43 “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45 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, ESV
There are two people groups described throughout the scripture with various designations. For the sake of simplicity, these two groups are ‘God’s people’ and ‘not God’s people.’ The difference-maker between these two groups is not their own character. The difference is God’s grace. Romans 9 describes the mysterious nature of God’s choosing to show special mercy to some (vessels of mercy) and allowing others to destroy themselves (vessels of wrath). Paul first introduced this truth in Romans 1:24 when he wrote about God giving up some to destroy themselves with their willful rebellion.
The idea of these two people groups isn’t unique in Paul’s writings. The very beginning of Adam’s race highlights this truth. Two lines came out of Adam, the line of Cain and the line of Seth. Those lines intermingled and corrupted the entire human race, so God had special mercy upon one particular man as God cleansed the earth from the wickedness of men. Eventually, God came to Abraham and called Him to be the new beginning of God’s outwardly visible people. The Exodus highlighted God’s sovereign choice to give some mercy for His own glorious purposes and His choice to allow others to destroy themselves through rebellion and unbelief. The pattern continues even within Israel’s national history with the divided kingdom. Each King is one one side or the other, described as doing right or doing evil in the sight of the LORD. The pattern of two people groups continues throughout the Old Testament in the prophets as God promises that to redeem a remnant that He will not allow to apostatize. In Malachi, God promised He would not forsake His promises made, and His Messianic King will arrive soon to redeem His people from among the nations.
From Malachi to Matthew, God was not sending any more prophets, and this period is often referred to as the 400 silent years. Then, suddenly a few of God’s people who had been patiently waiting for their Messiah recognized by God’s grace the baby Jesus was the promised King who would bring salvation to His people at long last. During Jesus’ ministry, the two people groups are often clearly visible in the text as the disciples of Jesus follow while the Pharisees and Sadducees hunt our Lord. Jesus often contrasts the two peoples in His parables, but a few times simply declares His enemies to be children of the devil who will not and can not come to believe because they are not Jesus’ sheep (John 10:26). Throughout the NT epistles, the dichotomy is described in various ways. John’s Apocalypse, the final book of the Bible, ends with the unbelieving enemies of Christ perishing and the believers living in eternal bliss with the Lord Himself.
You might be wondering why is this relevant to this text? The barebones sketch helps us keep the larger theme of the scripture in view here as we read Jesus’ words. There are two symbolic trees. One tree is good, and the other is bad. These two trees represent the two different people groups that we decided to simply call ‘God’s people’ and ‘not God’s people.’ ‘God’s people’ are, of course, the good tree. So as we work to understand what Jesus is saying, we naturally want to ask the question, “how can we become the good tree?” I whole heartedly agree that this question is essential. However, that isn’t the purpose of Jesus’ words.
Jesus’ focus is upon emphasizing what comes out of each tree. He’s not talking about the source of the tree. Jesus is pointing out the fruit of the tree. We may deduce what tree we are by the fruit that is produced in our lives. If I am one of God’s people, then there will be evidence of that reality. If I am not, then there will be evidence of that sad fact.
Let’s not get lost on this point. If we are not careful, we will want to shift the emphasis back upon our natural question, “how can we become the good tree?” The produce of our living as God’s people is not an infallible assurance of my identity. I mean to say that as a “good tree,” I will not produce “evil fruit,” but there may be times when I have such little fruit that the test seems inconclusive. Again, this is not Jesus’ point of the parable.
Christian, Jesus’ parable aims to encourage our effort in grace, not for meriting grace, but for vindicating God’s grace. He says to you and me, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good…for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” What is coming out of your heart through your mouth? Are your words testifying to the grace of God in your life? Are your attitudes and perspectives revealing to the watching world that you are one of God’s people? May our lives be like trees planted by the rivers of water producing (Psalm 1:1-3) such excellent fruit that the simple ones (Proverbs 1:22-23) who blindly follow the scorners and fools might taste and see that the LORD is good (Psalm 34:8).