From time to time I hear people talking about considering a persons “fruit” to try to determine if they are an eternally saved believer in Christ. I even had a deacon tell me once that he believed that God had called him to be a “fruit” inspector. However is this something believers ought to do? Or is it a twisting of scripture? I have my belief on the matter and have stated it in various places. Recently though I saw post from a friend on Facebook that I thought really encapsulated well the answer to this question and also provided a few worthwhile examples to consider.
I agreed with what my friend posted. He has permitted me to share it on this blog. Please consider this for yourself and share with others.
From Ben Vogt:
“One of the most subtly damaging and widely misused phrases thrown around in Christendom is “ye shall know them by their fruits,” which is found in Matthew 7:16. This verse is often used to justify conduct-based “fruit inspection” of another Christian’s life to determine whether or not he or she is “truly saved.” That is NOT the intended purpose of this verse. As the saying goes, “a text out of context is a pretext,” so it is with Matthew 7:16. Now, let’s break it all down. Who will we know by their fruits? What are the “fruits” NOT referring to? What are the real “fruits” spoken of in this context? And is observable conduct an infallible indicator of whether or not a person is saved? What should we do instead of judging Christians as saved or unsaved by their outward conduct? Let’s find out.
It is crucial to look at Matthew 7:16 in its proper context, because its prior verse, Matthew 7:15, says, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” So here you have it. Who will we know by their fruits? FALSE PROPHETS! This is NOT referring to Christians in general, but to FALSE PROPHETS. Those are the ones who we will “know by their fruits.” Why do we have to beware? Because if you read on to Matthew 7:21-23, it is clear that they will be bringing in damnable heresies. In other words, they will bring in false gospels that not only lead the lost to Hell, but can also severely damage those who are saved and cause them to doubt their salvation.
With that all being said, let’s start with what “fruits” are not. Many Christians think that the “fruits” mentioned in Matthew 7:16 are outward conduct. With this conclusion in mind, they go around and shoot off their mouths about other people saying, “Oh, this person isn’t living like a Christian (based on a given standard), so he/she must not be saved.” This idea is COMPLETETLY wrong for a number of reasons. One, consider Jesus’ sayings at the beginning of the chapter, “judge not lest ye be judged” and “take the beam out of thine one eye; and then thou shalt see clearly to take the speck out of thy brother’s eye.” Two, the false prophets spoken of in Matthew 7:15 are said to appear as “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” On the outside, they’re going to look good. They’re going to look like sheep. They’re going to appear as agents of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:10-14). Many Christians would look at them and say, “Oh, look at the life this person lives, he/she must be a true man/woman of God.” But appearances can be deceiving. They may preach things that sound good to man, but in the long run cause great turmoil and distress in many spiritual lives. I will speak more in depth about this in the next paragraph.
So what “fruit” are we to judge false prophets by? Look at Matthew 12:33-34 “Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” There you have it, we are to judge false prophets by their teachings. Of course, no Bible teacher is immune to error, but remember, the gospel they preach is the clincher. A true test of whether or not they are a biblical messenger of God. If the gospel they preach does not line up with scripture, and causes you to focus more on your works rather than on Christ, then it is a false gospel and they are a false messenger. Do NOT listen to them! They are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Their teachings will destroy you. They will cause you to doubt your salvation, doubt God’s love for you, make you feel guilty and insecure with God, make you feel like it’s all on YOUR shoulders to make God happy, fill you up with pride and cause you to become bitter and judging toward other people. One example is a doctrine commonly known as “Lordship Salvation,” which demands an upfront commitment to forsake all known sin and adhere to all the demands of discipleship, in addition to faith in Christ, in order to be saved. As a result of this theology; many people doubt their salvation, live in profuse guilt over their sins and failures, are tempted to walk away from the faith, become prideful and judging of others who do not live up to their standards, contemplate suicide, fear the idea of “having a license to sin” when the real Gospel of Grace (solely being saved through faith in Christ based on His sacrifice on our behalf) is preached to them, and a whole plethora of other problems. Therefore, we are to judge false prophets by their teachings, especially on salvation, because their teachings are damaging.
So is looking at outward appearances a good way to judge whether or not somebody is saved? Again, appearances can be deceiving. There is one verse, 1 Samuel 16:7, which says, “man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” This is how a lot of Christians tend to think: “Oh look at Pedro, he claims to be a Christian but he never wants to go to church. Sally’s the real deal, she’s always involved in church ministry and feeding the poor. Wendy says she accepted Christ at four years old, and now she has a kid out of wedlock. Nick lives such a pure life and preaches against sexual immorality, so he must be a real Christian. Frank says all you have to do is believe on Jesus to be saved, yet he cusses like a sailor. Dexter has such a clean mouth and always says godly and encouraging things, so he is a man of God.” But we only see these people from the outside, yet we never stop to consider what they might be going through on the inside. Maybe Pedro sincerely loves the Lord and worships and prays to Him at home, but he avoids church because of people IN the church who have emotionally hurt him in the past. Sally may look good on the outside, but what if on the inside she is prideful in herself, for all the big charitable deeds she does, and looks down on others who aren’t as committed as she is. If Wendy truly saw her need for Christ and trusted Him as her Savior, then she IS truly saved, but maybe she was never discipled properly and was never warned to avoid premarital sex. Perhaps she realized the error of her decision, and that it wasn’t God’s will for her, but now she is raising her kid because she feels that it is the right thing to do. Nick may look pure and set against sexual immorality on the outside, but on the inside, he might be sexually coveting the girlfriend of another Christian who disagrees with his theology. Consider that Frank might be a new believer in Christ, with some emotional baggage from his past, and thus frequently swears in anger and frustration but doesn’t understand why he shouldn’t do that. Dexter may say godly and encouraging things to his friends, but at home he may verbally batter and belittle his homosexual brother and tell him that he is going to Hell. You honestly never know.
What if it is all like this? Pedro, Wendy, and Frank are all truly saved because they saw their need for Christ, knowing of His sacrifice for them, and trusted in Him to forgive their sin and reconcile them to the Father. Sally, Nick, and Dexter are NOT saved because they have trusted in their own religious conduct and commitment to make them right with God while subconsciously mocking Christ’s finished work as “cheap grace,” “easy-believism,” or “fire insurance.” Sally, Nick, and Dexter need to be confronted with their error on the Gospel and led to trust in Christ alone, apart from their works. As for Johnny, Wendy, and Frank, the best thing we can do, according to Galatians 6:1, is to “restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” If saved people like them come to terms with what they did wrong and have changed their attitude about it, then we should give them spiritual comfort. If not, then we should gently say to them something like, “Hey brother/sister, you shouldn’t do this and it’s not God’s will for you because (fill-in-the-blank). As children of God, and ambassadors for Christ, here’s what we should do instead.” Nowhere are in scripture are we told to judge another Christian as saved or unsaved based on outward conduct, because appearances can be deceiving.
Remember, we must always rightly divide the Word of God and keep everything in its rightful context. Pulling a random verse out of its context, and making it say what we want it to say, can be VERY damaging to the Body of Christ. Just think. What if somebody thought YOU weren’t committed enough and judged YOU as unsaved? How would that make you feel? What if they didn’t know what you were going through in your private spiritual life? With that all being said, it is important that we reserve judgment until we see someone for who they really are. Someone who we may think of as a holy servant of God may turn out to be a deceiving servant of Satan. On the other hand, someone who may claim to be a Christian but not act like it may be internally struggling to do the right thing, or they may be in need of godly guidance and mentorship from other believers. In essence, Matthew 7:16 tells us that we will know false prophets by their teachings and the deadly, wounding spiritual effects that they have on their followers. It is all rooted in the gospel they preach. Listen to it thoroughly and ask yourself: does it lead me to focus more on what I have to do or what Christ has done for me, and does it give me peace and assurance or fear and doubt? This is how you can tell true prophets and false prophets apart.
God bless and maranatha!”