Monday, June 20, 2011

Fruit Inspector

While it is true that as Christians we are not to judge others.  We are to judge actions and we are to punish actions within the church as necessary, but we are not to judge the person.  We can not know the heart of another and final judgement is up to God alone.  There are many in the church who we may think will have a front row seat at the marriage supper of the lamb yet they will never even be invited and there are others who we are sure are destined to eternal punishment who will be there to greet us when we arrive in eternity.  We are, though, to inspect fruit and it is by that fruit we will have a pretty good idea of their position in Christ.  Let us look at what Jesus said about our job as fruit inspectors. 
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor [can] a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.  Matthew 7:15-20 NKJV
Jesus begins with a warning "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves."  We have all used the phrase "a wolf in sheep's clothing" and this is where it comes from.  Jesus is warning that people under the influence of Satan will try to infiltrate and influence our churches.  Sadly, far too many have ignored this warning.  As a result, we have churches that deny Scripture, churches that cater to the flesh, churches that water-down the gospel message, churches that deny Scripture and have women pastors, churches that ignore sin and accept homosexuality as part of God's plan, we have churches that deny the existence of a literal Satan or literal Hell, and that is just a few examples.  Many wolves have come into our churches and we have (out of a false notion of love) allowed them to stay and spread their poison.  As a result, many of us have been led astray.  This is nothing new.  We see even in the letter to the various churches in Revelation that this problem began even in the beginning of our history.  Jesus gave us this warning and we must heed it. 

So how do we know who are the wolves who who are the sheep?  Apparently wolves are able to take on the image of a sheep quite well for Jesus to have given us this warning.  The answer, continues Jesus, is "You will know them by their fruits."  That is how we identify wolves trying to lead us astray.  We inspect their fruit.  I remember when I was young and I played soccer in my township league.  I remember my friend's father who was the coach who always drilled into us "keep your eye on the ball."  Many will try to fake you with their hips, feet, eyes, or head.  They will try to show you that they are going one way with the ball with their body when they fully intend to go another.  They are hoping to trick you into biting the wrong way and so they can get past your defense.  Its trickery.  A ball, on the other hand, can not trick you.  If you keep your eyes on the ball none of the trickery even comes into play.  It is also like the magician who uses white gloves, exaggerated hand movements, showmanship, and a lot of talking to divert your attention from how they are performing the illusion.  If you know where to look, a magic show loses much of its magic.  The same can be said for the wolf.  They will throw out plenty of Scripture, usually taken way out of context but they speak so fast they never give you time to evaluate their exposition.  They use clever interpretations or translations of Scripture where one word may be twisted in the slightest. They show an outward form of holiness or happiness that is so overwhelming you can not see past it to really get a look at their lives.  They create an illusion of accurate Scripture exposition, holiness, joy, and humility to get our eyes off their actual fruit.  The weave a web of trickery, illusion, and diversion all to keep you from seeing the truth.  Jesus tells us not to look at the person, but to look at their fruit. 

Jesus now explains why it is we look at their fruit. He says "Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor [can] a bad tree bear good fruit."  The reason is that a sheep is a sheep and a wolf is a wolf, no matter how they are dressed.  In other words, you can change appearance but you can not change nature.  The nature of a wolf is to be a wolf and the goal of a wolf is to devour.  Anything else done is merely a means to that end.  Any semblance of Christianity is merely a means to an end and that end is the destruction of the church.  A wolf can not produce good fruit. A true Christian can not produce bad fruit.  That is because our fruit is directly related to our submission to the Holy Spirit dwelling inside us.  A wolf does not even have the Holy Spirit to submit to and without the Spirit, no good fruit is possible. 

Finally, Jesus says "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them."  If we will know them by their fruit, what is that fruit we should be looking for?  There are several ways to answer that question.  The first is fruit produced in our own lives and the second is fruit produced in the lives of others.  I would like to spend the remainder of this post examining what the Bible says about both. 

The first way is what kind of fruit we produce in the lives of others.  Many believe that this fruit is souls saved.  While that is true to some degree, it is an incomplete truth.  Here is what Jesus commissions us to do.
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, [even] to the end of the age." Amen. Matthew 28:19-20 NKJV
We are not called merely to make converts, but disciples.  Disciples are made by teaching others to observe all things that Jesus has commanded us through His word.  That begins with what Jesus defines as a disciple, and that is someone who denies himself, takes up his cross, and follows after Jesus.  There are too many churches that believe the only function of the church is the preach the Gospel and get souls saved. There is zero emphasis on growth or obedience and what you find are churches with very little fruit.  Even if they do produce fruit, closer inspection shows that their fruit is no good.  You have churches filled with people who profess faith in Jesus but yet have no evidence of that fact in their lives.  Changed lives for Jesus are fruit, shallow proclamations of faith are not.  If you, your church, or your ministry is not changing lives for Jesus then what fruit can you claim to show?  The fruit seen in the lives of others are disciples of Jesus.  If there are no disciples produced, then one must question the tree from which it comes. 

The other kind of fruit is the fruit in our own lives. Again the Bible tells us what to look for.
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told [you] in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those [who are] Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:19-24 NKJV
We see here two lists.  One list reflects bad fruit from a bad tree (the works of the flesh) and other is a list of good fruit from a good tree (fruit of the Spirit).  That is what we are to look for when inspecting fruit.  If we see characteristics of the first list, then we need to question the value of the tree.  A good tree will not produce fruit that has characteristics of the first list.  If we see characteristics of the second list in their lives, then we can feel confident that this fruit is coming from a good tree.  Someone walking in the Spirit will not produce works off the first list.  I understand that some Christians have rather spotted fruit and that some outside the church has some good characteristics, but we need to evaluate the fruit as a whole.  We can not declare something as being good fruit because it has one good spot nor can we call something bad fruit because it has one bad spot.  We need to look at their lives as a whole and evaluate what kind of fruit we are looking at.  We also need to evaluate whether the good fruit with the bad spot seems to have any interest in removing that spot or even acknowledging that spot exists.  There is no way for us to evaluate the fruit in one's life with any kind of perfection and so that is why judgement is ultimately up to God.  This is a guideline for us to keep us from the influence of wolves set to devour our faith and not a tool to determine who is Christian and who is not. 

This is why I made the statement last week regarding me having a hard time believing that some who call themselves Christians are in fact Christians.  I look for their fruit and find a lot of bad fruit and not much, if any at all, good fruit.  I know that inspecting the fruit of others is uncomfortable.  We must be careful, one on hand, not to judge, but on the other to give an honest evaluation of what we see.  As uncomfortable as it may be, it is something we are told to do by Jesus as part of a warning to keep us from being devoured by wolves.  It is the hesitance on the part of the church, whether individually or collectively, to be fruit inspectors that has allowed so many of our brethren to be devoured and led into damnable destructive heretical doctrines.  We fail to follow the command of our Lord to our own peril and the result is a church that, in many places, is completely overrun by wolves.  We must protect what we have left and work to spread the true Gospel of Jesus Christ to not only make disciples of those in the world but to free our brethren from the bondage of the false doctrines they have been drawn into.  To do that, we must inspect fruit and not just in the lives of others, but even in our own lives.  God will hold to account all of us who allow bad fruit to continue to sicken the Body of Christ.
But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.  Revelation 2:14-16 NKJV

"Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent."I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works. Revelation 2:20-23 NKJV

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