Fruitless Fig Trees


by Mike Ratliff

17 And He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.
18 Now in the morning, when He was returning to the city, He became hungry. 19 Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He *said to it, “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.” And at once the fig tree withered.
20 Seeing this, the disciples were amazed and asked, “How did the fig tree wither all at once?” Matthew 21:17-20 (NASB) 

It was in late fall of 2004 that I realized a very important Biblical principle. Up until then I had always assumed that when God gives us a message or lesson or sermon or counsel in which to write or teach or preach or give to those who needs to hear it, He would also cause those hearing it to recognize it as the truth, believe it,  and obey it. Reality hit hard. The principle I learned was that God is glorified when we obey Him whether the results of our obedience meet our expectations or not. What happened was that I shared with the men at our old church the wonderful news that all God really wants from us is our devotion and obedience rather than just our religiosity. The results were not exactly what I expected. For the most part, I was looked at like I was an alien from another planet. 

There was a couple of the men who wanted to hear more. We drew together and each of us shared the path on which God had us. I was not surprised that these two were also being drawn closer to God, but it disappointed me that the rest just weren’t interested. There is ignorance, then there is deliberate ignorance. We all suffer from the former, but the latter is a form of unbelief which has its roots in our pride and rebellion. Surprisingly, God does command us at times to go to those in hard-hearted unbelief and speak the truth to them even though the odds of them repenting and obeying is very low.

26 Yet they did not listen to Me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck; they did more evil than their fathers.
27 “You shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you; and you shall call to them, but they will not answer you. Jeremiah 7:26-27 (NASB) 

We must remember here that this is speaking of professing believers. Those who profess faith in God, in Christ, that they are His people. This isn’t speaking of reprobate unbelievers. No, this is an indictment against those who call themselves Christians, but refuse to heed and repent when given the truth from God. God is merciful. He is slow to anger. He gives people chance after chance to repent. In the Old Testament account of Israel and Judah, it is amazing how long He allowed them to continue in their rebellion against Him.

The Church has from its inception at Pentecost been under siege by Satan and his seed. The war is waged on every conceivable front. However, it seems that the most devastating attacks come from within. This is why we are warned in scripture about the nature of those who do this.

15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will know them by their fruits.
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:15-23 (NASB) 

These false prophets look genuine, but inwardly they are full of destruction. How do we recognize them? We must observe the fruit of all prophets, teachers, and preachers. If they are genuine then their fruit will be good. If they are not then they will eventually produce bad fruit. What is the difference in the fruit? The fruit of a ministry will be the spiritual health of those to whom it ministers. That means that if a minister of the Gospel is genuine then He will work within the range in which he is led by the Holy Spirit. As a result, the sheep in his care will grow in their knowledge of Christ, their  obedience to Christ, and they will exhibit the fruits of the Spirit. This will be so because these sheep are in step with the Holy Spirit in denying and restraining their flesh.

What would be bad fruit ? We must never forget that false prophets espouse false doctrine. False doctrine cannot restrain the flesh. As a result, not only will the leadership in the ministry be fleshly, the sheep in their care will not be fed good spiritual food, therefore, they will not grow in their knowledge of Christ, their obedience to Christ, nor will they exhibit the fruits of the Spirit. I can think of no better contrast of this than is found in Paul’s epistle to the Galatians.

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. Galatians 5:16-26 (NASB) 

Remember, we cannot exhibit the fruit of the Spirit if we are not also growing in our knowledge of Christ and obeying Him more and more. These three things work together and will all be evident in the sheep who are being properly discipled by godly pastors and teachers. This is why it is such huge tragedy that the predominate form of Christianity in the world right now is the product of the Church Growth movement. This movement is all about restructuring churches so that they will appeal to the unchurched. They take away the Gospel and replace it with easy-believism which saves no one. This non-gospel removes the person’s need for a saviour. It never mentions Hell. It never mentions repentance. It is all about easing people into their churches by making them think that their religion, such as it is, is going to save them.

The emphasis in these churches is to grow. Therefore, they change everything in the Church to attract people who hate church. They make the entire enterprise a watered down, non-threatening crusade with loud music and light shows. It is the promise of salvation and a better life that costs nothing. The churches who do this who also have the right mix of entrepreneurship in its leaders can grow to enormous size. Yes, the numbers are there, but what sort of fruit is being produced?  Is it just leaves? Is it briars? Is it thorns?

It has been pointed out that it is amazing that some still fall for this form of Church since it has been well documented how devastating it is to the Church family through the implementation of  it. Then there is documented proof that this form of church spiritually starves the flock. Also, many of us have been writing of what is wrong with it from a Biblical perspective. The backlash from those who love the seeker-sensitive church model has been very interesting, sometimes troubling.

There is a lie being perpetrated all through the Church in our day. That lie is that it is wrong to confront those who are teaching false doctrine. The lie is based on another fallacy. That fallacy says, “There are no absolutes.” Now we are back to those who are deliberately ignorant. These fellows demand that we stop pointing out where their doctrines are not biblical and also that we include them in “orthodoxy.” What puzzles me is why they want the latter. If they hate what we call Orthodoxy then why do they want to be seen as part of it? In any case, these people have been warned. They have been confronted. They have been given every chance to repent. What has been the response?

1 Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? 3 I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
6 And He began telling this parable: “A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. 7 And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’ 8 And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; 9 and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.’” Luke 13:1-9 (NASB) 

God is patient. However, as we see here, there will come a time for each who refuse to repent when it will be too late. Our Lord’s emphasis here is that each of us is like the fig tree that is planted in a vineyard. The test of authenticity here is fruitfulness. We have already seen what fruit He is looking for. If all we have are leaves, i.e. we are religious on our own terms, we are producing either no fruit or bad fruit. The leaders in the Church Growth movement have been warned. They have been rebuked. They have not repented. Why? The form of church these fellows love is their idol. They love the numbers. This is idolatry. What does God do to people who claim to be His, but who are really idolaters? Doesn’t He give them over to their idols? Doesn’t He give them hardened hearts making them spiritually blind? Does this mean we stop telling the truth? No, we must continue until God says stop. The greater guilt will be in the leaders who lead these folks into eternity hoping in themselves and their religion. However woe be unto those who know the truth, but who do not warn everyone about these men.

Soli Deo Gloria!

3 thoughts on “Fruitless Fig Trees

  1. Fruitless Fig Trees is JUST what the churches are. It is amazing to us that we are seeing this everywhere and hearing about this very thing all over the world. You talk about the Lord instead of totally worldly things and they look at us like we are from ‘Zargon’ too!! No one knows what the Belgic Confession is, or Canons of Dort, Heidelberg Catechism, and if you mention the Westminster they call you stuffy and legalistic. They say, ‘We just follow the Bible, we don’t need all that made up stuff by man’. They do know who Luther and Calvin was and they don’t like either one of them. Sheesh!! Talk about slim-pickens around us, its pathetic.


  2. Thank you for your faithfulness to the Lord. It is a sweet aroma. I have a question…

    What is the purpose of looking at these fruitless fig trees? I believe that God’s design in everything is to use it to conform us, Romans 8: 28 – 29 I can’t always change what is around me, but God will use what is around me to change me. I believe that in every situation like this that we must look at it like a horse and cart. The “cart” issue is the “church.” The “horse” issue is me. So I must first deal with what God is wanting to teach me through this and then I am prepared, ready to be the vessel, to do anything He calls me to do about the “church.” If the horse is not ready he can not pull the cart.

    So, I want to make sure that I profit from looking at them. God said these things would happen and they are. Yes it is sad, but what fruit does God want to produce in me when I look at the Fruitless Fig Trees? How is He using them to sanctify me?

    So, then, if even in this God commands me to rejoice, should I not make sure that I do. I am not called to be happy that the “churches” in America are crumbling, but I can rejoice that my God is still able to use those Churches to touch the hearts of those He wants to touch. That they do not thwart His plan. That He is wanting to use what I see going on to turn my heart toward Him. For my faith to increase!

    I want to make sure that when I look at people and churches that are fruitless that my first goal is to glorify the Lord by obeying His commands to let my mind dwell on what is true, pure and lovely. Because when I do that I find my heart is full of joy and peace as I keep my eyes fixed on Him.

    And then if God calls me to speak to someone I am going at the urging of the Holy Spirit not at the urging of “the wrong.” I do not go as you said looking for any result other than pleasing God! God is using those Fruitless Fig Trees for good in my life so that I might bear good fruit. The fruit of the Spirit needs to be evident in me!

    So I loved your post, God used it to prompt me to say, “God show me where I might be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Show me where I might be just like those fruitless fig trees.

    Psalm 141:5 Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it.

    Thank you again. May we consider how to encourage one another to love and good deeds. (The fruit of the Spirit!)



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