Nicodemus Came by Night -John 3:2

John 3:2 – The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.

We are told that Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. The reason we are told this is obviously because Nicodemus at this time didn’t want to face the shame of openly associating with Jesus. Most of his fellow Pharisees were growing increasingly hostile toward Christ, and they quickly despised anyone who associated with Him. Nicodemus would obviously want to avoid such a taint to his spotless reputation, and to avoid losing all the recognition and honor and religious achievement he had earned for himself. Note, the more a man has (religion, honor, achievement, wealth, power), the more he has to sacrifice to become a follower of Christ.

Notice here the vast difference between the “wise” and “foolish” things of this world (1 Cor. 1:17-28). “In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight” (Luke 10:21). Nicodemus, certainly one of the most wise things of this world, respected by all, well-advanced in learning and religious devotion, comes to Jesus under the cloak of night. Yet, the shamed Samaritan woman, to whom Jews wouldn’t even associate, full of sin and adultery, considered among the most foolish things of this world, is not ashamed to proclaim Jesus openly to all out of excitement that He is the Savior. Nicodemus sees many the miracles of Jesus and comes to the conclusion that He’s a great teacher sent from God, but the Samaritan woman sees just one of His miracles (His gift of prophecy) and comes to the conclusion that He is the Messiah! Nicodemus is afraid to confess Him openly, but the Samaritan woman boldly proclaims Jesus as the Christ to her whole town as soon as she meets Him! (see John 4:5-42.) Away with the wisdom of this fallen age! We need simple, child-like faith in the Savior. This simple faith is no doubt the essential evidence of the New Birth.

But even though Nicodemus came by night, at least he came! This is saying a whole lot more to his honor in the Word of God than the majority of the other Pharisees and religious leaders. There had to be at least some risk involved in coming, even at night. But notice that even though Nicodemus starts out very timid, scared, and worried about the cost of following Christ, it is significant that His exposure here to Christ more personally did not turn him away from following Him, but actually increased his desire to follow. In the Gospel of John, Nicodemus will grow progressively bolder and stand up for Jesus. In the midst of the Pharisees accusing and condemning Jesus, Nicodemus boldly sticks up for Him and is ridiculed (7:50-51). Then later, after the crucifixion of the Lord, Nicodemus isn’t afraid to publicly identify himself with the crucified Christ by bringing a whopping hundred pounds of spices for his burial and preparing His body alongside Joseph of Arimathaea (19:39-40).

It is noteworthy that this was at a time when all the Apostles themselves had fled! While Peter was very bold and started out his race with a fast sprint, he would fall and bite the dust hard at this time, but while Nicodemus was very timid and started our his race with a careful step at a time, he picked up strength and over time, his pace quickened and he gained ground, showing his faith by his perseverance and gradual growth. It’s not always immediate, fiery passion and zeal that characterizes true followers of Christ, but it’s faith with perseverance that counts (see Luke 8:15). We are not told specifically that Nicodemus finally believed with all his heart and actually experienced the New Birth, however, there is noteworthy evidence which leads us to have hope. Perhaps he was among the number of multitudes that were openly added to the church in the book of Acts, since there we are told that even many of the Jewish leaders believed (compare John 12:42 with Acts 6:7).

Nicodemus shows us his timidity at this time not only by coming at night, but by using the word, “we” when acknowledging Jesus’ authority: “we know that thou art a teacher come from God”. This appears to be a classic way of avoiding any appearance of personal commitment while at the same time acknowledging truth –by keeping the personal “I” out of it and just talking in general terms. This ploy is used in politics even to this day to avoid the appearance of conviction and commitment. But perhaps the main reason that the Apostle John, inspired by the Holy Spirit, informs us that Nicodemus used the word “we” rather than “I” is because as a ruler of the Jews and leader in the Sanhedrin, his case is representative of the case of Judaism as a whole; his spiritual condition was representative of the majority of the Jewish people and leaders. They acknowledged a lot of truth, saw the obvious when it came to Jesus, but still lacked spiritual life in them, still lacked the inward power of grace in regeneration, still lacked the Spirit of God, still lacked the real spiritual meat and substance of the Kingdom of God, and were ignorant of the righteousness which comes by faith.

Perhaps the most important question here is the one which Jesus would later ask His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mat. 16:15) Our answer to this question is crucial in determining our eternal destination. Nicodemus at this time would have probably responded to Christ by saying something along these lines: “You are an amazing teacher, a model rabbi, an anointed prophet, and a powerful miracle-worker, and without doubt, you are a man sent from God”. –But even recognizing all this is not enough. Peter would respond with the only correct answer: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mat. 16:16). Many people believe that Jesus of Nazareth was a great man, a wonderful teacher, even a prophet. But that’s not good enough if they miss the most important part. He’s all of that and much, much more. He is the Christ, the Savior of the world, the Lord of all, and God incarnate. He is our divine Substitution, our atoning Sacrifice, our Passover Lamb, our reigning King.

An essential part of the new birth is having the veil of sinful blindness lifted away and receiving a personal revelation of who Jesus of Nazareth really is. Jesus responded to Peter’s declaration of faith by saying, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Mat. 16:17). This was not just a matter of good insight or clever brain power. This recognition was the result of supernatural revelation to the mind of Peter from the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t just an intellectual revelation, but a revelation to the very heart of Peter, producing in him the faith necessary to believe on Christ as His Lord and Savior. This revelation was granted from above. It comes with the New Birth. When God regenerates a sinful man, he opens his eyes and grants the ability to see the things of the Spirit in a way that enables him to believe in the Savior with real faith.

So although we see that Nicodemus certainly recognized these great things about Christ, things which the majority of the other Pharisees failed to recognized (or failed to acknowledge we should say), the knowledge he had of this Jesus was an insufficient knowledge that at this time failed to believe in Him as the Son of God and Messiah of Israel, and therefore is the evidence that he was not yet born again. When someone is born anew, born from above, they will certainly have this divine revelation from above, resulting in a wholehearted commitment to Christ as King. Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, and in fact, we see by this that even his understanding itself was still in the black night of sin and ignorance to the real things pertaining to the light of the glorious Gospel and the power of the Kingdom of God.

Nicodemus realized that Jesus came forth from God, he recognized the supernatural nature of the miracles Jesus did, he admitted the authority Jesus had to teach the Word of God, he showed interest and hunger in hearing what Jesus had to teach, and he even confessed that it’s impossible that Jesus is not from God, since no one could do such miracles apart from God. Yet even with all this acknowledgment of truth, and even despite all his religious attainment, morality, and show of holiness, Nicodemus was still at this time a dead man, dead spiritually to the things of God. He needed to have life imparted to him from above, or else he would never see the Kingdom of God.

A Man Named Nicodemus -John 3:1

John 3:1 – There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.

It seems that this man, Nicodemus was not just any ordinary Jew. He was a man of zealous religious devotion, committed to the Law of Moses and to upholding the truth of God in Israel (or so he thought). He was not your average run-of-the-mill Jew, but he was a man that no doubt far exceeded the common Jew in his religious achievements, capabilities and public recognition among the people.

We’re told here that Nicodemus was a Pharisee. Now, when we read the Bible 2,000 after this time, it’s easy for us to just brush off the Pharisees as a legalistic, semi-heretical sect of Judaism that rejected Christ and trusted in a works-based salvation. It’s especially easy to think of them with scorn in our minds because we know how harshly the Lord Jesus denounced them as a whole and rebuked them sharply on many occasions. However, we have to understand that historically speaking, in Israel at the time of Christ, the Pharisees were the peoples’ choice for religious and political leaders.

The people looked up to the Pharisees for their religious insight and counsel, because they believed the Pharisees were so devout and zealous for the Law of God. After all, who else but the Pharisees would dare to fast for two days every week and give tithes of all they owned (Luke 18:12)? Who else sat in the seat of Moses with such authority and taught the Word of the Lord (Mat. 23:2-3)? Who else was so devout as to travel land and sea just to make a single convert (Mat. 23:15)? Who else would give alms to the poor on a regular basis (Mat. 6:2)? Who else would be so devoted to prayer that they would drop whatever they were doing to pray right on the spot whenever the hour of prayer struck, even if they happened to be in the middle of the marketplace (Mat. 6:5)? Apparently they were, in fact, those who the common people would go to whenever they had spiritual struggles or needed insight from God, looking up to the Pharisees as their teachers and counselors (Mat. 23:7). We can safely assume that Nicodemus was at least equaling, if not exceeding, his fellow Pharisees in such intense devotion.

And we have to acknowledge that not all of the Pharisees were blind hypocrites that purposely chose to be deceived and to deceive others. Some of them, no doubt, were very sincere. They sincerely wanted the truth, they sincerely were devoted to the God of Israel, they sincerely saw themselves as the spiritual guardians and teachers of Israel, and they sincerely desired to be holy. Some of them certainly desired to do what was right. And it is here that we find Nicodemus.

Obviously, Nicodemus wasn’t an intentional rejecter of God’s truth like so many other Pharisees. We see his sincerity here in the fact that he came to Christ in the midst of potential threats to be excommunicated and banned from the religious establishment (John 9:22). Certainly he came by night in the cloak of secrecy, but can we blame him? After all, his whole career, reputation, and everything he had worked for was on the line. Any man risking so much to hear the truth of God would want to make sure that what he was considering was really the truth of God before being willing to suffer for it. He came to Jesus knowing that He was a teacher who come from God, but it’s probable that at this early stage he didn’t yet know Who Jesus really was (i.e. the Messiah).

But the point is that Nicodemus was a devout follower of Judaism. If anybody could be saved by their acknowledgement of the one true God and their religious devotion and good works, it was him. Yet, as we will find out just a few verses later, Nicodemus at this time had no spiritual life in him. He was still “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1) and was in desperate need of the new, divine, supernatural life which came from above. He needed to be spiritually reborn, to become a new creature, or else he would never enter the Kingdom of God that he was so eagerly looking and waiting for. And as we will see, his religious devotion didn’t impress Christ one bit. Jesus will cut straight to the heart of the matter and address Nicodemus’ great, pressing, desperate spiritual need for salvation through regeneration.

We are also told here that he was a “ruler of the Jews”. In fact, the very name “Nicodemus” means, “conqueror of the people” in Greek. What his name shows us, if in fact it holds some meaning here in the inspired Word, is that in religious piety, devotion, and achievement, he was a man on the top, far above his peers in success as a Pharisee. He was a leader of the people, and had achieved greater status and recognition in Israel than his equals. Furthermore, by calling him “a ruler of the Jews”, the Scripture is informing us that Nicodemus had a seat on the respected governing counsel of Israel, known as the Sanhedrin. This ruling counsel consisted of 70 select elders from among Israel and was overseen by the High Priest. Religiously speaking, no one was viewed as in higher authority over Israel except the High Priest himself. In such a high position of honor, Nicodemus was viewed as an authority for religious counsel, an example for religious practice, and a model for religious learning. Yet, despite his great religious success in the eyes of men, he was a total failure when it came to the eyes of God, in need of the real salvation which could only come as a gift of sovereign grace from above. Jesus will yet tell him, “You must be born again”, or else he will never see the Kingdom of God.

So in the light of understanding that he was still dead in his sins and not saved at this time, we learn several lessons from the background of Nicodemus:

1. He was a man of intense religious devotion. To be not only a Pharisee, but a leader of the Pharisees, means that his commitment to his religious convictions had to be above that of the average Pharisee. Yet all the fasting, praying, proselytizing, studying, teaching, alms giving, tithing, and attending synagogue couldn’t save him. Let us understand that no amount religious works can save us, no matter how good they seem to be and no matter how great they are in quantity.

2. He was a man of committed sincerity to what he understood of the things of God. He was not purposely deceived and certainly did not intend to be a religious leader without truly knowing the God he claimed to represent. We learn from this that sincerity doesn’t always constitute salvation. “For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:2-3). One can be zealous, religious, and intensely sincere, and yet still miss the righteousness which comes from God, and so be spiritually lost and dead.

3. He was a man who sought for the truth. This is proven by the fact that he came to Jesus at a time when the Pharisees as a whole were rejecting Him. They had rejected John the Baptist as the prophet of Christ (Mat. 21:25) and now they were rejecting Christ Himself. But in the midst of it, Nicodemus sneaks away to secretly inquire of Christ, desiring in his heart to know the truth of God and to hear divine instruction from the mouth of Him who he knew to be a “teacher come from God” (John 3:2). This shows us that one can be a seeker of truth, earnestly desiring to know the truth, and yet still be deceived. A real child of God is not seeking truth, they have found the truth, and it has set them free (John 8:32).

4. He was a man of significant religious attainment. He was not just any Pharisee, but was a leader among them. This man was in essence a pastor of pastors, a recognized theologian in Israel that even the rabbis would look up to. He was viewed as “a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law” (Romans 2:19-20). Yet even so, as a leader and a guide among God’s people, his religious achievement, respected status, and lofty position didn’t save him. This shows us that one can be a leader, a pastor, a theologian, and still not be born again. Just because a man holds a high position in the church doesn’t mean that he holds a high position in the sight of God. One can attain a great level of respect and attain a high level of honor among men in the church, and still be in desperate need of regeneration.

And so we learn that religious devotion and works can’t save us, no matter how intense and numerous; commitment and sincerity can’t save us, no matter how sincere; seeking the truth alone can’t save us, no matter how much we sacrifice to find it; and having success in the church and attaining to high levels of religious or denominational achievement can’t save us, no matter how lofty of a position we attain to. Just like Nicodemus, we need to learn to forsake our own understanding, our own works, our own achievements, and to trust in Christ alone. Salvation is not in outward actions; it is in spiritual life from above being implanted to us inwardly. We need to be transformed on the inside by the mighty power of the grace of God in regeneration.

The New Birth -John 3:1-8

John 3:1-8 – There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: (2) The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. (3) Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (4) Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? (5) Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (6) That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (7) Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. (8) The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

This whole discourse follows a logical flow of thought. Let’s give a brief summary of what’s happening:

Verse 1: Nicodemus comes on the scene, who was a Pharisee and Ruler of the Jews. Note, Nicodemus was not just your ordinary religious person, he was an extremely devout Jew, earning for himself a seat on the famed Sanhedrin of Israel, a choice privilege that only 70 men enjoyed such a position under the High Priest of Israel. Therefore if anybody could be saved by their religious devotion, no doubt, Nicodemus would be the first in line.

Verse 2: Nicodemus however was afraid to confess Jesus openly at this time, coming in the cloak of night to inquire of Him. However, that is much better than most of the Pharisees, who refused to come to Jesus at all! Nicodemus then acknowledges that Jesus is a Teacher sent from God. He recongizes the divine power and authority of the Most High upon Jesus’ life and ministry and understands that He is not just any normal man.

Verse 3: Despite the religious devoutness and traditional devotion of Nicodemus, his good works, and his acknowledgement of Christ as having divine authority, he was still spiritually dead. He needed to be born again and given new spiritual life from above or else he would perish eternally.

Verse 4: Nicodemus reveals his spiritual blindness and thus confirms that Christ was speaking the truth about his spiritual condition. He does not understand that Jesus is speaking in symbolic language about the necessity of regeneration and of becoming a new creature by the power of supernatural grace. A dead man cannot see, and Nicodemus here revealed that he was in fact dead, because he still couldn’t “see the Kingdom of God”.

Verse 5: Jesus now somewhat repeats what He said in verse 3 about the New Birth and our need for it. However, whereas in verse 3 Jesus emphasized the necessity of the New Birth, here in verse 5 He explains the instruments of the New Birth. It is not by religious deeds, but by water and the Spirit.

Verse 6: Jesus emphasizes that religious works cannot save. They are only flesh. They can be done in the strength and ability of the flesh. The natural man can produce them. When trying to do them to gain righteousness as the Pharisees did, they only produce more flesh and more bondage. Only the Spirit can produce in us spiritual life which makes us alive unto God.

Verse 7: Jesus repeats Himself, emphasizing the desperate need of Nicodemus and all sinners that have not been made new creatures by the Spirit of God.

Verse 8: Jesus explains the cause of the New Birth. It is not by any effort, force, power, ability, or desire on man’s part. It is like the wind, which has a mind of it’s own and goes wherever the sovereign will of God directs it. No man can stop it and no man can cause it. It blows where it wills, and God regenerates who He wills. Furthermore, just as the wind is a mystery, so the New Birth is a mystery. We cannot always explain it, but we can certainly feel its effects when it blows upon us.

Next time, Lord willing, we will begin to look at this discourse more in depth.

Good Tree, Bad Tree -Matthew 7:17-20

Good Tree, Bad Tree

An exposition of Mathew 7:17-20

By Josef Urban

Matthew 7:17-20 – Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.


In the immediately context of this Scripture, the Lord is talking primarily about false prophets (see v. 15). They look like sheep, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. Just as Satan appears as an angel of light, so his servants can appear outwardly to be ministers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:14-15). Thus, these false prophets can be extremely deceptive. They appear to be true, they appear to be preaching righteousness, and they appear to be of the light, of the truth. Yet they are counterfeits in the church. The Lord tells us that even though they outwardly appear to have everything right, not to be fooled. And the way we are to test them so as not to be fooled is to “know them by their fruits”.

So since false prophets and false teachers need to be known by their fruits, this means that we have to examine every preacher of the Gospel by their fruits, since we don’t know who the false ones are until we examine them. This is not contrary to the Lord’s command in verses 1-5 where He forbids unrighteous, hypocritical judgment. While it is wrong and sinful to judge others when we are guilty of greater faults, or to judge them based on “appearance” with opinion, tainted motives, or wrong judgment, we are commanded to “judge (with) righteous judgment” (John 7:24). We must use some standard of judging righteously if we are to examine the fruits of Gospel preachers. And the standard that we use to judge others must not our own standard, neither our own opinions, but rather, must be according to the standards laid down in God’s Word, and any conclusion we come to must be in line with the judgment that the Word of God has already pronounced upon such things. Then we are obeying the truth, judging righteously and not wrongfully. God is the judge, and my judgment is true when it simply comes into line with and agrees with His just judgment that is already proclaimed in the infallible Word.

That being said, this means that we need to examine every preacher that we listen to using God’s Word as the standard. If they don’t match up to the qualifications therein, then they are false and need to be exposed for what they are in order to try to prevent further damage being done to God’s flock by them.

And while all this is true, and the manner of recognizing false prophets is admittedly the primary context of our Scripture, I believe there is a secondary application that can be made to apply to all of us on a broader scale. There is so much more we could say about false prophets and how to recognize them, but for the sake of this short exposition please suffer me to approach this text from a broader perspective to relate directly to us all. I will now draw out some points of application from this text in the context of how it relates to all who call themselves a “Christian”, because, let’s face it, preachers aren’t the only ones who need to be tested today, but since there is so much false profession and counterfeit Christianity going on, everybody needs to be examined with the tests of Scripture to ensure they are truly brethren in Christ. And not only this, but we each need to examine ourselves to make sure that we pass the tests of Scripture as it relates to the nature of true faith and true fellowship with Jesus.


1. A tree is known by its fruit. Obviously, the Lord is speaking in metaphorical language. He’s not interested in discerning every literal tree of the literal forest, but of discerning between true and false Christians. Every professing believer is a tree in the sense of which this Scripture speaks. And every professing believer bears fruit of some kind, whether it is good or bad. Therefore, just like the false prophet, the person who calls himself a “Christian” can generally be known by the fruits that they bear. By “fruit”, the Lord is speaking of our works. Therefore, in a general sense, we can usually tell who is a true Christian and who is a false one by examining a professing believer’s fruit with the Word of God, by the things they do, by the works being manifested in their lives, when comparing them with the testimony of Scripture. This can’t always be done, because to a certain degree the tares (false believers) in the church sometimes look a lot like the wheat (true believers), and we are instructed to let them grow together lest we root out and harm a good grain of wheat (Mat. 13:29-30). Yet, at the same time, when the fruit is manifestly obvious it must be discerned and the wicked must be dealt with appropriately according to Scripture (1 Cor. 5:12-13). The utter failure of most of the modern professing church in this area has resulted in multitudes of more tares in the field than there is wheat, and has destroyed the testimony the church is supposed to have in the world.

Note that a tree is known not by the fullness of its leaves, but by its fruits. That is, a tree can look healthy on the outside, full of thick branches and a fullness of brightly colored leaves, yet still bear bad fruits, proving it to be a bad tree despite its outward appearance. What I mean by this is that a professing Christian can make a good and loud pretense of saying they believe in Jesus, and even provide many lush evidences to endeavor to support their profession of faith. Yet, if they are bearing bad fruit then they must be a bad tree. Just because they say they are Christians who love Jesus doesn’t change the fact that they are a bad tree and a false believer. The fruit proves it. We must remember that the Lord Himself said this in just a few verses after our text, in Matthew 7:21-23:

“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”

Evidently, one’s profession of faith means absolutely nothing before God, even if it’s combined with “many wonderful works”, if that person is practicing iniquity. So if someone says they are a Christian, does many great works, but lives a lifestyle in the habitual practice of sin, bearing the bad fruit of doing continually what is wicked in the sight of God, then it means nothing if they say they love Jesus. It doesn’t save them. Their faith is a spurious one; it is not the true faith by which God’s people are justified which inevitably results in a lifestyle of habitual holiness and righteousness (Rom. 6:16-19).

2. The tree makes the fruit; the fruit doesn’t make the tree. The fruit doesn’t determine what kind of tree a certain tree happens to be. Rather, the fruit only identifies to outsiders what sort of tree it is. But the real producer of the fruit is the nature of the tree itself.

This is important to understand because a failure to recognize this will have us trying to remedy a problem in the wrong way. For instance, if a sinner recognizes that his life is full of terrible sins, and he knows he needs to get right with God and stop living in such sin, it is a folly to him to attempt to deal first with his sins. If he takes the axe to the stems of all the fruits of sin on his tree and chops off all the fruits and destroys them, he will for a short time experience some degree of victory, and possibly even pride himself in what his own hands accomplished. But he will be sadly disappointed when in a short time all those corrupt fruits grow back. He can continually deal with those fruits, but they will continue to grow back. Thus, a sinner cannot stop living a lifestyle of sin by simply dealing with his sin and resisting it. There needs to be a deeper work going on.

The sinner needs to recognize that he’s not a sinner just because he sins, but he sins because he’s a sinner. The real problem is not the outward manifestations of sin in his life. The real problem is his wicked, depraved heart from whence all these sins flow (Mark 7:20-23). The axe won’t profit much if taken just to the fruit. It needs to be taken to the root of the tree. The sinner needs to utterly confess himself as hopelessly lost before God and allow God to do a deep work of grace within his heart, allowing the Holy Spirit to destroy the dominion of sin at its very throne from where it reigns -inside the heart. When the heart is “purified by faith” (Acts 15:9) through the Gospel by a real supernatural power working in his heart, then the love for sinful pleasure within will be subdued and replaced with the love for holy things. The old tree of the love for sin within needs to be chopped down, and the supernatural power of the Creator needs to create a new tree, a new heart, which desires all that is pure and holy. Then, and only then, will the corrupt fruit cease to appear outwardly.

In the same way, a good tree is not good because of its fruit. The reason its fruit is good is because the tree itself is. This means that a true Christian is not saved by his own works no matter how good they are. Rather, he is saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and as a result, glorifies God through bearing the good fruit that God produces in him. First comes salvation by grace alone (Eph. 2:8-9) and then comes the essential good fruits of God-glorifying works that prove that grace has truly saved (Eph. 2:10). This order cannot be reversed; it’s impossible. Any attempt to do so and put good works before salvation by grace is to manufacture a heresy and foster to self-righteousness, which is no good work at all, but actually adds sin on top of sin (Isa. 30:1). It’s God at work within His saints through their new nature that causes them to bring forth good fruits.

3. A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit. Notice that Jesus didn’t say that a corrupt tree can only sometimes bring forth good fruit, but He said, “never”. The very plain meaning of His analogy here proves that it’s impossible for a tree which is corrupt by nature to bring forth anything which is not corrupt, let alone to bring forth that which is good.

Therefore, a sinner who has not been justified by faith in Jesus, who has not been born again, who has not had his heart regenerated by the Spirit of God in a work of grace, cannot do anything which is good and pleasing to God. Every work and fruit he brings forth is one of corruption, springing from a depraved and blackened heart. It is done from impure motives, motives which are not acceptable to God. Nothing he does flows from a heart of true saving faith in Christ, and whatever is not done in faith is sin, even if it would otherwise be something innocent (Rom. 14:23). Nothing he does flows from a true love for the Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore there is an “Anathema” pronounced upon him, and consequently, since the man himself is cursed, so is everything he does (1 Cor. 16:22). He is still under the curse of the Law for failing to render to God perfect obedience as is right (Gal. 3:10), and he abides under the very wrath of God (John 3:36). He is an unclean thing (Isa. 64:6), and any attempt of any unclean thing to approach a holy God and have His favor will find that only wrath awaits them. He is a slave of sin, and therefore is free from righteousness (Rom. 6:20). There is no favor for such a sinner, such a one as has never been created anew in converting grace, and nothing he does can commend him to God’s favor. It is impossible for him to change his own nature in his own power and bring forth good fruits which are acceptable to God.

“They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Romans 3:12).

Let it be settled forever. This has been wrongfully attributed to a doctrine of “Calvinism” long enough. This is not a doctrine that a man invented several hundred years ago; this is a doctrine of the Word of God. Man is by nature a child of wrath, a depraved creature, an accursed thing, unclean, and free from true righteousness -so the Word of God describes him. He cannot please God. Nothing he does can please God. There is not a single unregenerate man that does good, no, NOT ONE! Sovereign grace must regenerate his heart and make him a new creature, created anew in the image of God, imparting faith to believe into his very soul that he may see Christ and be saved, and then after being converted he will certainly bring forth good fruit.

4. A good tree cannot bring forth corrupt fruit. This is plainly obvious. A good tree will continually bring forth that which is good. A true Christian will continually bring forth deeds and works and fruits which glorify God. Springing from the nature inside of the good tree itself, the fruit is good, and a believer who has the Holy Spirit residing within, from their depths will spring forth works which give honor to God. Yet, though this is the habitual practice of the true child of God, we must remember that a good tree does not always produce perfect fruit. While the majority of what it produces is good, there will occasionally be some fruit with defects, far from perfect. In fact, if it is scrutinized close enough, one would find that even the best of its fruit has defects; thus the fruit of the tree is full of many defects. But though it has its defects, it is still good for consumption, good to be given abroad, because for the most part it is delightful fruit, good for all, pleasing in the sight of God.

It is so sad to see some ignore this obvious fact and to frequently use as a ‘proof text’ for the false doctrines of sinless perfection. However, it is plainly clear that the Word of God teaches that believers do stumble into sin and still have a sinful nature to war against (Gal. 5:17). The Lord Himself taught His disciples to pray, “forgive us our sins” just as He taught them to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread”, thus showing in this daily prayer the believer’s need to constantly walk in a state of repentance before God -not of continual confession as a precondition of a repeated justification as some teach (for justification is once for all), but as a fruit of having the Holy Spirit within. When a man has the Holy Spirit, he will grieve over his own sin, and be humbled by it. He will readily acknowledge it before God and plead for grace to conquer continually. Therefore, it is a sign of saving grace, of true salvation, that a believer sees his shortcomings, stumbles, and sins which he hates so much and acknowledges them before God with a heart desiring perfect purity. Anyone who says they never sin and live in a state of sinlessness in the flesh only deceives himself, and the truth is not in him (1 John 1:8). And while this is true it also remains true that a real Christian will not be in constant bondage to the remaining sin within their fallen flesh, they will walk habitually in the Spirit in self-dominion over it, in holiness as a way of life.

So what does Jesus mean by these words? He must be understood in context. I believe he goes on to explain exactly what the “corrupt fruit” is that a good tree cannot bear: in Matthew 7:23 (already quoted), the Lord describes this corrupt fruit as being the “work of iniquity”. The Greek word for “work” is one denoting an ongoing, continual action, or in other words, a practice. It is a term of habit. And “iniquity” simply means, “lawlessness”. (And so the New King James translates the Lord’s words as “you who practice lawlessness”.) This is describing someone who lives as if they can sin without eternal consequence. They are living in sin. They sin and their hearts are not broken over it. They keep sinning and sinning and haven’t come to true repentance and of renouncing all sin deeply within their heart by faith in Christ.

So while a believer will not be absolutely sinless and perfect in holiness in the flesh, he will certainly not live a lifestyle of indulging in any sin willfully and continually. “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life” (Romans 6:22). A good tree will not, and cannot, produce the corrupt fruit of living in continual carnality and sin, since the divine nature abides within him (1 John 3:9). God’s own Spirit within his heart won’t allow such a one to continually practice sin. Therefore, if such a one claims to be a Christian, but practices lawlessness, they are not a good tree, they are a bad tree, which the Lord goes on to explain what will happen to such a one:

5. Every tree that doesn’t bring forth good fruit is cut down and thrown in the fire. This is without exception. God will not overlook corrupt fruit. He will rid His Kingdom of it all. If someone is living in the practice of sin, with the desires of their heart continually enjoying their sin, they are in for a fearful day when the axe blade of God’s justice is sharpened and is swung forth by the mighty hand of omnipotence, and those trees thrown into the fire to be burned forever. They will “suffer the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude 1:7). Oh, what a fearful thing! Oh, how man should tremble before God! As Jesus said: “Fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mat. 10:28).

But let’s go even a little further. Notice that the text doesn’t say, “Every tree that brings forth bad fruit…” but it says, “Every tree that doesn’t bring forth good fruit”. -This goes even further. See, not only will every tree which is bringing forth corrupt fruit be chopped down and burned, but so will every tree that doesn’t have good fruit. Note, that the tree could look good from a distance, it could look just like a good tree, and there may not be any visible corrupt fruit on it. Yet, if there is an absence of good fruit, it is still a bad tree. A person may think they are saved, and may live what appears to be a morally spotless life in the eyes of their fellow man, yet if they fail to bring forth the good fruits of holiness, righteousness, truth, purity, love, faith, hope, peace, etc. as the Holy Spirit gives to His people, then they too will be chopped and burned. So we see the utter necessity here, not only for the absence of the practice of willful sin, but also for the positive righteousness and holy living that is the evidence and proof of our confession of faith. Faith without works is dead (Jam. 2:17).

6. A bad tree cannot become a good tree except only by the supernatural Creative power of God. It is an impossibility of nature that a corrupt tree changes its own inner nature and transforms into something which will bring forth good fruit. It simply cannot happen by natural means. There must be something supernatural; there must be a mighty miracle. There must be the making of a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). The God who created the world and called the world into existence from nothing must be the One who miraculously changes a man’s heart, destroys the roots of the sinful nature which only continually desires sin, and creates a new tree which will bring forth good fruit. It is takes His creative power, and this power is displayed gloriously in the work of redemption, namely in the work of regeneration. The new birth is the miraculous work of the Spirit of God wherein He creates in man a new nature resulting in an entirely new person and giving him the ability to produce good fruit. Apart from this creative work, no bad tree can ever produce good fruit.

7. Those who recognize themselves as bad trees need to be created anew in the image of God. The curse has passed upon all men, because all have sinned (Rom. 5:12). All men are cursed, corrupt trees by nature. And only those who are created anew and made to be good trees will inherit the Kingdom of God. There needs to be a work of grace in the hearts of those who are living in sin, changing their hearts, washing their sins away, and giving them a new nature to obey Christ, or else they will die in their sin. They must be born again (John 3:3).


Dear soul, the question goes to you now: Are you a good tree, or a bad tree? Don’t listen to your profession, but rather let the fruits prove it. Take an honest look and see if the things you are doing are springing from the divine seed of God within, resulting in that which is holy and godly to characterize your life, or whether they are coming from a evil heart of unbelief resulting in the practice of sin and iniquity. And if you know you have been made a new creation, and the fruit of your life and practice proves it beyond question, then rejoice and receive the assurance of faith from these words of the Lord Jesus. But if you see that you haven’t been thus made a new creation, then fear, fear God with all your heart, humble yourself before Him, renounce your sin, repent from your own ways, turn from all wicked things and turn to Christ alone in living faith, trusting Him with your whole heart to save you. Cry out to Him to do this work of grace in you. Call on the name of the Lord in desperation and simplicity of faith, trusting in His promises to save to the uttermost all that come to God through Him. The time is now to be converted, before the great Lord of the harvest returns with the axe in his hand. “And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” (Mat. 3:10).