False Religions and True Faith
Translated by Allan Liang
The novel coronavirus has battered the entire world, and has greatly affected every individual’s life. It has threatened us and our family’s health, caused many to lose their jobs and many to receive a greatly reduced salary, and has placed great financial burdens on many families, resulting in an increase of anxieties, troubles, and interpersonal friction. This type of environment puts our faith to the serious test and reveals whether the Christian faith is truly alive and at work in our lives. Merely congregating each week, reading the Bible and praying each day, does not indicate that we can truly experience the trueness and power of God. In today’s Scripture, the disciples find that the fig tree cursed by Jesus the previous day, in accordance to Jesus’ curse, had withered from the root and died completely. Why did Jesus curse the fig tree? Was it because there was no fruit to be found on the tree, which made Jesus angry and had him pronounce the curse out of a childish fit? Of course not. Jesus took the opportunity to “perform” a parable. Fig trees usually first grow fruit and then leaves, during which the fruit slowly changes colour, from a premature green to a ripe purple. However, the fig tree that Jesus encountered, though it had leaves which were signs that it should have produced fruit, upon closer sight, had no fruit whatsoever. In the Old Testament Scriptures, the fig tree was often used to represent Israel, God’s people. Jesus here in cursing the fig tree that had leaves but no fruit, actually was proclaiming judgement on the hypocritical religious figures. They had leaves, an outer appearance of piety, went to the temple to worship God, made monetary offerings, learned about Scripture, prayed; but they were without the inner-reality of piety, and did not pursue righteousness, lacked a heart of mercy, were self-righteous and did not know of repenting. Today, in regards to yourself, does your faith remain as external appearances, or can you truly experience the power of faith? Although we go to church, we do not necessarily truly worship God from our hearts; we pray, yet we may not necessarily experience communication with God; we read the Bible, yet it may very well be a mechanical act of completing a task, from which we do not receive any true nourishment. Faith with outer-appearances but no inner reality can only be withered, surrounded by the stench of death, and totally devoid of any power - it is no more than religion, which cannot save but can only lead to judgement. How can we let our faith not be limited by external forms, but rather, have it become lively and powerful? Jesus has told us how. When reading this passage of the Bible, you may find it rather strange and the logic hard to follow. In verse 21, the disciples tell Jesus, “Rabbi, look! Your curse has truly become effective.” Based on usual habits of the mind, Jesus should have explained to the disciples “the parable of the fig tree”, but instead, Jesus suddenly switched topics and began speaking on prayer (verse 23). Here, the logic appears to break, as Jesus’s mind appears to leap from one place to another, but in reality, Jesus used “the parable of the fig tree” (although he did not provide the explanation by elaborating on it) to immediately tell the disciples how to make faith become alive. The way of making faith alive is through prayer. Jesus said, “If anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.” These words of Jesus were not a promise, and should not be understood as a command for us to move mountains by speaking to them. Jesus wanted to tell his disciples that, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mathew 19:26), and that the important way of bringing down God’s power is prayer. Brothers and sisters, may we by faith, pray before God; if we lack faith, let us pray until we have received faith (verse 24), knowing that if we ask God to let us truly experience him, we will surely receive it. This way, all your outward actions will no longer be a hollow shell, but rather, the channel that helps you experience the grace of God. Please pray and meditate: Is your faith alive or dead; is it well-nourished or is it withering away? How can you let yourself experience God and experience the trueness of faith?