Luke 8:4-8 (ESV)
4 And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable:
5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it.
6 And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture.
7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it.
8 And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Luke 8:9-15 (ESV)
9 And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant,
10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’
11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.
12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.
13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.
14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.
15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.
We conclude our study of the parable of the sower by examining the fourth type of soil mentioned by Christ. To briefly review, the seed represents God’s Word and the sower would symbolize Christians who share the gospel with those outside of Christ with whom they come into contact. The seed which fell along the path, was trampled underfoot, and was devoured by birds represents those who outright reject the gospel. The seed which fell on the rocky soil represents those who initially receive God’s Word with joy, indicating that they obeyed the gospel and become Christians. However, their faith, spirituality, maturity, and knowledge of God’s Word and their relationship with him is shallow. Thus, whenever hard times come because of Christianity, these tend to fall away. The seed which fell among the thorns represent those who also hear the Word and receive it, meaning that they too obey the gospel and become Christians. However, as the months and years pass they do not grow spiritually because of lack of study, prayer, and interest in the things of God. This is due to being distracted by the cares and riches and pleasures of life.
What the parable of the sower teaches us is that people will respond to our efforts to bring them to Christ in one of four ways. Three out of the four possible responses are not good. They will either outright reject our efforts, or they will initially obey the gospel only to later fall away and/or stay but never grow to become what God wants them to be. The last response — what was sown on good soil — is of course the ideal response…but the purpose of the parable is to warn us ahead of time that the kind of response we want is what we will tend to get on average just once out of every four people with whom we share Jesus.
The good soil represents “those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Lk. 8:15). Matthew’s account says that the good soil 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” (Matt. 13:23). These are the members of the church who tend to be the 20% on whom one can count to be heavily involved in the various aspects of church work, the ones church leaders tend to call “the core group.” These are the ones who, one step at a time, grow in their knowledge of God’s Word and in their spiritual maturity, and such growth is noticeable as the months and years go by (cf. 1 Tim. 4:15-16). Each of them bears fruit, i.e., shows evidence of the growth in their Christian walk, and each of them does so in varying ways (“in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty”). Just like a physical body whose different parts all have different functions, each of these will prove to be efficient at different parts of the work, and all are needed (cf. 1 Cor. 12:14-27).
Can a Christian with thorny or rocky soil in their heart replace it with good soil? Can a non-Christian who initially rejected the gospel come to change their mind and accept it later? Yes, it is possible with repentance (cf. Matt. 21:28-30). I know this from personal experience. Can a Christian with good soil fall into unrepentant sin and thus replace it with thorny or rocky soil? Yes, so we must take God’s warning to heart. “Let those who think they stand take heed lest they fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
If you are reading this and your works prove that your faith and relationship with God is that of a heart that is rocky or thorny, I hope this study has caused you to examine yourself and be willing to make the changes you need to make (2 Cor. 13:5). If you are among those with the good soil in your heart, please know that your labor and perseverance is appreciated and not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).