“By Its Fruit”

“Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.

You brood of vipers! How can you speak good things, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

The good person brings good things out of a good treasure, and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure. 

I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Matthew 12:33-37 (NRSV)

“Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (…) 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 5:16-17, 19-23a, 24-25 (NRSV, boldface mine)

This may come as a shock and a disappointment, but …

…good deeds, church affiliation,  solid theology, and careful exegesis are not, technically, fruit of the Spirit.

 These things may point to the fruit of the Spirit in us (or reveal its absence). However, more often than not, the things we pride ourselves in as Christians are of the fruit of the flesh: being the “true church”, internal and external quarreling, dissensions, denominational factions– seeking to be regarded as “right” over and against being True to the Spirit in loving our neighbors. Sadly, this is what stands out about Christianity to those outside of the Church. 

Do we really wonder why we as Americans currently find ourselves in a post-Christian culture, guided by a secular ethos? 

It would be easy (and dishonest) to blame the plight of the American Church on anyone other than ourselves. How tempting it is to point to the ‘breakdown of the nuclear family’, and the widespread rejection of traditional views of marriage, as being evidence of the depravity of the world and their desperate need for our religious institutions. As if we, the American Church,  has stood quietly by, this whole time, eager to gently lead today’s sheep into unity in the Body of Christ, and encourage a life guided by the Spirit, bearing fruit for God. 

Maybe some individual congregations have been able to reliably feed and tend Christ’s sheep… (avoiding the trap of focusing on what humans do wrong to the exclusion of what Christ can make right). But I cannot find one denomination that has been able to wholly partner with Christ and affect in its system of congregations what would amount to a cataclysmic change in how human beings relate to the Spirit of God. Instead, American churches continue to ignore the root of the problem: the fracture within our own hearts. Every time we  attempt to divide the body of Christ (yet again) over temporal differences , we are in actuality  doing our best to avoid addressing the division still at war on the battlefield of our hearts.

Factions and rabid dissensions are not of the Spirit.

Every time we pit TULIP against BEARDS (as much fun as it is to do so when we ‘win’) we are further entrenching ourselves in our differences rather than working towards unity in Christ. 

No where in the entire Bible does it say you must believe in the right doctrine or have the correct theological perspective in order to gain entrance to the kingdom of God

The Reformers, setting forth the Five Solas (by faith, scripture, Christ, grace, and for the glory of God alone) in their critique of the Roman Catholic Church of the 16th century, neglected to identify doctrine, baptism, communion, or sexual orientation among their theological principles. And yet, Protestantism has continued to divide itself, continually, over such peripheral concerns

It is very disconcerting to me, as a follower of Christ, to find so little unity among fellow Christians. The unity I have come across has been life-changing for me. So much so, that I desire to bring it into being wherever the Spirit might lead me. The thing is, the fruit of the flesh can tempt us all into choosing to follow a familiar spirit opposed to the Spirit. Quarreling, anger, strife, dissensions… They are among the fruit of the flesh–the sin that clings so closely (Hebrews 12:1). 

We will be known by our fruit

I think our culture knows the spirit working within most of American Christianity… They recognize it as belonging to that of their own. What hope can such a Church bring to those looking for relief from their bondage, when we ourselves  are still enslaved by the same spirit of bondage?


19 thoughts on ““By Its Fruit”

  1. You make a great point in that the fruit of the Spirit is revealed on the inside, in our hearts, and not accomplished by good deeds. Every good deed that God wants us to do, requires transformation on the inside before it can happen.

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    1. It’s taken me long enough to realize, in myself, that my good works are garbage of they are done out of compulsion, fear or attempts at manipulating God’s favor. Sunday School Jesus want you to please God. The Real Jesus wants us to love God and each other as He does.

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  2. Interesting post, Kristen. I believe doctrine is important. I agree that there are matters in which we need not divide, but sound doctrine according to the scriptures is important. The Apostle Paul stressed this to Timothy over and over, I Timothy 1, and I Timothy 4 and II Timothy 3 and Titus 1:9 Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the |opposers|.

    I know you know all of this, as I stated before your well is so much deeper. I have not heard of BEARDS. You sent me to Google. :>)

    Yes, I agree Jesus wants us to love him and he says that we prove our love by keeping his commandments, doing what he says. So then I suppose, I disagree because we are called to work out our soul salvation with fear and trembling. Philippians 2:12b

    You certainly keep me thinking! I appreciate that.

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    1. Barbara, I love how gentle you are in your critique of my perspective:)
      Our dialogues here serve as evidence that Christians from differing traditions can have meaningful discussions about doctrinal issues without dissolving into quarrels and dissensions.

      From our conversations here, I gather that you are more Reformed in your own theological perspective? I am very well versed in Reformed theology, as the churches my family attended in my preteen and teen years were largely Reformed.

      I think, seeing how that particular perspective can play out it faith formation (especially my own), I tend to be very critical of the more Calvinist veins in that tradition. And, I’m not particularly unique in that regard… The 17th century Anglican minister, John Wesley, preached against the doctrine of Predestination. (If you are into historical theology, you can read a transcript of such a sermon here: http://evangelicalarminians.org/john-wesley-charges-that-calvinism-makes-god-out-to-be-worse-than-the-devil/)

      I tend to know much about various doctrines, yet, cannot bring myself to espouse any one of them over another. It matters not what we believe ABOUT God– the REALITY of God trumps any and all theories that desire to interpret Scripture into a dominating Soteriology.

      Jesus Himself says in John 14:6: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That’s all the Soteriology I need right there!

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      1. Actually, I was simply believing the Bible, until I learned that what I was believing was Calvinistic. I totally agree that Jesus is the way, and the only way. But practically what does that mean? I spent most of my life in a church that just prided itself on saying, we believe the Bible, but my question was what do we believe the Bible teach? For many claim they believe the Bible. I also know that John Wesley was against predestination. I just don’t know Hwhat one does with Romans 8:28-30 and Romans 9. It appears that the Apostle Paul anticipated people would find this doctrine unacceptable and unfair. I don’t think it is up to us to make it palatable, so I just accept. Jesus says those who come to him he will in no wise cast out.

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      2. Oooh! I love your questions!!

        Hermeneutics is the branch of theology that deals with how we interpret Scripture– how we come to understanding what it means for us. The reality of being human includes the fact that whenever we read something, we are in effect already interpreting its meaning. And unless we are fully aware of all our own inherent bias and preconceived ideas about what we read, we are destined to interpret what we read according to our own purposes. Which is why I believe that it’s necessary for Christians today to study the historical and cultural environment within which the Biblical writers lived, in addition to the actual texts. It’s not enough to just ask “what does this mean?”– we also have to enter into the author’s world and ask “who is this author speaking to, and what was he trying to say to his audience?”

        In Romans, Paul is writing specifically to Jewish Christians. He expounds on this concept of election in chapters 8-9 to make his case for inclusion of the Gentiles into the Body of Christ. The Jewish people understood themselves as the chosen ones– the nation that God chose as His own. It was revealed to the early church, through the Holy Spirit, that God intended to call ALL peoples to Himself. Not just the Jews. Paul is saying that God has the freedom to call who He will. He is not restrained by Jewish tradition or human ideas of nationality. And that’s what Paul means by election– it has always been God’s intent to call all people to Himself through Christ Jesus. Not just the ones previously understood to be His chosen people. And this has been God’s plan all along!

        As far as what it means that Jesus Christ is the way, truth and the life…. I plan to write a future post on the subject. Have you read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s understanding of Christ as mediator? It makes so much sense to me in light of John 14:6.

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      3. Mmmm. I know that there is that belief that Paul is speaking to the Jews, but I believe he is actually reassuring believers that after explaining the believers security in chapter 8, that they need not doubt God’s ability, even though the Jews, his chosen people rejected him. He explains that God is still working out his purposes, that it is a part of his plan and establishing that God has not failed. But my sister, I will leave it there. Let’s agree to maintain our beliefs. I came upon a quote of Martin Luther yesterday. “My conscience is held captive to the word of God. Here I stand, I can do no other; so help me God.” Have a blessed day!

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      4. I love it! Luther’s concept of the bound conscience of the believer allows us much more freedom to unite with other believers without having to insist upon shared theological perspectives. It puts theology and doctrine into its proper place– tertiary to our love of God and neighbor:)

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      5. One of my favorite Luther quotes is this one:
        “Christ is the Master; the Scriptures are only the servant. The true way to test all the Books is to see whether they work the will of Christ or not.”

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      6. Interestingly, personal Bible study is a fairly new phenomenon. The invention of the printing press in the 15th century, coupled with the near universality of literacy among the first world nations (coming out of the Enlightenment) over the past two centuries, have led to what amounts to a new trend within Christianity. Literacy itself (not to mention access to sacred texts) was largely restricted by social class.

        When we take this historical view, we are left to consider the faith of the illiterate peasant classes (which accounted for most of the population in pre-reformation Europe). How has Christ revealed Himself to the least of these– those Christ is most concerned about– during the 1200 year period of hierarchical church rule?

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      7. Through the church. Just like Paul exhorted Timothy to give attention to the reading of the word and preaching the word, teaching sound doctrine. This is how they first learned. Much like now in places all over the world where the Bible is not available in the translations of the peoples. There are missionaries, God is sending people to proclaim his Word for how shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent?


      8. Right… and it was the predatory theology (the inquisition, the sale of indulgences, etc. etc. ) of the pre-reformation Church that compelled the first Reformers.

        So you can see, to regard those that speak in Christ’s name as highly as the Christ they speak of had disastrous consequences for medieval Christianity.

        My point is this: one cannot any institution to usurp the role of one’s own relationship with Christ. The whole point of Scripture is to point us into relationship with Him. The entire point of evangelism is to point others into relationship with Him.

        I’m going to fall back on Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew here, from 7:21-23:
        ” Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'”

        We can claim to know much ABOUT Christ, through scripture and Church teachings. But it is not the same as KNOWING Christ and being KNOWN by Christ in that beautiful interaction we call relationship.

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      9. I think we, of the generation of Bible-toting Christians, have taken the current accessibility of Scripture for granted. And as a result, we have lost sight of the all important work of the Holy Spirit. Christianity has always been considered to be a revealed religion. Unfortunately, many contemporary Christians are falling into the same trap that ensnared first century Judaism– revering the written word ABOUT God, over revering the person of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. Christ is real and active today in the world today, in the same way He has been since Pentecost. But He keeps His work largely hidden from view of those still intent on exalting the letter of Scripture over and against the work of His Spirit in us. We cannot serve two masters.


      10. As you go on your way, I’ll leave you with this:

        “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
        And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
        1 Corinthians 13:12-13


      11. I agree it requires the hermeneutic, and I believe the Holy Spirit helps us to see so that we don’t force our point of view onto the text. “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of the law. Ps 119:18 I don’t trust myself. I really do have to depend on him. Have a good day, Kristen.

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