Have you ever been in danger of becoming a fruit inspector? As a Christian, there is nothing wrong with practicing prayerful discernment when it comes to choosing friends and fellowships, in fact, we’re told to examine our own hearts before the Lord as well. But fruit inspecting often doesn’t stop there.
We all have convictions about things. Some convictions are stronger than others, but it’s best to err on the gracious side of things when it comes to interpreting other folks’ walks in the faith. My convictions are personal to me, and between me, my husband, my family and God. The Bible says in Colossians 2:16,
Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
We aren’t to judge on these things. Period. But I believe “fruit inspecting”–that is, judging one’s Christian-ness by one’s observable or outward “fruit”–is not only dangerous, it’s highly misleading and all puns aside: fruitless.
Look at the Pharisees. On the outside, they appeared to have it all going for them. They adhered to the “code”. The behavioral code. The good-works code. The dress code. The church attendance code. But they failed to love others, to have grace and mercy, to be humble from the inside out, willingly transparent about their struggles and faults. Their fruit wasn’t real, it wasn’t a result of being connected to the “Vine” or from abiding in Christ, nourished by Him alone. Remember that true fruit of the Spirit is defined in Gal. 5:22–23 as, “…love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance…”
It is tempting to focus overmuch on outward appearances and behavior as signs of salvation, not only in our own lives but in others. But we all know what the Bible says about that.
1 Sam 16:7b says, “…for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.”
There’s got to be grace. And we can’t examine others without examining ourselves more closely. Think of how much we all had to learn the hard way…our desire should always be to encourage and edify other believers in the Lord, and be salt and light, but not to get in the way of the Holy Spirit. When a person becomes saved, they become justified (“just as if I’d never sinned!) and sanctified (made holy and righteous in Jesus) but there is also an ongoing process of sanctification. Our Father has his ways of refining all of us. The Christian life is a refining fire…and some may have to spend 5 years in the wilderness as opposed to others spending 40. Our goal is the Promised Land, a victorious life through Christ as we by faith learn what it means to reckon ourselves dead to sin after salvation, and what it means to walk by the Spirit, not by the flesh. Or in other words, how to plug into the vine and just be grapes! Also, when we look for fruit in a Christian’s life, we are looking for Gal. 5 fruit, not works of the flesh. The works of the flesh contradict the works of the spirit. Read Galatians 5 and see how entangled the Galatians were with works of the law. Circumcision was bondage to them. Is there anything wrong with circumcision? No. But making it part of salvation or the fruit of the spirit, of a life abiding in Christ, yes, that is taking it too far.
Also, how do we accurately judge another Christian’s fruit when there is definitely such a thing as a carnal Christian? This is dangerous territory and I believe the only reason to *go there* is to determine if this Christian is one we want to pursue fellowship with on a deeper level. Remember that iron sharpeneth iron, and we often assume the standards of those we befriend. This would be advice for the single gal who is waiting and watching for a godly future husband. Or to the new family at church who yearns for true fellowship with likeminded believers. Ask yourself, are they walking with Jesus Christ and evidencing all the fruit of the spirit, not just pieces of fruit here and there? Or are they ‘hearers only’ as James refers to? Are they servant minded, feet-washing believers–as our Savior was?
2 Corinthians 2:15 says,
“For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish:”
Our lives need to be a fragrance to the unsaved, our lives and fruit should attract unbelievers as they see Christ in us…If our lifestyle, actions, reactions, sins, or false piety, etc. raise questions and cause confusion to the unsaved, we become a stumbling block.
There is also a tendency to question our salvation or the salvation of others when we “fruit inspect”. We may say, ” Well, I haven’t consistently read my Bible in weeks, or shared the gospel with others in a long time. I feel far from God. I wonder if I’m really saved?” This is attaching works as if they are proof of salvation, when it is a gift of God, not of works lest any man boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)
Instead let us pray to our Father to keep us from being Pharisaical fruit inspectors and examine our hearts and others’ hearts by the word of God. Do we/they claim to be a Christian and lie? Do we/they claim to be a Christian and not have a servant’s heart for others? Do we/they claim to be a Christian and yet lack love and grace? That doesn’t mean those that do or don’t aren’t Christians, but it means we might not want to fellowship with ones that do these things, and it may mean an eventual heart to heart questioning them, “Hey, as a Christian, how do you reconcile this behavior of yours to the word of God, brother/sister?” A carnal Christian will have no joy or assurance in the carnal life, but they are still a Christian.
1 Corinthians 13: 3 really sums this topic up better than I ever could:
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Good works apart from true spiritual fruit profit nothing.
Want to know more about carnal Christianity? Here is a short article on the subject.