A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit…Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
– Matthew 7:18;20
For parents and churches alike, the mission is to produce good Christians who produce good fruit.
While the intent is noble, the execution is severely flawed.
I recently read an article from I.N.F.O titled “How to Raise a Pagan Kid in a Christian Home”.
The author discusses an epidemic of Pagan hearts in Christian children. Kids who are taught to be “moral” and “good”, but who are never taught to know and to love Jesus.
Kids whose parents – well-intentioned though they may be – are trying to produce good fruit without planting good seed.
In Matthew 13, we are taught good seed must be thrown into good soil in order to produce a good crop – but the issue goes deeper.
Just as good seed thrown into bad soil cannot produce a good crop, bad seed thrown into even the best soil still cannot produce a good crop. The bad seed will grow into a bad tree and “a bad tree cannot bear good fruit”.
The shocking truth about morality? Jesus doesn’t care how “moral” you are.
He cares about your heart having a strong relationship with Him.
A “moral” home or church may be good soil, but if the seed itself is bad (or simply misguided), good fruit can never be produced.
I’m going to pause briefly and issue a disclaimer: I am NOT saying morality is wrong. I am NOT saying we should stop teaching our children the values of right and wrong or stop guiding them away from the sin they will inevitably encounter throughout their lives.
I’m saying we have to change how we approach teaching the values of Christ.
We’re trying to force good fruit from bad seed.
When godly values are taught without building on the foundation of Christ’s love, the seed is bad.
When kids are told to love one another, forgive one another, and love the Lord before their family, friends and material possessions, without first understanding Christ’s love for them, the seed is bad.
The article I mentioned quotes an interview with Veggie Tales creator Phil Vischer.
“I looked back at the previous 10 years and realized I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, “Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so,” or “Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!” But that isn’t Christianity, it’s morality. . .”
Vischer has recognized the deeper issue – we’re teaching morality without the foundation of Christianity, and then we wonder why the lessons don’t stick.
We have to redirect away from the “Good Christian Rulebook” and onto what really matters – a strong relationship with Christ, an understanding of His sacrifice on the cross, and what salvation means for all of us.
Through this relationship with our Creator, morality will become second-nature.
Rather than trying to compel good fruit without ever taking the time to instill good seed, we need to start with the seed and work our way out.
I’ve mentioned this same problem before. As Christians, we target the behavior rather than the heart. It’s why so many rebel against the idea of ‘do this because the bible says so’.
Right behavior with the right motivation is only produced by a right heart.
Good fruit only comes from good seed.
After learning the truth about Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny, I developed a natural skepticism regarding religion and the reasoning behind the rules. Unfortunately, the large majority of my questions were met with a simple ‘because the bible says so’.
As my mom will undoubtedly confirm, I have never been comfortable with acting a certain way just because someone “says so”.
So of course, upon re-entering the church, hints of my skepticism resurfaced. I was quickly reminded of the “Good Christian Rulebook” – the reason I felt pushed away from church initially.
My biggest question was one I’ve heard repeated by many who are testing the waters of Christianity.
“If Jesus forgives no matter the sin, why would I follow the rules to begin with?”
The answer I hear is usually along the lines of “Jesus grants forgiveness only to those with a truly repentant heart, and true repentance involves a commitment to never sin in the same way again.”
I have a serious problem with this answer.
Making a commitment to ‘never sin in the same way again’ is a setup for failure. I know many Christians who made the commitment to never do any of the dozens of sins on the list. I know few who succeeded (and even fewer who truly understood why they made the commitment in the first place).
This definition of repentance puts the burden completely on the sinner. It establishes a link between repentance and effort.
It’s the mindset that leads so many to sin in the first place. It’s the reason teens who sign abstinence pledges are more likely to engage in riskier sexual behavior in the interest of maintaining their “technical virginity”.
It’s the attitude of ‘if I try really hard, I’ll earn forgiveness/salvation/the love of Jesus‘.
As we are told in 1 John, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9).” (emphasis mine)
Confession is all it takes. Jesus will handle the rest.
After years of prayerful consideration, my personal answer to the question is this:
If you keep your focus on loving Jesus (rather than on avoiding sin), a good and moral life is a natural by-product.
Good seed produces good fruit.
I believe this was James’ intent in writing “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead (James 2:17).” (emphasis mine)
We cannot try coerce faith through action. The action must come as a result of faith.
Pop Quiz: Which is preferable?
Scenario #1: You meet someone and fall in love. You really, truly love this person. They are your soul-mate, and you make the commitment to spend the rest of your life with them. They love you just as much as you love them – if not more. Knowing you have this kind of amazing, life-changing love at home, would you go out and have an affair?
Let’s say you do have an affair (or a lot of affairs). Remarkably, your mate confirms that, though deeply hurt, their love for you remains unchanged. They want to love you through the situation and to help heal your heart. Would you continue to cheat on them?
Scenario #2: You meet someone and your parents and pastor tell you, “This person loves you. Commit your life to them. Follow the rules they laid out for you. Why? Because I say so.” Would you succeed?
So which did you choose? Personally, I would find it much harder to remain faithful out of obligation rather than true love.
And this is how I see my relationship with Christ.
Regardless of my own heart, His love for me never changes.
For a long time, I let pain inflicted by the church affect my love for Him. I went out and repeatedly engaged in affairs of the heart. I spent years knowing He was with me, loving me through it, while I was out living for myself. Though deeply hurt, He has reassured me His love endures.
It took a long time for me to accept this love and truly believe it. But, now that I know it is genuine and eternal, I don’t want to continue hurting Him.
Good seed produces good fruit.
Yes, mistakes will be made. But He loves us through them. He forgives unconditionally. He does not wait for our heart to reach some unknown level of commitment before offering forgiveness.
If we refocus the efforts of the church, we can begin to plant good seed. If we establish a foundation of Christ’s love, He will nourish the seed and help it to grow. The seed will produce a good tree and will bear good fruit.
We have to stop trying to force good fruit from a bad seed.
We have to trust that He is the good seed. We have to trust that, through His love, He will produce good fruit in the lives of our fellow Christians.
How do you plant good seed in the lives of those closest to you? Do you recognize this pattern in the church? Leave a comment letting me know whether you agree.
Photo Credit: Garden Beth and Matt Lake
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