The axe at the root (Matthew 3:10)


A ravenous wolf, such as Jesus described in Matthew 7, is someone who uses threats to extort money or service from others. If you were such a person, God forbid, you might to use the following verse to threaten the saints:

The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matt 3:10)

“Beware the swinging axe! Produce good works or burn. Excel in generosity (pass the offering bucket) and service (sign up for these programs) or there’ll be hell to pay!”

To threaten people in the name of the Lord is thoroughly evil and as far from Christ as you can get. Yet it happens all the time.

I’ve seen letters demanding church members pay their tithes or have their membership revoked.

Churches where I live name and shame non-tithers from the pulpit.

I’ve been told God would bless me if I signed up to help widows and orphans with the hint that he might curse me if I didn’t.

Curses, excommunication, shame, withdrawal of friendship – if you’ve been in church a while, chances are you’ve encountered these sorts of threats. It’s a disgrace.

And it’s not what John the Baptist was talking about in Matthew 3:10.

The axe and the tree

The tree in question is the unbelieving nation of Israel. For centuries the Israelites had the inside track when it came to the favor of God. They were the chosen, the children of Abraham, yet they persistently turned their backs on the Lord.

At Sinai God gave them the law to expose their sin and reveal their need for grace, but they didn’t repent. Instead, they became self-righteous, as exemplified by the religious folk John addressed:

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” (Matt 3:7-9)

John was not speaking to followers of Jesus but religious people who hated the Lord. His warning to them was later echoed by Jesus:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!… You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? (Matt 23:33)

Again, Jesus was not speaking to his disciples but to self-righteous hypocrites who scorned the Grace of God even as he stood among them. For fourteen centuries the nation of Israel had the law which ministers death, yet they refused to come to him for life (John 5:40).

Pictures of destruction

To those who scorned grace Jesus uttered scary words. Again and again he warned them that time was running out.  We see Christ’s warnings all through his ministry:

  • Jesus cursed the barren fig tree as a prophetic picture of the curse unbelieving Israel had brought on itself (Matt 21:19).
  • Jesus told a parable about a fig tree that had one more year to bear fruit or it would be cut down (Luke 13:6-8).
  • Jesus spoke of withered branches being gathered and thrown into the fire (John 15:6), branches that Paul said were unbelieving Jews.
  • When the Savior entered Jerusalem for the final time, people waved branches without fruit and the locals wondered, “Who is this?” (Matt 21:10). Jesus wept because they didn’t recognize what would bring them peace (ie: himself; Luke 19:42-44).

The message is clear: reject life and you’ll reap death. But these warnings should not frighten the Christian. One with the Lord your future is as secure as his.

“But what about the axe at the root?” If your root is self-righteous unbelief, then you need to repent and believe all the good things that God says about you. He loves you, cares for you, and longs for you to come home. He does not want you to axe yourself with the fatal consequences of self-trust.

The Holy Root

But if you are a believer, then Christ is your Root and “the root supports you” (Rom 11:18). You need not fear the axe of God’s wrath because it has already fallen. On the cross his wrath against sin was satisfied. On account of Jesus you are eternally unpunishable.

If the root is holy, so are the branches. (Rom 11:16)

One with the Lord you are as righteous and holy as he is. So pay no attention to those fear-mongers who swing axes at the church. Those who threaten God’s kids are way out of line.

The Good Shepherd does not discipline us with scourging or with axes. If you’re in a place where guilt and shame are used to coerce proper behavior, you might want to use those things on the ends of your legs and walk away. It could be the healthy choice.


Enjoy this article? Why not sign up to our free email list and we’ll notify you about new articles as soon they come out. No spam, we promise.

Help these messages of love and freedom go further by supporting us via Patreon (USD) or Donorbox (other currencies).

47 Comments on The axe at the root (Matthew 3:10)

  1. Refreshing, reassuring and comforting message.

  2. amandapride45 // December 9, 2015 at 3:27 am // Reply

    Hallelujah! Christ is our Root, He supports. Thank You Lord Jesus.(Thank you Brother Paul for encouraging us). Grace upon Grace & Blessing upon Blessing to you & your family.

  3. All this sounds good. But this..”I’ve been told God would bless me if I signed up to help widows and orphans”, is this not a true statement, and a way to encourage people to move ? Minus the last part about “hinting at cursing you if you don’t” of course that is wrong, but we need to spur one another on to love and good works. I’m in a city that has been hit by natural disaster twice in two years. Very few people in my congregation act on this, to bless our neighbors, so use this opportunity to share Christ with people at their greatest time of need. We are asleep. This is embarrassing to me. We have a group of like 4-5 people that go into the local children’s shelter (orphanage) to bless the kids, the entire church of maybe 200-300 members knows this is done monthly, we get 4-5 people on a good month. Is this not a major problem? And if so how does it get addressed?

    So yes I get it…let’s not shame people because they’re not doing good works, but if we are not allowed to spur one another on, if we just cover our mouths when our brothers and sisters in Christ in our own local churches sit comfortably, in their suburban lives, with their picket fence dreams, and do not urge each other to act now for the sake of Christ, for the lost, then we are not really the Body. We are playing church, and stuck in our own heads. We don’t love our neighbors if that is who we are.

    • No, it’s a carrot that belongs under the old covenant and has no place in the new. We aren’t blessed because of what we do, but because of what Jesus has done. EVERY blessing there is comes to us on account of grace (Eph 1:3, Php 4:19).

      You are right in dismissing shame as a motivator, but discard the carrots too. The children of God aren’t dumb donkeys to be motivated with sticks and carrots. We have the Spirit of God within us. We abound in good works. Why did Paul the apostle travel the world revealing the show and tell gospel? Because the love of Christ compelled him. Those who have been seized by the power of a great affection can’t help but share that love with others.

      I was raised by a widow. I know widows need help. I was about to sign up when that dude dangled his carrot. As a son of God I was turned off. Why are the children of God lackadaisical? Perhaps it’s because they’re tired of being manipulated by those peddling mixed grace.

      • I too thank you. I too experienced being under condemnation if I didn’t do the pastors agenda. What I do now is motivated by pure love which comes from first receiving his spirit, from resting in his arms and sitting at his feet. Then loving others comes naturally. How can someone say that people are just sitting comfortably in their pews? We are not to blow a trumpet and boast about what we are doing for God. How can anyone make such a broad judgement of others? I struggled to raise my children with an alcoholic husband who later walked out – all the while being given more and more work to do for Jesus in my church. I burnt out. The Lord has restored thanks to preachers like Paul and Joseph Prince.

  4. Warren (South Carolina, USA) // December 9, 2015 at 5:56 am // Reply

    I hate religion!!!

    Thanks Saint Paul for a great post!!!
    Warren (South Carolina, USA)

  5. To be loved is to Love and God has shown this through Son whom is risen for us to have new life in the risen Christ that leads in Father’s Spirit and truth that began at Pentecost where Father did the speaking through the Disciples, was not the Disciples words that were spoken, they were and are Father in Spirit and truth that did this, the Disciples as I see this were Father’s vessels used by Father to speak through and this was done on their being willing for this to be

    Thank you for your post in truth here Paul
    For by Mercy in Love from God First is how one can love in truth back as a response in thanksgiving and praise to God for this amazing free gift, eternal life secured in Father and Son woe is me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Great post! We need this teaching so badly in the Church today. Thank you and Merry Christmas!

  7. As an alcoholic/drug addict I went to church and they didn’t know what to do with me. Some said that was not their fault; I disagree. So I went to A.A. and experienced a spiritual awakening as the result of working the steps. Years later, the church that didn’t know what to do with me was calling A.A. a cult. God had made it quite clear to me that I was to minister to alcoholics and addicts, but the church didn’t like it when I introduced myself, “Hello, my name is Dan and I’m a recovering alcoholic and drug addict.” More than one church made it clear they would be happy if I decided to attend church elsewhere. More years later and I have graduated from A.A., been delivered from alcohol/drug addiction, and have found a grace based church to attend. Those who have sinned much have been forgiven much and love much. Grateful to God, my Redeemer (and grace giver) Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit for each day they give me the strength to not take that first drink or drug. I will no longer subject myself to the fear and guilt the church prescribes. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Amen.

    • Thanks for sharing, Dan. One of the things I’ve heard about AA that I love is the gracious acceptance shown to people who are struggling. Such an attitude is truly Christ-like.

      • AA brought me to Christ. I came to believe in a power greater than myself – then I discovered who that power was – Jesus! I love your messages Paul. They take away the burden of burnt out from servitude. People are attracted to people with joy – and joy comes when we discover unconditional love!

    • Thank you Dan! Love your testimony, especially the last sentence! Praise God and Blessings to you!

    • If a church doesn’t know what to do with a believer suffering from the bondage of drug addiction or alcoholism, you shouldn’t hold it against them. Many churches do what they know. Many try their best to minister to the needs of the congregation. As for AA, that’s not God’s best for His people. They mean well, but from a Grace based perspective they put you under Law. And if you still suffer very bad cravings where you need to call people to come help or if you suffer instances of relapsing, then you are not free at all. No one who has received Jesus should ever continue to refer to themselves as an alcoholic or confess they are a recovering alcoholic/drug addict. The symptoms of the problem may be there, but confess you are free in Christ. That’s where AA fails. They have you using your power as a King-Priest against yourself.

  8. Thanks, Paul. Great word. Merry Christmas!

  9. Stephen wrote…..” the entire church of maybe 200-300 members knows this is done monthly, we get 4-5 people on a good month. Is this not a major problem? And if so how does it get addressed?” … We may just continue in this and let them see for themselves how they could help. The 4-5 people are the ones who have hearts for the mission and that makes it GOOD WORK. They know that they are doing it IN THE LORD. Now, even if we are able to PUSH others to do likewise but with wrong means (the carrots and sticks), the result will be TIRESOME. It will, all the more, make people LAW-BINDED and will leave both (all) parties suffering. What we may do is exhort them to LET the LOVE of GOD (shed abroad in our hearts) be revealed to this people. Continue to show them the JOY of giving as YOU personally feel it. The more we do it ,but not NOT TRYING to force them to do likewise, will give them the BIG QUESTION…what is driving you, and the 4-5 people, and as soon as they realize, THEY will be MOVED and respond as the SPIRIT tells and leads. We may think this is NOT the BEST way. That this this is “a little slow” and will take some time to produce result….. and….We can choose otherwise BUT be aware that the FLESH could only produce anything BUT life. Be God Bless!!!

    • My other posts were blocked, but I want to say I appreciate the reply Balacanprimeproperties.

      To your response :

      “Now, even if we are able to PUSH others to do likewise but with wrong means (the carrots and sticks), the result will be TIRESOME”

      I don’t think we have to push anyone to do anything and I agree that would bring results that would not serve anyone well. I think you can confront people who have gone astray with truth without pushing them. This is not about guilting people to do good works. That’s what this article was addressing, but it’s not what I’m advocating. Being silent may certainly be correct at times, praying would be correct at all times, but the silence about the issue and just “continuing” to do things as is certainly is not the only way God shows us by example in the Scriptures is the way to approach this kind of thing. The New Testatement is FULL of exhortations. I feel my church needs that, and probably other churches do as well.

      It is a sin to see people in pain and in need and to do nothing. And we have an obligation to exhort our brothers and sisters in Christ that are caught up in that sin. Again, not talking about shaming, not talking about condemning, not talking about dangling carrots and curses.

      To Paul:
      “No, it’s a carrot that belongs under the old covenant and has no place in the new. We aren’t blessed because of what we do, but because of what Jesus has done. EVERY blessing there is comes to us on account of grace ”

      It’s a word game. We are blessed because of what Jesus did on the cross, blessed with salvation, blessed with new life, this is the ultimate blessing. We are also blessed for what we do. We reap what we sew. You sew anger you reap broken relationships, is that a blessing? No. You sew love and forgiveness you reap healthy relationships, is that a blessing? Yes. You sew the gospel into people’s lives you will very possibly see lives changed, is that a blessing? To me it is. You sew sparingly with your money, your time, with the Truth you have inside you, you reap sparingly. Not a blessing. You are blessed by what you do, and you suffer for what you do, Christian or not.

      • Stephen, you’re not wrong – sowing and reaping is a universal principle that comes up again and again in scripture. But that’s not what this post is about and it’s an inferior way to motivate the children of God. If your children help out around the house, are you happier if they do it out of love or if they do it expecting some reward? We don’t serve to get blessed; we serve because we are blessed. This is not semantics; it’s the difference between life and death!

        To make inferences about who’s pulling their weight and who’s not, smacks of self-righteousness. And labeling the apparent inactivity of others as sin is not a game any of us should be playing. As you say, spurring others in love is the business we are to be in.

        Your other comment was deleted because it wasn’t in the spirit of congenial discussion. If you wish to talk about sowing and reaping, you may want to comment under this post. If you wish to talk about how to motivate lazy Christians, try this one. Please limit any future comments on this thread to axes and roots. Thanks.

      • @ Paul –
        Appreciate your response, I’m with you. We want our brothers/sisters in Christ, and ourselves, to be serving out of love, not expecting a blessing. I am completely on board with that 100%. And your article was speaking about the problem with telling people they’ll be blessed if they “work” but not if they don’t, but I’m concerned about what the article does not say….

      • If you want to discuss works under grace, please see the posts I linked to in my comment above or check out the Archives > Subject Index > Works of faith. Thanks.

      • Remember, eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God said, dying we will die. The good from that tree, will get us just as much as the evil.
        Eat from the tree of life! Show the people Jesus and how much He loves them. The rest just leave it to the Holy Spirit. 🙂
        Another awesome article Paul, thank you so much!

  10. Terry Bartels // December 9, 2015 at 6:46 pm // Reply

    Thanks Paul for your posts I am encouraged that you and a few others are revealing what His Spirit in me witnesses to be the truth about God For so long religion and mans corruption has blinded both saved and unsaved and robbed us from the abundant overcoming life He intended Now I rest in Christs finished work and as more and more His love is revealed to me (first ) I am moved to love back as a response with thanks and praise He has drawn me by His goodness and now my will is in this to please Him thus faith worketh by love Thank you for helping teach the truth of the right order of things Terry B Australia

    • @Terry

      Thanks for your input. Its a revelation of how to be moved to do the good works we are created in Christ to do because we now desire to. Its how God works in us both to will and do his good pleasure. Thanks.

      Brother Paul: Shalom!

  11. I just can’t get enough of this JESUS GOSPEL OF GRACE!!!

  12. Enlightening message, timely, precise and concise!

  13. Wonderful teaching Mr. Ellis ! This scripture is often misunderstood, looking forward to your next post. Love and prayers from Norway \ Christ is Lord, King and the one that has purified us from ALL sin! He has been with me during problems, pain and fear. When i prayed for help, he kept leading me back to the pure and simpel gospel that is: Christ is the son of God, who gave his life for us! Im loving him more and more. Kind regards! KG

  14. Today I was reading the bible and needed to clarify some of the verses, it was about tending your garden and you will be blessed if not you will not be blessed. This is the end of the response to my inquiry:

    Jesus is the lamp, the light of the world, and at some point in time, it will become painfully clear to all of humanity. To those of us who are believers, Jesus promises us a spiritually rich reward, beyond all of our expectations or what we could ever imagine – If we tend the garden, He will make it happen.

    How do I interpret this?

    • Which scripture were you reading?

      • Mark 3:31-4:25, specifically: “Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. 25 Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” I understand this to be the belief of God, if you believe you will be rewarded with more, if you are not, what you have will be taken away, as in SALVATION.

      • Confused, maybe I am not making sense. Thank you anyway.

      • Hi Glenn, sorry I missed your earlier comment. I’m travelling with my family. For my take on the “to whom much is given much is required verse” (which also appears in Luke 12:48), see this post.

  15. Hey, Paul. Woke up at 3am and just finished reading your post. I thank God daily for leading me to your site. I’ve seen so much sticks and carrots in the churches I have attended. Thanks for being a light to His light that He wishes all believers to know and enjoy. As a side note, I bought “Iggy ” for my great niece and nephew , two of your books for me , as well as the biography of Paul. I hope to visit New Zealand, and when I do, I would like take you and your family out to dinner. As I’ve said before, I feel as though I have been born again again. That is the best Christmas present I have ever received : )

  16. Thanks Paul. So refreshing. I always look forward for your next post

  17. Ronald Buyungo // December 18, 2015 at 1:09 pm // Reply

    Great bro!

  18. Patrick Mooney // December 21, 2015 at 10:16 pm // Reply

    Paul I thought you were going to say you were put off by those peddling mixed vegetables

  19. Praise God!…Finally…some life. Merci mille font Monsieur

  20. I just can’t get enough of this JESUS GOSPEL OF GRACE!!!

  21. Roshan Easo // April 15, 2016 at 1:07 pm // Reply

    I don’t know if you’ll post this but I’m a bit confused if I’m a believer, why do I always need grace so much. which I do.

    • momzilla76 // April 17, 2016 at 5:03 am // Reply

      The first thing that came to mind is my kids. They are all at different stages of needing me. No body blames a child for being the age they are. I think we Christians over blame ourselves for being where we are too. Grace is there. God offered it freely knowing we would need it a lot.

  22. richard elson // January 19, 2017 at 9:36 pm // Reply

    When John said “. . .Even now the axe is layed to the root..” I understand he is explaining the results of failure to produce fruits of righteousness.
    The roots remain, the tree is cut down . . .However, a single branch grows from the remaining root, that being Jesus.
    NOW, all believers are grafted into Jesus.

    The so called beatitudes are a description of the condition Jesus found the ones “prepared” for him by John. John’s ministry prepared Israel by pointing out they were no closer to righteousness after 14 centuries than when they had begun. . . They had failed within their religious system and the revelation of that failure caused (matt5) , a shattered ego; a sense of loss and therefore mourning; no longer the self proclaimed examples of righteousness to all the “dogs”, their mouths are now shut; being made aware of their deficiencies, they now had a great hunger and thirst; the receivers of forgiveness would therefore be merciful; their heart motivation becomes pure.

    The people no longer had all the answers felt battered, lost and in pain after being prepared by John, Jesus said “they were blessed”, even though they didn’t know it yet.

    The “Beatitudes” are not what we have to strive towards to be good Christians, the’re what you feel when you give up on your high opinion of yourself.
    Jesus says, “it doesn’t feel like it right now, but you’re blessed”

  23. What a wonderful message full of Truth and Life. Oh bless the Lord for the Good News, and for those of His people that do not hide it under a bushel and keep it to themselves. God bless you my dear brother in Christ. For the fruit that you bear unto the name of Jesus is sweet and indeed refreshing. The Spirit and the Bride say, COME! HalleluYaH!

  24. Love all your articles and share them often.

  25. Anthony gould // August 4, 2017 at 7:25 am // Reply

    I have only one work on earth and is to believe in abba father god and his promises John 6=29

  26. I loved this teaching. Thank you for sharing.

  27. Willem van Es // January 25, 2018 at 7:47 am // Reply

    Excellent!! I am really enjoying your books, “The Gospel in 10 Words” and “The Gospel in Twenty Questions”. They are bringing so much clarity and understanding to me of the true nature of the good news and ” amazing grace”. It is life changing. I give thanks to the Lord for the great insights he has given you for your ability to put them across simply and clearly.

  28. Thank you for this post. I recognise the balance intended here. But I do think that stating the fact of the scripture does not make the true pastors “ravenous wolves”… Otherwise perhaps is Paul the apostle also a ravenous wolf for stating this in Romans 11:21 “For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee”… I believe there is the danger of being removed for not bearing good fruit… the question rather should be what are these good fruits? I do agree with you that some “hirelings” will want to coerce the congregation into thinking good fruits is all about money and doing the pastors bidding. But true christians (especially pastors) should be able to rightly divide this scripture. God bless.

  29. Fredric Schuster // September 23, 2018 at 3:47 am // Reply

    We often confuse God with the devil, Forgiveness for condemnation, because we are following the wrong church. I MYSELF HAVE HAD YEARS OF SPIRITUAL ABUSE AS AN ACTIVE MEMBER OF A CHRISTIAN CULT. THANK GOD I AM FREE TO THINK FOR MYSELF. (Free to get to know God by His spirit and His word. Not by the traditions of men) FREE, FREE AT LAST!!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.