Luke 6:43-44a “For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit; nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. (44) For each tree is known by its own fruit.”
I’ve heard it said that we cannot judge someone’s heart, but we can be “fruit inspectors.” In other words, the type of heart people have is indicated by the fruit they bear. Good fruit demonstrates they are Christians. Bad fruit means they are not. Besides the fact that the above verse never tells us that we are to inspect anything (you’ll know it when you see – no inspection is needed), what about good pagans and sinful Christians?
Even though we cannot see the heart as God does, some cases for a spiritual arborist are fairly obvious. A few months ago Warren Wiersbe passed away at 89. He had been a pastor and Back to the Bible radio teacher for decades. He had also written 150 books – including a 50 volume commentary on the whole Bible. His godly influence was spread far and wide (Rev 14.13). It is easy to “know” the root system of his tree. Or take Jeffrey Epstein, the pedophile and rapist who died this past week. According to Christ’s words, it is also easy to “know” his eternal destination apart from any deathbed repentance.
But what about the eternal destiny of Rachel Held Evans, a professed Christian author and a popular social media personality? Her death was, ironically, announced on the same day as Warren Wiersbe’s. The trajectory of her profession of faith was very different than his. Although her father was a theology professor at a conservative college, Mrs. Evans continually moved toward the left theologically, becoming a strong feminist and social justice warrior. In March, she tweeted a denial of the Fatherhood of God and sarcastically questioned the inerrancy of Scripture. It was the last tweet she was to post. Within three days she had been admitted into the hospital. She soon slipped into a coma from which she never emerged. She died at the age of 37. Upon her death accolades poured in from all around the internet. A few, however, denied that she was a believer, because of her seriously errant beliefs, and the timing of her unexpected death at such a young age. Her death, coming so soon after mocking God, does certainly create an opportunity to attribute it to God’s judgment. However, conceivably her death could have been God’s discipline of an errant child unto death (see 1 Co 11.27-32, where “sleep” is a metaphor for death). The point is, because there were serious problems with her beliefs, we do not know for sure whether she was saved or not.
And then there is the case of Joshua Harris, a “Christian” author and former pastor. His book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, rightly or wrongly, influenced a whole generation of young Christians toward a courtship model of searching for a spouse. Over the last few years, he has been rejecting that model, and in the past few weeks he has announced his divorce and his own rejection of Christianity. There are people who would say that they have spiritually benefitted from his previous ministry. So what would we say about a previously fruitful tree which has now become barren of any good fruit it may have had? Admittedly, his story is not yet done. He is still alive. But it is hard to imagine the damage done from this type of high profile apostasy by discouraging the Church and giving aide and comfort to God’s enemies. 1 John 2.19 certainly comes to mind as a warning in his case: “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us.”
So we return to the question, “What about good pagans and sinful Christians?” Or put another way, “What of those whose fruit seems to be mixed or polluted?” Well, from Christ’s words, we know there are only two types of people (trees) – saved and unsaved. Secondly, what we do (fruit) does not determine who we are. But what we do should give a clear indication concerning which of the two types of trees we are. Any speculation beyond those parameters should be done with hopeful grace toward the deceased – they are, after all, in God’s hands now – or as a warning to us all to not follow in their ambiguous or sinful footsteps.
Those who profess Christ, but have their walk so clouded by sin and error, have little or no assurance of their salvation according to Christ’s words above. The heart is deceitful above everything else (Jer 17.9). An unredeemed heart will gladly tell you that you are saved so that you will not have to deal with a guilty conscience before God. Christ said that those who love Him will keep His commandments (John 14.15). Yes, Christians do sin. But is the focus of your life to please God? Do you know His presence in the here and now? Do you want to know Him better through His Word, and talk with Him in prayer? Are you thankful for His salvation, and humbled that He chose you to be His child? Do you grieve when you sin? Do you wish to know and follow His will in your life? Instead of seeing them as burdens, do you delight in God’s commands? Can you answer “yes,” not perfectly, but consistently?
When a person does “ good works,” that doesn’t automatically mean he is going to heaven. Man’s works do not save. So if you are trying to get heaven by what you do, you’re doing it wrong. Only through Christ’s work on the cross are we saved. But that fact does not mean that works are unimportant. As Christ’s words show, obedience to His commands shows your love for Him. The Puritans made the distinction this way: “Do this FOR life” means one’s works are trying to create life which is absent. One cannot enter heaven that way because we cannot generate life on our own. “Do this FROM life” means the works come from the life which is already present. Works do not add to that life. They show the current existence of life. [Note: Here we see the extreme importance of choosing the right preposition. <smile>]
We want our profession to be clear. We want people to see good fruit upon our tree, as an encouragement to other believers and as a witness to unbelievers. Finish well.