Monday, July 08, 2013

You shall know them, who?

Have you ever heard someone apply Matt 7:16-19 to determining who is a "true convert" and who is a "false convert"?

16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, norcan a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
I have. I have heard these verses used this way many, many times. This concept is taught by Reformed teachers, and in Reformed theological schools. When I do I normally try to use the verses they way the person claims they are to be used. I test myself, and ask them to test themselves, by the concept they say is true.

I have to admit that SOMETIMES I get haughty when I do this. Depending on how frustrating I find the person I'm discussing it with. Sometimes Reformed people get under my skin in a big way, and as much as I find them haughty I myself get haughty as I take them through the verses. I should not but I admit that I do, sometimes.

Let's pretend the concept that the Lord is explaining in Matt 7:16-19 is that we can tell who is saved and who is not by their "fruit." Let's all take the "test" to see if we are "true converts" or "false converts" OK?

Vs 16 says we will know "them" by their fruits, and fruits is explained as being what they produce using the illustration of what different trees produce, or what grows on them naturally. OK Test One: What do we (you and I) produce? What sort of things naturally or normally just pop up in our (yours and mine) life?

My Result: I've got mine in mind. Do you?

Vs 17 makes two strong points. Every good tree bares good fruit and every bad tree bares bad fruit. OK Test Two: Do we bare good fruit? Does good fruit naturally occur in our (mine and your) life? Yes I do, and yes it does. What about you? OK Test Three: Does bad fruit naturally occur in our (mine and your) life? Yes it does in mine.

My Result: I bare both good and bad fruit. So far as Vs 17 is concerned I could be either a true or false convert. What about you?

Vs 18 takes it to the next level. So to speak.. A good tree "cannot" bare bad fruit and a bad tree "cannot" bare good fruit. OK Test Four and Test Five are exactly the same as Test Two and Test Three.

My Result: Cannot calculate a result. According to Vs 18 a good tree cannot bare bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bare good fruit. I bare both, which according to Vs 18 is impossible IF the concept put forth that these verses are a test of who is a true convert or not is true. What about you?

Sometimes the Reformed person (or whoever) will go back to their theology instead of the verse. They will say that it is a concept in general, and not so hard and fast. This is by far the most popular response to my taking the person through the verses as the test they say they tell me the verses are. Yet the verses ARE hard and fast. There is no wiggle room in them. No "generalities" no "direction not perfection" no not at all the Lord makes an absolute statement about both.

When I point out that the Lord doesn't speak of generalities but of absolutes they will sometimes bring up the idea that a present tense word means an ongoing action. So their logic goes like this: A true convert will continue to bare good fruit, but not continue to bare bad fruit, a false convert will continue to bare bad fruit but will not continue to bare good fruit.

This will then lead me to ask how a false convert can produce good fruit at all, if he will "not continue in baring good fruit." The Lord said that unless we "abide in Him" we can do nothing, and I'm sure that there is no false convert "abiding in Christ." Jn 15:5 Now sometimes the Reformed person is clever and prepared to answer this. He or she will say that if one never produces good fruit that they will certainly not continue in producing good fruit. However, this is abusing the language of the Lord and does not translate to the same prohibition on good trees producing bad fruit. It is using different interpretation where it is convenient for one's theology to do so. That is using your theology to interpret the Bible, not the Bible to determine your theology.

It is plain that the passage doesn't "work" as a test of true converts vs false converts. This leads us to the question that SHOULD be asked long, long before we ever get into such a big discussion.

Them who? 

Vs 16 says "You shall know them by their fruits..." Wouldn't it be wise to know who the "them" is? Who the Lord says He is talking about instead of who our theology says it is about? OF COURSE IT WOULD BE WISE TO DO SO. So let's back all the way up to Vs 15.

Mat 7:15
15 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.
Well there you go. The Lord isn't talking about true of false converts at all. He says He is warning us about false prophets, and how to tell who they are.

No need for me to get haughty. No reason for debate. No reason for misunderstanding. The Lord is crystal clear.

So what is His point? Mat 7:24-29
24 “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: 25 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.26 “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: 27 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”28 And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, 29 for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
The Lord Jesus Christ is the true prophet and His words are dependable. In fact they are life! Jn 6:63


Anonymous said...

Exactly, it speaks of the false prophets. The fruit of theirs to check, is their words/doctrines. If their doctrines are wrong but they look nice and fluffy outside, then they are wolves in sheep's clothing.

Their "ministries" create the problem of Matthew 7:21-23, where those that listened to them, said "Lord, Lord", but didn't do His will, which is, faith alone in Jesus Christ alone (John 6:40).

Kevl said...

Well said Anon!

Yes Jn 6:40 is exactly what Mat 7:21-23 is saying these who emphatically see Him as their master have not done.

As you know:

We know they are emphatic about Him being their Master because they call Him "Lord, Lord" which a Hebrew practice of showing emphasis. Just as the Lord said "Truly Truly" to speak of how sure people could be of the fact.

Yet they did not actually have faith alone in Him alone. They depended on their obedience and works to be what secured their path to Heaven.

Thanks for the comment!