No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. Good people bring good things out of the good stored up in their heart, and evil people bring evil things out of the evil stored up in their heart. For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. Luke 6:43-45
I don’t like these words. I’ll just be honest and say that up front. I don’t completely know what to do with some of them and I don’t like the implications. I’m not saying they are wrong or that I doubt them. I’m just telling you, some things Jesus says make my heart soar and some things Jesus says…well, not so much.
I’ll start with what I like about these words (as if my liking it has any importance here). It shows a clear distinction—to me—between judging someone and seeing their actions. While Jesus warns us not to judge a person in the verses preceding these he definitely acknowledges here that a persons actions can be seen as good or evil. So when someone sins it’s not my place to declare them this or that, to denounce them as a person or place value on their motives. That’s judging, and that’s for God. But I can and should recognize the actions they have put out there as either good (of God) or not good (sin). It’s all about fruit.
The most powerful words here for me are the final words. “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” Ouch. That says more about us than we probably want anyone to consider. What comes out of our mouths…and I would add our actions (given the context in which Jesus speaks these words) is a glimpse into what’s going on internally. Our true heart is revealed by what comes out for all to see or hear.
Jesus goes on, in a few more verses to say that what matters is not hearing his words, but hearing them and then putting them in to practice. It’s not enough just to hear, we need to live them out. Again, it’s the idea of our lives bearing fruit.
Here’s what I’m struggling with…and be prepared, there is no resolution coming here. I just am laying it out for your own consideration. It feels very much like Jesus is equating our being good or evil with our behavior. And honestly, that doesn’t feel very much like grace. Granted he finishes by saying that what comes out for the world to see and hear is just an extension of the heart and so I can definitely understand the connection that actions aren’t what makes us good or bad, but merely reflect a heart that is good or evil already. And I get that. I just don’t like the terms “good people” and “evil people” as Jesus tosses them around here.
Mainly it’s because the gospel says all are evil. All need God. So I read these words and automatically think, “But no one is good.” I’m not trying to create problems where there aren’t any and I’m definitely not challenging whether or not Jesus is right. I’m just saying it makes me uncomfortable.
I think maybe the point here is that Jesus is calling us to be people whose lives bear real fruit; people who live out what it looks like to walk in the Spirit. And to be able to see real fruit, or the lack of it, in others as well.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-25
This is a tall task. I’m thankful it’s not ours to carry alone. I’m relieved that God is not sitting back expecting me to be a “good person” on my own. I’m glad he knows I cannot ever do it on my own.
Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. John15:4