A spiritual check-up is necessary if we are to achieve our maximum potential. Jeremiah warns, “The heart is deceitful above all things, / And desperately wicked; / Who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, / I test the mind, / Even to give every man according to his ways, / According to the fruit of his doings” (Jeremiah 17:9-10). Therefore, I do not recommend that you trust your self-diagnosis. David, a man after God’s own heart, understood this when he prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; / Try me, and know my anxieties; / And see if there is any wicked way in me, / And lead me in the way everlasting.”
As “a doctor of souls”, I encourage you to take this spiritual check-up. From our passage there are four diagnostic questions.
I. Do you have good fruit?
From Mark 11:12-14, 20-21 we read, “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. Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter, remembering, said to Him, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.’”
Dr. J. R. Miller (1840-1912) shares, “There were many other fig trees in that region, but Jesus did not turn to any of them to look for food, because they gave no promise, made no show or pretence of having fruit. He went to this tree because by its early leaves it declared to all who saw it that it had also early fruit. Christ does not expect to find spiritual fruit on the life of the godless man or the worldly woman; but He does expect it on the life of the man or woman who professes to be a Christian.
As Jesus turned to that fig tree, drawn thereto by the tree’s profession of fruitfulness, so hungry souls turn to the Church and to God’s professed people to find spiritual food. What that tree with leaves and no fruit was to Jesus, the Jewish Church was to the people whose soul hungered for spiritual food. With their burden of sin, with their deep heart-questionings, with their sorrows, with their unsatisfied longings, with their yearnings for help and sympathy, they turned to the priests, the professed spiritual guides, if haply they might get from them what they wanted. So the mission of every Christian Church is to feed hungry souls. In the hour of penitence, when the soul is conscious of guilt; in the day of trouble, when the world has no more to give; in the shadow of death, in all the great crises of life, even the most worldly turn to the Church for what they need.
A church is like a great tree in the desert which holds out the promise of fruit, and toward which all the spiritually hungry turn. There can be few sadder things in this world than a church, promising by its very name, by its spire pointing to heaven, by its open doors, by its songs and services, by its bells of invitation, to give food to the hungry, refreshment to the weary, comfort to the sorrowing, and then failing to keep its promises to the souls that come expecting.”[i]
Matthew records the parallel passage in Matthew 21:18-21, where we read, “Now in the morning, as He returned to the city, He was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, ‘Let no fruit grow on you ever again.’ Immediately the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, ‘How did the fig tree wither away so soon?’ So Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done.”
Dr. Luke records another parable about a fig tree in Luke 13:6-9, “He also spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’”
From Matthew 7:15-20, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”
II. Do you have godly fear?
From Mark 11:15-19 we read, “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 the scribes and chief priests heard it and sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His teaching. When evening had come, He went out of the city.”
Matthew records the parallel passage in Matthew 21:12-16, where we read, “Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all 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 said to them, ‘It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant and said to Him, ‘Do You hear what these are saying?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants / You have perfected praise’?”
Paul writes in Ephesians 2:19-22, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
Dr. Jerry Vines explains Ephesians 2:21 teaches that the church of God is a holy temple unto the Lord. The church today is God’s new temple. I raise this question today: Are there things in the house of God that ought not to be there?”[i]
Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe asks, “If the Lord Jesus were to show up in our house of worship, what changes would He make?”[ii]
Before we look with disdain upon those who turned the house of prayer and worship into “a den of thieves”, we must remember in our day many have turned the house of prayer and worship into a night club, a social club, or a country club.
In Psalm 36:1 we read, “An oracle within my heart concerning the transgression of the wicked: There is no fear of God before his eyes.” We read in Romans 3:18, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” From Hebrews 12:28-29, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.”
We read in Luke 19:45-47, “Then He went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it, saying to them, ‘It is written, ‘My house is a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ And He was teaching daily in the temple. But the chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people sought to destroy Him, and were unable to do anything; for all the people were very attentive to hear Him.”
Beware, lest you think Jesus has changed His mind about worship. He drove them out! “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, / But fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7).
III. Do you have genuine faith?
From Mark 11:22-24 we read, “So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”
Matthew records the parallel passage in Matthew 21:22, where we read, “And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”
Dr. J. R. Miller shares, “There are other scriptures qualifying this. In the first place, it is not all asking that is really praying, and therefore not all asking that receives. St. James says, ‘Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.’ A man asks for money, not to use it for the glory of God and the good of others, but for his own glory and pleasure. Again, the Psalmist says, ‘If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.’ That is, if one is cherishing a secret sin in his heart while he is trying to serve God, no prayers that he offers will be heard or answered. So here are at least two kinds of asking that will not bring an answer.
Then there are conditions. One is that we must ask in Christ’s name. That implies that we believe in Christ as our Savior, and are His faithful friends, and therefore have a right to use His name. This condition narrows down the promise to the true followers of Christ. Another condition is that we are abiding in Christ, and His words are abiding in us. So there is a double ‘if’. Even a Christian who is following afar off does not come within the circle of this promise.
Then there is another qualification which belongs to all promises to prayer. God Himself must be the judge as to the things we ask, whether they would really be blessings to us or not. There may be things we desire very earnestly that it would be the greatest unkindness to grant us. Is God then bound by this promise to give us what we crave? By no means. What is good the Lord will give. ‘No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.’ But He will withhold even from the most upright the things which in His Divine wisdom He sees would not be good things. This is implied in every such promise as this.”[iii]
Paul writes to Timothy his son in the ministry, “I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also” (2 Timothy 1:3-5).
Maybe you are thinking, “What is ‘genuine faith’?” There are many “faiths”. Have you heard someone refer to “people of other faiths”, for example, the Muslim faith, the Buddhist faith, the Jewish faith etcetera. Paul writes in Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” This is “genuine faith”. Trusting and obeying the Word of God is the quintessence of “genuine faith”. We read in Hebrews 11:6, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” We find example after example of people of “genuine faith” in Hebrews 11.
IV. Do you have gracious forgiveness?
From Mark 11:25-26 we read, “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
Not all forgiveness is gracious forgiveness. Unbelievers can forgive. Gracious forgiveness is a forgiveness based upon God’s grace for us. For example, we read in Ephesians 4:32, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Paul also writes in Colossians 3:12-13, where we read, “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”
Dr. J. R. Miller shares, “It is told of a Christian woman that a friend entered her room and found her with bowed head, as if in prayer. At length her friend spoke to her tenderly, knowing that a great sorrow was on her heart. ‘I have been trying to say the Lord’s Prayer,’ she answered, ‘but I cannot get through it.’ She had said the words thousands of times in sunny childhood, in joyous youth, on her wedding-day, and then along the gladsome years that followed, amid songs and flowers and prattling child-voices, and in the sweetness of an unbroken home circle; and they had flowed from her lips like rippling music all the while. But now a great sorrow had come, and since that she had begun a hundred times, ‘Our father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. thy kingdom come. Thy will—‘but she could not get any farther. She could not yet say, ‘Thy will be done.’
A story is told of a nobleman in Alexandria, in olden days, who complained bitterly to the bishop of his enemies. While in the midst of the recital of his wrongs the bell rang for prayers, and bishop and nobleman dropped to their knees, the former leading in the Lord’s Prayer, and the latter leaving his story unfinished for the time and joining in the prayer. When the bishop came to the words, ‘forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive,’ he suddenly stopped and left the nobleman to go on alone. The nobleman attempted to say the words, but startled by the sound of his own voice unaccompanied, and recalled by the bishop’s silence to the meaning of the prayer, he stammered, ceased to pray, and rose in great despair; and it was only when he had learned to cherish a forgiving spirit toward others that he could say form his heart, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us.”[iv]
Jesus said, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).
From Matthew 18:21-35 we read, “Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. ‘But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. ‘So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.’”
Allow me to review the diagnostic questions.
Do you have good fruit?
Do you have godly fear?
Do you have genuine faith?
Do you have gracious forgiveness?
On a regular basis each one of us who name the name of Jesus Christ should take a spiritual check-up.
[ii]Warren W. Wiersbe and Ken Baugh, Be Diligent (Mark): Serving Others as You Walk with the Master Servant (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2010), p. 137
[iii]J. R. Miller, Come Ye Apart (London, Edinburgh, New York, Toronto and Paris: Thomas Nelson and Sons, Ltd., 1890), October 7 Reading, “Believing Prayer”, (Matthew 21:22), Available from: http://come-ye-apart.jr-miller.com/ Accessed: 08/22/12
[i]J. R. Miller, Come Ye Apart (London, Edinburgh, New York, Toronto and Paris: Thomas Nelson and Sons, Ltd., 1890), October 6 Reading, “Nothing But Leaves” (Mark 11:11), Available from: http://come-ye-apart.jr-miller.com/ Accessed: 08/22/12
Dr. Franklin L. Kirksey is pastor of First Baptist Church of Spanish Fort, Alabama where he has served since 2004. Kirksey has served churches in Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina.