The goal of ministry is not to convince people to act like Christians. Jesus said, “…every good tree bears good fruit…” (Mt.7:17). Much like farming, ministry involves using proper procedures at the appropriate time to encourage the production of fruit. If we are not working with good trees, we might succumb to the routine of continually hanging good fruit in bad trees. This is futile. To avoid this, one must “…make the tree good…” before laboring to make “…its fruit good…” (Mt.12:33).
Any given Sunday there are many good sermons being given in the myriad of church buildings peppering the land. However, as I observe the trends and direction of our nation, I cannot help but sense the lack of fruit from the aforementioned routine. Therefore, based on the teaching of Jesus, I question whether such sermons are watering good trees or whether it is the vain effort to temporarily hang a few pieces of good fruit on bad trees. During the introduction of the course I offer in prison, I emphasize that, unless one has had a genuine change of heart, all the rest of the teaching will just be information but it will not produce transformation.
The Bad Tree and the Good Tree
Unconverted people operate from a motive that is supremely fixed on something other than love for God. Everyone “loves” something supremely. Generally, an unconverted person “loves” Self supremely and uses various other things to achieve self-satisfaction. I am greatly concerned that many unconverted religious people use God to achieve self-satisfaction. It seems that such an arrangement is on the rise. Quite possibly, our evangelistic techniques have lacked a call to genuine repentance during which time a person changes the motive of his / her heart. Repentance and conversion are not simply changing what you do, but rather changing why you do what you do. If a person does religious things for the ultimate purpose of self-benefit, they are operating from the same motive as all other unconverted people. A selfish tree will produce the fruit of selfishness. Conversion is something rather unique. Conversion is the dividing line between two very distinct approaches toward life. Prior to conversion, one’s ultimate motive is self-centered. During conversion, one makes a distinct change in purpose, from having the ultimate goal of pleasing Self to having the ultimate goal of pleasing and loving (not simply using) God. This changes everything and positions a person to “…bear fruit in keeping with repentance…” (Mt.3:8).
Commonly, our current evangelistic techniques do not call a person to deny self-supremacy but, rather, uses self-interest as the ultimate reason to “accept Jesus.” This, if “effective”, produces a bad tree that has become religious for the purpose of using God to avoid things that are unpleasant and to get good things. Ministry to such people consists of constantly plucking bad fruit and temporarily replacing it with good fruit. It is true that God is a rewarder, as stated in Hebrews 11:6, but it is very important to understand that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him, not those who seek the reward.
Finally, I find it interesting that there has been so much concern over the idea that we are not saved by the law when the evangelistic method described above is based on the law. The law operates on a system of reward and punishment. It endeavors to alter a person’s external behavior based on a desire to avoid punishment or gain reward. This, as an ultimate system of behavioral modification, relies on self-interest. It is not concerned with internal motive, just external behavior. It is satisfied with having a person do the right thing (not steal, lie, etc,) regardless of one’s motive. To the contrary, Christianity is, in its essence, motive based. Consequently, asking a person to “accept Jesus” in order to avoid hell or gain heaven is an attempt to produce salvation based on the law as it appeals to the same motive from which such individuals have always operated. Some such people might struggle to produce new fruit but, because they are still a bad tree, they can only produce, of themselves, bad fruit. This is why we are wisely instructed to “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Pr.4:23). This is also why Jesus declare that “…unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” They were experts at doing the right thing (the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees) for the wrong reason (“practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them” – Mt.6:1; selfish motive). Sadly, we have nearly lost our understanding and emphasis on the importance of heart-motive and are content with behavior modification techniques to produce people who look like Christians.
“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” (Lk.6:45)
 Here, the distinction between Paul’s reference to the law as the religious routine of the Jewish community and law in its fundamental principles is to be recognized.