In our text, Jesus makes a biconditional statement, in the form of an analogy, that can be summarized as follows:
To properly grasp what Jesus is saying, we must first examine the symbols that He uses in the analogy. From earlier statements in the chapter (see Matthew 7:15-16), it is clear that good trees represent those who are Jesus disciples, i.e., those who have received salvation (see, e.g., Ephesians 2:8-10). Accordingly, corrupt trees represent the unsaved, particularly those who have rejected the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
But what are the fruits?
The Bible defines good fruit (i.e., the fruit of the Holy Spirit working in us) in this way:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” ~ Galatians 5:22-23
Similarly, bad fruit (works of our flesh) is defined in this way:
“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” ~ Galatians 5:19-21
Before continuing, we note that the word “do” in Galatians 5:21 is “prássō” in the original text, which means “to practise, that is, perform repeatedly or habitually”. In other words, those who are saved might fall into the swamp of sin, but they don’t stay there. Like the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), the fallen child of God recognizes that the pigsty isn’t their home. So they leave the pigsty and head back home in humility and repentance.
“And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” ~ Galatians 5:24
Now that we have established what the Bible defines as good fruit and bad fruit, we are better able to understand what Jesus was saying in our text.
The difference between a good tree and a corrupt tree is the Holy Spirit. The good fruit, the fruit of the Spirit, is only available to those who have the Spirit. Those who are rooted in Christ, those who have received His salvation, have been given the Holy Spirit (John 14-16). Therefore, the fruit of the Spirit, the good fruit, can be manifested in their lives.
Conversely, those who do not have the Spirit cannot manifest the fruit of the Spirit, they can ONLY manifest the fruit (works) of the flesh.
As Jesus said,
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” ~ John 15:4-6
When the fruit of the righteous man is examined, one sees all the fruit the Holy Spirit produces in him because he is rooted in Christ Jesus. And one does NOT see the acceptance of sin as a way of life. Instead, one sees the ever growing fruit of meekness in the righteous man as he submits ever more of his own will to God’s will.
Conversely, when the fruit of the unsaved, those who have rejected God, is examined, one sees all the fruit of fleshly lusts, because the Holy Spirit is not available to him. One sees the ever growing fruit of sin in his life because he has rejected God and chosen rebellion as his way of life: The pigsty (Luke 15:11-32) is his home.
Finally, the tense Jesus used in our text is instructive. Jesus used the simple present tense in His message to us. This is significant because it removes time specificity and replaces it with generality. In other words, good trees produce good fruit ALL the time; that is what good trees do. Whenever you come to a good tree you will find good fruit.
Jesus expands this point in John 15:2a
“Every branch in me that beareth not fruit [God] taketh away…” ~ John 15:2a
If the good tree stops bearing good fruit, God removes it presently, immediately, right now.
Life for Believers, therefore, is all about fruit bearing: It is all about being in close fellowship with (abiding in) Jesus: It is all about allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us to produce fruit.
Similarly, corrupt trees produce evil fruit ALL the time; that is what corrupt trees do. Whenever you come to a corrupt tree you will find evil fruit.
And there is an ultimate consequence for consciously continuing to be a corrupt tree:
“Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” ~ Matthew 7:19
Every corrupt tree should repent, accept Christ’s offer of salvation, and become a good tree bearing good fruit.
We cannot fake our fruit.