Sunday, January 23, 2011

You Will Know Them By Their Fruits

Here is a brief follow-up to one of the thoughts in my last post about faith and fruit:

Many Christians think that Jesus taught that we can tell whether people are truly believers or not by looking at their "fruit." Actually, this is not what Jesus said. Jesus said that false prophets, not false believers, can be told by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-16). Also, in the context of Matthew 7, it is clear that fruits does not refer to good or bad deeds, because in verse 15 Jesus said that these false prophets would come in sheep's clothing. In order for that to be true, they must outwardly look like true prophets. This would primarily refer, not to their physical appearance, but to their actions.

Even using basic logic, it should be clear that a false prophet may live an outwardly moral life. The fruit by which false prophets may be identified is the fruit of their mouths, or what they teach. In fact, in the book of Luke, it is quite clear that this is what Jesus meant by referring to "fruits." In Luke 6:44 Jesus says that every tree is know by its fruit. Then in Luke 6:45 he interprets this figurative language by saying that what people say indicates what is in their hearts. So, a false prophet or false teacher can be identified, not by his outward morality or lack thereof, but by whether what he says lines up with God's word.

Jesus didn't talk about knowing true or false believers by their fruits at all, but even if we did want to apply what He said about false prophets to trying to ascertain whether someone is a believer, we would have to evaluate people's spiritual condition by what they say, not by whether or not we see good works in their lives. If a person can clearly state that he is going to spend eternity with God because he has believed in Jesus, there is no reason to question that, even if his life is lacking in some areas. On the other hand, if a person is unclear as to whether he will make it to heaven, or has his trust in anything besides Jesus to get him there, we may validly conclude him to be either unsaved or saved but subsequently confused, no matter how good of a life he lives.

More on faith and fruit in a while, in the meantime, any thoughts on this?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Faith, Fruit and Fad Diets

Being that it is early in the New Year, many people out there have bought diet books and are a few days into a new diet program. I myself have, in the past, followed a couple of different diet plans, sometimes to lose a little weight myself or to try and gain more energy, other times to be a “diet buddy” for my wife if she was on one (By the way, my wife tells me that a skinny spouse does not make the best dieting buddy). Not only have I been on a few diets, I’ve read a few diet books, and one thing I’ve noticed is that all of them seem to promise, not only weight loss, but also improved energy levels and a greater quality of life in general. Some of them even go into great detail about how much energy and hunger, or lack thereof, you should be experiencing at each stage of the diet. Of course, the problem is, not every diet plan delivers what it promises. If I am following a diet program and it says I should be feeling unbounded energy, and I am not, what can I conclude? Normally, I have concluded that the diet in question made greater claims for itself than were realistic. In other words, I decided that particular diet didn’t work.

Unfortunately, many people understand the Bible to be making claims much like some diet books. Their understanding of the fact that the Bible says that all who are in Christ are new creatures and of what Jesus meant when He said “You will know them by their fruits” is that if you have truly believed, a certain amount of “fruit” in your life is guaranteed. Now, I don’t think that the Bible actually teaches that fruit is inevitable in the lives of every believer, but I know that many people do. The problem is, what happens when it doesn’t work? What happens to the person who has been told that if he will only believe in Jesus or “give his life to Jesus,” or whatever the case may be, he will no longer be able to habitually sin but will have the fruit of the Spirit in his life, but then who does continue to have problems with sin or doesn’t see the fruit of the Spirit in his life? Unless that person studies the Bible and concludes that what he has been taught is incorrect, he only has two options as far as I can see. One option is to conclude, like with a diet program that doesn’t deliver all that it claims, that the Bible doesn’t work. The other is to conclude that he hasn’t really been following the program correctly. Maybe he didn’t really believe in the right way. Maybe it was only “head faith” and not heart faith. Either way, this person will be plagued with uncertainty, either about the reliability of the Bible, or about whether or not he is really saved.

The reality is, there are many people who have believed in Jesus but who don’t evidence the fruit of the Spirit. There are also many regenerate people, in fact I believe all of them, who still struggle with sin. Many, indeed, sin often enough that their sin might be called “habitual.” However, I don’t believe this runs counter to what the Bible actually teaches. The Bible is not like a diet program that doesn’t live up to its claims, it is just that many people misunderstand what it says in this area of fruit. I believe that the Bible teaches that the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) is produced only when we walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:18), and not that all believers do that. When Jesus said “you will know them by their fruits (Matthew 7:16), he was speaking of identifying false teachers, not true or false believers. Incidentally, I believe He was talking about identifying them by what they say, not necessarily by how they act, but more on that later. I intended to put this post out there to generate some thought, and will try to follow it up later with some thoughts about specific verses dealing with fruit and whether it is inevitable in the life of every believer.