You can not see roots.
Sure, on occasion a tree grows in remarkable fashion where a section of the root system is exposed, and some species of trees like mangroves branch their root system well above the ground, but by-in-large, roots exist to ground a tree; to establish it deeply into the ground to absorb nutrients, to drink the ground water, and to establish support to withstand wind and the elements. The root of a tree is its foundation.
Unfortunately, since roots are hidden from sight, it can be difficult to know if they are healthy. A sick tree can leaf just like a healthy tree for quite a while, but the fruit of a sick tree is almost immediately noticeable.
“Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here today (for you know how we lived in the land of Egypt, and how we came through the midst of the nations through which you passed; moreover, you have seen their abominations and their idols of wood, stone, silver, and gold, which they had with them); so that there will not be among you a man or woman, or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of those nations; that there will not be among you a root bearing poisonous fruit and wormwood.”
– Deut 29.14-18
God declares in this prologue to the covenant that He made with Israel that the act of serving another god proves one to have a wicked root and consequentially poisonous fruit. Fruit that not only is bad, but that will contaminate and kill those who consume it.
Jesus tells us that we will know one another by our fruit (Matt 12.33). But our fruit is only the outpouring of the root: the core of who we are. If we are not born of God, in love with Him and serving Him, any fruit that we bear will be poisonous.
How can that be? Can not a non-Christian do “good deeds”? The valuation of a deed is found in the root. Paul tells us that anything done apart from faith is sin (Rom 14.23). If a deed is not done ultimately unto the glory of God, it is sinful. Therefore to feed the poor, but the deed be devoid of God or the Gospel, it is sin. Why? Because the intention is not unto God. It is not in faith. It is for esteem, for accolade, for the lengthening of another’s physical life without an appreciation for the Spiritual life or eternity.
This is mind-boggling. But that only, in that we are prone to live our lives with God in His box and not as our strength, our source of life, our joy and our pleasure. If we understand God and His value married with the weight of eternity, we would see that Paul’s statement makes sense. If God is as weighty as He says He is, anything done apart from faith in and love for Him is worthless.
When we come to God for salvation, He changes us from the core. From the root. We are a new creation and the old has passed away (2 Cor 5.17). He takes away our hearts of stone and gives us a new heart, a heart of flesh (Ez 36.26). We have died to ourselves and have been made alive to God (Rom 8.13). Our root is established in and by the giver of life (Ps 36.9).
We can test our own root and one another’s root by our fruit. And when we have healthy roots, established in God and His word, He gives us the strength to not be defiled by wickedness around us:
See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.
– Heb 12.15-16
The root of bitterness is a terrible evil that destroys people. The author of Hebrews assumes that bitterness will arise. Believers will always interact with non believers who struggle with bitterness; towards leadership, towards a friend, towards a corporation or anything. Even within the Church body, there will be times that bitterness rears its ugly head. But if we are firmly established in God and His grace, we can be spared the defilement! We understand our own wickedness, the level of grace and forgiveness that has been shown to us, and we readily and quickly forgive one another and trust God in His sovereignty.
In what are you rooted? In grace? In God? Are you drinking deeply from His goodness and mercy and living every day towards His glory and honor? Or are you serving another god? Money? Worldly pleasures? Comfort? Humanitarian efforts? These will all bear poisonous fruit, ultimately. Let’s serve the only true God. And let’s test our fruit.