“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree corrupt and its fruit corrupt; for the tree is known by its fruit. Ye offspring of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. The good man out of his good treasure bringeth forth good things; and the evil man out of his evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. And I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” (Matt 12:33-37).
It is a well-known fact that we judge a tree by the fruit it bears. No one pulls a tree up by the roots and sends it to the Department of Agriculture to find out what kind of tree it is and what fruit one might expect from it. If at all we send in a sample of the fruit, and by this the particular kind of tree can be correctly determined. Without examining the fruit no one can fully judge a fruit tree.
As simple as this is in the realm of nature, so difficult is it for us to understand that the same law holds true in spiritual matters. We shall be judged by our fruit; by our words shall we be justified, and by our words shall we be condemned. Our hearts shall be judged by our life. As we show ourselves to be in speech and conduct, so we actually are. Our external life is directed from within. Our deeds are expressions of our heart as the fruit is the expression of the nature of a tree.
As far as I am able to determine, this is the meaning of Christ’s words.
The question then arises: Can a Christian really be judged or justified solely by his words and works?
It is not an easy matter to answer this question. If we had no other Scripture than this one, the future would indeed be dark for us. But He who in His Word gave us the whole counsel unto salvation can also manage to harmonize the apparent contradictions.
There are other passages in the New Testament which declare that we shall be judged according to our deeds.
“For we must all be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ; that each may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” (II Cor. 5:10).
“For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his father with his angels; and then shall he render unto every man according to his deeds.” (Matt. 16:27).
The latter part of Matthew 25 points in the same direction; the same is true of several passages in the Book of Revelation.
But how shall we harmonize these statements with the many others which declare that we are justified by grace through faith in His name?
We shall examine both kinds of fruit from the tree of our life, and try to determine which is good and which is not.
We know that a great many people do not get any further in this life than to think of, talk about, and live for food and clothing. This is their first concern in the morning and their last care in the evening; between morning and evening their thoughts revolve about this theme. When neighbors and acquaintances meet the conversation circles about hay and grain, corn and cows, business and occupation, gain and loss, wind and weather.
Others live on a much lower plane. Their words are coarse and their speech is corrupt.
Their whole life is steeped in immorality and filth.
There are still others who try to lead the conversation to higher things. They wish to speak of God, of sin and grace, of death and judgment. In such company those who under other circumstances speak so glibly become ominously silent.
You feel that you cannot speak on this subject; your heart is empty on this point. Not until the conversation comes down to earthly things do you feel that you can take part.
Others again can do nothing else than to chatter and babble about rubbish and nonsense, gossip maliciously and criticize with vengeance. They feel best when they can flay a neighbor and blacken his character.
On such a tree no good fruit is found; the reason is that the heart is as the words are. By their words shall men be judged. The God of such people is in the Bible, the church, the pastor, the altar, the pulpit, the evangelist, in heaven — in short, He is everywhere but in their hearts. If God were in their hearts they would speak of Him; that is what our text declares. But they feel best when He, and all talk about Him, is far removed from them.
In addition to all this there is in the heart of every unconverted person who has received some knowledge of God a stubborn resistance against Him. This sin is added to all their other sin; it is a heaping up of evil fruit on the tree of their life.
It is easy to understand that such people are going to be judged by their deeds and their words. Heaven is unsuitable for them. If an opportunity should be granted them to enter heaven, they would turn and walk in the opposite direction.
* * *
But what is that good fruit by which a person shall be judged righteous?
The first such fruit — the one that brings us into the garden where we may bear good fruit—is to repent and be converted. John the Baptist turned to his people and cried, “Bring forth fruits worthy of repentance.” To turn to God with one’s whole life, full of sin and evil though it be, is to receive the fruits of Christ’s victory which He gained when He tasted death for us all. This is the way to life with God. It is to be grafted into Him who is the true vine. Just as surely as He is good will He grant each one of us to bear fruit.
All who thus come to the Savior are born of God; for as many as receive Him, to them He has given the right to become the children of God, even to them that believe on His name. Then a person passes over from death to life, from the power of Satan to the power of God. Then the Holy Spirit enters the heart. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control.” (Gal. 5:22).
This is the fruit of repentance which faith yields. This is the life of God in our hearts. All that is of God is good, whether it is found in Him or in a saved sinner.
The good will not blend with that which is evil. It will stand or fall according to its own nature. The fruit may be meager, because the life from God has not been given much room in our lives. But the fruit is nevertheless good. One’s thought and mind turn to God because they cannot do otherwise; it is the law of life. All that is in us of God and which is born of Him is good fruit.
Out from this renewed mind the Christian speaks of His Savior, his Father, and his heaven. He rejoices when the conversation, prayers and songs help to edify him and strengthen his faith. He feels at home in those circles where the conversation turns to the things of the Spirit. “The good man out of his good treasure bringeth forth good things.”
Whatever is found in the Christian’s heart which is not good must be removed. But God Himself is the gardener, and He has promised to cleanse the branches that they may bear more fruit.
When God meets the Christian on the day of judgment He will most assuredly recognize as genuine that life which He gave us, and acknowledge that work which He performed in and through us.
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10).
He who examines this verse carefully can readily understand how it is that a Christian can be judged by his works.
Would that all Christians more and more would learn the art of walking in the good works which God before has prepared. We are God’s workmanship.
O that I could as so often in deed I would gladly
Praise Thee, my Father, the fount of all kindness and mercy!
For every task
Give what I need, Lord, I ask.
May e’er Thy friendship sustain me.
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