It’s a Parable, not a Promise
“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 the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.”
“Perseverance of the saints,” “once saved always saved” and “eternal security” are a few of the phrases that we use to defend our belief that one cannot lose their salvation. Some pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers use this parable passage to prove that although Jesus says, “no one can snatch them out of my hands,” one can lose their salvation, by quoting today’s text. The particular problem promoting a parable as evidence that one can lose their salvation is that it is in fact, a parable and even its explanation by Jesus can be misconstrued. Especially considering that the Bible cannot contradict. Let’s examine more context of what Jesus says in John, which is not a parable.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” Though this passage is replete with metaphor, it is clear that there is absolute security with God. Honestly, if we cannot work our way in, how could we work our way out? And if you believe that one must work their way in, Jesus died needlessly because the law would suffice. And the worst thing about working one’s way in is it places Jesus on a level with any other so-called deity. If you think works are a requirement for salvation, read Romans 4. If you believe faith without works is dead, I absolutely agree, it is dead, James writes as much. But it is dead, not dying, just as we were dead in our trespasses and sin. The accurate account we see in the parable of the sower, is that the saved man is in the good soil sans thorns.
Let’s look closely at the four scenarios that Jesus presents. The first–Jesus says, “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 the one on whom seed was sown beside the road.” “Understand,” is the key word here. I checked a dozen English translations and they all use the word, understand. In the original Greek it literally means, “to put together.” These are the people who don’t connect the dots; who don’t get it; they don’t understand. It doesn’t mean that they are stupid or ignorant. According to the world’s standards, in fact, they would probably appear to be smart. However, numerous times in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul compares the wisdom of the world to foolishness. Also in Romans he says, “professing to be wise, they became fools.” Nevertheless, one doesn’t have to be smart or simple-minded to not understand. Without the Spirit, all eyes are shut. Consider the passage in Isaiah 6 to which Jesus assigned to himself after teaching this parable. Consider John 3:16, and more importantly, its surrounding context. It is the Spirit of God that causes new birth. This particular person, according to the parable and the explanation, never had a chance because there is not enough soil and it is snatched away by the evil one. Remember, John reports that Jesus won’t let his followers be snatched away.
The second seeds fall on another place where there isn’t much soil. Notice; “The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.” I think we all know one of these seeds. It’s truly heartbreaking to see someone who comes to the teaching of the Bible with great excitement, expectation and enthusiasm only to lose heart over momentary light affliction, as the apostle Paul calls it. We don’t usually experience hard persecution here in America, but everything is relative. I think we’ve all seen soft persecution and seen seeds flee because of it. More often though, in the West, we see seeds flee over even the slightest affliction. We know affliction can come as a test of faith and many fail. Again not enough soil. Picture a tree growing on top of a large rock in a windstorm, it’s going down.
The third scenario: “And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” This is the seed that the thorns, a representation of our sinful fall and the curse (Genesis 3, Numbers 33, Hebrews 6), choke out from bearing fruit. The soil itself is ample but the thorns use up the water and block the sunlight. Mega-church pastors beware! In this scenario one may expect to hear the word of God and see repentance that appears genuine. However, as John the Baptist said, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and cast into the fire.” We must not be fooled by false fruit. We need to understand the difference between religion and walking in the Spirit. The Pharisees were very religious but not according to the Spirit. One can preach about Jesus and make a decent living but it doesn’t mean that they are bearing fruit. Therefore we see the soil is there but the thorns choke out the seed from bearing good fruit.
“And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.” Good seed on good soil, with no thorns produces good fruit, and good fruit reproduces good fruit. This is disciple-making 101. Hopefully we can get to a 200-300 level here. Ironically, if we want to grow in grace, and obtain our PhD’s from preaching, we need to keep it simple. Not simple like the mega-church pastors preach, but simple because the word of God is simple–simply sublime, as I say. It wasn’t written for scholars but for and by average people. Some may have been kings and others scholars but remember, the kings boiled it down to simplicity and the scholar considered his schooling, zeal, teachings and religiosity loss, rubbish compared to knowing Christ. These author’s, inspired by the Holy Spirit, write to their audience who interprets through the Holy Spirit. Not in a secret code for which a decoder ring is required but simplistically. One must consider the context, the author and audience and his aspirations to them, the genre, exam for examples and divide rightly the word of truth. Remember that the Bible cannot contradict itself; use Scripture to interpret Scripture. But most importantly, like anything else, it requires time. And I have zero problem writing the following: if you don’t have time for the Bible, your dead–maybe walking dead but dead. “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”