This is book three, Change Your Life, in the four-part series entitled Equipping the Saints. As we begin this book, we shift from concepts that emphasize internal aspects of moral agency to external considerations. The recognition of and distinction between the internal and external factors of life is very important. The statement, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt.5:20), can help us appreciate this significance. Jesus acknowledged that the scribes and Pharisees engaged in right external activity (“righteousness…of the scribes and Pharisees”), and yet, such righteousness was not capable of leading one into the kingdom. External righteousness must be a manifestation of internal righteous. Internal righteousness is a matter of what one is committed to supremely; it is related to the internal motive behind one’s external activity. In the case of the Pharisees, they did the right thing for the wrong reason. The ultimate concern behind carrying out their religious duty was self-centered. This is not speculation. Jesus went on to say, “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full” (Mt.6:5). This is why He also said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Mt.23:27).
This should be instructive for us, that God is not simply intending that we produce a regulated external religious routine. As well, we are not to swing to the other erroneous approach that assumes the external is, therefore, of no importance, that it is always “works righteousness.” He intends that we produce righteous external activity as an expression of a righteous internal motive. What is a righteous external motive? The ultimate goal of pleasing God is the only proper internal motive from which we should do what we do. This is expressed in the answer Jesus gave to the question, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” He responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mk.12:30).
As we consider information about changing our external behavior, we can view such changes as the “fruit” of our internal commitment. Often, instruction about change focuses on external regulation. We tell people to stop doing one thing (whatever is seen as bad or wrong) and start doing another thing (whatever is seen as good or right). It is likely that such external changes are appropriate, but they only have life if they are the fruit of a previously established internal change. Imagine having an apple tree on your property. It can be expected that an apple tree will produce a particular fruit – apples! If you decide you would rather have a cherry tree, would it be reasonable to remove the apples, go to the market and buy cherries and return to hang them in the apple tree? Would that make it a cherry tree? No, cherries hanging in an apple tree will die, drop and rot. The tree will then produce more apples. To produce cherries, one must begin with a different seed, tended to in a proper manner and, eventually, the new fruit will appear. It is frightening to consider that a lot of religious activity is merely cherries hanging in an apple tree.
“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’” (Mt.7:15-23).