Last Sunday, we spent some time meditating on this portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain; “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 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).
One important application of the text? Our environment, our culture, our influences, our friends, and our diet do not produce bad (or good) fruit in our lives. The bad things we do directly stem from the bad condition of our hearts, rather than the sinfulness of our contexts. They are firstly the products of the evil within, over against the evil outside. This is consistent with what Jesus says elsewhere; “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:11- also, Mark 7:15). Jesus teaches that it is not what we eat or drink- or any other outward custom- that makes us unclean/unrighteous. Our wicked hearts, and the wicked actions that flow from wicked hearts, make us unrighteous.
Now here is the tension. Listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:33; “Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” Here Paul seems to say that our contexts- specifically those with whom we associate, and from whom we learn- do in fact affect us, and can lead to our corruption. Is Paul inconsistent with Jesus?
I don’t think he is. Paul and Jesus are speaking to different aspects of our behavior, and what causes bad fruit. Jesus says that our works are essentially the products of our hearts. Paul says that our environment can affect the way we behave. How does our environment do this? By catalyzing the evil that is already in our hearts.
Were our hearts not already evil, environment would have no effect whatsoever. However, because evil is in our hearts, a bad environment- such as false teaching, abusive friends, etc.- will amplify and bring forth that evil. If our hearts were fully righteous, then a wicked environment could never corrupt us. This is why Jesus is able to remain sinless in a sinful world. As it is, even after becoming new creations in Christ, our hearts still have vestiges of our fallen, old self. Even after the Holy Spirit indwells us, sin still wages war. And that sinful side of us is preyed upon by the evil still lurking in this world that awaits redemption. We await for complete redemption and perfection of this world and our hearts.
In the meantime, we recognize what is so pernicious about evil. It arises from within, and is catalyzed by the evil without. So, we do have to be careful about our environment (what we watch, what we hear, etc.), for it can prey on the remaining, not-yet-perfected evil inside of us. Yet we recognize that our actions are not the product of these influences, but the product of our fallen hearts that act in response to our environment. Simply put, we recognize the impact of environment, but we can never blame our environment. We do what we do because of who we are inside.
Beyond all of this, we praise God that Christ was righteous where we are not! We thank the Lord that He has transformed our evil hearts, and has thereby given us the ability to live righteously, even in a fallen context. And we look forward to the day when both our environment and our souls will be perfected in the new creation!
What do you think?