Christian Hearts, Good Fruit

I’ve been trying to come up with a smart way to open this devotion, but I’m stuck on the word “bear.” It’s the keyword of our passage, in the verb form, meaning to “produce” or “yield” (fruit). We don’t use the word “bear,” and my mind keeps slipping to a new show on the Animal Planet TV channel called “Man versus Bear.” It’s a pretty silly show with a man or woman competing against a massive bear in different stunts. TV producers can come up with some pretty crazy ideas for new shows. The use of the word “bear” in Scripture implies that something inside us yields something that grows outside of us. A plant produces flowers or food, as inventors create new medical tools from their medical knowledge, and chefs make new recipes based on their experience and knowledge of food. Other than bearing children, we usually don’t even think of producing something on a daily basis. Yet we are created to do just that, and ideally to do so every day. But like a TV producer, inventor, or writer, the thought of delivering anything so frequently is intimidating. The good news is that, like a garden, God has planted the seeds in us and he has given us his Spirit to empower us to do so. If our hearts are transformed by Christ’s righteousness, we will produce good fruit. “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:43-45) It is my goal to stimulate our fruit-bearing because Christ has redeemed us for this purpose.

God’s creation illustrates the reality of a regenerated heart that produces fruit. Our passage from Luke 6 begins with a general statement (v. 43), followed by an illustration from nature (v. 44), and then the specific application of the principle for believers (v. 45). Jesus frequently taught about the two ways of humankind: regenerate or unregenerate. In Luke 6:46-49, following this passage, he compared disciples to those who built on him (the rock) and unbelievers to those who built their lives on the sand. In Matthew 25, our Savior described these as the sheep and the goats—the sheep going to eternal life and the goats to eternal damnation. (1) In Luke 6 he says, “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit.” “This teaching can be taken in either of two ways. In one sense, observing good and bad fruit allows one to judge wisely in dealing with others (the context also of [a related passage in] Matt. 7:15–20). In another sense, it applies to the disciples themselves, for the fruit of a bad tree involves judging and condemning others while the fruit of a good tree involves forgiving and giving to others and loving one’s enemies.” (2) A redeemed heart in Christ yields good fruit, just like a healthy tree; an unredeemed heart is like the fig tree Jesus cursed because it hypocritically produced leaves but no fruit (Matthew 21:18-19). Another passage comes to mind, Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” But rather than fret, we are encouraged, since Christ has redeemed us, believers, making us good “trees.”

In nature, fruit is evidence of the tree’s species, with the natural consequence that bears fruit consistent with its kind. “For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.” (6:44) I have some mums in my garden that I planted in November. They were beautiful, with lush yellow, white, and red flowers. But after those blossoms died, I haven’t seen a single new one. If I do, I certainly don’t expect to get daisies, roses, or apples from them. How silly would that be? No one expects to get milk from a gas pump or laundry detergent from a movie beverage vending machine. (I’m being senseless to make a point.) We go through our days, expecting most people to be gracious, kind, other-centered, wise, and good. But why? Jesus clearly teaches that there are at least as many unregenerate, unfruitful people as there are believers. As Gill writes, “…and no more can an unregenerate man perform good works, or bring forth: fruits of righteousness acceptable unto God; for these require a knowledge of his will, obedience to it, a principle of grace, love to God, faith in Christ, and a view to the glory of God; all which are wanting in such a person.” (3) But since my goal is not to cast dispersions on others, let me suggest what is even more senseless: our justification for Christian unfruitfulness based on that of the general population. Gill also says, “…the grace of God revealed to good men, and wrought in them, teaches them to live soberly, righteously, and godly; a holy life is the fruit of grace, and an evidence of it.” (4) You and I aren’t thorn bushes; we are branches produced on the grapevine of Christ designed to bear sweet grapes for our lord.

Good spiritual fruit is the spiritual consequence and evidence of regenerated, abundant heart. “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45) As Martin Luther proclaimed, “Salvation is by faith alone, but not a faith that is alone.” The ESV Study Bible Notes observes that “The true nature of people’s hearts can often be seen when they speak off-the-cuff, without reflection.” (5) R.C. Sproul links the passage to Psalm 1, where the righteous man “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers,” after meditating on God’s law day and night (vs. 2-3). Studying to write my blog devotions is my most convicting study. Little do we know about the benefit of studying a verse or three over a week, or a biblical topic for a year, because we don’t usually do it. I highly recommend doing in-depth Scripture meditations and journaling about them. I think you will be surprised by their value. As Dr. Sproul comments, our hearts become storehouses of good words and conduct, like thesauruses, leading to fruit for Christ. As Jesus says in verse 45—this fruit comes from an abundance in our hearts. We won’t even know what is there until it comes out through our mouths and shows up in our choices.

Do you see yourself as a productive Christian, or do you doubt Christ’s victorious, resurrection power to produce good spiritual fruit? How might you struggle with either bearing or identifying your fruit reflect a less than an “abundant” heart for Christ? “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:32-34)

(1) This perspective on the passage is strongly influenced by R.C. Sproul’s sermon on Luke 6:43-46, https://www.ligonier.org/learn/sermons/good-bad-fruit/

(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Luke 6:44, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/ephesians-6.html

(3) Gill, ibid.

(4) ESV Study Bible Notes, Ibid.

(5) Sproul, ibid.

(6) Sproul, ibid.

 

January 24, 2020

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