daily biblical sermons

Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Saturday, 23rd Week of the Year, September 16, 2017
1 Timothy 1:15-17, Psalm 112, Luke 6:43-49

Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted


"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 thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks" (Luke 6:43-47).

Today Jesus tells us, "Each tree is known by its own fruit" (Luke 6:44). Jesus is really talking about people and is just using fruit trees as an example, and the point is not different kinds of fruit, such as apples or oranges, but rather good fruit versus bad fruit, good trees versus bad trees, good people versus bad people, for "you will know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:16).

But what is it that most fundamentally determines whether one is a good or a bad person? And secondly how will you be able to know whether someone is a good or a bad person?

What fundamentally makes a person good is being declared righteous by God through the person's faith, because of Christ's atoning death on the cross to make reparation for our sins. When one believes in Christ, confessing and renouncing his sins, God justifies him, that is, God credits Christ's atoning, reparation-making death on the cross to this person's account and therefore declares him acquitted, forgiven for all his sins, and righteous in his sight. His sins have been fully expiated and paid for by Christ's death on the cross.

This man is then free to go. He has no more debt with God for his sins. His sins have been fully punished in Christ's flesh on the cross (Romans 8:3). He is therefore now a free man. His debt has been paid, and his sins have been duly and justly punished in Christ's flesh on the cross.

He is now a good, just, and righteous man. He is a good tree. His past sinfulness has been overcome. He is now a child of God and an heir of eternal life. He has died to his past life of sin in the death of Christ, which made full reparation for his sins, and so he now rises with Christ to walk with him in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

By his act of faith and repentance his sins have been put on Christ, and Christ was wounded and punished for them so that this man might be healed and made whole and well. "The Lord has laid on him [Christ] the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6). And "he [Christ] was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5). Isaiah is here talking about the Suffering Servant of the Lord, a prophecy that Jesus fulfilled.

Jesus fulfilled this prophecy for all people everywhere, but for its fulfillment to be actualized personally in any specific individual, one must have faith in Christ. It is this faith that justifies you and makes you righteous. "He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God" (John 3:18). "He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life" (1 John 5:12).

Therefore the risen Jesus sent his apostles into the whole world to preach this good news in order to give everyone the opportunity to believe in him and be justified. He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:18). "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him" (John 3:36).

So this is fundamentally what determines whether a person is righteous or not, whether he is a good tree or a bad tree. Those who are bad trees are alienated from God by their sins that offend God. Those that are good trees are those who have believed in Jesus and been justified and thereby reconciled with God. God overcame their alienation by the death of his Son on the cross to make just reparation for their sins. Christ's death propitiated God's righteous wrath against them for their sins (Romans 5:9; 1 John 2:2), and by their faith in Christ, God applied this saving action to them personally.

So now that we are good trees, good people, we must bear good fruit, and "you will know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:16). Since we will know people by their fruits, if they don't bear good fruit, they are not good trees. So Jesus is motivating and exhorting us today to be what we are, good trees. If we do not bear good fruit, then we are not good trees. We have either lost our salvation or our conversion wasn't sincere, and we underwent a false conversion and weren't really justified. We can know ourselves by our fruit, "for no good tree bears bad fruit" (Luke 6:43).

We had better not bear bad fruit. If we are really justified and are a good tree, we will be greatly motivated to bear good fruit. It will be the great desire of our life to bear good fruit for the Lord with our life, and avoid bearing bad fruit.

But this is not automatic. That is why St. Paul constantly exhorts his converts to actually be in fact and reality what they now are, new men in Christ. We must make a real effort to produce good fruit. So St. Paul tells his converts, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13). God is now within us enabling and moving us to do his will and to bear good fruit for him, but we must cooperate with him and follow his inspiration and work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

We must hear God's guidance and do his will, do what he tells us to do, namely bear good fruit. If we do, we have built the house of our life on rock, and when the hurricane and flooding come, our house will stand firm. But if we become weak and lazy and disregard God's inspiration and guidance and don't do what he tells us to do, we will have built the house of our life on sand, and when the hurricane comes, the flood will fill our house, and the wind will blow off its roof and knock down its walls, and we will lose everything. These lazy people who built the house of their life on sand turned out to be bad trees that did not bear good fruit. They only bore bad fruit. And by their fruits you will know them.

The temptations of the old man, of the flesh, still remain in the new man, in the good tree. It is therefore possible for a justified Christian to sin. He must therefore make a real effort to resist these temptations and not follow them. So St. Paul exhorts the Christians of Rome, "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness" (Romans 6:12-13). "For just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification" (Romans 6:19).

We see from this exhortation of St. Paul that sin is still possible for us and that we must make a real effort to avoid the temptations of the old man, of the flesh, that will always be with us, even though we are now good trees, new men in Christ. We can still bear bad fruit, even though we are converted and justified and are now good trees. Therefore St. Paul exhorts us to make a real effort to avoid sin, to resist the temptations of the old man, to avoid bearing bad fruit, and to rather bear good fruit, as is fitting for a good tree. Be in fact and in deed what you now are, a good tree. We are now to make a real effort to follow the guidance of God's Spirit and avoid following the temptations of the flesh, for "to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace" (Romans 8:6).


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