In our last study we saw how Jesus cursed the fig tree. Out of that event came His teaching about faith and forgiveness.
The importance of faith
“And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them” (Mark 11:20-24)
While the fig tree was used by the Lord to teach about the spiritual condition of Israel in that day, He uses the cursing of it to speak of the need of faith and forgiveness in those who follow Him. Having faith in God is at the heart of the Christian’s relationship with God. Faith enables believers to accomplish great things for God and overcome difficulties that stand in the way of spiritual progress.
We must take note of the fact that Jesus mentions the need of prayer along with faith. The believer must never attempt to do anything that is outside of God’s will. When we ask anything that is in accordance with God’s will we can have the assurance that our prayers will be answered. “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed” (James 1:6).
The faith mentioned in the text is not justifying faith but trust and confidence in God’s power, wisdom and love. It is the type of faith that takes hold of the promises found in Scripture. It is this confidence that makes the Christian’s life successful and fruitful. It is by such faith that “the elders obtained a good report” (Hebrews 11:2). We have no relationship with the Lord if we do not have faith, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
If we desire to be more than spiritual babies we must pray daily for more faith and watch over what faith we have so that we do not let it slip away, “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip” (Hebrews 2:1). Whatever weakness we have will always be because of a lack of faith. Such weakness affects the whole condition of the inner man. According to our faith will be the measure of our peace, hope, joy, desire to serve Christ, witness, endurance and holiness of life. The whole of our Christian experience hinges on faith in God. We must “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
The importance of forgiveness
“And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11:25-26).
There is an immediate connection between faith and forgiveness, and the link is prayer. Faith is essential if our prayers are to be heard and answered, but all prayer is made void if it does not come from a forgiving heart.
Prayer is only as good as the state of heart and mind we offer it in. Our prayers must not only be earnest, fervent, sincere and in the name of Christ, but ought to contain one other indispensable ingredient, that is, they must come from a forgiving heart. What right have we to look for mercy if we fail to show mercy to others? How can we feel the sinfulness of our own sins and ask God to pardon them if we have malice and bitterness towards another? “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Jesus makes it very clear what the consequence of unforgiveness is, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).
The lack of forgiveness is another cause of spiritual weakness in the church and in individual believers. It is the reason why so many prayers go unanswered. Forgiving those who offend us is not a request but a command. It is so serious a matter that our whole relationship with the Lord depends upon it, for if we refuse to forgive then God will not forgive us. “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Bitterness is an evil fungus that destroys churches, “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” (Hebrews 12:15).
Faith, prayer and forgiveness are vital in the Christian life; therefore we need to take a good and serious look at ourselves. Do we have faith? Are we praying in accordance with God’s will? Are we free from every trace of bitterness and unforgiveness? If not, where is our Christianity?