The Confusion of Fruit and Works

How do great, respected, Christian leaders fall? These are people who write books and preach the gospel in power, and yet somehow all of those works cover a deeply sinful heart. How can such seemingly prudent Christian leaders be slaves to sins that take over their inner lives. These are sins that they plan their lives around. Sins that they lie to others to cover up. Sins of abuse against victims, causing great pain and anguish to those closest to them. For years the cover ups happen until suddenly our world is turned upside down. Of course, to the victims involved, their world has been upside down for a while. To them this exposure is turning it all right side up!

The Southern Baptist Convention’s cover up of sexual abuse, the Catholic Churche’s cover up of sexual abuse, Jimmy Swaggart’s prostitution scandle, and more recently, Ravi Zacharias’ sexual abuse of several women.

What are we missing?

Jesus spoke of false prophets in Matthew 7 calling them wolves in sheep’s clothing. He doesn’t talk about all of the books they wrote, or sermons preached. He simply says, “you will know them by their fruit.” Verse 16 continues:

Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

Various Trials

Not long ago I was asking God about my own fruit. I’ve been struggling with an trial for many years now. If you asked me what was produced from this struggle, I could honestly show you nothing visible. There is no earthy product at all. I have gained nothing from this. I have no sermons or books to point to, no powerful ministry that is changing the world. In fact, this trial has hindered me greatly from my writing. I have a lot to say but no visible platform to say it on save this blog. And even in this blog, I haven’t really put the effort or time to make it more successful. The trial has crippled me and my ministry. And yet God tells me to keep pressing on. This is because the people involved are more important to God than my appearance of success. I have been sent on this earth to do as the Lord asks. He is asking me to continue in this trial.

But in my flesh, I get frustrated. I was complaining to God about this. I looked around my life and asked what was being produced. He pointed to my heart. It was there that I found it. Galatians 5:22-24

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

How can so many Christian leaders fall? Well, we are all prone to look at outward appearances.

1 Samuel 16: 7

“…For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

What I was complaining to God about was my lack of works. But in this struggle He has put me under, I cannot ignore the fruit within being delicately produced. I am more patient and kind, have more self-control and love. I’ve grown more faithful and found a strange sort of peace with things. I’m even rediscovering joy in the midst of these sorrows. I’m learning how to approach hard things with gentleness instead of anger (still learning that one). As for goodness? Well, this too will come in God’s time.

The Fruit of Goodness

It is the fruit of goodness that we all look to in a minister. He preaches good sermons, writes good books, starts a good Chrisitan school, or starts a good Christian church. But how does he treat his family? Are his kids well taken care of? Is his wife cherished? Who cares, they all appear fine and good to me.

But what is goodness without self-control? From a distance the Lord can convict and comfort with a good sermon. But what does that matter if the pastor who preaches it goes home and abuses his family? 

Man looks outwardly at good appearances. God looks inside for a good heart. He sees what we are doing when others look away. This is what Jesus meant when he said we will know the wolves who hide in sheep’s clothing by their fruit.

How does God Produce Fruit in Us?

God produces fruit in us through various trials. 

James 1:2-4

2 Count it all joy, my brothers,[b] when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

When the same type of various trials come upon a wolf or false teacher, they respond with zero joy; instead they abuse. Self-control and gentleness are tossed aside for sexual gratifications. Patience and kindness ignored for wrath and physical violence. There is no peace in such a home. No love. No faith. The goodness seen by others is only good from a distance. To those who live with such a sick tree… it’s a nightmare. 

To victims of abusive and false Christians, there is a discordant confusion. Bad trees can hide among us. We must take time to discern and root them out. This takes months and even years of godly prayer. It is frustrating and hard, but so important. You must give up your own appearance of works to do this. For sometimes the appearance of a good thing can become lie and very wicked. 

Having the fruit of the Spirit produced in you means choosing to tell the truth. 

Love very much rejoices in the truth. 1 Corinthians 13:6

6 [love] does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 

Joy is found in our trials (James 1:2-4). It is also found not in what we consume. Romans 14:17

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 

Peace passes our understanding, meaning, it isn’t based on present circumstances. Philippians 4:4-7

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness[d] be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Patience casts away all pride. Ecclesiastes 7:8

Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.

Kindness lacks in wrath. It is forgiving. Ephesians 4: 31-32

31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Goodness does not come from a corrupt heart. Galatians 6:6-10

6 Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. 7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Faith is not about what we see. It isn’t about our works or what appears to be good. Hebrews 11:1-3

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

And yet from within, true faith does produce visible works. There is no apathy or inaction. James 2:14-17

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good[b] is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Gentleness is godly wisdom (working on this one). James 3:13-18

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Self control means turning away from fleshly desires. We are called to take no part from those who lack it. In fact, as children of light we must expose them wisely. Ephesians 5:9-11

9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

How Does One Judge?

This is where a lot of confusion comes. Should we judge a brother whose sins are abusing and harming others? No, we of our own strength do not judge at all. But, is reading the convicting portions of bible a judgement from you?

No!

It is a judgment from God. 

It is God who judges not us. Reading his word to others and pointing out where a brother is lacking, this is not the humanistic judgments of our mind, but it comes from God. I’ve spoken about the false prophets in Matthew 7. But the chapter begins by saying we shouldn’t judge. Is Jesus contradicting himself? No! We are not to judge. But in verse 15 Jesus makes a judgment against the false prophets and teachers. 

And how are we to expose abuses in the church? 1 Timothy 5:19-21

19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. 

A witness does not  have to be a person. It can be a piece of evidence that witnesses the act of abuse. But are these verses indeed speaking about abuse? The very next verse answers that.

22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. 

Don’t be confused by the works of darkness hidden under the false lambskin of wolves. How did the wolf cover themselves in this way? They devoured the innocent lambs of God, using their skin as covering for further sins.

How many lambs must be devoured before their wrongs are exposed? Be careful friend. Don’t be gaslit by false works. What a man sows he will reap. 

And so we as a church must wisely take care and protect the innocent lambs from further abuse. We need to be open to hear the victim’s cry. We need to be open to what their voices say. Give them a voice and wisely judge according to God’s word not ours.

Pray for discernment. And when the “witnesses” or evidence confesses to a crime, we must respond by rebuking them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 

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