Scripture teaches us that God controls all things, including the weather. Whatever meteorological forces cause the rain to fall or the temperature to rise, they are directed by the invisible hand of the sovereign Creator. Here in Wasilla we’ve been subjected the last several days to what some call an “arctic hurricane”: gale-force winds coupled with temperatures well below freezing. It’s a miserable combination. But it’s also an occasion to remember the almighty power of God. What we call “natural forces” are God’s providential rule over creation. The Psalmist declares:
Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.
He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses. (Psalm 135:6, 7)
February’s cold and wind may be unpleasant, but it won’t be without profit if at least it leads to worship the One who does all he pleases in heaven and on earth.
Last Lord’s Day I returned to the Gospel of Luke and preached from 6:43-45. In this passage Jesus lays down what we might call “the law of the root and the fruit.” That is, a bad tree produces bad fruit, and a good tree produces good fruit.
Of course Jesus wasn’t concerned with horticulture, but he was talking about us. What’s true for trees is true for people – a good heart will produce good words and deeds, and a bad heart will produce bad words and deeds. Conduct flows from character.
The problem for us as sinners is that, apart from the grace of God, we fall into the category not of the good tree, but of the bad tree. To put it bluntly, we are born with bad hearts and our lives show it. That may sound like an overly dark and gloomy assessment of human nature, but that’s only because we fail to appreciate the full scope of what sin has done to us. If we hope to find a rosier outlook from Jesus, we’ll be sorely disappointed. He minced no words when he described the inherent sinfulness of our hearts:
For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person. (Mark 7:21-23)
As a missionary once put it to me in describing the human condition, the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart.
For that reason our only hope of salvation is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Only Christ can give us good hearts that we might produce good fruit. Every other approach to bettering mankind will ultimately fail because it only addresses the fruit, and not the root. Education, law, therapy, and religion all have their place and may help to modify human behavior so that people act better than they might otherwise. But any hope of bringing true change to a person through these approaches will be in vain because they cannot change the heart.
My counseling professor in seminary gave us a memorable picture of trying to change people through behavior modification. It’s like going up to a dead apple tree and stapling apples to its branches. The tree remains the same dead tree, and the person who reforms his conduct with no change of heart remains the same dead sinner.
The Son of God came into the world not to adorn our lifeless branches with stapled fruit, but to changes us from the inside out. He gives us new life and a new heart, with new affections and loves. By this grace we then begin to produce the fruit that is truly good – obedience to God with a joyful heart.
Soli Deo Gloria!