There is a saying, “The devil made me do it.”
Of course, this is said in jest, and yet there is an element involved in it that is hard to understand. Namely, it is that we do not always understand what we do. In Romans 7 the Apostle Paul says, “I don't really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don't do it. Instead, I do what I hate.” (Romans 7:15)[i]
Have you ever heard, “I didn’t mean it?” How can a person say something they did not mean? It is like the jumbled up mess that the Apostle Paul is expressing when he says he ends up doing what he hates.
Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (ESV)[ii]
We do not always understand what we do. We do not always understand even our own heart. On top of this, the heart is desperately sick.
Our hearts can be so deceitful that we can talk ourselves into believing we are saved when we are not. In 2 Corinthians 13:5, the Apostle Paul says, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (ESV)
When Jesus was with the disciples, He was often surprised at their unbelief or lack of faith. When I examine my heart, I, too, am often surprised at my unbelief or lack of faith.
There is a need for us to examine our hearts and lives to be sure we are in the faith.
We must examine ourselves.
In Luke 6:43-45, Jesus gives us three principles that will help us to examine ourselves.
If we follow these principles and examine our own hearts, we can gain much in assurance, confidence and peace in our relationship with God.
Jesus teaches these principles by using trees as an object lesson. I love this. Trees represent strength, endurance and fruitfulness. They have roots that go deep into the earth and provide a solid foundation. They weather storms and seasons. Many varieties of trees thrive and produce fruit through many lifetimes of men. If I am to be compared to a tree, I want to be a good and strong tree.
Trees cannot choose what kind of tree they are. They grow up according to the seed planted. However, you and I have a choice. By God’s grace, we have an invitation to be a good tree. Today, as we look at the principles that Jesus teaches, we will look at how we can choose to grow into a good and strong tree.
The first principle Jesus teaches is, “Good trees produce good fruit.”
This principle deals with the problem of priorities in our lives. As we examine our lives against this principle we can ask ourselves, “What kind of a foundation am I laying?” “What am I putting my roots down into?”
The issue that Jesus raises is quality. Jesus says, “A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit.” (Luke 6:43)
Some trees bear no fruit. Jesus told of a tree planted in a vineyard. After the expected time, the tree produced no fruit. The owner instructed the workers to dig up around the roots and fertilize the tree. When the tree still did not produce fruit, it was ordered cut down and burned. It was a bad tree. It produced no fruit. (Luke 13:6-8)
Some trees produce undersized fruit. Some trees produce sour fruit.
I was always impressed with how the Japanese could coax the biggest, juiciest apples from their trees. In Nagano prefecture, where Jeretta and I went to language school, they grew fruit. I was amazed to see apples on the tree, each one bagged for protection. I do not think it an exaggeration to say they raised the best apples I have ever seen or eaten. They were the best. The quality was amazing. The man-hours, work and care also must have been amazing, each tree pruned with care and precision and each apple bagged at the appropriate time.
Will our lives bear fruit? What will be the quality of the fruit?
This is all about our priorities. Where do we spend our time? What do we read? What work do we do? Do we share Christ with our neighbors and friends? Do we worship and pray daily? Do we spend time with our spouse and children? Do we love with the compassion that God gives? All these are the fertilizers, root feeders and fruit tending that make or break the quality of our fruit.
Examine your life. Can you see the fruit you are producing?
Good trees produce good fruit. This principle addresses our priorities. We choose every day whether we will grow strong and good when we set our priorities.
The second principle is, “Trees produce fruit according to kind.” Brambles produce no fruit. Grapes vines do not produce figs.
This principle addresses our principles. Principles are our main beliefs. “Principles” is defined: “a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning.”[iii]
Do we believe the truth? Have we been deceived by a lie? What do we believe? What is truth? Where do we find it?
Jesus said, “A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes.” (Luke 6:44)
Trees produce fruit according to kind. Apple trees produce apples. Peach trees produce peaches. Thornbushes produce thorns, not fruit.
The Apostle Paul tells us:
19Now the works [fruit] of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:19-24, ESV)
We must examine ourselves against this list.
Look at the stern warning given. “I warn you . . . that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” This list of fruit of the flesh or of the Spirit is meant to help us examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. What we believe is key to this. This is not about a list of things to do and not to do. This is about what kind of a tree we are.
We all start out as a tree of flesh. But, if any person is in Christ Jesus, he or she is made a new creature [tree]. (2 Corinthians 5:17) This is a gift. It is a work done by God. We are saved through faith. (Ephesians 2:8) If we do not have the Spirit of God, we cannot produce the fruit of the Spirit. By nature, we must produce the fruit of the flesh.
This is a one-time choice. The choice of priorities is every day. The choice of principles is one time. John 1:12 tells us, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” A person chooses to believe and accept Jesus and that person becomes a child of God, a completely new tree. This happens only one time. This is not a question of quality. This is a question of kind.
What kind are you? What is the fruit you are producing telling you?
There is yet another principle. Jesus brings it up, but he does not allude to fruit or trees. He goes directly to the heart.
This principle is, “The mouth speaks from what is in the heart.”
This principle addresses our purity.
My daughter Hilary had a teacher in fourth grade that used to say, “What’s down in the well comes up in the bucket.” How true this is.
The excuse, “The devil made me do it” does not work, because we speak and act from what is in our heart. This is also why religious practices such as washing, bowing, kneeling and such can never purify us. Cleaning off the outside or changing the posture of the outside can never change what is in the heart.
Once when Jesus was criticized for not making His disciples wash their hands before eating, He made this statement:
18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” (Matthew 15:18-20, ESV)
What does what comes out of your mouth tell you about what is in your heart?
James warns us:
6And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. (James 3:6-10, ESV)
Our tongues give us opportunity every day to confess our impure thoughts, motives and attitudes, and to ask God to purify us. The important thing is not to guard our lips. The important thing is to guard our hearts.
What do your lips teach you about your heart? This is a question of purity.
We must examine ourselves against these three principles and check our priorities, our principles and our purity.
What kind of tree are you? The choice is yours.
[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
[ii] Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.