“Make a tree good, and its fruit will be good or make a tree bad,
and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.”
In February of 1988, my younger brother and I set out from East Texas for South Florida. Some friends we had grown up with invited us to come to Florida because there was a fair bit of construction work available. We intended to come to Florida to work for several months and then return home to Texas. Somehow, I ended up staying in Florida for nearly 29 years.
Florida has a lot of is citrus trees. It actually makes up a fair part of the economy. An interesting thing about citrus trees is that they all look pretty much the same. I remember buying a naval orange tree at a nursery. As I looked at the citrus trees, I noticed that I couldn’t tell the difference between the oranges, lemons, limes, or grapefruits, and I could only hope that this tree was properly labeled, realizing that it might be a few years before I would know for certain.
In our passage today, Jesus tells us that a tree is known by its fruit. It is not known by its bark or its leaves, (although to a point, a tree can be identified in this way) Often, it can take time to see what the actual fruit is.
It is important to see the context in which Jesus makes this statement. He addresses the Pharisees here; they had just made the charge Jesus cast out demons using Satanic powers. In various other passages, Jesus calls out the religious leaders for their facade of righteousness, calling them ‘whitewashed tombs’ (pretty on the outside — dead on the inside); who wash the outside of the cup but the inside is full of all manner of filth (Matt 23:25-28). Several times Jesus referred to them as a ‘brood of vipers.’ Interestingly, those were the exact words of John the Baptist when they came to him (Luke 3:7). In spite of all their efforts to put on a good show, they weren’t fooling anyone.
So how do we make sure that we are trees bearing good fruit? In order to bear good spiritual fruit, God removes the heart of stone within us and replaces it with the new heart of flesh. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, and our part is surrendered obedience to Him. It says in 2 Peter 1:10, to make our calling and election sure. In 2 Corinthians 13:5, we’re told to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. And then our walk is a daily practice of denying ourselves, taking up our cross each day to follow Him (Matt. 16:24), always remembering what Jesus told his disciples in John 15:1-8. It is only by constantly abiding in Him and Him living in us that we can do anything.
The words ‘surrendered obedience’ sum it up.