Take heed how you hear!
Behold, a sower went forth to sow. Mt. 13:3
The parable of the sower as explained by our Lord is fairly straightforward. Nevertheless, despite its interpretation by Jesus, it has suffered under the hands of others. In our day, this parable is often interpreted in a way to make all the soils representative of children of God. In other words, because they all “received the word of God” into their hearts, some believe that this means that these are all pictures of those who are saved. It’s just that some do not go on to take advantage of the grace that has come into their lives. But this is just nonsense.
It’s nonsense because throughout our Lord’s teachings, bearing good fruit is an indispensable mark of the saved. Good trees produce good fruit, and bad trees produce bad fruit (Mt. 7:15-20; 12:33-37). Only those who do the will of the Father are received by Christ on the Day of Judgment (Mt. 7:21-27; 12:50). The lack of good fruit is a good indication that a person is not saved.
In many ways, this parable is very like another parable our Lord will tell in what is known as the Olivet Discourse (Mt. 24-25). There, he tells the parable of the talents. Three servants received talents, but one of them did nothing with it. No fruit! What happened to this servant? Did he just lose out on some earthly blessings? No: “And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 25:30). There is little difference between barren soil and unprofitable servants. Both produce no fruit, and both receive judgment from our Lord.
Or one thinks of the parable of the barren fig tree (Lk. 13:6-9). Here was a tree in a vineyard. But it was producing no fruit. So a decision is made: fertilize and water the tree for one more year, and if it doesn’t produce any fruit after that, cut it down. There is a lot there in that short parable, but surely one of the main points is that fruit-bearing is a necessary evidence of the grace of God in the life.
So it simply cannot be that this parable is supposed to illustrate what different believers do with the word of God sown in their hearts. Because if they were all believers, they would all bear good fruit. It’s interesting that in Luke’s account, he follows up this parable and its interpretation with these words: “Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have” (Lk. 8:18). The point is that just because you have received the word doesn’t mean a thing unless you bear good fruit. You should take heed how you hear because hearing alone is no good. You may receive the word in a way that makes others think that you have truly become a follower of Christ, but if it’s not real, then even that pretense will one day be taken away.
R.C. Sproul relates that he and his best friend both gave their life to Christ the same evening. That night they both sat down to write letters to their girlfriends to let them know what had happened to them. But on the following morning, Sproul’s friend had repudiated everything that he had joyfully embraced the night before, whereas Sproul’s life was changed from that point on. Hearing and even temporarily embracing the word is no evidence of salvation. Only those who “having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience” (Lk. 8:15) have any real evidence of being saved.
The bottom line of this parable is not to give comfort and aid to those who disregard the word of God in their lives. The bottom line is to “take heed therefore how ye hear.” It matters how you hear the word of God, and it is important because there are more ways to hear the word of God for judgment than to hear the word of God for good. “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Mt. 13:9). Really, the three unproductive soils represent those who “seeing see not, and hearing hear not, neither do they understand” (Mt. 13:13). They don’t represent those who are wayward believers but those who are under the judgment of God. Take heed how you hear.
 R. C. Sproul, Mark (SAEC), p. 77.