Harvey struggled in ministry. His pastor observed over-reaction, anger, and control. He pointed it out, adding, “I see the fruit; I’ll guess the root. You grew up with an overbearing parent, one dominant, the other distant. You experienced tension and emotions were capped.” As the pastor spoke, Harvey’s wife cried: “You described his step-mother.” Harvey added that at age nine his parents said, “We’re getting a divorce. Take your pick.”


Roots help us understand fruits. A radio teacher said it this way: “Behind the deed is the need.” A deed showing rebellion may tip off a sad cause behind the effect. Sloppy work when mowing may indicate laziness, or it could signal a need for an on-sight dad. Withdrawal might indicate relational pain such as alcoholism in the home. Jesus said, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit” (Matt. 12:33). Fruit identifies the tree.

Legalism sees fruit and reacts. Judgments trump understanding. Jesus saw the root and responded appropriately. Think Zacchaeus, Jesus was criticized for hanging with “a sinner.” People saw the fruit of greed and judged him. Jesus saw a man with history and destiny. As my mentor Larry Christianson said, “He looked past his faults to his future.”


Legalism says, “Believe and you can belong.” Jesus says, “Belong so you can believe.” He received Zacchaeus, giving him grace so he would open to truth. By making people believe first, we withhold grace until they have bought truth. This attitude can keep people out of the club. Jesus wanted Zacchaeus in. The people wanted a reason to keep him out. Jesus announced, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham” (Lk. 19:9). In other words, he belongs.


A survey done by George Barna discovered that the majority of Christians think the purpose of the church is for Christians to feel love and find fellowship rather than for reaching out. No wonder that most wait for outsiders to come in. Internal focus overrides an external call. Jesus’ bottom line was seeking and saving. When that becomes ours, it impacts how we receive people. We will go to the homes of people like Zacchaeus rather than expecting them to meet us on our turf. And we will learn to deal with the root underneath the fruit, enabling us to disarm those with love who accuse us of bigotry.


Legalism demands conformity, challenged by different people like Zac. It says, “Look like me, be religious like I am.” Grace invites people to a process of transformation to Jesus. Truth ranks high, but truth isolated from grace is brittle. Jesus didn’t mandate conformity from Zacchaeus before receiving him. The grace Zacchaeus received opened him to truth. We don’t have a record of Jesus preaching to him. What we do have is the testimony of Zacchaeus: “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (v. 8). Sounds like repentance to me. Grace transformed him from greed to generosity. Powerful! And Harvey accepted the challenge of counseling, graduated from seminary, and is doing fruitful ministry. Grace works!

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