GPS (2.24 - 2.28) - The Sower and the Soils

Theological Theme: People respond in different ways to the message of the gospel.

In this session, we will discuss one of Jesus’ most famous parables—the parable of the sower and the soils—about how God’s kingdom actually comes. Jesus’ message is spread liberally, like the casting of seed by a sower, but people’s responses are not determined by the content of the message but by the condition of their hearts. Jesus’ parable of the sower and the soils helps us understand why, as we share the gospel, some people respond in faith and others do not.

Voices from the Church“The kingdom of God, through the preaching of the gospel, will break into this world like seed being sown by a farmer. It will fall in various places, receive various responses, but eventually experience a tremendous harvest.” –Daniel Akin

(2.24) The Word of God and the Hardened Heart - Part 1 (Mark 4:1-4,14-15)

On this occasion, Jesus taught the crowd many things in parables. One of these parables was about a sower sowing seed, a parable that depicted the crowd before Him, which was composed of diverse people.

He began by telling the crowd emphatically to listen, to pay attention. Then He told them to imagine a farmer going out to sow his seed. According to Jesus’ explanation of the parable, beginning in verse 14, the seed being sown is “the word.” Jesus Himself had already been casting this word, and His message was that “the kingdom of God is at hand” (1:14-15). Yet here Jesus spoke in parables to the crowd so that only those with “eyes” could “see” and only those with “ears” could “hear” (see 4:11-12). In other words, only those with receptive hearts would understand and follow Him into the kingdom.

What are some characteristics of a heart receptive to see and hear the good news of the gospel What are some things that can get in the way of a heart understanding the good news of the gospel?

(2.25) The Word of God and the Hardened Heart - Part 2 (Mark 4:1-4,14-15)

As the parable goes, the sower casts liberally, even tossing his seed “along the path.” Judean farmland in the 1st century differed from 21st-century American farmland. It was not distinct from the road, and people walked directly over the fields. There could be many “paths”—dirt hardened by the weight of travelers—in a plot of land. The soil was too hard for the seed to take root, so the seed was snatched up by hungry birds. We learn from verse 15 that the birds represent Satan, who quickly snatches away the word from some who hear it.

One wonders why God allows seed to be sown on “hard ground” and who might the “hard ground” be. Likely it represents those in the world who refuse to acknowledge God’s existence. They live for themselves, chasing after their own pleasures or simply too busy to think about the supernatural. They have no interest in God because they have filled their hearts with other pleasures.

Jesus’ story is meant to tell us about the different responses people will have to the gospel, yet we are not to let our perception of the “soil” dictate where we scatter the seed. As we share about God’s kingdom in Christ, we sow the word even in places where it may never take root, but only in this manner can we fulfill our obligation to share the good news with others.

Why should we freely share the gospel with people regardless of our perception of them?

99 Essential Christian Doctrines — #2 Special Revelation Special revelation refers to God revealing Himself to humanity through historical events, His Word, and through Jesus Christ. Through special revelation, human beings learn about God’s character, His will, His purpose for creation, and His plan of redemption. Special revelation shows us the nature and character of God, and because God has revealed Himself in this way, we can know Him—through a saving relationship with Him in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

(2.26) The Word of God and the Shallow Heart (Mark 4:5-6,16-17)

The people Jesus identifies here are initially receptive to God’s kingdom. They may make a profession of faith in Christ and even be baptized. But soon the joy of “conversion” is replaced by the adversity of life, and the result is a renounced “conversion.” Why? Jesus said it is because the roots cannot grow deep—there is insufficient soil for effective faith and discipleship.

As we share the gospel with our friends, family, and strangers, these kinds of quick conversions should be cultivated carefully. How can we guard against such spurious conversions?

Discipleship is a key factor. New converts must be established in our common faith. But Jesus’ point here is that despite our best efforts, some soil is simply too thin, some hearts too shallow, for a firm rooting of the gospel message.

What are some characteristics of a true conversion?

(2.27) The Word of God and the Distracted Heart (Mark 4:7,18-19)

Unlike the first two soils, this soil seems to want the seed to take root. The seed is not stolen by birds and it has the ability to take root and sustain healthy growth in this ground. But faithfulness to the call to pick up our cross and carry it is nowhere to be found in this type of soil. Instead, there is a love for worldly distractions. As John Wesley once said: “A deep and important truth! The desire of any thing, otherwise than as it leads to happiness in God, directly tends to barrenness of soul.”

The weeds of life choke the life out of this seed. It does not produce a crop because it succumbs to outside forces. Life choices take precedence over Jesus. These chase worldly dreams or fall prey to needless worries.

Those who let the cares and worries of this world choke out their love for Jesus resemble this soil. It is possible to believe that you are “saved” but not be producing fruit. Jesus is clear elsewhere that fruitless trees will be chopped down and barren plants will be burned up (Matt. 7:19; John 15:6). Just as we reject as saved those who have no seed or whose seed does not take root, we must reject the salvation of those who produce no fruit.

This is a wakeup call to those who occupy a pew seat on a weekly basis but have nothing to show for it. The Holy Spirit works in the lives of those who have been regenerated by Him. If there is no fruit, there is no regeneration. If there is no regeneration, there is no Spirit. If there is no Spirit, then there is no salvation.

What are some worries and desires of this world that can “choke the word” and make it unfruitful? What role does the church have in affirming conversions and warning of false conversions?

Voices from Church History “I would put it to you, my dear hearer, have you been fruitful? Have you been fruitful with your wealth? Have you been fruitful with your talent? Have you been fruitful with your time? What are you doing for Jesus now? Salvation is not by doings, you are saved by grace, but if you are so saved, prove it by your devoted life. Consecrate yourself anew this day wholly to your Master’s service. You are not your own, but bought with a price, and if you would not be like these thorn-choked seeds, live while you live, with all-consuming zeal.” –Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892)

(2.28) The Word of God and the Fruitful Heart (Mark 4:8-9,20)

Even the most evangelistic Christian becomes disheartened sometimes. Sharing the gospel over and over while seeing no results can lead one to doubts. Am I doing something wrong? Does my presentation need tweaking? Will everyone in our day reject the gospel? Jesus concludes the parable by answering these questions with a resounding no! The farmer that sowed seed on the bad soil—hardened, shallow, and thorny—received no harvestable crop, but the same farmer sowed the same seed on good soil and produced an amazing harvest.

Don’t be discouraged in your sowing. In fact, be encouraged that there is soil that will produce a harvest. The parable doesn’t say that the farmer did anything different as he sowed on the good soil. The crop was produced not because the farmer changed his seed scattering strategy but because the seed landed on soil that was receptive. Simply put, we are called to spread the seed (the word) liberally, not choose the preferred soil.

There is a variance in the amount of fruit produced by the crop. With some it is 30 times, with some it is 60 times, and with others it is 100 times. But there should be no jealousy in this among believers. God gifts each of us differently. That is the point of Paul’s body metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. The Spirit works in believers in different ways; some have more gifts, some have less. But we all produce fruit as new creations changed by and indwelt with the same Spirit.

What takeaways do you have from Jesus’ parable of the sower and the soils and its explanation? In a culture where the kingdom does not seem to be growing, how does this parable encourage you?

Voices from the Church “The seed of God’s Word does not bounce off the surface of this heart. It does not momentarily flourish only to shrivel under adversity. It is not divided by its competing desires and strangled. It is a heart that allows God’s Word to take deep root in it. It produces first a harvest of character: ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law’ (Galatians 5:22-23). Then it produces a harvest of good works (Eph. 2:10).” –R. Kent Hughes


The parable of the sower and the soils is a helpful reminder of three truths.

First, Jesus teaches us that the word is to be cast among all. The sower did not evaluate the ground before he cast his seed. In the same way, we have a duty to proclaim to all people the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection and its effect on our sin and rebellion. The sower tossed his seed liberally as he went, and so should we.

Second, many who hear of God’s kingdom ultimately will reject it. While we should feel a burden for those who reject the gospel, there is no reason to feel guilty for their choices. The Scriptures are replete with references that God’s kingdom isn’t the majority (with language like “remnant” [Jer. 50:20; Rom. 11:5] and “narrow gate” [Matt. 7:13-14]).

Third, there will be a minority who will receive the word and will produce a miraculous harvest of grace-filled, kingdom-affirming works. This should be satisfying to our souls. We can rest confidently that our efforts at sharing the truth about Christ will have an effect on some people. We can rejoice that God’s kingdom is spreading and reproducing in miraculous ways despite the number of times it is rejected by human beings.

Voices from Church History “Work diligently the soil while you may. Break up your fallow with the plough. Cast away the stones from your field, and dig out the thorns. Be unwilling to have a ‘hard heart,’ such as makes the Word of God of no effect. Be unwilling to have a ‘thin layer of soil,’ in which the root of divine love can find no depth in which to enter. Be unwilling to ‘choke the good seed’ by the cares and the lusts of this life, when it is being scattered for your good. When God is the sower and we are the ground, we are called to work to be good ground.” –Augustine (354-430)

Christ Connection: Jesus is the Sower who scattered the seed (God’s Word) through His ministry on earth. Today, He continues to proclaim the gospel through His disciples, and the gospel continues to bear fruit among those who receive the message.

Missional Application: God calls us to sow the seed of His Word with reckless abandon, trusting that the Lord of the harvest will bring fruit from the gospel.

  • 1-What excuses do we need to repent of that keep us from sowing the seed of the gospel?

  • 2-How can the parable of the sower and the soils help encourage us and sustain us on our mission?

  • 3-List some fruit we should see produced from the good ground of a new believer, and even in our own lives.