In prison, I spoke to my class of 15 men about the need to experience genuine conversion before expecting to produce the lasting fruit of righteousness. I explained that moral righteousness is, in fact, to be understood as moral fruit. Using an illustration, I explained that it makes no sense to try turning an apple tree into a cherry tree by removing the apples and replacing them with cherries. Cherries hanging in an apple tree will die, drop and rot. The tree will then produce apples according to the natural process associated with the tree. Jesus stated, “…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” (Mt.7:17-18). As an analogy using an aspect of animate, non-moral creation (a tree), the question arises, “What does this teach us about how one produces moral fruit?”
In order to produce cherries, one must begin with the appropriate seed (or pit or stone, whichever you prefer). As well, the seed must be placed in a proper environment (soil), with adequate nutrients, along with sufficient amounts of sun and water. Also, at some point in the process, it might be necessary to engage in the act of pruning to insure the continued production of fruit. In reference to a moral agent, there are similar measures that must be taken. Again, referring to this concept Jesus said, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit” (Jn.15:2). In an attempt to keep this article short, I will proceed by addressing the issue of having the appropriate seed in order to produce the fruit of righteousness.
The moral “seed” we must have is a pure heart (Ps.24:4; 73:1; Pr.20:9; Mt.5:8; 1 Ti.1:5; 2 Ti.2:22; He.10:22). To have a pure heart is to have a pure motive. The issue of motive, during my prison class, became a topic of great concern. I was asked, “If someone is in financial trouble and is motivated to turn to God for deliverance from this problem, isn’t that a good motive to become a Christian?” This was a good question which allowed for the distinction between a motive that moves someone in the direction of conversion and the Ultimate Motive that is actually characteristic of conversion.
Many such motivating factors (as above) can serve to move a careless, awakened or convicted sinner in the direction of conversion. However, it must be understood that the motive referred to above is characterized by mere selfishness. As challenging as it is, the goal of conversion is revealed when Jesus stated, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Mt.16:24-25). Interestingly, the only thing that really speaks to a person living a self-centered life is self-centered considerations. God will use such considerations in the process of moving human beings (free, moral agents) toward genuine repentance and conversion. However (and this is the point of the article), the climax of conversion and the definition of a pure heart is related to abandoning the Supreme (ultimate, essential) Motive of Self Supremacy and embracing the Supreme Motive of pleasing, loving, honoring, worshiping, serving and obeying God because He is the most valuable, wise, loving Being in existence. Many passages of Scripture teach this concept, from many different angles. Consider – “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Mt.13:44-46). Once recognizing the value of God and His kingdom, “all that he has” is subordinate and expendable.
I finish with the following distinction. Hebrews 11:6 states, “…without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (He.11:6). Careful observation reveals that this does not teach that He is a rewarder of those who seek the reward, it states that He is a rewarder of those who SEEK HIM. If we merely seek the reward, we get neither Him nor the reward. If we seek HIM, we get both Him and the reward. So much teaching in the Christian community uses the motives associated with selfishness without distinguishing the fact that such motivating factors are not indicative of a proper, pure heart (seed) which can produce the “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Mt.3:8).