Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Jesus’ Rebuke of Unfruitful Living

By: Rebekah Hargraves

Photo courtesy of: Annie Shelmerdine

Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry. And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. In response Jesus said to it, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.” And His disciples heard it. So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’”….And Peter, remembering, said to Him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.” So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God.”    —Mark 11:12-17, 21-22

The good news of the gospel is woven throughout much of what I write on my blog and in my books, as well as what I discuss on the podcast. I regularly seek to show women how Paul’s words in Romans 7 and 8 are the antidote for guilt, shame, and self-condemnation. I quote Psalm 103 often, reminding readers that the Lord “knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” (verse 14). He knows we still have a sin nature we will have to fight against, and He knows that we will sometimes succumb to those temptations. Even so, Paul reminds us in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” All of this is right and true, good to remember, and freeing to the soul.

But it is also just a portion of the whole story and picture of the Christian life. It isn’t enough for us to simply delight in and relish God’s amazing grace toward us and His having freed us from condemnation and guilt. We were never meant to simply remain in that place of only being thankful for the gospel. We were always intended to then walk out the implications of the gospel. We were designed to be sanctified more and more into the image of Christ. The Christian life begins with our experiencing immense gratitude for God’s amazing grace, and then continues on into a life of increased obedience as a result of our gratitude.

This is not about legalism, mind you. Obedience and legalism are not the same thing. Legalism is an adherence to man-made rules, an embracing of not just true commands found in Scripture but also additional parameters added onto them by man. Legalism is about striving to be perfect in an effort to be approved of and accepted by God.

Obedience, on the other hand, stems from a freedom, a love, and a gratitude that comes from knowing you are already approved of and accepted by God as a result of the blood of Christ that covers you and the righteousness of Christ which is now your own. When you realize the depths of what God has done for you through Christ, that love and gratitude you feel is what then inspires your heart to want to live a life of obedience and production of good fruit.

Jesus was so infuriated with a fig tree with no figs because of how it pictures people who claim to follow God but bear no good fruit that is in keeping with repentance (see Matthew 3:8). This is likewise what angered Him in the temple. Here was the temple of God—a place of prayer and communing with the Father—being turned into a place of business. It wasn’t that Jesus was against people earning money. It was that the way and method in which they were doing so was completely inappropriate. Not only were these people extortioners, charging folks for the animals they would need for sacrifice in the temple, but their doing so also kept the poor and destitute out on the fringe. The poor were financially and physically ostracized and marginalized in the temple as a result of these moneychangers and their booths. Jesus, ever one with a heart for the poor and the destitute, the downtrodden and the mistreated, was rightfully angered against these extortioners. Their actions were not at all representative of people who professed to follow God.

In keeping with what Jesus did to the fig tree and how He feels about us producing good fruit in our lives, John 15 is another most important passage to consider. In verses 1-8 Jesus says,

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, 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, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”

This is Christ’s desire for us as His followers: that we would bear much fruit—fruit that is good for us and those around us—and brings glory to His name.

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