Read: Matthew 7
“You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” (Matthew 7:16)
When I was growing up, I remember hearing the pastor of our church, who happened to be my dad, exhort our small congregation with these words of wisdom: “The Bible says we’re not supposed to judge other people, but it doesn’t say we shouldn’t be inspecting their fruit.” In light of what Jesus taught here in Matthew 7, he was standing on solid theological ground.
Now the world has used Jesus’ words in verse 1, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged”, as a sledgehammer against Christians who take a stand on the cultural issues of our day, but Jesus never intended his words to intimidate believers into moral silence. The truth is, we have been called to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) both to wayward Christians as well as lost people who are headed for a Christless eternity. Who better to stand on the wall as moral and spiritual watchman than an authentic Christ-follower?
Our calling as ambassadors for Christ is to compel people to righteousness, but we are to do so without being self-righteous and moralistic. If we fail at that, truly our judgmentalism becomes a turn off to everyone—sinners, saints and even God himself. And while we have failed at that on occasion, past failure is no reason to abdicate a role that is critical to both the purity of the church and the salvation of the lost.
Now as it relates to Matthew 7, what we need to understand is that when Jesus spoke against judging in verses 1-8, he was specifically taking a stand against what had become the national pastime in Israel: evaluating the spirituality of others by their outward observance of the Mosaic law and their acts of religious piety. The fact is, Jesus said in verses 21-23 that there will be those who were pretty good at being religious and who will be able to claim an amazing track record of good deeds, but will still be refused entrance into the eternal kingdom when they stand before God. Thinking religious piety was their meal ticket to heaven, they will be shocked and dismayed to discover that their good deeds didn’t get them “in” with God—only grace can do that.
So in that regard, we are not to be judgmental, as the Jews had become. We are, however, to evaluate the spiritual quality of those who claim to know Christ by inspecting the fruit being produced from their lives. We are to “know them by their fruit.” What is “knowable” fruit in the life of a Christian?
- The fruit of repentance: John the Baptist called attention to that in Matthew 3:8. This is the first fruit we can observe in a God-honoring life—a complete turn around from sinful patterns to the pursuit of God’s righteousness.
- The fruit of abiding: Jesus addressed this in John 15, saying that when a believer is fundamentally connected to him, abiding the True Vine, there will be much fruit that brings great joy to the believer and much glory to God the Father.
- The fruit of giving: In Romans 15:14-29 Paul speaks of the fruit that comes when we financially resource God’s work: redeemed souls and relieved suffering.
- The fruit of the Spirit: The most revealing fruit of authentic faith and growth in Christ is the fruit the indwelling Spirit produces in the believer—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)
- The fruit of the light: Ephesians 5:8-12 speaks of observable fruit in a believer that consists of goodness, righteousness and truth.
- The fruit of praise: Our lips are to offer up the sacrifice of praise that glorifies God through Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 13:14-16)
For sure, we must avoid the spiritual pitfall of becoming judgmental. Nothing destroys Kingdom life and blocks Kingdom growth quite like that. Noting sullies God’s reputation more on Planet Earth than self-righteous pain in the neck busybody believers sticking their opinion into everybody’s business. But if we are going to protect God’s family from false believers and fake teachers, if we are going to exhort and admonish one another on toward growth in grace and the character of Christ, and if we are going to call a lost world to a loving God, we can’t shy away from inspecting the fruit once in a while.
And a good place to start is by inspecting your own! That in itself will most definitely keep you from being judgmental.
“Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works.” ~Martin Luther
What If God Took Over?
Do a little fruit inspection in your own life today. Is there visible fruit in the areas the New Testament calls you to fruitfulness?
- The fruit of repentance—Matthew 3:8
- The fruit of abiding—John 15:5-8
- The fruit of giving—Romans 15:14-29
- The fruit of the Spirit—Galatians 5:22-23
- The fruit of the light—Ephesians 5:8-12
- The fruit of praise—Hebrews 13:14-16