“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.” – Matthew 12:33
Am I an apple tree? A banana tree? A fig tree? Is my fruit good or bad?
It’s an absolutely ludicrous question, isn’t it? Who could imagine a tree asking such a question? Fig trees don’t care what their fruit is, they just sit there and bear fruit. Can you imagine a tree testing its fruit to see whether it was good or bad? The fruit isn’t for the tree so the tree would be the worst judge of whether its fruit is good or bad, and probably biased.
God made trees that bear fruit for the rest of His creation to eat. And He made man to tend to His garden, to heal the trees when they are diseased, to nourish the trees that they would bear fruit. The trees bear fruit, they can’t help to do otherwise. The diseased trees can’t heal themselves, and the healthy trees can’t water themselves or fertilize themselves. Others do that for them. Nor do they taste their fruit to see if it is good, they leave that to the birds, the deer, and to people.
So, this reveals the problem for Christians when they read so many passages of the New Testament that speak about bearing good fruit, and judging a tree by its fruit. So often the passages are taken out of context, and rather superficial interpretations are given to the texts which then make Christians question their salvation. They are given a guilty conscience as they examine their language and find perhaps they have used impolite language, and they must be as bad as the Pharisees to whom Jesus directed these words.
Of course, one might examine what the life of a Pharisee was, and the context in which Jesus is speaking and realize that he is not exactly shaming these men for using the blue color language one might suspect fishermen were accustomed to even in the first century. On the contrary, the text would be directed at superficial explanations of the scriptures indicating that the death and resurrection of Christ was not sufficient for one’s salvation! The fruit of this sort of teaching is a guilty conscience, an uneasy heart, a burdened soul and a restless spirit, constantly turning believers to their own works to prove they are elect, or to outright earn their salvation by proving to themselves they didn’t need Christ to die for them.
In short, the fruit of this is the exact opposite of what Paul tells the Galatians are the fruit of the Spirit.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” – Gal 5:22-23
These are fruits no amount of human effort can produce. They are fruits of the Spirit. They come as the result of the Gospel—the good news of the forgiveness of sins. They are produced when the burden of works is lifted by Him Who says “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30) He says this in contrast to the Pharisees.
A yoke was a common metaphor for a rabbi’s teaching. The inclinations of Semitic poetry inspire Him to then equate the yoke with the burden it pulls. So, the Rabbis instructed in the law which brings about heavy burdens and they themselves were not willing to lend a finger to move this burden. But Jesus Christ who cast out demons by the finger of God, gave His whole body, mind and soul to the endeavor of carrying that burden down the Via Dolorosa that he might bury it in a corpse-less tomb, and replace it with love against which there is no law.
The law demands love, and love has no limits, no end, it is never done.
There, it is His blood that heals and nourishes the trees that they might bear fruit according to His liking. For just as He created man to enjoy the fruits of His garden and take care of it, He became man to plant His sacred grove, the church, to tend to it with His word, to water it with His baptism, to nourish it with His body and blood that it would bear fruit for Him to enjoy. And so His trees, and only His trees, do bear fruit for Him to enjoy, because only His fruit is washed with the forgiveness of sins.
That is what makes the difference. That is always what makes the difference in this world. And that is why the devil can always use this metaphor of fruit to torture the Christian. The Christian’s fruit so often looks bad in the eyes of the world, in the eyes of a sinner. The law demands love, and love has no limits, no end, it is never done. The Christian looks around and he sees people doing things that they are unable to do. Fruit that looks good to the eye.
And Satan says, “See even this rank pagan who does not know the love of God does better than you.” But to God, the fruit tastes more bland and worse than a warm mushy Red Delicious apple purchased off the counter at the gas station. Looks can be deceiving when it comes to fruit. Taste is everything, and God is the only one Who gets to judge the taste of our fruit.
In the meantime He offers Himself as the Fruit of forgiveness, the Fruit of life, and with that He says:
“Taste and see that the Lord is good, blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” – Psalm 34:8