Friday, January 4, 2013

By Their Fruit

Watch out for the wolves in sheep's clothing, says Jesus. And be careful that you're not one of them.

These warnings are found in Matthew 7:15-23, and An Average Jane has graciously provided a rage comic for the passage too. Awesome!

In the first half of the passage, Jesus repeatedly emphasizes that "by their fruit" you can distinguish between good and bad leaders. What is fruit? 

The fruit of the Spirit, creatively illustrated using 9 fruits that the average American is most familiar with. (Why isn't durian on here?) Image source.
One thing that comes to mind is "the fruit of the Spirit" described in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Good personality traits that come as a result of God's spirit working in one's life.

In a more general sense, "fruit" is a result. So, to determine if someone is a false teacher or not, look at the results of what they are teaching. Do their followers have joy and peace, or are they fearful? Is their teaching causing good or harm in the world?

Furthermore, we can look at the actions of the leader in question. Do they treat others well or not? If not, that's a bit suspicious, and maybe we should challenge their status as a leader.

Because, as Jesus says, there's no way a good tree can produce bad fruit, and there's no way a bad tree can produce good fruit. "By their fruit you will recognize them."

The second half of the passage gets a little more scary, in my opinion. Jesus warns his followers that some people will be disastrously disappointed "on that day" when they meet Jesus (after dying? end of the world? not sure). Because, though they think they've been doing all these great things for Jesus, he will tell them "I never knew you" and it will be the most awkward moment of all time.

(You know how awkward it is when you say hi to someone, and you can tell they totally don't remember who you are... I bet it's even more awkward when it's Jesus.)

Okay but seriously, this seems like the worst thing ever, and it seems like something all Christians should think about- how do we know whether we'll be the ones kicked out when Jesus says "I never knew you"?

Aha! Fortunately, the answer is here in verse 21: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." So if you say "I'm a Christian, Jesus is Lord, etc" that's not quite enough- you also have to "do the will" of God. Even prophesying, driving out demons, and doing miracles isn't enough. Jesus warns that there will be people who have done those things and thought they were working for God, but will be totally stunned to be kicked out of "the kingdom of heaven."

At this point it would be really helpful to know what "doing the will of the Father" means.

First of all, let's go back to the beginning of this passage. "By their fruit you will recognize them." So if you're doing good things, and you see those good qualities in your life, you're probably on the right track.

Also, looking at the bible as a whole, it seems that "God's will" is about love, forgiveness, reconciliation, freedom, justice, etc. So if you're working to promote any of those, you're probably on the right track.

"But perfectnumber," you say, "as a Christian I can't agree with what you're saying- it sounds like you're saying people are saved by being good and doing good things, instead of only through faith in God. And also, this 'by their fruit' bit makes it sound like God is more concerned with whether someone is a good person than whether or not they're a Christian."

Indeed. How bout that.

First of all, this is not a passage whose main point is to tell us what it takes to "get saved." For more clarity on that, we need to look elsewhere in the bible. As I understand it, salvation is an unearned gift from God- you don't have to be "good enough" to get it- but then God requires his followers to show love to God and to people.

And there seems to be some disagreement about the exact roles of "faith" and "works". Personally I think some evangelical Christians go too far- in our eagerness to emphasize that God's grace is not something we earn, we completely downplay the importance of doing good deeds, even implying that "being a good person" is somehow a bad thing.

But anyway. The point of this passage is not "how to get saved." No, Jesus is telling us how to recognize good and bad teachers/leaders (which may or may not correlate to whether said leaders are "saved") and warning that some people who thought they were working for Jesus are going to be pretty surprised when Jesus tells them "I never knew you." Try to avoid that by doing God's will- which I would define as serving and loving both God and people.

Question to my readers: What do you think "fruit" and "doing the will of the Father" mean?


This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous Post: In which I ask (Matthew 7:7-14)

Next Post: Jesus' Tips For Hurricane Preparedness (Matthew 7:24-29)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.


  1. (You know how awkward it is when you say hi to someone, and you can tell they totally don't remember who you are... I bet it's even more awkward when it's Jesus.)
    I laughed so hard at this :)