(Jesus said): “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.” Matthew 7:15-20 (NRSV)
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines discernment as:
1.: the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure : skill in discerning.
2 : an act of perceiving or discerning something
Jesus speaks so much to us here about discernment. We are not only supposed to be discerning regarding our own hearts and motives, but we should be discerning of the people we associate with and align ourselves with also.
We should strive to be good “fruit inspectors,” beginning with our own fruits. Do our lives bear the fruits of the Spirit that the Apostle Paul speaks of in Galatians 5:22-25-?
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-25 (NRSV)
This “good fruits” test applies first to ourselves and our own conduct, but it also applies to those who we choose to look to as our spiritual leaders and those who comprise our faith community. While no church or faith community is perfect, and any church is just a rag tag collection of sinners, Jesus is telling us to also discern the fruits coming forth from our leaders and our communities. That discernment is not for the purpose of judging others, or for making excuses against being involved in the church, but to be sure that we are listening to and participating in a community that is following Jesus and is not being deceived by false teaching.
Many people are lured into the false cults of prosperity theology (“believe and you will receive”) or of exclusionary theology (only certain special people can be saved,) or of brownie points theology (you can earn your way to heaven by doing good deeds.)
All of these false teachings are contradictory to Jesus’ teachings. Being a Jesus follower means that we will have to pick up and carry our own crosses, not that we are entitled to Porsches and champagne and the good life. While God is our Provision, and He always makes a way to fulfill our needs, earthly wealth and security are not guaranteed to us.
Anyone who God calls to Him can be a Jesus follower- there are no special prerequisites. No one is excluded on the basis of their race, gender or the habitual sin they tend to prefer. When Jesus was here on earth He sought out the very people that the world despised- prostitutes, tax collectors, dirty fishermen and so forth. No one is too bad- or too good- to be a Jesus follower.
No one can earn or deserve God’s grace, as it is intended to be a gift to be received, priceless, yet given to us without cost. The gifts that we return to God are not given to earn brownie points or make ourselves look good, but are in response to the immeasurable gifts He gives to us every day.
Martin Luther taught that the Bible is “like the manger holding Jesus.” The Bible, discerned and taught correctly – and Christian communities- should have Jesus inside. Those good fruits- the Jesus inside- coming forth from a healthy Christian community should be evident everywhere the people of that community leave a footprint.
Good fruits are all those things that show Jesus being lived out in our lives- grace, forgiveness, compassion, serving others, and most of all, love.
Are we exclaiming to the world, “We are Jesus followers!” by bearing these good fruits, not just as individuals, but also as a community?