God: Believe in, Believe, or Follow Him?


 

For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

Deuteronomy 30:16 NIV


 

Sometimes the Bible says “believe in”.

Searching the NIV for the words “believe in” yields 27 results.  All of them have to do with believing in God.  Three are from the Old Testament.  The other 24 are from the New Testament, and refer specifically to Jesus.  For instance, 

Jn 6:28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
Jn 6:29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

Other times it says “believe”.

Searching the NIV for the word “believe” yields 150 results.  Not all of them refer to God – some refer to believing (or not) other people.   Twenty of them are in the Old Testament.  The other 130 are in the New Testament.  

Jn 5:36 “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38 nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

Still other times it says follow.

 Searching for the word follow gives even more results – 182 times.  Again, not all of them have to do with God.  The Old Testament has the word 123 times, leaving 59 in the New Testament,

Mk 1:16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 

So – which one is it?

Would you believe – All Of Them!

Yes – I really said “All of them“.  
And I don’t mean like pick and choose the one(s) you want.  
I really mean all – as in every one of them.

Let’s look at a fig tree as an example.  Jesus talked about – and even used one as a teaching example.  We read about them in the Old Testament.  And they are used as an example is Revelation.  The following background information on fig trees is from the Word in Life Study Bible

The fig tree is indigenous to the Middle East, growing well there in stony soil. It can produce three distinct crops of fruit in a year: autumn figs, which are the main fruit (Jer. 8:13); winter figs, which ripen in the early spring if they survive the winter winds (Rev. 6:13); and summer figs, which usually ripen in late summer and are the most tasty (Jer. 24:2).
Fig trees take years to cultivate properly (Prov. 27:18). They mature very slowly, which is why their destruction was viewed by the Israelites as a disaster (Jer. 5:17; Hab. 3:17).
     Word in life study Bible. (1996). (electronic ed., Je 24:2). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

So let’s use an analogy here, and look at the fig tree as a representation of us.  It’s a reasonable thing to do.  Jesus used The Parable of the Sower to show how we are like seeds.

Mt 13:1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.”

Remember – Jesus had a large crowd here.  He wasn’t speaking to a bunch of people who were following Him around from place to place throughout His ministry.  Or those who would follow Him just while He was in the local area.  And certainly not just His inner circle here.  No – this was an unusually large crowd.  So big that Jesus had to go out onto the lake in a boat to be able to talk to all of them!

And it wasn’t a feel good message either.  It was a tough message.  Some of the seeds were eaten up by birds before they even had a chance to get started growing.  Others started to grow – then quickly died for lack of nourishment.  Others started to grow – but were killed off by other plants that grew even faster.  Finally, some actually grew and produced fruit.  Not a message of overwhelming success.  More failure than success.  Seems kind of depressing, doesn’t it?  Unfortunately, also all too real and true.

But was it about seeds and plants?  Or was it something more?
For those who thought it was about seeds and plants – those are the very ones who were eaten by the birds.  Although they heard the words – maybe even thought it was a great story and would be useful for when they drop seeds to grow plants – they didn’t really hear the meaning.  Which is why Jesus says He who has ears, let him hear so often.  
They missed the point, which Jesus later tells His inner circle

Mt 13:18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. 22 The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. 23 But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

So we see – Jesus is using the seeds to represent us.
So let’s keep that thought going and see what happens if we are a seed for a fig tree.  Then we can see what happens to the fig tree in various places in the Bible.  That will give us specific examples of seeds falling in the path – seeds sprouting but dying – seeds being overwhelmed – and seeds growing to mature trees – and finally whether those trees actually bear good fruit (or not).

Very first reference to fig trees

We see fig trees very early in the Bible.  Eve ate from The Tree Of The Knowledge Of Good And Evil.  She gave some to Adam – and he ate as well.  And then they realized they were naked.  So they made clothes from fig leaves.

Ge 3:6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Sorry.  It’s not good.

After passing judgment for what happened – but before casting Adam and Eve out of The Garden of Eden – we see this happened –

Ge 3:21 The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.

 God made better clothes for them.  Even though they had disobeyed God.  More than that – they rebelled against God.  They had wanted to be like God.  But even after that – God made better clothes for them.

What we see here is that our attempts to do things on our own – with the fruits of our own labor and knowledge and ignoring the gifts from God – we come up short.  Right from the very beginning.  Using the leaves from the fig tree – fruit from the seed that represents us – isn’t as good as what God provides for us.  And the amazing thing is that even though we rebel against Him – He continues to love us and try to give us more good things – that we too often reject. 
If that reminds you of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross to save us – you’re getting the point.

Fig trees in the Promised Land

Check this out – the next time fig trees are referenced in the Bible, where Moses writes about the Promised Land –

Dt 8:6 Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and revering him. 7 For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; 8 a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; 9 a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

Wow – sounds good doesn’t it?  And the fig trees are going to be in the Promised Land.  Does that mean all of a sudden everything we do – since the fig tree represents us – is going to be as good as the things from God?

Well – that depends.

Look at the very first verse – Dt 8:6 Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and revering him.
There’s a condition to what happens in the Promised Land.  We have to observe the commands of God – walk in His ways – and revere Him.  If we do those things – then the promises of what are to come will indeed happen.
But if we don’t – then something else is going to happen.  To be sure – the NIV title for this section is called Do Not Forget The LORD.  

And what happens if The LORD is forgotten?

Dt 8:19 If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. 20 Like the nations the LORD destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the LORD your God.

Oops.  Now we’re back in rebellion territory, just like with Adam and Eve.  To be sure – this isn’t God being mean and arbitrarily destroying things and people.  

No – this is the people’s choice.  We can remember Him – observe His commands – walk in His ways – revere Him.  Or we can ignore Him.  And we know full well what the results of either choice will be.  It shouldn’t be a surprise.  Unless we forget Him.  
And even that’s up to us.  It’s up to us – the ones who have ears to hear and understood the message to be sure that The LORD isn’t forgotten.  To the extent that we don’t do that – to the extent that we who know the Truth, who know God – don’t help others to remember – we help to kill those seeds that never grow and produce fruit.  Yes – it’s on us.

Fig tree in Proverbs

Pr 27:18 He who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit,
and he who looks after his master will be honored.

This is a very similar message to the one above.  The fig tree – from the time it’s first planted and grows from a seed – requires tending.  And the one tending that tree needs to look after his master – and must first know who the master really is.  God is our master.  Should we choose to try and substitute another, then we’re in trouble – and our tree will ultimately die.  Whether there is any fruit from the tree – depends on whether we recognized out true master, and then whether or not we followed Him.

And again – to the extent that we fail to recognize  follow or true master (God) – then our tree will have no fruit – and as a result other people (other seeds) will die.  It’s not just ourselves that are affected by our decisions. 

Fig tree in Song of Songs

This one really gives some idea of just how much God loves us –

SS 2:13 The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one, come with me.”

Early fruit, as we saw earlier – the summer figs – the most tasty.  Us – when we truly remember – Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and revering him.  The reference is someone to their lover.  Not because God views us in the same nature that we would a lover, but because that’s generally the most intense emotional love that we feel.  In fact – our love pales in comparison to His for us – but it’s the best analogy that we could relate to.

This is what will happen when we remember – and follow Him.  

There’s a theme here, just in case you haven’t noticed –

  1.  We have to remember Him.  Without the remembrance of what we were told in the Bible, then nothing else can possibly follow.  Believe in Him.
  2.  We have to know His commands, know that He loves us, know how to follow Him.  If we don’t know these things, then nothing else could possibly follow.  Believe Him.
  3.  Even after believing in God and even after believing God – we have to observe His commands, walk in His paths, and revere Him.  After all – remembrance and knowledge without action still leaves us pretty much where we were before attaining the knowledge.  Maybe we’re “smarter” – but we haven’t really changed at all.

Other Old Testament References

There are 25 references to fig trees in the Old Testament.  You are invited to check them out.  However, in the interest of keeping this from getting even longer – I’m going to move on to Jesus’ time and what He said and did related to fig trees.

Jesus curses a fig tree

We read this in Mark –

Mk 11:12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

Mk 11:20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

At first glance, one may wonder why Jesus cursed the tree.  After all, it wasn’t the season for figs.  
However – it also wasn’t the season for fig trees to have leaves.  And a tree with leaves should have fruit.
So clearly – something was wrong.

The parable of the fig tree

 In Luke, we read –

Lk 13:6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
Lk 13:8 “ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ ”

Remember – the fig tree takes years to bear fruit.  However, eventually there should be fruit.  If not – something’s wrong with the tree.

A tree and its fruit

To see what this all means, let’s look at something Jesus said about a tree and its fruit –

Mt 7:15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
Mt 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

To me, that last verse is one of the scariest statements in the Bible.  Jesus telling me ‘I never knew you’ – those are the worst possible words I could ever hear being directed at me.  That they are said to anyone at all is sad.  That they would be said to someone because of me – something I did or didn’t do – also very sad.  And if we believe in Jesus – and we believe Jesus – and we really follow Him – those words will not be said because of us, to anyone.  

But they will be said.  Not to a few.  But to many.

A good tree bears good fruit.  One who believes in, believes, and follows Jesus will bear fruit.  The lack of fruit must lead us to question whether or not we are really doing all those things.

A bad tree bears fruit.  One who doesn’t do those things – will bear no fruit.  Either that, or they’ll give bad fruit.  Neither is good.
In the case of bad fruit – we take others away from following – believing – or even believing in Jesus.
In the case of either bad fruit or no fruit – we are taking away any possibility of us leading others to Jesus.

Let’s bring the fig tree / fruit analogy full circle

A tree that yields no fruit fails to fulfill its purpose as a tree.  That tree would be cut down.  Why?  Not only is it not fulfilling its purpose, it is taking away nutrients from the trees around it – likely causing those trees that might bear fruit to not grow properly, meaning they will have either bad fruit or no fruit at all.
In the same way – people, including Christians who don’t believe and follow God’s commands – including the great commission to reach out to others – aren’t bearing fruit.  And we are likely causing other people around us to be just like us.  Especially for those who claim to be Christians – but bear no fruit – do nothing to bring others to Jesus – we aren’t fulfilling our purpose – even though we promised that we would.  Think about that.  When we commit to follow Jesus – and don’t follow through – we lied to God!  What exactly do we then expect from Him?  Hint – maybe He never knew us.

No matter how much we may try – and maybe even succeed – to convince ourselves that we are good fig trees and bear excellent figs – Jesus knows the truth.

In the end

In Revelation, we read this of the end –

Rev 6:12 I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, 13 and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. 14 The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.

Don’t worry about the imagery surrounding the end times.  It’s not the point here.  I only really include it for context to show that this truly is the end.  The point is the part about the figs –

as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind

From earlier in this article, you may remember this –

winter figs, which ripen in the early spring if they survive the winter winds (Rev. 6:13)

Whether it’s the end of time – or the end of someones life – when the end comes, the chance to bear good fruit and have that fruit ripen is over.  Done.  Ended.  Whatever it is at that time – that’s all there is.
If we have produced good fruit – it will survive the winter winds.  If we have truly followed God – that will be known after we die.  If we have not – that will also be painfully obvious.

But it goes further.  If we have produced good fruit – if we have truly followed God and we have led others to follow Jesus – they will also produce good fruit – they will have also followed Jesus – and they will have led still others to Jesus.  And on it goes.

The more of us that don’t produce good fruit – the more of us that don’t lead others to come to believe in, to believe, and to follow Jesus – the more other people that will also fail to produce good fruit – the more people that will fail to even remember God – let alone follow / believe / even believe in Him.  And on it goes.

Merely believing in versus following

Jn 12:44 Then Jesus cried out, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. 45 When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.
Jn 12:47 “As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. 48 There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. 49 For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. 50 I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”

What we see here in John’s Gospel is Jesus starting with “believe in”.  
Then He moves on to “hearing His words”.  Maybe we believe them – maybe we don’t – but we heard them.
Finally, He moves on to “keeping” those words – following and living by them.
And there’s the progression again – that was pointed out at the very beginning –

believe in — believe — follow

It sounds so hard

Yes – it does sound hard.  Sometimes it seems impossible.

The truth is – it is  impossible – if we try to be our own fig tree.  If we choose to not do any of the three things above –
believe in — believe — follow
then it really is impossible.

As James said –

Jas 3:9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

However – as Jesus said about the rich young ruler to chose to not follow Jesus –

Mt 19:23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
Mt 19:25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
Mt 19:26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Returning one last time to the fig tree analogy – it’s only by remembering God, walking in His ways, and revering Him – that we can produce good figs.  And it’s only by doing those same things – believing in / believing / and following Him – that we can save ourselves and others.

By believing in – believing – and following Him – anything is possible.  Because it’s not us doing the impossible, but God Himself working through us.  
If we don’t give Him the chance to work through us – He won’t.
If we do give Him the chance – then we get the promises from Revelation –

Rev 2:7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

Rev 2:11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.

Rev 2:17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.

Rev 2:26 To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—
Rev 2:27 ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter;
he will dash them to pieces like pottery’—
just as I have received authority from my Father. 28 I will also give him the morning star. 29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Rev 3:5 He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Rev 3:12 Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Rev 3:21 To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

 Yes – many people think of Revelation as a book of doom and gloom.

I think of Revelation as a book of incredible hope – incentive to do the impossible – not only for myself, but for others.
It’s a reason to want to be the best fig tree possible.  With God – we can be the fig tree of the Promised Land.  We can bring health to other fig trees.  And we can all look at Revelation not as a book of horrors – but as the book of hope.

How about you?

 

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