FRUIT INSPECTION—CAN A BELIEVER’S JUSTIFIED STATUS (WHETHER OR NOT HE IS SAVED FROM THE DEBT AND PENALTY OF HIS SINS) BE KNOWN BY HIS LIFESTYLE: AN EXEGESIS OF
by Corey Richardson
Have you ever heard someone say “You can tell whether or not someone is saved by the way they live their lives”? Previously, I believed this because it was taught at the church I attended. Often, Matthew 7:15-20 is used to justify this teaching, so an examination of the passage would be prudent. It is my desire to show the true meaning of this passage in order to help correct false doctrine that leads to incorrect thinking.
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. —Mt.7:15-20
CONTEXT IS KING
Whenever you approach a passage of scripture it is always important to interpret the meaning of the passage in light of the context in which the passage is found. In the case of Matthew 7, the passage is found near the end of what is commonly referred to as “the Sermon on the Mount”. This teaching is given by the Lord Jesus to a Jewish audience, described as “the multitudes” (Mt.5:1), made up of believers and unbelievers, near the beginning of his ministry. Jesus comes into the world at a very specific time in God’s dealings with His nation, Israel. The nation did not live up to its end of the covenant made back at Mount Sinai. In this covenant, they agreed to obey God’s commandments; and He agreed to bless them if they obeyed but curse them if they disobeyed (Lev. 26).
The entire history of Israel in the Old Testament is one of them coming under the curses found in Lev. 26 because of their disobedience. But God said in Jeremiah 31 that he would make a New Covenant with the nation of Israel, and it would be different than the covenant made at mount Sinai. God would do for them what they couldn’t do for themselves.
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah. Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD. But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. —Jeremiah 31: 31-34
In Matthew, the time schedule given to the prophet Daniel (Daniel 9) is ticking along and nearing the end (Mark 1:15). God is beginning to “speak comfortably” (Hosea 2:14) to His nation, first through John the Baptist and then through the Lord Jesus. This is following 400 years of silence where God has not been speaking to His people (Amos 8:11-12—represented by the blank page in your Bible between Malachi and Matthew). He is teaching the multitudes, who should have the doctrine of the books of Genesis thru Malachi working in them. If you start reading the book of Matthew without an understanding of what has transpired up until that point, much of the content will not be properly understood. The sermon has several purposes contained in it: to teach the law in truth (unlike the Pharisees and Sadducees who added their own precepts and commandments to it), to show forth the coming hope of the kingdom, to prepare the believers for the time to come, to warn them of a coming deception, and various other components like teaching them to pray. One of the components of the Lord Jesus’s earthly ministry is to prepare the remnant of Israel for the time to come when He would return to the Father and eventually return to establish his kingdom (much of the Old Testament prophets are concerned with this time). One of the issues that the remnant will face in the Lord’s absence is the issue of false prophets who will come to them looking like members of the remnant (sheep), but are actually wolves in sheep’s clothing. Christ Jesus is warning them in Mt. 7:15-20. The way they could differentiate the true sheep from the wolves in sheep’s clothing was by their fruit. The question then becomes, what is the fruit he is speaking of?
FRUIT OF THE LIPS
In order to understand the meaning of the word “fruit” in this context, we will take a quick trip through the scriptures to help establish the meaning of this term.
The wicked is snared by the transgression of his lips: but the just shall come out of trouble. A man shall be satisfied with good by the fruit of his mouth:… —Proverbs 12:13-14
A man shall eat good by the fruit of his mouth… —Proverbs 13:2
A fool’s lips enter into contention, and his mouth calleth for strokes. A fool’s mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul. The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.
To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. —Isaiah. 8:20
I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the LORD; and I will heal him. —Isaiah 57:19
Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned. —Matthew 12:33-37
False prophets were nothing new in God’s program with the nation of Israel. When the Babylonian Captivity (the 5th course of punishment in Lev. 26 describes that they would be removed from the land) was about to come upon Judah, many false prophets were saying “Peace and safety” until destruction came upon them. Under the law, a prophet that falsely professed to be speaking on behalf of God was to die (Deut. 18:20). This rule, like most of them, was not obeyed by those claiming to be prophets in Israel. This is clearly seen in Jeremiah 14.
I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings. —Jeremiah 23:21-22 (Read all of Jeremiah 23)
Then said the LORD unto me, Pray not for this people for their good. When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and an oblation, I will not accept them: but I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence. Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! behold, the prophets say unto them, Ye shall not see the sword, neither shall ye have famine; but I will give you assured peace in this place. Then the LORD said unto me, The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart. Therefore thus saith the LORD concerning the prophets that prophesy in my name, and I sent them not, yet they say, Sword and famine shall not be in this land; By sword and famine shall those prophets be consumed.—Jeremiah 14:11-15
Because, even because they have seduced my people, saying, Peace; and there was no peace…” —Ezekiel 13:10 (Read all of Ezekiel 13)
Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. —Matthew 24:23-26
For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety: then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child: and they shall not escape. —I Thessalonians 5:2-3
But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. —2 Peter 2:1
-also read the book of Jude.
The 5th course of chastisement (Lev.26) began with false prophets reassuring the people of “Peace and safety” when the sudden destruction of the Assyrian/Babylonian captivity came upon them, removing them from the land. The same scenario will end the 5th course of chastisement when the false prophets will once again speak lies to the nation of Israel, saying “Peace and safety” when the destruction is coming. It will once again be an Assyrian/Babylonian connection. (I would refer you to a great book on this subject by David Winston Busch entitled The Assyrian). Destruction and desolation will come upon the nation of Israel and they will not escape. The faithful remnant of Israel who are heeding Christ’s words will know better. They will recognize that they are false prophets by the fruit of their lips, the words that they speak. The remnant will know that the coming destruction is nigh and, when they see certain things happen, they will flee to the mountains and wilderness (Mt.24:15-21; Revelation 12).
AUTOMATIC GOOD FRUIT?
While the scriptures teach that we have a new life in Christ and that we should walk according to our new identity, it doesn’t teach that we will automatically live according to our new identity. If this were so, then Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, and John wouldn’t need to admonish believers to walk worthy—we would automatically live godly, but such is not the case.
Flee fornication. —I Corinthians 6:18 (No need to say this if they will automatically do it.)
For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. —I Corinthians 6:20
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. —Galatians 5:13
If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. —Galatians 5:25
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. —Ephesians 2:10
I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called… —Ephesians 4:1
That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor: for we are members one of another. Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil. Let him that stole steal no more:… —Ephesians 4:22-32
Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children. —Ephesians 5:1
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit. —Ephesians 5:18.
All of these passages, and many more, beseech believers to walk worthy of their new identity in Christ. But, if they are automatically going to “walk worthy” because they are good trees and can only bear good fruit, then there is no reason the Apostle Paul would need to implore, admonish, or beseech them.
We have examined Matthew 7:15-20, considering the context in which the passage lies and hopefully have redeemed this passage from its commonly held misunderstanding. A proper understanding of the contents of the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) requires familiarity with all that came before them in Genesis thru Malachi. You would not start a book in chapter 40 and expect to understand who the characters are, their motivations behind the decisions that they make, or the meaning of the dialogue between characters. In like manner, you cannot begin reading the 40th book in the Bible (Matthew), and expect to understand all of the reasons why Jesus Christ does certain things when he does them, and why he says certain things to a specific audience. May you continue to seek after the truth of the scriptures, and to understand and appreciate all that God is doing in His infinite wisdom and grace.
For further study on the overall plan and purpose of God contained in the Bible, I would refer you to Keith Blades’ books Properly Handling the Word of Truth and Satan and His Plan of Evil. These can be purchased online at www.enjoythebible.org