Your car pulls up in front of Aunt Loola’s house far earlier than you prefer to be awake. Though you have an urge to lean grumblingly against the horn, she emerges from the font door before you have the car in park.
“Where to?” you say when she gets in the passenger side. She points forward as she buckles up and rests a leather bag on her lap. You pull forward as she unclasps the latch on the satchel. From it she pulls the biggest pair of binoculars you’ve ever seen. “Is espionage on the agenda?”
“Turn left,” she says ignoring your quip. She guides you through the city streets still lit by lamp light. You’re on the edge of town now. “Park right down there.”
“In that cul-de-sac?” you ask. She already has the binoculars to her face. You put the car into park and look at her, waiting for an explanation. Columns of orange light drive skyward as she twists the reticle.
“Here,” she says finally handing the binoculars to you. They are heavier than they look.
“Who am I spying on?” you ask.
“A doubtful gardener,” Aunt Loola says. She points down the hill which the cul-de-sac is perched atop. On the other side of the sloping field there are houses that back up to a row of abandoned lots. You twist the ring and bring the view into sharp focus. In the back yard of one of the houses a man is standing staring at the ground. As the morning light emerges on the horizon you can see that the yard around him is covered in knee high grass, weeds, and vines of all kind. It’s a mess ever as bad as the so-called garden you keep.
“Another beginner?" you ask. Loola doesn’t immediately respond, but begins looking through her bag. “And I thought I was your only student.” From her bag she produces a small photograph and hands it to you.
“He was much younger then," she says. In the photo a young man in his mid twenties stands next to a much more youthful Aunt Loola. The photo reveals a freshly tilled base of soil. The two of them wear gardening gloves and smile widely under a lively sunlit sky. The photo is faded from age.
You hand the photo back and retrain the binoculars once again. The man is still staring at the overgrown ground of his backyard. While you watch he reaches a hand in his pocket and pulls out a little paper envelope. You recognize its type. He dumps a handful of seeds into his hands, and scatters them on the weedy ground before him. You furrow your brow and glance back to the photo in Aunt Loola’s hand.
“That’s the same guy?" you ask.
“Why does his garden look so awful? And why is he just now planting seeds?”
“He’s been doing the same thing for about fifteen years now.”
“He doubts what he can’t see,” Loola said.
“I don’t understand,” you say as you hand the binoculars back to Loola. She holds them up to her eyes and takes a long look. She then rests them on her lap and takes a deep breath.
“When I first met him, he was excited. He wanted to plant a garden that would add some color to his family’s dinner table. I watched him plant the first seeds with my own eyes. He had this beautiful row of fruit tree saplings.”
“As time went on he let the garden go a little wild. It was a bit of dollar weed, some crabgrass, nothing we couldn’t handle if he would have called me. More time passed and he kept ignoring the weeds. Eventually the saplings we’d planted were completely covered up. He couldn’t see them any more.”
“Why didn’t he just pull the weeds?" you ask.
“That would make too much sense. He should have called me, but instead he had his cousin come over to look at the overgrown plot.”
“Is his cousin a gardener?”
“No,” she says as if it were an insult to imply such. “He’s a lawn boy. He severs all plants at an indiscriminate 1.5 inches with a gas-powered grass murdering machine.”
“What do you have against lawn mowers?" you ask.
“Don’t change the subject," she says. “So his lawn cutting cousin came calling and sliced down his gardening future.”
“The cousin mowed the garden?”
“No. Pay attention.”
“Ok, sorry. What did his cousin do?”
“His cousin walked out and said, ‘what garden? I don’t see no garden!’ All I see is a yard needs mowin’.”
“Ok,” you respond, not quite seeing the relevance.
“He tried to argue but his cousin hit him with this little gem. ‘If fruit you don’t spot, a garden, it is not.’ He tried to explain he had planted fruit trees but his cousin had a whole slew of expert sayings. ‘If fruit don’t grow, it’s just a yard to mow.’ and ‘If fruit ain’t seen, then it’s just a weed.’”
“That one doesn’t even rhyme,” you say trying to rise to Loola’s tone.
“Well, rhyme or not, it sowed the seed of doubt,” Loola said.
“Why didn’t you straighten him out?" you ask.
“I tried. About a week after his cutting cousin did his damage I came around for some sweet tea. I asked him how his fruit garden grows. He informed me that he didn’t have a garden, but he was hoping to start one soon. I was as confused as a baboon in a spelling bee. I told him he had a garden, I was there when it was planted, but he didn’t budge. I got down on my hands and knees, parted the weeds, and pointed out the row of saplings.”
“Certainly that changed his mind,” you say.
“Not a wink. You know what he said to me?”
“If you can’t see fruit, it’s a weed’s shoot.”
“Well at least that one rhymes," you say.
“What is the world coming to. Just because something sounds like poetry doesn’t mean it’s true. I guess no one ever told him that nonsense can rhyme too. But he believed the rhyme. He won’t believe he’s got a fruit tree until he sees actual fruit. It’s ridiculous.”
“So, is that why he’s throwing more seed on the ground?" you ask.
“That’s what he does every morning around sunrise. Since he doesn’t see any fruit he just keeps trying to sow seed. Over and over. He’s probably dropped a thousand pounds of seed on that ground.”
“I bet he’s popular with the birds,” you say.
“As long as he doesn’t see fruit, he’ll just keep trying to start a new garden. It’s because he doubts the existence of what he already has that he can’t get what he has to grow.”
“I feel like I’m supposed to learn something from this,” you say.
“Don’t expect it to rhyme.”
“The point is simple: Believe the label.”
“When you get started you ought to put garden markers in. A marker is a little label that says what you planted in each spot. If the label says there’s a fruit tree there, then there’s a fruit tree there even if you can’t see its fruit. It’s true that once the tree bears fruit, you can identify it by what it bears. Until is buds, though, you have to know what’s planted or you won’t be able to give it what it needs. Or worse, if you don’t know for sure you’ve got a fruit tree sapling, then you might wind up trying to reseed it over and over.”
“So, you’re saying I need to have assurance.”
“That’s right! You need to have certainty that the tree is there and wants to grow fruit. Without that, you’ll just keep running circles around the same patch of overgrown land trying to seed ground that is already seeded.
“Now for something even more important,” Loola says. “I’d like some breakfast.”
“Seems like a fair trade for such sage advice,” you say as you put the car into drive.
“You’d have to have a herb garden for me to give you sage advice," she says giggling with pleasure at her own wit.
I can't count the number of times I've heard preachers and Bible teachers pressure a congregation to doubt their salvation. I've heard pastors use phrases like, "If there's no fruit, there's no root." What they mean by this is simple. If you're not doing good works, you must not be saved. Any botanist could tell you, however, that a lack of apples doesn't mean an apple tree is missing its roots. The analogy is not good theology and is likely repeated for only one reason: because it rhymes.
Jesus himself used the analogy of a fruit-bearing plant to represent the life of a Christian. Do you think it's possible that Jesus was aware that sometimes fruit-bearing plants don't bear fruit? Of course, he was aware of that! He is the author of life! In fact, he encountered a figless fruit tree in Judea.
It's interesting Jesus used such an analogy. There are some crops that produce the very same year they’re planted, but fruit trees can take years to grow and have entire seasons where no fruit is produced. That means that not only is it possible for there to be times in Christian's lives where there is no Spiritual fruit, it's almost a given. It's built into the analogy. You can't look at a lack of fruit (good works) to prove that a person is not saved. Likewise, you can't prove that a person was never saved in the first place by a lack of fruit.
There are so many Bible-thumping preachers who would have you doubt your salvation on a daily basis. I've actually heard preachers say that doubting your salvation is healthy. On the contrary, it's quite the opposite.
If you’ve believed in Jesus for salvation, then you have it. You can’t lose it. It’s yours forever. I’ve spent a substantial portion of my life writing books about this subject. If you’d like to explore the free gift of everlasting life that Jesus promises you, I’d invite you to read one of them.1
Assuming you've believed in Jesus for the free gift of everlasting life, then you never need to doubt your salvation again. To doubt your salvation after believing in Jesus' promise of eternal life is to doubt that Jesus is telling the truth. Now I'll ask you, what Spiritual good can come from doubting Jesus? None at all!
The real danger of salvation-doubt is that it is a self-enforcing cycle. When someone doubts that Jesus has saved them, that person inevitably begins to look elsewhere for proof of their salvation. The only place they can look is to their own works (fruit) to try to find reassurance that they are saved. What often happens is the person doesn’t find the kind of fruit they are looking for, and then they doubt even more. Doubt is the opposite of a mind set on spiritual things.
The problem is not that you lack salvation but that you lack fruit. Recall the doubtful gardener from the story. He had misdiagnosed the garden's problem and kept trying to seed the garden when what he really needed to do was begin to work on the garden's condition to make it fruit-ready.
Salvation-doubt becomes a cycle because you keep questioning whether you're saved rather than questioning why you're not bearing fruit. It keeps your attention from being focused on the very thing you need to focus on in order to bear fruit. This is why I'm convinced that one of the most powerful tools the devil can use to keep Christians from experiencing abundant life is to have them regularly listen to a preacher that makes them doubt their salvation.
Doubt of salvation results in a non-abundant life. Since the grand goal of your remaining time on earth is to experience abundant life, it's time you put your salvation-doubts to rest. It's time you become convinced that Jesus' promise of free eternal life for all those who believe in him for it is true and trustworthy.
In case you're a little hazy about what Jesus promised you, take a look at these words from John's gospel. He who believes in Me [Jesus] has everlasting life2 …I give them eternal life, and they will never die. And no person can steal them out of my hand.3
Jesus’ promise is absolute. If you believe in Him for that free gift which He is offering, then you have it as soon as you believe. Everlasting life can’t be earned, returned, or lost. Once you believe in Jesus for salvation, you never need to doubt again.
If you keep doubting, you will struggle to bear spiritual fruit. Jesus offers abundant life only after you have eternal life. To take hold of that abundant life, you need to regain assurance in His promise of eternal life.
1 Eternal Life: Believe To Be Alive
2 John 6:47
3 John 10:28