Discerning the Fruit

Well, hi friends.

I want to talk to you for just a moment about fruit.

I read a passage this past week in my message, and if you didn’t hear that message, I encourage

you to go back and listen to it.

It’s called Kingdom Choices Part 1.

Got Part 2 coming up this coming weekend.

But part of that sermon, working our way through the Sermon on the Mount, we read through in

Matthew 7, starting in verse 15, watch out for false prophets, Jesus said.

They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

By their fruit you will recognize them, or by their fruit you will know them.

Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles?

Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.

A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.

Every tree, Jesus says, that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the


Thus, by their fruit you will recognize, or you will know them.

So the question that came in, I think is a fantastic one, is how can you tell if a person,

if you’re a Christ follower and you’re taking that seriously, how can you tell if you’re

judging fruits and not just normal maturing in the life of another person?

But the question also comes up of many non-Christian people often show what some people would classify

as good fruit.

So how do we know that we’re supposed to be judging them?

Is it possible that non-Christians can bear good fruit and that Christians might not bear

as much good fruit as a non-Christian?

I want to affirm that question and say it’s a fantastic question, and it’s one that I’ve

wrestled with with some friends of mine who’ve asked similar types of questions.

So thank you for sending that in.

I have a couple of thoughts.

One is, I just want to clarify that in that passage that I just read and that I preached

about on Sunday, Jesus really isn’t talking about non-Christians.

What he’s talking about is false teachers and false prophets.

He’s not talking about the fruit that just a normal, average person would show, but a

person who claims divine authority, who is not of divine authority, a person who claims

to speak for God but does not actually speak for God.

So that’s what that passage is about.

And what Jesus is saying is exactly what we read throughout the New Testament, is that

there will be people who will try to dissuade people, knowingly or unknowingly, from walking

the narrow road that Jesus talks about in verses 13 and 14 of chapter 7, which we also

looked at.

So we’re talking mainly about people who claim to be speaking for God but who are not.

And so we talked about looking at the fruit of their lives, of their doctrine, of their

character, the fruit that is borne out in the lives of others.

That’s mainly what that passage is about.

I also want to distinguish between this idea of discernment versus judging.

Matthew 7 is not a passage about judging.

In fact, we’re told not to judge.

God is the one who judges.

We’re not to condemn.

But we are to express and use discernment.

We’re to use discernment.

And chapter 7 in the Gospel of Matthew is all about discernment in a variety of ways,

about discerning between the narrow road and the broad road, discerning between good fruit

and bad fruit, or teachers who represent God and then those who claim to represent God

but do not.

And then even as we get into verse 21, we also look at, many will say on the last day,

Lord, Lord, did we not do?

And of course they list all these things as they stand before Jesus.

And Jesus says, depart from me, I never knew you.

So it’s possible that we would not even have discernment about our own standing before


And so chapter 7 is largely about discernment.

I do want to point that out.

We’re not talking about judging.

We’re talking about discerning fruit.

One of the things we need to recognize is that fruit takes time.

In just a regular setting, fruit takes time, does it not?

And so when Jesus is saying twice there, you will recognize or you will know them by their

fruit, he’s talking about the kind of knowing that comes from experiencing.

It’s a Greek word, epikinosko, which describes something that takes time.

Similar in a way, say for instance, in the book of Acts, when Priscilla and Aquila come

across a young man who is, that they’re mentoring and that they’re discipling, the book of Acts

talks about the time that they spent investing in this young man named Apollos.

And through that time, they were able to help him and discern where he was at so that they

could help him to bear more fruit.

That’s one of the functions of Christians is that we can sharpen each other in that


So we’re not talking about just a haphazard, quick discernment statement about these false

teachers, but over time, the fruit reveals the root.

The fruit reveals the root.

I also want to just speak about the tendency that many of us have to sometimes look at

a person’s good deed, whether they’re a Christian or not, and to compare that with, say, the

fruit or the good deed of another person, another Christian or non-Christian.

And so when we look at non-Christians who are doing good deeds, which is absolutely

possible, and we see a Christian who’s not living up to their faith or not bearing as

much fruit in their lives, it’d be easy to compare those two to one another.

But ultimately, Scripture talks about how we are only to compare our sin and our motives

and our actions as against God’s perfect standard.

And let’s just admit that all of our good deeds, as the book of Isaiah says, all of

our good deeds are like filthy rags before God.

The apostle Paul bragged about his good deeds, but he said that those things that he counted

as gain in the past, he is now counting as loss or as even as dung, that he says that

those things don’t hold up to God’s righteous and perfect standard.

So we need to understand that all of us, Christian and non-Christian, fall short of God’s righteous


And even if a non-Christian or a Christian is doing a good deed or bearing good fruit,

like say for instance, I’m doing something for a neighbor and I’m showing God’s love,

it’s possible even in that good deed to be sinning against God if we’re not doing it,

say, with the right motives or we’re perhaps breaking the first commandment.

Yes, we’re loving this neighbor, but we’re not loving God with all of our heart, soul,

strength, and mind.

You see what I mean?

So when we’re talking about a Christian versus, say, a non-Christian or a Christian and another

individual, really there are, I think scripture would say, two differences, or there should

be two differences between the fruit of a Christ follower and that of a non-Christian.

One has to do with motive, the other has to do with source, the motive.

We are, as we do our good deeds as Christ followers, as we seek to walk out our faith,

are not only to externally conform to what God desires, but also recognize that God looks

at the heart.

That’s what the Sermon on the Mount is all about, isn’t it?

So our motives matter, not just simply the external.

And then ultimately also our source, the source of where it comes from that we are doing our

good deeds.

We as Christ followers are filled and indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God.

And so when we do our good deeds, we’re to do it as unto the Lord and through his strength,

not leaning on our own wisdom or strength or understanding, but leaning on God in all

that we do.

And so those are two distinctive things about the good deeds, say, of a Christ follower

versus that of a non-Christian.

So I do want to affirm, again, non-Christians can do many wonderful deeds, as can Christ

followers, but ultimately God is the judge of these things.

So we need to be discerning about these things and then let God do the judging.

But let’s do our good deeds from good hearts and good motives, leaning on the Lord in all

that we do.

Thank you for this great question.