Scripture: Matthew 7
Text: Matthew 7:18 & Lord’s Day 24
Sermon by Rev. James Reaves
Orthodox Christian Reformed Church of Kelowna, British Columbia, 2001
© Burlington United Reformed Church; The Preacher, Vol. 18, No. 1
This sermon may be used in worship services for free; please state the author and church above.
Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, Fruit production is a big thing in the Okanagan valley. Orchardists are determined to produce the best fruit so that their product will sell and bring them the best possible income. To this end you will see them busy pruning their trees in the off season, spraying to control or eliminate damaging insects, fertilizing, irrigating, doing everything to ensure good results. And if all of this does not work you will see them renewing orchards by removing old trees and planting new. They want the best product that will sell.We understand the process well here in the Okanagan valley. God is also interested in producing good fruit which is the picture the Bible uses to illustrate good works. And it is the cultivation of such fruit, such good works, to which I would direct your attention this morning. My text is Matthew 7:18 where Jesus tells us “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.”
Here we have set before us:
I. The problem of defective fruit;
II. The production of acceptable fruit; and from there I will move on to say a few things about:
III. Renewing the tree.If we can understand what is here we will also have a reasonably good grasp of Lord’s Day 24 in the Heidelberg Catechism.
Before going too far into the problem of defective fruit we do well to consider the standard God has in mind when He is examining the fruit in our lives. God, being holy as He is, is always looking for perfect fruit. Nothing less than perfection is good enough for God. We might be satisfied with less than the best, but not God.
In the Scriptures we can find the standard for what God calls good works. In the first place, it should be obvious, that for something to be good it must be in conformity with the law of God. It must be in harmony with the ten commandments. If it breaks one of the commandments it can’t be good. Only what is in harmony with the commandments can be considered good. This will concern the actual deed itself as well as the thought behind it. The whole process must conform to the commandments.
Secondly, for any work to be really good, it must be done to the glory of God. I Corinthians 10:31 says “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Everything we do must promote God’s glory.
Thirdly, for any work to be really good, it must proceed from a heart purified by faith. Hebrews 11:6 informs us “without faith it is impossible to please (God).” So good works that are really good have all three of these qualities. They are in conformity to the law of God, done to His glory, and issue from a heart purified by faith.
Now the question is, can God find such good works being done by the sons and daughters of men? Do you and I produce the kind of works this standard demands? The answer is no, we do not. Our attempts at doing good works keep falling short of this standard. We keep producing defective fruit, and Matthew 7:18 explains why —“a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” We are defective people and the fruit we produce is likewise defective.
Job recognized the problem a long time ago and inquired “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” What man is in his inner being keeps coming to expression, and in his inner being man is polluted. As Jesus put it in Luke 6:45, “an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil.” It cannot be any other way. You cannot gather grapes from a thorn bush. You cannot gather figs from thistles. And you cannot find crooked people doing good works, and we are all crooked. As the catechism has it, “even our best works in this life are imperfect and defiled with sin.” We keep producing defective fruit.
Now this does not mean that we are all as bad as we can be, nor does it mean that we can’t do humanly-speaking useful things. Even the worst of us manage to do some useful things, like driving on the right side of the road. That accords with the law of the land
and accords with the fifth commandment’s call for respecting lawful authority. But it is not done to the glory of God, from a heart purified by faith. It is done for shear self-preservation. We would all be killed if we drove on whatever side of the road we pleased. At the very least we would clog up the roads so that nobody could drive.
So we do outwardly good things for less than perfect reasons and the fruit is defective. Similarly, people with corrupted hearts will give to charity. The deed is outwardly good but is defective because the heart involved corrupted it.
And if these our best efforts fall short, where do you suppose our worst efforts fall, those things which are outwardly bad? The lies we tell, the unkind deeds and so on. Faulty hearts keep producing defective fruit and our hearts are faulty. That’s why our good works cannot be part of our righteousness. We don’t have any. We can’t produce any. A bad tree cannot bear good fruit.
And then the Scripture adds, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Orchardists do not deal kindly with trees that don’t produce good fruit. They quickly chop them down. If they are not productive, down they come, and we have seen many being cut down in this valley because they were not producing well enough. God, while He can be very patient, will in the end cut down and consign to the flames those who fail to bear fruit for Him. There is a very solemn warning of the judgment of God in this passage. We dare not be indifferent to the matter of good works.
But what to do about it? That is our problem. Our text does have something to say about the production of good fruit and to this we need to turn our attention.
Our text does say, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit.” A good tree does bear good fruit. If you have the right kind of tree, you will get the good fruit you want. The kind of people that God is seeking are also the kind of people that will do good works. They are the good trees of which our passage speaks.
In Ephesians 2:10 the apostle tells the Ephesian believers “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” How the Ephesians got to be this kind of people we will get to later, but first take note of the fact that they will do good works. There is nothing uncertain about it. God has prepared beforehand that they will do them, and what God has prepared beforehand happens. It is certain to happen. The verse even explains why we can be sure. They have been recreated in Christ Jesus. God has created a new nature within them. He has given them new hearts, and good works are as natural to these new natures as bad works were natural to the old.
It is the same principle that the tree produces according to its root that we have been dealing with all along. God changes the root and good fruit is the result. God changes the human heart and good works are the result.
There is no danger of carelessness here which is the concern of question 64 in the catechism. “But does not this doctrine make men careless and profane?” Look at the answer—“By no means, for it is impossible that those who are implanted into Christ by a true faith should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness.” A good tree bears good fruit. Good trees are not careless. They do the thing for which they were made, and Christians recreated in Christ do the things for which they were recreated. They do good works.
Greedy old Zacchaeus got recreated and began giving to the poor. Persecuting Paul got recreated and began preaching the gospel everywhere he went. Change the root, change the heart, and the behavior will change too. It is really just that simple.
So perhaps this is the point where we should pause to look at our own hearts and lives. Can God find the kind of good works there that He is looking for? If He can’t, then you have a big concern. And we are not looking for one or two that you can point out here and there. The verse I pointed out in Ephesians says these people walk in them. It becomes the regular course of their lives. Their lives are filled with them. Is your life so filled? May God be merciful to us if our lives are not so filled.
Real Christian lives are filled with good works. They produce much fruit—some thirty, some sixty, and some one-hundred fold. The production of acceptable fruit is not only possible, it is certain once you have recreated the tree.
This brings us to the point where we need to move on and consider the renewing of the tree.
The renewing of the tree is the work of Christ in and through the gospel. I have already referred to a text that speaks of being created in Christ for good works. Christ came that we might find new life in Him. John 10:10 says, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” To this end He lived among us, fulfilling all righteous. To this end He died for us upon the cross, taking away our sin and our guilt. Then, after three days in the grave, He rose again in triumph over sin and death and hell. He ascended into heaven where He received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit, which He in turn poured out upon His church, to create new life within all who come to Him. He has commissioned the Church to preach this gospel and to call sinners to come in repentance and faith to Jesus, promising renewal of heart and life to all who come. Jesus is the One who renews hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the one who renews the tree.
If we want renewal, we must come to Him in repentance and faith. The concept of repentance is well-illustrated for us when an orchardist undertakes to renew the trees in his orchard. First he goes out and cuts all the old trees down. They are put to death and removed from the scene. This brings to mind the words of Jesus, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross.” Repentance involves putting the old life to death, removing it from the scene. It is the end of things as they were, it is leaving sin behind. But our orchard friend is not finished. Once he has the old trees off the land he brings in new trees and begins to plant them where the old trees had once stood. So, he who repents turns to follow Jesus and live a new life in accord with the teaching of God’s Word. It is a whole change of life. That is repentance, and we cannot do it on our own. It is a gift of God who works it out in our lives by the Holy Spirit.
In Acts 5:31 we read how God exalted Jesus to His right hand so that He could “give repentance to Israel.” In Acts 11:18 we find Peter explaining to the church in Jerusalem and the church recognizing that God had also “granted to the Gentiles repentance unto life.” In both passages repentance is clearly a gift, and it is given to those who come to God seeking to be rid of their old sinful lives and wanting to walk in newness of life. It is given together with the gift of faith. For he who would live a new and changed life must look in faith to Jesus and believe that Jesus really can change him.
Of course we cannot so change our lives all on our own. We must believe and trust in Jesus to transform us and make us new creatures by His Holy Spirit. We must learn to walk by faith. As we seek to walk in newness of life we will discover that God is at work in us, moving us to doing what is right and pleasing in His sight. And this is when good works will start appearing in what we do. For then we will delight in living by God’s commandments. We will live to God’s glory because our hearts have been renewed by faith. We will not succeed in doing them perfectly, but the Lord Jesus will cover for any of our shortcomings and God will accept us in Christ. Before we know it we will be producing fruit worthy of repentance, pleasing and acceptable to God.
God is looking for you and me to produce the fruit of good works. What does He see in your life? What have you done for Him this past week? Can you hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant?”
Fruit production is a big thing in the Okanagan valley, but it should be just as big a thing in your life and mine. If you haven’t had a lot of success in recent weeks, perhaps you need to renew your trees. Cut down the things that should not be in your life. Deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Jesus. Jesus is looking for such followers, and God will reward them fully. May God grant to each of us a full measure of the gifts of repentance and faith. May He work in us to will and to do of His good pleasure. Amen.