• By Their Fruit
By Their Fruit
Outreach Letters

By Their Fruit

  • By Their Fruit

By Their Fruit

There is a fundamental difference between results and fruit. A man can produce results, but he reproduces fruit. Jesus was adamant about this. He made it very clear that it is not the outward impressiveness of a man’s ministry which endorses him as a man of God – no matter how powerful his prophecies, how great his power over demons or how mighty his miracles. No man is acceptable to God unless he does God’s will. And if he is doing God’s will the evidence will not be found in the results of his ministry but, rather, in the fruit of his life.

Many of God’s people today are being used and abused by so-called men of God who point to the results of their ministry as proof of their authenticity. At the same time these men carefully avoid the acid test of fruitfulness because they know how miserably they would fail it. Their strength and their persuasiveness lie in the results they produce and, for those who are swayed by such outward display, those results are often impressive.

Some find it difficult to comprehend the thought that God would permit men to abuse the gifts and calling He has given them. Yet He does so. As the apostle Paul once wrote: “God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable.” He gives them freely on the basis of a person’s openness and availability to Him and, once given, He does not withdraw them.

Of course not all who minister in the name of Jesus can even claim so much as a call from God in the first place. There are more than a few whose pride, greed and ambition have actually rendered them prime candidates for the devil’s work from the beginning. Wittingly or unwittingly such people are ‘enemy infiltrators’ – cynical saboteurs within the Church of God, who never were called to represent Him.

Yet, ugly as that may be, it is still not as reprehensible as the situation of those who were once called but who now have turned that call into a warped, self- serving parody.

For his part, God calls men and empowers them, trusting them to be His representatives. If they betray that sacred trust He does not revoke the gifts He has bestowed upon them. The stage is thus set for the abuse of godliness by those who have discovered how to use and apply God’s gifts for their own ends, rather than for His glory and for the welfare of His people.

Such ‘ministers of God’ care neither for God nor His people. They are lovers of themselves. In their blind self-deceit they choose to believe that ‘gain is godliness’ and they teach others to believe likewise. Though they present themselves as caring and compassionate, ‘their God is their stomach’ (as Paul once put it). They are driven by nothing more spiritual than greed, lust and a desire for self-gratification. At the same time they are very skilled at presenting themselves as holy men of God. Their egocentricity and their base desires are carefully disguised, sanitized and presented as selfless, sanctified, godly zeal. And what a deception that is! Carnality by any other name is still carnality.

No ‘man of God’ has a mandate to do anything other than to represent God; and using the name of Jesus and His gifts and power are not synonymous with representing God. Far from it.

Jesus said plainly that a tree is known by its fruit. A good tree is not good because it looks good but because it bears good fruit. Likewise a bad tree is known by its fruit – regardless of any other evidence to the contrary.

What, then, is this fruit of which Jesus spoke?

Fruit is the reproduction of a life. It is the embodiment of the life which brought it forth. The fruit is what the life is.

Fruit is the result of a process. It takes time to form but, when formed, it speaks for itself. It stands as irrefutable proof of the nature of the life which bore it.

Though a man may carefully calculate his words and actions, he has no control over his fruit. Whatever he is on the inside will end up showing on the outside. It will eventually be reproduced for all to see, both in his own life and in the lives of those who fall under his influence.

Given time, every man begins to display what he really is whether he wants it to be seen or not. It will be etched on his face, it will be seen in his eyes, it will show in his life and it will be reflected in those closest to him. For those in ministry, the fruit will be far more extensive – and telling. Given time, it will become clearly evident in the lives of those to whom they minister. For better or for worse, that fruit is the one undeniable proof of what those ministers are really like.

There are those who seek to sanitize this telltale evidence by avoiding close involvement with people. Some become ‘untouchable’ pastors, performing their ministries while maintaining a safe distance between themselves and the members of their flock. Others concentrate on traveling ministry – moving from church to church and playing the part of the ‘visiting expert’ – staying long enough in one place to produce self-enhancing results but never long enough to reproduce self-revealing fruit.

At the top of this league are those who have the highest profile, yet remain the most remote of all. I refer, of course, to the big crusade and television preachers. They can happily present a very well orchestrated performance in the comforting knowledge that none of those to whom they minister will ever get close enough to penetrate the impressive facade, and that no lives will touch their’s to the extent that any damning fruit will come forth.

That is, of course, a false security. One way or another that fruit will surely come, though not all will see it for what it is because they have been conditioned otherwise.

Today’s self-promoting preachers have worked hard at orienting their followers and supporters towards the importance of results. Consequently the results of a ministry are held up as the proof that it is of God and is, therefore, worthy of support.

When Jesus said, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’”, it was because He knew it would indeed be so. Many there are who, in their self-deceit and vanity, think they will impress even Jesus Himself with the results of their ministry. But oh how shockingly final will be His words to those same men: “I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers!”

Regardless of their credentials, regardless of their gifts and ‘anointing’, regardless of their string of credits and impressive results, these are not men of God. They are not even well-meaning men who have merely missed the mark. They are evildoers and must be exposed as such!

And what is the evil that they do? It is this: having been called and gifted by God they refuse to do His will, while at the same time misrepresenting both themselves and Him by claiming to be His representatives. They come as ravening wolves in sheep’s clothing amongst the flock of God. They kill and devour His people with the name of Jesus on their lips. Is there a greater evil than this?

These foolish men, who think they have discovered the way to personal gain and gratification in the guise of godly ministry, store up great judgement against themselves. Jesus made it graphically clear: “…if anyone causes one of these little ones who believes in me to sin, it would be better for Him to have a large millstone hung around His neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

So many who have looked to and trusted self-promoting ‘ministers of God’ have been led astray. They have become the fruit of the men in whom they trusted. Many have been hurt and confused, and others have turned away from God completely as a result.

Men’s religious systems are riddled with alternatives to good fruit. A man is acceptable if he is ‘scriptural’ and teaches ‘sound doctrine’. Another is admired because he is ‘evangelical’ and engages in ‘soul-winning’. Yet another is sought after because he prays for the sick and they are healed. How many such deceptive smokescreens there are! How many such deceptive smokescreens there are!

But don’t they count for something? Of themselves, no! “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels,” affirmed Paul, “but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

The true representative of God is a lover. He loves God and he loves God’s people. And his love is demonstrated, not in the oft-seen and sickly Christian pseudo-love which is calculated to impress and to manipulate, but in the true giving of himself.

Unless a shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, he is not Jesus’ representative and he is not a lover, either of God or of God’s people. The fruit of true lovers is always seen in the fulfilled lives of those they love.

The ‘lovers of themselves’ who dominate much of today’s Christianity are no better than the ‘men of God’ whom Jesus condemned in his day. They, too, knew how to produce an impressive facade. But Jesus was not impressed:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like white-washed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

Such men know that, should their fruit be exposed, they will be revealed for what they really are. And that they cannot afford.

So what must they do to bear fruit that is acceptable to God? The answer is simple: they must repent. They must turn from their wickedness. When some of the Pharisees came to John the Baptist to be baptized by him, he was not very welcoming. “You brood of vipers!” he hurled at them. “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance!”

Repentance is the change which a man makes by his own choice. It is the result of seeing yourself as God sees you, and then doing whatever you must to be acceptable to him. The Pharisees who came to John were prepared to be baptized but they were not prepared to repent. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance and, knowing the fruit of the Pharisees, he saw no evidence of such an inward change. They wanted a cheap baptism but John refused to oblige. Instead he demanded that they demonstrate their fitness by their fruit.

Such men have always hovered, like the predators they are, wherever there are people seeking after God. Jesus warned about them and Paul referred to them as being like savage wolves who would not spare the flock.

These wolves, though, come dressed in very convincing sheep-suits and are not readily detectable by appearance, words or actions. They are skilled and practiced at being eminently acceptable. You want things to be scriptural? The wolf in sheep’s clothing will be a Bible expert. You want a man of prayer? That wolf will pray without ceasing. You want a powerful preacher? He will be a silver-tongued orator. You want signs, wonders and miracles? You will have them by the bagful.

Just don’t ask for fruit, because a wolf is still a wolf no matter how well his sheep-suit fits and his fruit will always reveal what he really is on the inside.

On His last night with his disciples Jesus had many deeply heartfelt and significant things to say to them. Among them was this: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.”

That fruit is His fruit – the multiplication of His life. Jesus was the fruit of His Father. The Father was in Him and all who wanted to know the Father could do so. Not because Jesus taught about Him but because He embodied him. Jesus’ life and love were the life and love of His Father.

Saving souls is not the same as bearing fruit. Preaching and prophesying, casting out demons, performing miracles, exhibiting gifts of the Holy Spirit – none of these are the fruit of which Jesus spoke. They are all merely the result of His free gifts and prove nothing about the person who exercises those gifts.

Fruitbearing – the reproduction of His life in and through us – is the end result of a process. And a costly one at that. It is a process which requires us to lay down our lives for God and His people, just as Jesus did. He made that abundantly clear when He said: “Unless an ear of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves Me must follow Me, and where I am, My servant also will be.”

There is no other way to serve Jesus because there is no other way to bear godly fruit. That was the way it had to be for Him and that is the way He has called us to walk. For those who wish to truly represent Jesus there is no alternative.

The so-called man of God who seeks to use His ministry for His own selfish ends and refuses to truly lay down His life for God and His people, will never reproduce the life of God – no matter how outwardly impressive the results of his ministry.

To live out and reproduce God’s life is as costly today as it has ever been. It cost Jesus everything and it will cost us no less.

Any man who dares claim a God-given calling upon his life must stand or fall by this test: “By their fruit you will recognize them.”