What does genuine faith look like?

faith forgiveness gospel of mark prayer

Somewhere along the way, I discovered that I really enjoy landscaping.  When the weather is favorable, I often look for an excuse to work in the yard or around the house.  

 Roughly ten years ago, I planted a row of daylilies in front of my house toward the edge of our yard.  We enjoyed them as did our neighbors.  For most of that time, they looked beautiful and I always appreciated watching them grow and bloom, but for the past two years, we have been disappointed in them.  I’m not sure why, but some of them died off, and the ones that remained haven’t flowered.

 This week, I decided it was time to make a change to that section of our landscaping.  I dug up the remaining daylilies and gave them away.  In their place, I planted a row of compact rose bushes that bloom all season long, from Spring until frost.  I’m told that they’re very hardy and should last a good long time.  The only downside of planting them was dealing with the thorns.  My arms are all scratched up and look like I got in a fight with an angry cat.

 If you’ve ever tended a garden, planted a tree, or taken care of landscaping around your home, your expectations for what you’ve planted are obvious.  You want to see it grow and flourish.  You want to watch your plants thrive, particularly after the care, feeding, and protection you’ve provided for them.  If they don’t thrive, you will regretfully feel compelled to rip them out of the ground and replace them.

 Imagine how the Lord must feel as He looks upon humanity, knowing that He has given us every opportunity to thrive.  He has planted us in fertile places, nourished us in countless ways, and provided both spiritual and physical protection for us all throughout our lives in ways that we sometimes perceive, but often do not.  In response to His many blessings, how are we doing?  Are we thriving?  Do we flourish in life and give Him the glory He rightly deserves?

 If you’re a student of the Bible, you’ve likely noticed that in addition to providing care for humanity in general, the Lord has enriched the children of Israel with innumerable blessings.  He made them a people and a nation.  He spoke directly to them through the prophets.  He protected them from adversaries that were stronger and more numerous than them.  He even chose to take on flesh and be born among them, but how did they respond to His blessings?  Did their faith in Him blossom or did it wither?

 Sadly, at the time of Christ’s earthly ministry, the people of Israel demonstrated a withering faith and a refusal to flourish.  We see that illustrated in Mark 11:12-25.

On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.  (Mark 11:12-14)

I love walking, but walking long distances tends to work up my appetite.  I get the impression that after all the walking Jesus and His disciples had been doing, He had worked up an appetite.  The Scripture tells us that when Jesus walked from Bethany to Jerusalem with His disciples, he was hungry and had His eyes open for something to eat.  In the distance, He saw a fig tree in leaf.  Even though it wasn’t the season for figs, the fact that the tree was in leaf was a good sign that it would be producing fruit because the leaves and figs tend to grow at the same time.

 As Jesus walked up to the fig tree and examined it, He found no fruit on it.  It gave off the appearance of fruitfulness, but it was void of anything edible so Jesus cursed the tree.  He declared that no one would eat fruit from it ever again.  This tree had the privilege to provide nourishment for the very person who created it in the first place and it failed to do so.  The disciples could see the disappointment in Jesus’ face, and we’re also told that they heard what He said after discovering leaves, but no fruit.

 Every story, parable, and illustration in the Bible is purposeful.  This story of the fruitless fig tree is no exception.  In various places in the Old Testament, fig trees were spoken of as a symbolic representation of the nation of Israel and their relationship with the Lord.

“When I would gather them, declares the Lord, there are no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree; even the leaves are withered, and what I gave them has passed away from them.”  (Jer. 8:13)

“Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel.  Like the first fruit on the fig tree in its first season, I saw your fathers.  But they came to Baal-peor and consecrated themselves to the thing of shame, and became detestable like the thing they loved.”  (Hos. 9:10)

 Jesus, the eternal Son of God was visiting the people of Israel, but what did He find and how did they treat His arrival?  He saw people going through the external motions of religion without the internal faith that confirms its sincerity.  He saw people doing everything they could to give off an appearance of righteousness while secretly conspiring to slander and murder Him.  They were like fig trees with leaves but no fruit.

 As professing believers in Jesus during our era of history, I hope we don’t miss a major lesson here.  We are called to exhibit a genuinely fruitful faith.  A faith that’s sincere.  A faith that isn’t just a show put on for the praise and approval of others.  We’re called to trust Jesus daily and walk with Him in all circumstances.  We’re called to bear fruit in our character and conduct.  We’re called to exhibit love, joy, peace, and patience as the Holy Spirit indwells us and makes His presence in our lives visibly obvious.  We’re called to build one another up in faith as the Holy Spirit equips us to serve one another.

 Faith in Christ that is genuine will also be fruitful.  God is being patient with us and giving us time to bear that kind of fruit.  But also understand that the patience the Lord is presently showing humanity at large will eventually come to an end and everyone will give an account for what we did with the blessings He entrusted to us.  Consider what happened to the unfruitful fig tree…

As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.”  (Mark 11:20-21)

The unfruitful fig tree withered to its roots.  As the disciples passed by and saw the condition of the tree, they were astonished.  They knew it hadn’t been fruitful.  They also heard Jesus pronounce a curse on the tree.  Now, in miraculously short order, the tree had completely and thoroughly withered, providing them and us a powerful example of the ultimate outcome of remaining disconnected from our Lord, the giver of life.

 One of the clearest expressions of a fruitful faith is prayer.  Through prayer, we live out our connection with Jesus.  Because of the atoning work Jesus accomplished for us on the cross, we are given confident access to the throne of God to offer praise and make requests.  Jesus reconciles us to the Father, and the Holy Spirit helps make sense of our often jumbled and desperate prayers.

And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.  24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”  (Mark 11:22-24)

 In the context of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and many thousands of people swarming the city to celebrate the Passover, Jesus wanted His disciples to understand the nature of real faith.  Real faith isn’t just looking the part or carrying out external rituals.  Real faith involves a changed heart that sincerely trusts in Jesus to meet our deepest needs.

 Jesus told these men that they should ask God to do seemingly impossible things and then trust Him to answer.  God is powerful enough to remove obstacles as big as mountains.  He isn’t intimidated by the size or scope of a task, and He invites us to approach life without doubt, but with complete confidence in the power of God and His desire to use His power for our good.

 Likewise, when we pray, we should have faith that God will answer our prayers in the best way possible, even if that may differ from what we assumed would be best.  The pattern for prayer that Jesus demonstrates for us in the gospels is to submit our requests to the sovereign will of God and trust Him to answer in the exact right way and in the ideal timing.

 Jesus gives us one other important piece of counsel in this passage that we shouldn’t miss.  He tells us to cultivate a forgiving heart toward others when we’re bringing requests to God who mercifully forgave us because of the work of Jesus.

“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”  (Mark 11:25)

I don’t know how much hurt you’ve experienced in your life, but I’m sure it’s plenty.  There are people who have caused you trouble and pain.  There may be people in your life who have gone out of their way and inconvenienced themselves just to hurt you.  They are hard to forgive but forgive them anyway in light of the fact that you have found forgiveness for your sins through Jesus.

 Not long ago, I heard the story of a woman whose husband went out of his way to say some of the most terrible things imaginable to her in order to purposely upset her.  He is actively attempting to crush her spirit and break her heart.  In light of this Scripture, how would you encourage her to react or respond?  Should she allow bitterness toward her husband to take root in her heart or should she aim toward forgiveness when she prays for him?

 I also heard of a man who had several close friends who are now distant from him.  He upset them, but in his pride refuses to acknowledge his role in the conflict.  Now he’s upset that they don’t include him in their activities so he’s distancing himself from them even further.  Is this the approach he should take?  For the sake of his own prayer life and his relationship to his brothers in Christ, wouldn’t it be better for him to forgive, repent, and reconcile?

 Through our union with Jesus, we are divinely empowered to demonstrate the fruit of genuine faith.  This is a faith that’s expressed in the fruits of sincerity and integrity.  It’s a faith that’s likewise expressed through meaningful prayer and trusting the Lord to supply the ideal outcomes.  Christ calls us to do more than just go through the motions.  As He did for the people of Jerusalem, He’s calling us to recognize and acknowledge His presence among us.

© John Stange, 2024


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