The Fruit of the Poisonous Tree

We’ve been watching a lot of Law and Order recently. We ordered YouTube TV a year ago so I could watch college football, and it allows unlimited storage of any show you want. So it took me about 3 seconds to set it to record all Law and Order episodes and within a few months I had all 496(!) episodes available. My wife and I have been working our way through them, and I don’t want to tell you what season we’re on for fear you’ll realize I’ve watched way too much Law and Order. 😉 It has been the last thing I remember before sleep a little too often. Sometimes we wake up the next morning asking each other if the criminal got convicted or sometimes even who the criminal is (must have fallen asleep really early in the show).

One thing I’ve learned (if my TV legal education can be trusted… and I think it can) is when an illegal search or an illegal interview of a defendant results in some damning evidence, it will often get tossed. It cannot be used. It’s called the fruit of the poisonous tree. If the search is illegal (the poisonous tree), then the result of that search is illegal too (the fruit).

It reminds me of something Jesus said.

Luke 6:43–45 (ESV) “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

Jesus actually spoke about the real fruit of the poisonous tree! If my life produces bad fruit, it’s because the tree is bad. Clearly in this passage the tree is a metaphor for our hearts. Evil hearts produce evil. The fruit is bad because the heart is sinful.

Own Your Sin

I don’t like owning my sin, but this passage tells me I must. I want to believe that someone else is responsible for the poisonous fruit on my tree, but Jesus doesn’t allow that conclusion. Change doesn’t happen if I won’t own my sin. If you’re still pointing the finger at others or at your circumstances believing they are responsible for your sin, you won’t grow. No one else put that fruit on your tree.

Address Your Heart

All change goes through the heart if it’s biblical change. I don’t need to get better at biting my tongue; I need to get better at repenting. Jesus is not interested in my attempts to put good fruit on a bad tree. He wants the tree changed. And… thankfully, he gives heart-changing grace.

Is your counsel addressing the heart? Or are you just stapling new fruit on an evil tree?

Are you addressing your own heart? Or are you content with superficial change?

Some Questions About Forgiveness

It’s quite common for teaching about forgiveness to lead to more questions about forgiveness. I wanted to include some of them here. Forgiveness requires real biblical wisdom in the specific details of a person’s life. Hopefully these will be a help to you.

What’s a Definition of Forgiveness?

The definition of forgiveness is promising…

Not to bring it up to the person’s face

Not to bring it up behind the person’s back

Not to dwell on it

This is not original with me, but I like this definition because it lines up with how God forgives us.

What If You Didn’t Sin, but They Are Offended? Should You Ask Their Forgiveness?

For example, someone expected you to call them while they were in the hospital, but you didn’t. They are angry with you for not calling. In fact, they’re giving you the cold shoulder. You didn’t promise you’d call them, but they expected you to. Is that sin? Probably not.

So the break in the relationship is real, but the sin is not. Do you ask forgiveness just to reconcile? One question to ask is who has sinned in this relationship? It’s not you; it’s them. They didn’t get what they wanted and now they are responding sinfully.

You shouldn’t ask forgiveness in order to appease someone. Forgiveness is not mine; it’s God’s. He invented it we could say. I cannot use it for whatever I want. Don’t use forgiveness as a gimmick. Don’t use it to patch things up unless you think you have actually sinned. Don’t cheapen it.

So what can we do in those situations?

•If it’s a pattern, we can confront their sin.

•I’ve said, “I wish I would have done that” because I really do wish that. If it would have prevented them getting offended, I really do.

Do You Need to Forgive God?

Some Christians will recommend that you pray and forgive God for certain tragic events. For example, if your child is born with a serious and terminal health problem, you might need to forgive God for that.

God is the absolute standard of right and wrong. He never does wrong. He is not unjust. Therefore, it’s blasphemy to accuse Him of doing wrong to you by telling Him you forgive Him.

The reason we would think that God has done wrong is because things didn’t turn out the way we thought they should turn out.

We are told that everything that happens in a believer’s life is for their good (Rom. 8:28-29). Therefore, when “bad” things happen in a believer’s life, the proper attitude is one of thanksgiving (1 Thess. 5:18).

So it’s always wrong to be angry with God—to think we need to forgive God—but it’s right to bring our questions to God with a heart of faith. The Psalms are full of questions to God when life seems inexplicable. However, they brought their questions to God in faith. They didn’t accuse Him of wrongdoing, but they did have doubts about His dealings. They moved towards God, not away from Him. We should too.

Do You Need to Forgive Yourself?

Maybe you’ve heard this view before—that you need to forgive yourself. What you did was so horrible that it demands not just God’s forgiveness and the offended person’s forgiveness, but you must also forgive yourself.

Do you know what the Bible says about forgiving ourselves? Nothing. It doesn’t show up in either example or command. Scripture teaches vertical forgiveness—God forgiving us. It teaches horizontal forgiveness—us forgiving others. But it doesn’t teach internal forgiveness. Clearly that is significant. It indicates that this idea of self-forgiveness didn’t come from careful study of Scripture but from somewhere else.

So, when someone tells us that “I just can’t forgive myself,” can we help them? Yes. Someone that expresses this thought may actually be telling us something else.

They might be expressing an inability or unwillingness to receive God’s forgiveness. We say this because we really doubt that God has forgiven us.

They may not be willing to acknowledge the depth of their sin. Sometimes this means “I cannot believe that I did that.” This is a form of pride; as if this type of sinful failure was beneath me. It’s an indication of self-righteousness and a lack of realistic self-knowledge.

They may be venting regrets for not achieving a certain cherished desire. I had an opportunity and I threw it all away. When desires are thwarted, the result is self-reproach and a case of “if only I had….” In this case a more careful use of language is helpful. They should say, “I regret how I blew that opportunity.”

Self-forgiveness is unbiblical because you are the offender, judge, and the forgiver. Only Jesus Christ can fill all three roles. When you or I do it, we are trying to be God.

Reinterpreting Suffering

In 2016 I preached on this passage in a series on the Book of Hebrews. I was looking over it again, and I thought it might be helpful to summarize it as a blog post.

A background note: The KJV and NKJV use the word, chastening. That has led many to think that this passage is just about punishment. Or that what the author is talking about is something punitive for specific disobedience. However, it’s really the word, discipline. And discipline is whatever God uses to bring us to maturity, to correct us. Remember that we are not condemned (Rom 8:1). We won’t ever pay the price for our sins. Jesus did that on the cross. However, we are God’s children and we will be disciplined. He wants to make us like Christ in any way that we’re not.


God disciplines His children…and it’s good. Hebrews 12:4-9 tells us how to reinterpret suffering. How to recast hardships. By reinterpreting I mean that we come to a true understanding of them. We come to God’s understanding of them.

There are four reinterpretations we need.

Don’t Overstate Your Suffering—It’s Not As Bad As You Believe (12:4-5)

•Hebrews 12:4 (ESV) In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

The audience of this epistle had suffered. We know that from Hebrews 10:32-34. They have suffered public abuse, loss of property, and even imprisonment. Those are substantial losses. This is not light suffering they’ve experienced.

But they hadn’t experienced loss of life of anyone in the community yet. Why mention this obvious fact to them? Surely they know they haven’t resisted to death yet. Why say it? Because our temptation is to overstate our hardships. And it’s not as bad as you believe. It’s really not.

You see our tendency is to think that we are the center of the world—certainly the center of our worlds. And that makes us look at our hardships as more difficult than they really are because they are happening to us.

But Scripture wants us to get perspective. We need to look around us and sympathize with the suffering of others. We need to bear one another’s burdens. When I’m suffering, I find it hard to think about the hardships of others. I can only see my own pain.

If we don’t understand God’s discipline it leads to two sinful responses found in verse 5…

•Hebrews 12:5 (ESV) And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.

You Disregard God’s Discipline

If we get focused on our pain we can assume it has no purpose. It’s just the random stuff of life happening to us now. God has a purpose for your hardships. He never wastes pain, so don’t treat it lightly.

You Become Discouraged

This is probably the more likely sinful response. You get tired of God’s chastening. It seems so oppressive that you actually lose heart.

I think one of the difficult lessons that Christians learn over and over again is that God is not interested in making our lives pain free. Salvation doesn’t mean that your life suddenly becomes wonderful and prosperous and your car never has expensive mechanical problems.

God is not concerned with that vision of life. He has bigger plans for you. He actually wants you to be like His Son, Jesus. And He will discipline you and me to get us to that objective.

Don’t Think God Has Abandoned You—He Only Disciplines Those in the Family (12:6-8)

•Hebrews 12:6–8 (ESV) For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.

Here’s where our understanding really needs to change. We really need to reinterpret our hard times. Discipline means that God loves us. It’s actually the assurance that God loves us. A lack of chastisement is a bad sign. God disciplines those that He loves.

A father that doesn’t discipline, doesn’t love his child. You can say you do, but if a father doesn’t discipline his children, then he doesn’t care how they turn out. That’s a sign of indifference, but not a sign of love. So the father that loves his children will discipline them.

And it’s the same with God. It’s a sure sign of sonship to be chastened by God. Adversity, suffering, and hardships are the tools that God uses to sanctify His children. Suffering is not a sign of abandonment by God. No, it’s a sign of His love. Hardships don’t indicate God’s rejection. They are clear evidence of God’s fatherly care.

This is radical reinterpretation of suffering. Rather than being an indication of God’s indifference, it is a mark of His love for His children. Suffering should assure us of God’s care, not make us question it.

Don’t Resist God’s Discipline—You Can Submit to God (12:9-10)

•Hebrews 12:9–10 (ESV) Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.

This passage makes an argument from the lesser human relationship to the greater. Our fathers might have poorly disciplined, but we still submitted to them. Can’t we also submit to our heavenly Father? With our human fathers it was their duty to discipline us and our duty to submit. Your father might not have disciplined well, or you might not have submitted well, but those were the responsibilities. Therefore, submit to the God that does discipline well.

Don’t resist God’s discipline. Why? Because…

God is Wiser Than Your Father

Your dad may have been mistaken in his discipline, but your heavenly Father will never impose any discipline that isn’t for your good. God doesn’t make arbitrary judgments.

God’s Purpose Is Better Than Your Father’s

Your dad was a sinner. So he made decisions about discipline that were often at least tainted by sin. That means that sometimes he disciplined you for his own convenience. Sometimes it wasn’t about your character, it was about what was best for him.

But God has no such limitation. God disciplines so we may grow in holiness. We are to become like Him. Your trouble is used by God to make you grow into holiness.

Don’t Focus on the Pain—the Result of Discipline Is Worth the Trouble (12:11)

•Hebrews 12:11 (ESV) For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

In the moment, nobody enjoys discipline. When we’re in the midst of God’s discipline, it’s easy to focus only on the pain. Sometimes it does hurt so much. We lose something that we really value. God uses the pain to conform us to Christ’s image, but at the time, it doesn’t seem worth it to us.

But it bears good fruit. The outcome of suffering is substantial and pleasant. The period of discipline is followed by one of joy. We grow in righteousness through discipline. When reinterpreting our suffering this way, we can actually submit to it in the present. “Peaceful” reflects that the man that believes God’s discipline is designed for his good will cease to feel resentful and rebellious.

Pain wakes us up. God doesn’t waste pain, but He also doesn’t avoid it either. It’s a tool to make us grow. You and I wouldn’t have near the desire to grow if it weren’t for God’s discipline in our lives.

Don’t focus on your pain; instead think about the good fruit that God is growing in your life. Listen, God disciplines His children…and it’s good.

A Grudge Has Serious Consequences

I read this last week and was reminded that holding a grudge is no small thing.

Mark 11:25 (ESV) And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

A forgiving heart is necessary for answered prayer. But it’s also hard. I don’t think I’ve been greatly sinned against, but I do hold grudges nonetheless. Grudges for ways people have stepped on my idols, not necessarily ways that they have sinned against me. I have lots of minor grudges because I am a wicked sinner. I take offense at others. Just saying. Often I’m not a pleasant fellow in my heart.

And God convicts me for which I’m thankful. And he prompts me to confess my pride and grudgeholding. And often I do. Which is necessary according to this verse. If I have anything against anyone, I need to give it up. Otherwise it affects the Father’s forgiveness of me. So my grudges are more serious than I think they are.

Of course this is talking about familial forgiveness I believe, not judicial forgiveness. The latter was settled at the cross. But like after the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:14-15, this passage tells me that my relationship with God can be affected by my unforgiveness towards others.

And notice this verse doesn’t claim that the offender needs to ask for forgiveness. Of course other passages encourage that, but here, I just need to extend grace to even an unrepentant offender.

It’s an urgent matter. This person is standing in prayer, and they recall they’re unforgiving. They need to repent right then.

So you cannot hold a grudge if you want to pray effectively. God doesn’t hear the unforgiving.