Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could be saved once and then know with confidence that you never had to do anything more? You could just sit back, relax and know that you are OK with God. Even if you did the wrong thing, you would still be OK and receive the salvation of the Lord to eternal life when He returns. In principle, this is basically what the “Once saved, always saved” teaching is all about. No matter what happens…you’re all good. Jesus however tells us a different story in this section of scripture.
What is the significance of the Fig tree?
Jesus begins this section of scripture saying, “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.” (Verse 6) Now the man came seeking fruit on this fig tree in the expectation that he would find some.
A fig tree after it has been planted requires a few years to establish itself before it will fruit. According to a number of gardening websites, it is usually about 3-5 years after the tree is planted before you could expect fruit to appear.
So this man expected there would be fruit on this tree so it is reasonable to presume the tree had been in the ground for at least 3-5 years.
What does the parable represent?
In the context of this parable the “man” is the Lord, the vineyard is the church and the fig tree is an individual, it could be you or I. The Lord came to the church and went to this fig tree expecting to find some fruit.
The fruit we are expected to bear as Christians is the fruit of repentance. There is also the fruit of the Spirit, however it is my opinion that in the context of this scripture the Lord is speaking of the fruit of repentance for the fig tree represents a relatively immature or young Christian.
John the Baptist discussed the need to bear the fruit of repentance when he said, “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sad’ducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit that befits repentance, and do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” (Matthew 3:7-9)
It is this of repentance that the Lord is seeking from this fig tree/man.
What is this message saying?
It is interesting also that the fig tree was found in the vineyard. What would you normally expect to find in a vineyard? Vines and grapes. And yet in this parable we see the Lord finds this fig tree in the vineyard. To be honest I don’t understand the significance of finding a fig tree in the vineyard rather than in a grove of fig trees. My guess is that he could be showing that this individual is “different” from the rest in the church. Or it could be that the fig tree represented the time periods needed that he was discussing as grapes What do you think? Please add your comments and insights below.
Anyway, the man came three years in a row expecting to find fruit, but in each case the tree was barren and there was no fruit to be had. He said, “Lo, these three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down; why should it use up the ground?” (Verse 7)
So if we take the example of the fig tree, which takes 3-5 years before you can expect fruit, then the tree had been in the ground an additional three years (i.e. 6-8 years) when the man had come seeking fruit.
What does this mean for you?
This parable is an allegory. When a person comes to the Lord there is a period they go through to learn the basics of how to walk with Jesus and to come to maturity. When a person is coming to maturity they should be exhibiting the fruits of repentance and later the fruits of the Spirit.
In this parable the Lord is showing that there is an expectation that within about six to eight years a person should be showing signs of this fruit in their life.
But what the Lord then says when he does not find the fruit is, “Cut it down; why should it use up the ground?” (Verse 7) If a person does not show the fruits of repentance after six to eight years, the Lord is saying they should be removed. Because if they remain in the church they will suck goodness out of it, just as the worthless fig tree uses up valuable land and nutrients.
So on this basis it is evident that the philosophy of “Once Saved, Always Saved” does not hold water. It is evident that there comes a time when a Christian who is not following the Lord correctly and not bearing fruit of repentance will be cut off.
Is that the end of the road?
No it isn’t for we see that when the man says to the vinedresser to chop down the fig tree, the vinedresser replies, “Let it alone, sir, this year also, till I dig about it and put on manure. And if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” (Verses 8-9)
The Lord is good for it is not his desire that anyone be lost as he said, “…God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4) It is on the basis of this scripture that many who proclaim the once saved, always saved process justify their position. However, God has given man a free will to exercise his decision to walk with God or not and thus if a man chooses to walk away from God, he will not be saved. God may desire salvation for all, but he has left the decision in man’s hands. But I digress…
The vinedresser says to the man to leave it another year and he will fertilise and aerate the soil to give the fig tree the best possible chance of bearing fruit. In the same way the Lord provides teaching opportunities and insights to assist the unfruitful Christian so that they too have the best possible chance of bearing fruit for repentance.
But in both cases if these best efforts fail, the tree and the unfruitful Christian will be uprooted and cast away.
What this message teaches us is that the Lord is patient with us. He gives us plenty of time to come to him and to bear fruit, possibly up to nine years, which is a lot more time than man would give their fellow man to overcome a problem.
But he also teaches that there is a time appointed when his patience runs out and there will be no further effort put into the unfruitful Christian. They will be separated from the flock for they are wasting valuable resources, energy and effort within the flock. We will see them separated or they may just walk away.
Is this harsh? Perhaps, but the Lord has established the ministries within the church for the purpose of building up the people of God and to bring them to maturity. Why should this ministry then be wasted on one who will not come to maturity in the Lord? The Lord does not want the efforts of his ministers to be unfruitful and so he will remove the unfruitful people. It is not our decision and we don’t know who is being fertilised and dug around. But the Lord will make the decision and take away those where his patience has run out.
This is a warning for us all. We are called to “walk” with Christ which indicates a steady progression forward. But if we stop, we fail to move forward and thus will not bear fruit. So be warned and continue to walk and seek the Lord so that you too may grow and mature and bear the fruits of repentance and not be cast off.