Growth In Christ

The Parable of the 4 Soils (Rocky Soil)

Paul Gotthardt5 comments2875 views

We are in Mark 4:1-20 where Jesus is discussing the parable of the 4 soils.  Each soil represents a condition of the human heart and its receptivity to the Gospel message.  The first soil type was the hard ground.  They are closed to the Gospel because they do not understand the Gospel.  Look at the previous post for further explanation.  That brings us to the second soil type.

Soil Two: Some people are unprepared for the Gospel (v.5-6, 16-17):

The Soil (Verses 5-6):  “Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil.  It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.  But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.”

The Explanation of the Soil (Verses 16-17):  “Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy.  But since they have no root, they last only a short time.  When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.”

Key Thought for Soil Two: They don’t understand the cost of following Christ.

Soil two often begins a debate.  Does this second soil represent a person who is a Christian (but not discipled), or does it represent a person who is still unsaved?

The argument is made that this person received the Word with joy.  Doesn’t that mean they received Christ?  At the same time, they grew for a little while.  How can they grow unless life had occurred?

As students of the Word of God, we need to be careful that we are looking for biblical signs of repentance.  The Bible does not speak of growth as a sign of repentance; the Bible speaks of fruit as the sign of repentance.

John the Baptist scolded the religious crowd for desiring the baptism of the righteous without showing signs of repentance.  “Produce fruit that is consistent with repentance!  Don’t think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our forefather.’  For I tell you that God can raise up descendants for Abraham from these stones!  The ax already lies against the roots of the trees.  So every tree not producing good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.  I am baptizing you with water as a token of repentance” (Matthew 3:7b-11a  ISV).

Jesus taught that we could distinguish between good and evil people by inspecting the fruit in their lives.  “A good tree doesn’t produce rotten fruit, and a rotten tree doesn’t produce good fruit.  For every tree is known by its own fruit.  People don’t gather figs from thorny plants or pick grapes from a thorn bush.  A good person produces good fruit from the good treasure of his heart, and an evil person produces evil from an evil treasure.  For it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:43-45 ISV).

In John 15, Jesus says He is the Vine and we are the branches.  He goes on to say that every branch in Him will be fruit.  Fruit is the outward indicator of being in Christ.

Therefore, when we encounter a passage like the 4 soils, our question has to be, “Do we see fruit?”  The consistent theme of repentance in the New Testament is God living through us (yielding spiritual fruit).

The second soil mentioned is rocky ground.  This description does not refer to loose rocks on the surface because the farmer would have removed excess debris from the field before planting.  Instead, the rock mentioned is the underlying bedrock that was not reached by the plow.

There is a degree of preparation that has taken place.  In verse, 4, the seeds that fell on the path and were unable to penetrate the ground due to the hardness of the soil.  The seeds that fell on the stony ground (v.5) were able to penetrate the soil, but only in a shallow fashion.

When the seeds hit this shallow layer of dirt, “They sprouted at once…but when the sun came up, they were scorched.”  Verse 6 is a simple description of soil that has not been cultivated enough to sustain life.

This person is described in detail in Mark 4:16-17.  “Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy.  But since they have no root, they last only a short time.  When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.”

Compare this soil to the hard soil of the previous section.  The former soil was resistant, unconcerned, and cold to the Gospel.  The immediate response of this soil indicates eagerness or at least openness to the Gospel.  However, instead of understanding the cost and commitment involved in following Christ, this individual makes an emotional decision (with joy) without a firm basis for understanding the costs of salvation.  John MacArthur gave the following quote:

“Sometimes shallow acceptance of the gospel is encouraged by shallow evangelism that holds out the blessings of salvation but hides the cost—such as repenting from sin, dying to self, and turning from the old life.  When people are encouraged to walk down the aisle, raise their hand, or sign a card without coming to grips with the full claims of Christ, they are in great danger of becoming further from Christ than they were before they heard the message.  They become insulated from true salvation by a false profession of faith.”

John 2:23-25 gives an example of shallow acceptance, and Jesus’ response to that type of belief.  “While Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Passover Festival, many people believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing.  Jesus, however, did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and didn’t need anyone to tell him what people were like.  For he himself knew what was in every person.”  This passage clearly describes an occasion when people believed on the surface, but Christ knew their heart (For he himself knew what was in every person), and “did not entrust himself to them”.

On unusually warm days at the end of winter, it is not uncommon to see isolated flowers appear on various plants.  It is a beautiful picture of the power of life emerging from a world of frost and ice.  However, the beauty is somewhat deceptive.  If you have another freezing night, the same flower that appeared will die and drop from the plant.

The flower dies because it was not completely prepared for the seasonal changes of life.

Likewise many spiritual seekers go through a similar cycle.  The Spirit of God has been preparing their heart to be receptive to the good news, and eventually make their debut into the family of God.  However, instead of waiting on the promptings of God, they make an emotional decision without the basic understanding of the cost of following Christ.  As a result, they follow Christ based on emotion before Christ entrusts Himself based on faith.  At the first call for real commitment, they fall away.

What does the “stony heart” person look like?  A general description of this person would be someone who has the appearance of a dramatic conversion.  They are characterized by emotions and enthusiasm, and are often more vocal in talking about their experience.  They quickly involve themselves in the things of the church (i.e. regular church attendance, Bible studies, and serving).  But unfortunately, when this person begins to experience the trials of life, they discover that they are in the same situation as before. Their feelings were changed, but their heart wasn’t.

Without the ability to sink their roots deep into the truths of the Word of God, they see the trials of life as counterproductive to their faith.  What they caste off as burdens, God has allowed as a blessing (James 1:2-4).  First Peter 5:10 says, “After you have suffered for a little while…the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.”  God allows the trials to strengthen, perfect, confirm, and establish believers.  An unbeliever sees trials as counterproductive to victory. A faith that cannot be tested is a faith that cannot be trusted.

The Christians response to this Soil:

  • Follow the same procedures as soil one.
  • Recognize eagerness, but fully explain the cost.
  • Spend time with this individual answering any questions they might have.  It is impossible to make disciples from a distance.  Giving the person an opportunity to investigate the claims and costs of Christ will only give them a better understanding the Christ-life.

Can you see how the Gospel will be the same for everyone, but how will share with people will differ?  If you treat the person who is hard to the Gospel the same way you treat the person who doesn’t understand the cost of the Gospel, you will do more harm than good.

God is calling us to be spiritual farmers, specialist in good soil.  If we are to join with God in the redemptive process, it will be because we join God where He is working.  We don’t try to save people; we stay focused on sharing the Gospel clearly.  That means we become aware of where God has them in the process.

Paul Gotthardt
Is learning to live from the overflow of my relationship with Jesus; Husband, Father, Pastor, Church Planter, Author, UGA grad... football and UFC enthusiast.


  1. Paul, I need some clarification regarding the above statement: “instead of waiting on the promptings of God, they make an emotional decision without the basic understanding of the cost of following Christ”.

    There are two things not one that this soil appears to be lacking according to your post, or even three: 1. Understanding of the cost of following Christ; 2. Not waiting on the promptings of God; 3. Possibly no promptings from God (as they act before promptings arrive).

    The Gospel calls us to believe from the heart (mind and will). I encourage people to be sure of what they believe and act in sincerity yet I don’t mention any promptings from God. Any clarification on the “promptings of God”?

    1. Great question. When I speak of the promptings of God, I’m referring to the Holy Spirit calling that person to Himself in salvation. Jesus said in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…” This idea is reiterated by Christ in John 6:65. We also know that God the Father chooses to prompt and draw through the Person of the Holy Spirit. John 16:8 says, “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” First Corinthians 2:14 teaches that the unregenerate person does not accept the things of the Spirit.

      Put all of that together and you have a basic idea of the promptings of God. God the Father calls us to Himself. He does this through His Spirit. It is the Spirit that prompts us about sin and righteousness and judgment. Therefore, if someone prays a prayer (not out of conviction of sin and the need for Christ, but out of pressure or the desire to please others), there would be genuine reason for concern over that person’s salvation.

      Hope this helps.

  2. Yes it does and in your response it appears that prompting is synonymous to genuine conviction. I personally know what it means to resist or respond to spiritual conviction: more than intellectual understanding it is an unavoidable persuasion that the truth is of authority and of God. O, the long suffering of God! Thank you. God bless your labor.

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