Grace For The Journey
We are studying our way, verse-by-verse, through the Gospel of Luke and we are in a very practical section of Luke’s Gospel, a section known as the “Sermon on the Plain,” called that because Jesus is preaching this sermon on a level piece of ground where hundreds of people gathered together to hear Him. The sermon is preached primarily to those who are followers of Jesus Christ and so we ourselves find almost immediate application as followers of Christ.We have heard Jesus say that Christians are to love their enemies, to give to those who ask of us, to be merciful, just as our heavenly Father is merciful, to not judge, to not condemn, and to be forgiving.
The only way Christians can
Do any of these things
Consistently is to have
A changed heart.
When God changes our heart,
Our inner being, by the power
Of the Gospel, we are then in
A position to do these things.
This is essentially what Jesus says in the few verses that are the subject of our text
Everything that precedes these verses in the Sermon on the Plain, especially beginning at verse 27, all of the things Jesus says are possible for us to do consistently only if we have changed hearts, which is what Jesus says in verses 43-45. It is important that we
Jesus teaches that Christians start off small, having believed in the Gospel, God changes our hearts, and we begin to grow and bear fruit. We continue growing, year-by-year, decade after decade, and we continue bearing more fruit. People can come by and look at us and “check us out,” and they can see evidence of life and godliness. People can see the fruit of our lives. People can see evidence that we are Christians by the way we love our enemies, by the way we are not judgmental, by the way we are merciful toward others, and by the way we forgive others. That is the fruit of our lives that indicates we are true followers of Jesus Christ.
Let’s look at these verses closely and make sure we understand them correctly.
Verses 43 and 44 say, “For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit.” This is so simple and straightforward it seems senseless to go into detail here. I mean, we all get it, right? You go to an apple tree, and you will find apples. You go to an orange tree, and you find – what? Oranges. Don’t you love it when the questions are easy?! A tree is known by the fruit it produces.
Jesus continues in verse 44, “. . .For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush.” This is what is so cool about Jesus’ teaching. He teaches the one thing, but you know He is really teaching something else, right? We know it is not Jesus’ main concern to teach us all about horticulture. Although we will be quick to add that while the Bible is not primarily a science book, what it teaches about science is true because God is behind all science. God created the man who observes what the man calls science. All truth is God’s truth wherever it is found. Let’s not allow for thoughtless statements that separate the Bible from science as though the two were incompatible. They are not incompatible. The Bible and science go together beautifully.
Jesus’ main concern here is not to teach about fruit trees and thorn bushes. His main concern is to teach about how we are like fruit trees and thorn bushes. Verse 45 says, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Let me paraphrase this – verse 45 teaches that “what is inside a man will come out.” Whatever character exists inside your very being will eventually come out by your actions.
Adrian Rogers used to say, “If you want to see what a man is made of, shake him up a bit.” What he meant was if you wanted to find out whether a nice man is really a nice man, just ruffle his feathers a bit and see what happens. We can all act like we are nice and good and kind on the outside, but it is who we are on the inside that produces fruit, showing people who we really are. If you have a person who talks about love, mercy, and patience, as though he has got it all figured out and someone else comes along and hits that guy across the face, or steals his car, or embarrasses him in front of others, how that man responds will determine who he really is because his response will come from what is inside, straight from the heart.
Who we are on the inside
Determines what we
Do on the outside.
From these verses, let me give you these three things we need to remember this week. First . . .
I. Christians Are Known By The Fruit They Produce.
If a man says he is following Jesus Christ, that man will produce fruit and it will be good fruit. Remember the context! If a man or if a woman says they are a Christian then they will give evidence of their Christianity by loving their enemies, by being merciful toward others, by not being judgmental, by not condemning others, by forgiving others, and by removing the plank from their eyes. Christians are known by the fruit they produce. If you are a Christian, you will love your enemies. You will be merciful toward others. You will forgive.
By the way, we have confirmation here that what I said earlier about the phrase “judge not” in verse 27 is true. I said that the phrase “judge not” does not mean what so many people in today’s American culture use it to mean. People use this phrase “judge not” to exclude any kind of judging whatsoever. Some preacher preaches something that does not line up with what the Bible teaches and someone says, “Well, you are not supposed to judge.” Or somebody comes tumbling out of a bar and reeks of alcohol and plops down behind the wheel of a car and drives away. A friend of his sees this and raises an eyebrow and says, “I saw him in church last Sunday. His Christianity must not be real.” And the guy next to him, “Well, you know, you are not supposed to judge.” That is not what “judge not” means. As we have noted before, when Jesus says “judge not,” He does not mean that we are to never make decisions based upon people’s behavior. He just means that we are not to look down our noses upon others as though we are better than they, being judgmental. That is different.
Of course we are to make decisions and render judgments based upon people’s behavior. The reason we nominate men to serve in the deacon’s ministry is because we have observed their behavior and rendered a thoughtful, moral judgment. You read about the first deacons in Acts 6 and then you read about the qualifications of deacons in 1 Timothy 3 and you thought about men whose behavior was consistent with those qualifications and you elect them. You made a judgment about them. We all do this all the time.
This is why Jesus says “every tree is known by its fruit.” He is saying, “You can determine whether a person is a true follower of Christ by the way they live their lives, by their behavior.” Now again, contextually, this means that Christians will love their enemies, will be merciful, will forgive, and will remove the plank from their eyes. Why? Because . . .
We have changed hearts.
The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If any man is in Christ he is a new creation.” When we receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, God gives to us the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. The Bible teaches in Galatians 5 that when we have the Spirit of God in us we will bear the fruit of the Spirit, fruit like, “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Here again is a reminder . . .
That we do not do these things
In order to become a Christian,
But we do these things
Because we are a Christian.
We cannot get into heaven
By being good because
None of us is perfectly good.
We do not read the Sermon on the Plain as conditions that must be met in order to be saved. The standard is perfection and none of us can meet that perfect standard.
When we speak of Jesus
Dying on the cross for us,
We must also remember
That the Gospel means
That Jesus lived for us.
He lived according to the perfect standard. He never once lied, He never once was unforgiving, and He always loved His enemies. He was perfect. If we believe in Jesus Christ, then we are credited with His perfection.
The Gospel is that Jesus died
To take the punishment
I deserved for my sin,
But the Gospel is also that
Jesus lived the perfect life
I could not live.
That’s why we can sing the hymn chorus . . .
Living, He loved me; dying, He saved me;
Buried He carried my sins far away;
Rising, He justified freely forever;
One day He’s coming – O glorious day!
Jesus loved us so much that He lived for us the life we could not live ourselves because we were in bondage to sin. We were enslaved to sin. Jesus lives and dies for us that we may be free from sin. While we are still not perfect, we now have the ability – the Holy Spirit within us – to live the life God wants us to live.
The reason we love our enemies, the reason we are merciful, the reason we forgive our spouse and our children and the classmate and the guy who wrongs us at work is because . . .
Our hearts have been changed
By the power of the Gospel.
We have the Holy Spirit
Within us to live the life
God has called Christians to live.
Christians are known by the fruit they produce.
On the other hand, if we say we are Christians, but there is no fruit to back it up, then we are deceiving ourselves. JC Ryle says, “There is only one satisfactory test of a man’s religious character. That test is his conduct and conversation.” He adds, “Let it be a settled principle” … “that when a man brings forth no fruits of the Spirit, he has not the Holy Spirit within him.”
Christians are known by the fruit they produce.
Number two . . .
II. It Is Possible For Christians To Bear Bad Fruit But Not For Long.
Because we are not perfect we are going to make a mistake from time to time. We are going to slip into a sinful thought, a sinful action, or sinful words. It is at these moments we need to remember to preach the Gospel to ourselves. When we sin, we immediately confess that sin and go to the cross. We say, “God, I have sinned. Thank you for dying for that sinful thing I just did, or that sinful thought, or that sinful word I just spoke. I am sorry. I repent. Forgive me for hurting You and thank You that because of Your grace and mercy, You have already forgiven that sin through Jesus Christ my Savior. I love You Lord, Amen.” We then experience again the joy and warmth and sweet fellowship of our heavenly Father. You see . . .
The Gospel is not just for when a person gets saved,
But the Gospel is for every moment of every day
As the Christian lives his or her life.
A Christian can bear bad fruit, but he will not bear bad fruit for long because the Holy Spirit will convict him of his sin, and he will cry out to God and repent. Remember, the evidence that one is a Christian is revealed in a general pattern of bearing good fruit. I like to use the picture of a line graph. If you can imagine a line graph in your mind, the dot represents the point in time when I came to Christ and over here is the other point at the end of my life then the graph should look like this nice, straight line. Every day I am becoming more like Christ, growing in my sanctification, until I reach this point the last point. That is how it should look, but it actually looks like up, down, big up, big down, up, up). There are points where I may fall (think of King David and his sin with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah), but the overarching pattern is one that goes up.
If someone says he is a Christian, but there is no overall pattern of growth, he is not a Christian. Why? Because Jesus teaches us “a tree is known by the fruit it produces,” because, “a good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil.” It is possible for a Christian to bear bad fruit, but not for long. When he does something he should not do or says something he should not say, he will experience conviction by the Holy Spirit within him and he will repent.
In his commentary on Luke’s Gospel, Kent Hughes tells about a man who was saved under the ministry of Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Hughes writes of the conversion of this particularly foul-mouthed man: “His speech was so blasphemous and filthy that even the toughest acquaintances were sickened by him, so that he was almost always left to drink by himself. After meeting Christ, he found that he could not speak without swearing. The words poured forth before he could even think. He was sickened himself by the filthy words. But deliverance came. He was dressing for work and could not locate his socks. Instinctively, he shouted to his wife, ‘I can’t find my _______ socks! Where are the _______ things?’ As his words echoed back in his ears, sorrow gripped him, and he fell back on his bed and cried aloud, ‘O Lord, cleanse my tongue. tongue. Lord, I can’t ask for a pair of socks without swearing. Please have mercy on me and give me a clean tongue.’ Lying there, he knew something had happened. Form that day on no foul or blasphemous word ever came from his lips.”
So yes, it is possible for a Christian to bear bad fruit, but not for long. He will be so convicted by the Holy Spirit that he will cry out as David cried out in Psalm 51, “God be merciful to me, a sinner! Create in me a clean heart!”
What have we learned so far? Christians are known by the fruit they produce and it is possible for a Christian to bear bad fruit, but not for long.
Thirdly . . .
III. The Most Obvious Fruit Christians Bear Is Good Speech.
Jesus says in verse 45, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” What inside a man, what is in his heart, will come out, and will come out through his speech. This teaching is not just about our not saying bad things, though it is that. It is also important for us to consider what we spend the majority of our time thinking about because what is in our hearts will come out. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A man is what he thinks about all day long.” That is true. Out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
Let me give a quick example: The pastor preaches a powerful message about reaching the nations for Jesus Christ. It is powerful and convicting. Most who are present feel his passion and heart for the lost while he was preaching. The real question is, “How long do they feel that way? Did that message get down deeply into their heart and stay there throughout the week? Did they continue thinking about how they spend your money and whether more could be given to overseas missions? Did they think about what they could do personally to reach the nations for Jesus Christ? On the other hand, we could hear a powerful message like that, but before the day is out, we have forgotten most of it and the topic of conversation returns to the latest current event, fad, movie, song, or food because that is what is really in our hearts. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. What do you spend the majority of your time talking about? It will likely be what you spend the majority of your time doing.
This verse also reminds us to guard our tongues and say only things that glorify God and edify others. We speak on average about 16,000 words per day. Some think women speak more words than men. A husband looking through the paper came upon a study that said women use more words than men. Excited to prove to his wife that he had been right all along when he accused her of talking too much, he showed her the study results. It read, “Men use about 15,000 words per day, but women use 30,000.” The wife thought for a moment, then she said to her husband, “It’s because we have to repeat everything we say.” The truth is it is hard to find documentation of studies proving women use more words then men. There is one study, however, they document the fact that men and women both use about 16,000 words per day. Given this fact, we should curb our tongues. Someone said, “A tongue three inches long can kill a person six feet tall.”
The Bible says in Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” James 1:26, says, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is useless.” In Proverbs 6:16-19 Solomon lists six things the Lord hates and one of them is “one who sows discord among the brethren.” I want you to remember that the next time you are inclined to say something negative about anyone in your church family. Someone has well said, “If you your lips would keep from slips, 5 things observe with care: of whom you speak, to whom you speak, and how and when and where.”
The preacher Gordon MacDonald tells of a time he was in Japan on a speaking tour with a close personal friend. Gordon says, “He was a number of years older than I was. As we walked down the street in Yokohama, Japan, the name of a common friend came up, and I said something unkind about that person. It was sarcastic. It was cynical. It was a put-down. My older friend stopped, turned, and faced me until his face was right in front of mine. With deep, slow words he said, ‘Gordon, a man who says he loves God would not say a thing like that about a friend.’” Gordon said, “He could have put a knife into my ribs, and the pain would not have been any less. He did what a prophet does. But you know something? There have been ten thousand times in the last twenty years that I have been saved from making a jerk of myself. When I’ve been tempted to say something unkind about a brother or sister, I hear my friend’s voice say, “Gordon, a man who says he loves God would not speak in such a way about a friend.”
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”