When we were children we learned the story of Adam and Eve and how they lived in perfect harmony with God until sin enticed them into disobedience. Isn’t it interesting how God later talked to Cain about the way sin operates? God said to Cain,
You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master. (Genesis 4:7)
Here we can see that sin is a power with a desire and a will of its own. Sin is stealthy and ambitious, and it has one aim–to control us. Even so, God lets Cain (and us) know that it is possible to get the upper hand over sin.
What is sin? There are many definitions but put simply, sin is the voluntary breaking of God’s rules. Wow! Nevermind debates about the rules we break without knowing. There’s plenty defiance that we are fully aware of, wouldn’t you agree?
Sin must me dealt with head-on. In His conversation with Cain God said that it must be “subdued and mastered”. There is no way to live in victory without being totally and deliberately vigilant again sin in our lives.
But we do need a strategy reinforced by more than willpower and good intentions.
Adam and Eve found out that making resolutions and trying to “be good from now on” couldn’t help their sin problem once that can of worms was opened.
In an attempt to make up for their treason against God, they sowed fig leaves together as a way to regain their dignity and self-respect. Their nakedness only stood out more because well, wearing clothes made of foliage looks pretty silly. And leaves were such a poor substitute for the glory that had covered them when they were still in right relationship with God.
To this day, “fig leaves” represent all the ways we try to fix ourselves up and save face in the eyes of God and others. Just like with Adam and Eve, the “fig leaves” we put together are never adequate and only make our failures more obvious. The strategies we come with on our own just don’t work. The Bible tells us that all our own righteousness is no better than filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). The same could be said of our “fig leaf” attempts at impressing the Lord by being good. They are like dirty shreds of fabric that stink.
In Mark chapter 11, Jesus has an encounter with fig leaves that brings man’s dilemma with self-righteousness full circle. You may know this story: Jesus and His disciples were out walking when a the full, green leaves of a fig tree caught Jesus’ eye. He was hungry, and even though it wasn’t fig season, the abundant leaves indicated that figs were already on the tree. Maybe it had been an unusually warm winter that forced the tree into an early crop. Maybe Jesus could satisfy His hunger after a long, dusty walk to Jerusalem. Maybe. He seemed hopeful and expectant, for sure.
How disappointed Jesus was when He got close enough to pick some figs, only to find that it was all a show…nothing but leaves!
Does this lush, leafy tree not resemble you and me? How often do we present to the Lord our works, rituals, accomplishments, religious activities, and even Christian service as if they were the sweet fruit that He’s looking for? Whatever is not done in faith is sin (Romans 14:23), but we persist in our faithless acts, prayers, and declarations. How sad!
Although the Lord has plainly told us what He wants, we insist on giving Him other things. Just like Adam and Eve who had one instruction to follow, we become sophisticated in our interpretation of the simplicity of the Gospel.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22,23)
Recently, Pastor Nick taught a message reminding us to keep a tree full of FIGs (Faith In God)*. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world (I John 5:4). What work is He looking for us to do? When the crowds asked that question Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29).
All of our disobedience is the result of our failure to believe the Lord. So, instead of ripe figs, He only finds us full of leaves that only impress each other at best, but keep the heart of God unfulfilled and the world around us unchanged.
Action steps: Evaluate your life for areas where there are nice “leaves” but no actual “FIGs”:
- Pray for something specific (someone’s healing, a particular provision, an obstacle to move) and expect God to answer.
- Begin to put feet to one promise God has given you. Has He promised you good success in business? Put a business plan together and move forward in developing your ideas.
- What improvements do you want to make this year? Get started today: Walk around the block. Print and fill out a budget. Develop a weekly schedule for your family. Wake up 30 minutes early to spend time with the Lord.
And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God” (Mark 11:22).
*For a copy of Pastor Nick’s message entitled ‘My Fig Leaves’ (Sunday, March 15, 2020) contact the Media Team at Restoring the Years Global Ministries.