11 March 2014

Good Works, Faith, and the Fruitless Fig Tree

It is easy to get caught up in good works. It's what is most visible, most recognizable, most praised.

From far away, Jesus could see that the fig tree was full of leaves, so he approached it expecting to find fruit that should accompany such bloom. Finding only leaves and no figs, Jesus cursed the tree, and it withered. (Matthew 21:18-22, Mark 11:12-14, 20-25)

This all happened at the beginning of the Passion Week, after Jesus had cleansed the temple, which exposed the leafy-but-fruitless religious leaders who grew greatly in religion but not in faith.

The cursed fig tree is often described as a picture of these religious leaders, and it is a brutal picture indeed. The tree looked healthy and abundant and beautiful, but it had no fruit. All its leaves were pure show and no nourishment, all facade and nothing real.

I can be that fig tree.

It is possible to produce much of what is right and accumulate much praise for what is right without actually having obtained righteousness.

I can volunteer in children's ministry.
I can write a thousand convicting blog articles.
I can memorize verses and give biblical advice.
I can be active in church and never miss a service.
I can quote Scripture as my Facebook status.
I can don the label "missionary."
I can help start a church, fight hunger and sex-trafficking, and send money to the 10/40 window.

I can do all these things and still have no fruit. 
Without faith, I'd be a leafy fig tree . . . with nothing to offer Jesus when He walked up and looked at me.

That is doing good without God. 

Paul has this to say about the pursuit of righteousness:
[. . .] Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone,
~Romans 9:30-32, boldface mine
The simple truth so easily missed is this: Faith must be the root of our righteousness. Faith must pump through our deadness and produce life--rich, bountiful, delicious fruit. Faith is what pleases God. Faith is what Jesus wanted to see when He looked at people. Faith is what He wants to see when He looks at me.

He looks past all my good works and sees if I have any fruit--the fruit that is only possible by faith.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;
~Galatians 5:22-23b
Before, I desired these fruits but did not desire God. So I pursued personality traits instead of asking for more of the Giver of these traits. The fruit of the Spirit cannot to be on a checklist. You cannot become more like Christ without knowing Him, studying Him, and letting Him take control.
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.
~John 15:4-5

The way to righteousness is not trying to be righteous. 
And it's certainly not living up to righteous stereotypes either.

The only way to produce fruit is by abiding in Jesus. 
The only way to please God is through faith. 
The only way to righteousness is to be rooted in Him who is Right.
The only way to be a fig tree worthy of its leaves is to have the fruit that comes from the Holy Spirit's presence and control.

A fig tree with fruit will always have leaves.
A person who abides in Christ will always do good works.

But Jesus cursed the fig tree with leaves and no fruit.
May we not be found to be the person with good works and no faith.

Abide in Him,

How does the picture of the cursed fig tree impact you? Do you identify with the disciples (following Jesus) or with the Pharisees (following religion)?

Related articles on obedience and faith:

Phrases That Steal Praise: Dissecting Christianese
Rules and What Our Hearts Beat
Just Obey: My cry to my kids and God's to me


  1. Thank you for sharing this... We are doing the James Bible Study(Beth Moore) and this is a great followup to last nights session. Our leader challenged us to "do something good this week that requires faith." I began to think of things that would look like for me.... and each thing I thought of was pretty simple... things that I do regularly.....like work with children's ministry.... be in the Easter Drama.....help with Women's Ministry..... oh those are good things....but this part of your post hit me.....
    "That is doing good without God." I don't do those things without God.....BUT I realize that isn't what I was challenged to do. Whatever it is that I am to do this week that requires faith....is above and beyond my normal things I do. I def want to have fruit!! Thanks again!!!

    1. I'm so thankful to read how you were blessed. :)
      I've done the James study too: it's a challenging one! I really appreciated writing out the entire book. A verse from James--"faith without works is dead"--(2:26b) replayed in my head several times as I wrote this article, but it would open a new discussion. So maybe there will be another post continuing this conversation of faith and works...

  2. Oh yeah, "tho I give all I own to the poor & my body to be martyred, yet have not love, I am nothing.." 1 Cor. 13. Wonderful post! Love & prayers, in Jesus, Cynthia from Wise Woman link up.

    1. Thanks, Cynthia! So glad you stopped by and shared this verse. :)


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