Soil Number Three

John Piper has not been Tweeting long, but he sure has done a great job of turning the micro-blog into a platform for the gospel. Yesterday, he posted a line that is worth some reflection. Here it is:

“The devil’s main American M. O. is soil three not soil two (Luke 8:23-24)”

This is a reference to Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the soils in Luke 8 (the verses are actually Luke 8:13-14), and it is an apt word for our culture. Here’s the text:

Luke 8:13-14
13 “And those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. 14 “And the seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity.

You will remember, that there are four soils in this parable and that only the last one bears fruit. I take it that fruitfulness is the sign of genuine conversion and that the only “soil” that is truly saved in this parable is soil number four. The first three soils bear no fruit and thus show no evidence of conversion.

What is interesting in this text, however, is that it indicates that both trials and prosperity can choke the gospel out of one’s life. Soil number two consists of those who are tempted to turn away from the gospel because of a trial—perhaps some kind of suffering or persecution. Soil number three consists of those who trade-in the gospel for “riches” and the “pleasures” of this life.

According to Piper, soil number three describes the American experience more than does soil number two. Why? Because American Christians by and large live in relative peace and prosperity and aren’t tried by persecution. Soil number three, however, does describe the American experience very well. In fact, it describes my experience very well. It’s a devastating word to my own idolatrous heart—a word I need to hear. Maybe you do too.


  • Derek Taylor

    This is one of the passages that causes me to lean more in the direction of Arminianism. The litmus test of genuine faith is a) genuine fruit b) a life characterized by trust in God (even if we do stumble from time to time, which we will).

    Of course the 5 point Calvinist will say that it is inevitable that a regenerated person will persevere through soils 2 and 3.

    On my own Christian journey, having witnessed many very dear friends who were fruit bearing and apparently regenerated, only to watch them abandon trust in Christ later, the parable makes much more sense in an Arminian construct.

    I believe this warning is for everyone who has been genuinely re-generated at one time. Christ is not saying that we must earn our salvation through good works, of course (another Calvinist objection to an Arminian reading here). I believe Christ is warning us that we must continue to trust him and understand that there are at least two fundamental reasons that people leave the path of trusting and abiding in Him. I believe He is saying, the choice is yours to continue trusting me through trials and temptations. Take heart, for I have overcome the world and will strengthen you.

    One more parenthetical here – yet one more demonstration of how insidious and heretical a Joel Osteen approach to the Gospel is. If we do not prepare young Christians for trials and temptations, we are setting them up for almost certain blowout down the road.

    By the way, I don’t consider myself an Arminian or a Calvinist. I am still processing everything and listening to the positions of each side. However, this passage makes a lot more sense to me within an Arminian construct.

  • D.J. Williams

    I’m a Calvinist (though I’m not a big fan of the label), Derek, and I don’t see a problem here at all. I think that 1 John 2:18-20 gives us a good framework for the dilemma you pose.

  • Derek Taylor

    I’d like to see how you deal with the obstacles raised in my initial post.

    The context of I John deals with false prophets and deceivers, whereas the sower passage does not.

    But more importantly than that, if you embrace a 5 point Calvinist view, what is the point of warning or encouraging people to persevere?
    1. If they are already regenerated, there is no danger whatsoever of a person falling away. None.
    2. If they aren’t regenerated, you don’t introduce people to the Gospel with an appeal to persevere.

    In both cases, warnings or encouragements to persevere seem counterproductive or even misleading, because to do so would create an impression that a person’s will or perseverance has anything at all to do with salvation.

    So even if I John was dealing with wayward followers (rather than malicious deceivers), I still find it hard to fit this passage into a 5 point Calvinist framework.

    Again, I’m trying to wrestle with this, not trying to be argumentative.

  • Luke Hinton

    Although John did address false teachers who were secessionists, the primary purpose of his first epistle is to encourage believers in their salvation. The primary confidence is grounded in Jesus’ propitiatory work on the cross. John was writing, “these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (2:1-2). Also, John encourages the believers by proffering tests to display that they are in the faith (e.g. do they believe that Jesus is the Son of God, come in the flesh? Do they obey the commandments of God? Do they love the brethren?). Consider especially 1 John 5:13 for the apostle’s purpose. To answer your question, brother Derek, about why should a person encourage or warn God’s people: God uses warning as a means of grace to preserve His saints. Warnings and encouragements serve to keep saints persevering (e.g. consider the warnings in Hebrews). Finally, although we take it by faith that people are saved based on their confession, character, and life, God alone knows. The gospel is not just for the lost but for the church as well.

  • D.J. Williams

    Derek Taylor said…
    “But more importantly than that, if you embrace a 5 point Calvinist view, what is the point of warning or encouraging people to persevere?
    1. If they are already regenerated, there is no danger whatsoever of a person falling away. None.
    2. If they aren’t regenerated, you don’t introduce people to the Gospel with an appeal to persevere.”

    What is the point of warning believers? Because Scripture commands us to. Calvinism does not deny human responsibility. Your question is much like the many who ask, “If God has elected some to salvation, why evangelize?” Because God has determined that the preaching of the gospel is the means by which he will accomplish his eternal purpose. In much the same way, he commands us in Philippians 2 to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in us to will and to work for his good pleasure.

    Reformed theology doesn’t deny human responsibility in salvation when it recognizes divine sovereignty, but it seeks to hold the two truths, both clearly taught in Scripture, in balance, even when it is beyond our human understanding how it can be so.

  • Sue in Tennessee

    I’ve been pouring over the Word this week and seeking His wisdom over this passage and others that He has led me to as I’ve read. But, I’ve been focusing on Luke 8:11-15. Jesus is giving us the meaning of the parable He’s just shared, right? In verses 11-12 He states, “This is the meaning of the parable. The seed is the Word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, SO THAT THEY MAY NOT BELIEVE AND BE SAVED.” (ITALICS are mine because that is the way it was to me as I read this section of Scripture this week) I came to the conclusion since He wants us to know the meaning of the parable He was answering their question directly, simply, and honestly. I trust Him to talk to us this way throughout His Word. Why would He state that distinction concerning those along the path having the Word taken away from their hearts, by the devil ‘SO THEY MAY NOT BELIEVE AND BE SAVED.’ Isn’t that His way of letting us know the other 3 He is describing have been saved by hearing and believing; yet the seed on good soil represents those who endure – “those with a noble and good heart, who hear the Word, retain it, and by PERSEVERZING produce a crop.” (italics mine). Those who know Him and the Father, who live and abide with them and experience eternal life. (John 17:3 “Now this is eternal life, that they may know YOU, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.”) And those described in verses 13 and 14: one receives the Word with joy but has no root, “They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.” The other hear the Word but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.” The importance of our discipling and encouraging one another as the Day draws near is pronounced in this parable’s meaning is it not!

    Living by His grace moment by moment!

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