It was Spring of 2003 and my family had just recently moved into our new house in Fayetteville after brief periods living in Mississippi and in Georgia. My maternal grandfather and grandmother (that’s my mom’s parents – don’t worry, I had to look it up too) had recently taken a small blue spruce tree from Vermont to give to us to plant somewhere on our new property. Despite my family’s acumen in many subjects, I suppose the growth rate of blue spruce trees did not fall into our area of expertise as we chose to plant the small tree in the garden bed next to our driveway. Years of naivety passed until eventually the tree grew from just two-feet tall to well over eight feet tall. Moreover, the tree now spilled into the driveway where my brother and I (before we both moved off to college) would park our cars. I brought this careful concern before my sweet mother and upon first suggestion at chopping down the tree, she resisted. However, a bit more nudging and convincing caused her to reconsider and to ultimately decide that it was in the best interest of our garden bed and my car’s front bumper that we chop this tree down. That dreadful day finally approached in early May of 2015. The 11 year reign of the blue spruce had come to an end as the chainsaw ripped through it’s trunk and the ominous gray clouds above cast melancholic shadows on the town of Fayetteville and the whole state of Vermont that day.
Annnnd now this extended anecdote brings us to the parable of the barren fig tree found in Luke 13. Verses 6-9 read: “And he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, “Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?” And he answered him, “Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’’”
In this parable, we see main three figures: 1) the vineyard owner, 2) the vinedresser (the gardener) and, 3) the fig tree. The vineyard owner has been disappointed at the lack of fruit borne by the tree. As such, he calls for it to be cut down and removed that another tree may take its place that will be proven to bear fruit. Yet, we see that the vinedresser is patient and pleads with the owner to give the tree some more time. Finally, we come to the fig tree which serves no purpose unless it bears fruit. In this parable, the vineyard owner is God, the vinedresser is Christ, and we are the fig tree. God rightly expects to see fruit borne from the tree and also rightly reserves the right to cut the tree down when he finds no fruit. The vinedresser accurately represents Christ who intercedes on our behalf and seeks to nurture us and grow us more fully that we may bear fruit. He pleads to the gracious Lord of the vineyard who ultimately responds in patience. However, patience, as with all good things, has a limit. Though Christ has interceded on our behalf to calm God’s righteous judgment against man’s rebellion, we must recognize that God’s patience must not be taken lightly and that we cannot take advantage of it.
Ultimately, this is a parable about repentance—particularly when put into context with verses 1-5 which precede it. These verses can be boiled down to the harsh reality seen in verse 5: “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” The Gospel message entails a necessary call to repentance. We cannot consider ourselves Christ-followers if we are not proactively turning from ourselves and our sins to pursue God. This is the avenue through which we receive forgiveness for our sins and it is the only path to righteousness as verse 5 clearly states that failure to repent leads to perishing. Though this command to repent is stern and the consequence is grave, God specifically paired verses 1-5 with 6-9 as he shows his patience. Due to our lack of repentance leading to fruitless trees in our lives, we deserve punishment and to be cut off from our roots, but God, being rich in love and mercy grants patience and allows us to reconsider our sin and to repent.
Friends, I read this passage this past week and upon further study was painfully convicted of my own shortcomings when it comes to repentance. It is easy to use God’s grace and God’s patience as a means to continue in sin or to lessen the gravity of the consequence of sin…this is a severe mistake with severe consequences. Any attempt of mine to lessen the weight of my sin or to altogether fail in repentance of sin undermines the love and mercy of God and eventually leads to being cut off from the presence of God. In the end, I believe it boils down to my view of sin. A low view of sin bodes a low view of repentance. A high view of sin bodes a high view of sin. Will I be a nominal Christian that devalues the weight of my sin or will I feel deep sorrow and disappointment for my sin that deserves death? Logically, the latter seems obvious, yet it’s apparent that I (and I suspect most Christians) still struggle with sin. Perhaps this is the nature of living in a fallen world until Christ restores all things in the end, but we must not allow the enemy to plant seeds of pride in our minds that grow into a low view of sin. We must fight for our sanctification, we must fight for spiritual discipline, and we must fight for repentance and a high view of sin so that we will grow more fully into the servants God so patiently desires us to be. When Jesus called us to pick up our crosses daily and to follow him, he called us to reject the sin in our lives, to reject the desires of our fallen hearts, and to follow him completely—this all begins with repentance. If we desire to grow into a mature tree that bears fruit, we must begin by confessing our sin and turning to God as he proves faithful to restore us, prune us, and grow us into his disciples. If we desire to be a blue spruce tree that overgrows into a suburban family’s driveway proving to be a nuisance that will eventually be cut off, we can continue in sin and ignorance as we refuse to proactively engage in heartfelt repentance. I think it’d be wise to chose the former… Not because we know we’re supposed to or even because we are compelled to do so. Rather, we chose to do so because God has purchased us with a price and because he has redeemed us out of death and into life which means he deserves full denial of our sinful lives and full dedication to serving him for as long as we walk this planet—this dedication includes repentance.
Father, I recognize that I fall short when it comes to proactively repenting of sin and to turning away from sin altogether. I pray your Spirit would foster a heart of repentance in me. I pray you would burden my heart for the weight and the consequence of my sin and that ultimately this would draw me to my knees in genuine and fervent repentance. Guard me from the lies of the enemy and teach me how to fight for my sanctification as I seek to rid my life of persisting sin. You are a patient and loving Father and I pray I would be often reminded of your goodness so that my heart desires no one besides you. Through the power of your son’s name I pray, amen.