“Look at the Fruit!”
April 8, 2011 17 Comments
In response to criticism of a leader or teacher within the hyper-charismatic movement, one of the most popular catch-phrases used by followers in their defense is, “Look at the fruit!” [See The Use of Loaded Language in Hyper-Charismaticism.] But does this really provide an adequate counter-argument? Let’s see how Scripture speaks on this matter.
The word “fruit,” karpos in the Greek, has a number of different renderings in the NIV including: fruit, crop(s), harvest, benefit, grain, fruitful, and others.1 However, other sources define the term: an effect; work; act; result; yield; and more.2,3 Context will determine intended meaning, of course. With the phrase, “Look at the fruit,” the meaning of “fruit” in this limited context would be “result,” “benefit,” “an effect,” “yield,” etc.
There are three primary areas in Scripture which address “fruit”: 1) “The Fruit of the Spirit” [Galatians 5:16-26], 2) “The Vine and the Branches [John 15:1-17], and 3) “A Tree and its Fruit” in the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 7:15-20]. We’ll look at the first one briefly, discuss the second one a bit more, and examine the third even more closely.
The Fruit of the Spirit
16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with one another, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. [Galatians 5:16-18; NIV 1984. All Scripture references are from NIV 1984 except as noted]4
The Apostle Paul is admonishing the Galatians to live by the Spirit and leave the bondage of the (Mosaic) law. As F. F. Bruce states, “‘Walk [live] by the Spirit’ means ‘let your conduct be directed by the Spirit’”.5 Paul goes on to list “the acts of the sinful nature” [“acts” is from a different Greek word than karpos] and contrasts those with the fruit of being led of the Spirit:
19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. [Galatians 5:22-26]
Verses 22 and 23 list the traits of those being led of the Spirit rather than by their sinful nature [vv 19-21, 25-26]. “Fruit” in this context is result or outcome.6 Keeping “in step with the Spirit” [v 25] will result in the outward display of the fruit listed above; whereas, not being directed by the Spirit may be evidenced by the acts of the sinful nature in vv 19-21.
This is not to say that the unregenerate (non-Christian) cannot exhibit some of the same qualities as those listed as the fruit of the Spirit.7 For example, surely the Dalai Lama exhibits some of these traits, at least by outward appearances. Therefore, the appearance of having the fruit of the Spirit does not necessarily guarantee that the individual is truly being led of, and exhibiting the fruit of, the Spirit of God. On the other hand, exhibiting those traits of the sinful nature is a sure sign of not being led of the Spirit whether regenerate or not.
The Vine and the Branches
In the upper room discourse [John 13-17] Jesus, after Judas Iscariot leaves to betray Him, tells the remaining eleven about the Holy Spirit who will come after His Ascension. The Holy Spirit is “another Counselor” [14:16], the “Spirit of truth” [14:17, also 15:16; 16:13] who “will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” [14:26]. A bit later, Jesus says of the Holy Spirit, he will “testify about me” [15:26]; “convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” [16:8] “guide you into all truth” [16:13]; and “speak only what he hears” [16:13]. In the midst of these descriptions of the Holy Spirit’s function Jesus teaches “The Vine and the Branches” [John 15:1-17]:
“I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit showing yourselves to be my disciples. [emphasis added]
Jesus’ words make it clear that to “bear fruit” – i.e., produce positive results/outcomes for the kingdom of God – you must “remain” in Christ, and He will, in turn, remain in you. Further, those who do “bear fruit” will be pruned – afflicted and disciplined resulting in the process of increasing sanctification [see James 1:2-5; Heb 12:4-11; Pro 3:11-12; Ps 94:12] – so they will bear even more fruit. This is similar to the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ in the Galatians passage above in that this outward fruit will be the evidence of being “in step with the Spirit.”
In contrast, verse 4 illustrates that you cannot bear fruit apart from abiding in Christ. Verse 6 goes even further: those who do not remain in Christ will be thrown into the fire and burned up! J. C. Ryle comments:
“The consequence of not abiding in Christ, of refusing to live the life of faith in Christ, are here described under a terrible figure. The end of such false professors [of faith in Christ] will be like the end of fruitless and dead branches of a vine…They will finally come to the fire that is never quenched in hell.”8
So, what does it mean to “remain in me” [Jesus]? The apostle John continues Jesus’ words:
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other. [emphasis added]
To remain in Jesus is to remain in His love. To remain in Christ’s love is to have His words remain in you [v 7] so that you may “obey His commands” [v 10]. And, to “obey His commands” is to lay down your life [v 13], “take up your cross daily” [Luke 9:23]. F.F. Bruce states, “…the mutual indwelling of the Father and the Son, and of Jesus and His disciples, and of the disciples with their heavenly Father as his children, is a mutuality of love, a love in which obedience is a spontaneous joy and not a painful duty.…”9 Note that ‘love’ is the first attribute listed in the “fruit of the Spirit.” The way to be in His love is to know His word, His commands, as revealed in the Scriptures. This is not unlike Jesus’ words in John 8:31-32:
31 To the Jews who had believed Him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Quoting Bruce once again, “To ‘remain’ in Jesus’ ‘word’ is to adhere to his teaching – to direct their lives by it….discipleship is something continuous; it is a way of life. A true disciple has an affinity for his teacher’s instruction and accepts it, not blindly but intelligently….”10
A Tree and its Fruit
In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew records Jesus’ words of “wolves in sheep’s clothes” equating these to bad trees bearing bad fruit [7:15-20]. To understand the larger meaning of this passage it’s best to put this teaching in its full context by reading the verses immediately preceding and immediately following. Here’s the section identified in the NIV as “The Narrow and Wide Gates”:
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. [Matthew 7:13-14]
Of the various “I am” statements in the Gospel of John including, “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” [11:25] is this one: “I am the Gate for the sheep” [10:7; 10:9]. Jesus is the “Gate” – the “narrow Gate.” He is the one who “leads to life.” “Only a few find it” while many do not. This brief two verse passage sets the stage for the teaching that follows, “A Tree and its Fruit,” which provides a warning about those who seem to be in the faith yet are not. These are some of those who lead down that broad road through the wide gate to death [John 10:10]:
15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. [Matthew 7:15-20]
The term “false prophets” here is to be understood in a broad sense11, i.e., not merely indicating those who fail in the foretelling of future events, but also including all who claim to speak on divine authority yet, in actuality, do not [see also Mat 24:11,24; Mark 13:22; Jer 23:9-40]. Verses 16 and 20 show that it’s the fruit, the results, which expose these false prophets for who they are. Notice the similarity between verse 19 and John 15:6 above in the “The Vine and the Branches” teaching.
While the wolf as natural enemy to the sheep is a well used motif, the phrase wolves “in sheep’s clothing” is unique in the literature of the time.12 Obviously, these wolves come with the intent to deceive and then devour. Since they “come to you” [v 15] this appears to be indicative of travelling missionaries13 which sounds not unlike those nowadays who are frequently putting on various conferences worldwide and peddling their wares to the unwary. This would also seem to include televangelists. Of course, this is not to say that all missionaries or those who preach on TV are false prophets.
Matthew Henry believed the fruit referred to in vv 16 and 20 could be both: 1) the “fruits of their persons,”14 such as the acts/traits listed in Galatians 5:19-21 as well as Philippians 3:18-19; and, 2) the “fruits of their doctrine”.15
“If the doctrine be of God, it will tend to promote serious piety, humility, charity, holiness, and love with other Christian graces; but, if [to] the contrary…we may conclude that ‘this persuasion comes not of him that calleth us’[Gal 5:8, KJV]…” 16
Donald Hagner, in his 1993 commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, states:
“…The ultimate test of the truth is in deeds, not claims or pretensions. The Church must be ever vigilant against appearances and empty words and press the criterion of good works in discerning the true from the false.”17
The NIV Study Bible includes verses 21-23 under the heading titled “A Tree and its Fruit” as does the NASB. This would seem to indicate that these editors understand these three verses to conclude this particular section. However, some other versions differentiate verses 21 through 23 from 15 through 20 by a separate heading.
The NKJV titles this three verse subsection “I Never Knew You.” Rudolf Schnackenburg’s The Gospel of Matthew titles this portion “Concerning Self-Deception”18 although he apparently considers verses 13-29 all of a piece titling this section of his commentary “Concluding Admonitions”19 and thus a conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount which began in chapter 5 of Matthew’s Gospel with the Beatitudes. Perhaps the most descriptive comes from Hagner who titles this subsection: “The Insufficiency of the Charismata”.20 And, similar to Schnackenburg, Hagner groups verses 13 through 27 as simply “Conclusion”.21
21“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 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?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ [Matthew 7:21-23]
These are some of the most sobering words in all of Scripture. Surely, not many, if any, would want to be referred to as “evildoers” by Jesus Himself on Judgment Day and be told, “I never knew you. Away from Me…” Perhaps worse yet are the Apostle Paul’s words stating that God Himself will send a “powerful delusion” to those who “refuse to love the truth” by following and participating in “counterfeit signs and wonders” [II Thessalonians 2:9-12] so that they will continue in their deception and thus be condemned.
In the larger context of verses 15 through 23, the “Insufficiency of the Charismata”22 subsection seems to be explaining aspects of, and resulting fruit from, the ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ [v 15]. The charismatic demonstrations from these ‘wolves’ will be for naught resulting in eternal damnation instead of redemption. Apparently, the prophecies, exorcisms, and many miracles [v 22] were not done according to the will of God [v 21].
While this section may not be describing all the characteristics of ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing,’ note the word “prophesy” (again, to be understood in its broad application) in verse 21 which correlates to the “false prophets” of verse 15 and the word many, — not some or few, but many – which begins the list of the charismata in verse 22. Also, compare many in verse 13 to the many of verse 22.
The next section, titled “The Wise and Foolish Builders” in the NIV, both concludes the previous section and at the same time concludes the Sermon on the Mount:
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Taken together, this final section and the two verses which make up “The Narrow and Wide Gates,” provide bookends to the “Tree and its Fruit” [including vv 21-23] passage. The former section explains that there are only two ways: the way to life which is narrow compared to the broad road which leads to death. The final section contrasts those who built wisely upon the rock, i.e., Jesus Christ, with the foolish who built on sand. Both of these parables demonstrate that it’s the truth of the Scriptures which provides the way to life and this truth is found by abiding in Jesus Christ, His Word, and the Holy Spirit [John 15:1-17, Galatians 5:16-26] in order to do His Father’s will. And, in between these two parables is an illustration of the consequences of being outside His will and, therefore, not in the truth – the broad and foolish road to death.
Inspecting the ‘Fruit’ of the phrase “Look at the Fruit!”
This short phrase, “Look at the fruit!” uttered in defense of the criticisms levied against hyper-charismatic leaders can either be interpreted as a request to look at the character of, or the results from, the leader(s) being defended. As to character: as noted above, the outward appearance of the “fruit of the Spirit” does not necessarily indicate being led of the Spirit. However, acts of the flesh are a sure sign of being led by the sinful nature. It appears, though, that a defense of character, the ‘evidence’ of “the fruit of Spirit,” is the least likely meaning behind the use of this phrase.
There have been quite a few leaders in the hyper-charismatic movement who have ‘fallen from grace’ over the years. In fact, it’s usually the so-called “good fruit” of works predominately of the “signs and wonders” variety which are of dubious authenticity that are used to justify or override the sinful behavior of those who’ve ‘fallen from grace.’ Supposedly, because these individuals are “so used of God” they are that much more subject to the devil’s snare.
However, according to Scripture, to “bear fruit” is to show results for the kingdom of God. To accomplish this, one must remain in Jesus Christ’s teaching in order to do the Father’s will. How is this done? As outlined above: by taking up one’s cross daily, to die for the One who calls you ‘friend,’ our Lord Jesus Christ. It is accomplished by following His precepts, the truths of Scripture. Is this the intended meaning behind “Look at the fruit!?” It would not appear so.
Most, if not all, hyper-charismatic leaders adhere to some aspects in their teachings and/or practices that are clearly at odds with historical orthodox Christianity. Biblical truths are, in fact, many times superseded by “present truths” – new revelations. This then would be an indication that these leaders are not abiding in Christ and hence not capable of bearing good fruit for the kingdom of God.
The large majority of the time the phrase “Look at the fruit!” is used to defend the “fruit” of prophecy (mostly of the foretelling variety which has a very low percentage of accuracy), healings, exorcisms, raisings from the dead, etc. Many of the so-called “prophecies” are mentioned after the fact with no proof that an actual prophetic word was uttered prior to the incident in question. The healings are rarely, if ever, verified; the ‘dead raisings,’ never.
Apparently, it’s the fruit of aberrant teachings from these ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ which lead to the fruit of aberrant practices resulting in the fruit of the “ministries” of hyper-charismatic leaders. In light of Matthew 7:21-23, this is bad fruit indeed!
21“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 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?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ [Matthew 7:21-23; emphasis added]
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ [Matthew 7:21-23 NKJV; emphasis added]
1Goodrick, E. W. & J. R. Kohlenberger III. NIV Exhaustive Concordance. 1990; Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI; p 1737
2Thayer, J. H. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. 1979 (20th Zondervan printing); Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI; p 326
3Bauer, W., W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 1958, 2nd edition; Chicago, Chicago, IL; pp 404-405. Also known as “BAGD.”
4Barker, Kenneth; Burdick, Stek, et. al. NIV Study Bible. copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI
5Bruce, F. F. The Epistle to the Galatians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC. 1982, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI; p 243
6Bauer, p 404
7Bruce, p 255-256
8Ryle, J. C. “Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: John 13:1-21:25” Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Volume Four: John 10:31 – 21:25. 2007 (1878), Baker, Grand Rapids, MI; p 102. Originally part of a seven volume series with one each of Matthew and Mark, two of Luke (1-10 & 11-24), and three of John (1-6:70; 7-12:50; 13:1-21:35) beginning in 1856 and completed in 1878. Available also at < http://www.gracegems.org/Ryle/ >
9Bruce, F. F. The Gospel & Epistles of John. 1983, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI; p 310
10Bruce, p 196
11Hagner, Donald A. Word Biblical Commentary: Matthew 1 – 13. 1993, Word, Dallas, TX; p 183, 187
12Schnackenburg, R. The Gospel of Matthew. 2002, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI; p 78
14Henry, M. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Volume 5. 1991 (8th printing 2006), Hendrickson, USA; p 77.
17Hagner, p 184
18Schnackenburg, p 78
19Schnackenburg, p 76
20Hagner, p 184
21Hagner, p 177