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Some preaching can leave the hearers discouraged. The message often seems to be ‘Try harder’, ‘Do more’. Trying harder and doing more, however, seems to produce little or no spiritual progress. As Jesus shows in this passage, this approach begins in the wrong place. We turn now to consider Luke 6:43-45 Being and doing.
1. The root
What is the problem with the ‘Try harder’ message? It is not entirely wrong – Scripture exhorts us to committed effort in godly living, but this approach begins in the wrong place. It deals only with ‘bad fruit…good fruit’ – what is outward and visible, but if change is to take place it must begin with the nature of the tree. That is the reason why the tree bears the fruit it does. We must first consider the internal, which explains the fruit that is borne. The nature of the tree is crucial, indeed determinative: ‘People do not pick figs from thorn-bushes, or grapes from briars’ (v44). No matter how hard a briar tried, it could not produce grapes. The lesson relates to people – ‘The good man…the evil man’ (v45). What we do flows from who we are – the fundamental issue is the nature we possess. Jesus sums it up in the language of the heart – ‘The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart’ (v45). The good man is not good because he does good: he does good because he is good. The Lord is concerned first with who we are. The ‘heart’ in Scripture is the core of our identity. ‘The good man’ is regenerate, being remade in Christ’s image; ‘the evil man is still a sinner under God’s wrath. There are only two ‘hearts’ in biblical thinking.
2. The fruit
Although the Lord’s first concern is with who we are – the issue of the heart – he is also concerned with what we do – the issue of fruit. The fruit a person bears is the result of the nature possessed (v45). There is a fundamental consistency between root and fruit, heart and behaviour. What kind of fruit would we expect from a ‘good man’? We can at once think of ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:22-23), a description of the character of Jesus. From a heart renewed by grace will come a life that reflects the Saviour and is shaped by his Word applied by the Holy Spirit. In contrast, from an ‘evil man’ we would expect the ‘acts of the flesh’ (Galatians 5:19-21), a lifestyle governed by the fallen sinful nature. In both cases, every aspect of life is involved. Often words reveal the reality – ‘’Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks’ – a reminder of the power of the tongue (James 3:1ff). Believers are imperfect in this life and we can be inconsistent, but there will be no final contradiction between root and fruit when we appear in the Last Judgment.
3. The examination
The NIV misses ‘For’ at the beginning of v43 – there is a link to v41-42 regarding planks and specks. The Lord calls us to self-examination, instead of examination of others. What kind of tree are you, bearing what kind of fruit? Note ‘stored up’ (v45) – we must store our hearts with God’s Word, from which a godly life will come. Change in a man’s nature is also always possible by the grace of God, making him a new creation in Christ.