“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.”
When I was in high school, a ‘sign’ of maturity amongst fellow youth groupers was the ability to begin to argue theology. This always came down to one pivotal argument: Calvin vs. Arminius. The arguing went days, weeks, months, and so forth. The you-can-lose-your-salvation crowd would say you can walk away from faith, while the once-saved-always-saved would emphasize the ‘saved by grace/faith not works’ notions to the fullest. Since those days, I have grown increasingly tired of the argument, especially since my views on salvation have drastically changed from then (salvation is not a commodity to be owned). I thought these arguments would stay in the past, but I remember catching up with an old friend a year ago, and he adamantly stuck to his guns by continuing to state that right belief in this area was pivotal.
I bring up these old arguments because they are key to something I see in this passage. I have been wrestling as of late with the importance of applying scripture in my life. I have loved studying scripture in community for the past four years, but in some ways I have found that it can amount to little more than those arguments in high school. Back then it was the pursuit of right knowledge that made us argue, and today it can be the same scene, but different environment. It has become apparent to me that unless we are finding ways to apply what we learn in scripture, then we are wasting our time reading old pieces of paper.
If I thought the first section upped the ante, well this takes it a step further. The whole saved by faith not works line can be such a cop out, because I know many people who in their mind believe they have faith, but that faith has no tangible expression (once again, this is a wide-yet-precarious road I walk down daily). They can go to university, or church, and pursue understanding there, but it remains just that: a collection of understandings. But where is the fruit? Works must – I repeat MUST – extend forth from our transformative moments with God, otherwise we’re taking the gift we’re getting and trampling it like swine trampling pearls, or like a recipient of a lung transplant chain-smoking.
This culture has embraced the notion of faith being private, but what a farce that is: to limit the divine to personal interactions and hoarding all the fruits and benefits for one’s self. A tree bears fruit to feeds others, not itself. And if a tree’s fruits aren’t feeding others, then the fruit rots on the branches and falls uselessly to the ground.
Do we often examine our lives and ask the following: Where is our fruit? What kind of fruit do we bear? Who are our false prophets leading us astray? I find it interesting that the image of the sheep would have brought up the image of Israel as God’s flock, so these false prophets spoken of probably looked like they were of Israel, but really we’re leading people onto another path. So what “Christianese-gimmicks” do we let others convince us of that take us off the hard path. I can think of a couple, but I’ll let the interpretation lie in other hands.
There’s a ton of self-reflection and assessment required out of these readings, and I think it is great/ridiculously humbling.