“You will know them by their fruits.” Matthew 7:20
Jesus now moves to another striking, natural metaphor about plants and their fruits. He starts off this section with a warning against “false prophets,” those people who present themselves as on the side of God and yet are not. Naturally these folks don’t walk around yelling, “watch out for me!” so we need help knowing who to trust.
Because the original audience was made up of farmers and those who lived close to the land, talking in this framework was an obvious choice. Yet even we modern grocery store types can grasp this logic. We wouldn’t go to an apple orchard and expect to find lemons. We could also go to that orchard, and if many of the trees are heavy with apples, but one sits withered, we would know instantly that that tree was bad. We’d head straight for the good trees (and then foolishly pay to pick our own food for a higher price than in the store, but that of course is neither here nor there).
We need to apply this to people, as well as worldviews. Lots of ideas posted in your Facebook feed sound compelling; many of the arguments of your professors are truly persuasive. Corporations, ideologues, brands, agenda-pushers: they all know that college is a unique time in your life, where you are adult enough to freely evaluate new ideas, but also susceptible to latch on to the first big idea that woos you. Many hope to win a customer or crusader for life, to recruit you or use you. Jesus calls us to evaluate all of it by asking: what does this naturally produce? Is it good or bad? We even need to apply this to our church backgrounds, if we have them.
We should also feel free to evaluate Jesus in this way, and we must. When we look at the gospels, what do we see? Read them for yourself, read them with others. Look at his life and his “fruit.” He will stand up to scrutiny with his wisdom, his compassion, and his boldness. While the history of the church is far from perfect, look at the lives of his followers, both in the Bible and around you. Do their lives match up with what Jesus taught and did? Are they producing true and beautiful things, in service of others?
This evaluation isn’t a hobby; it’s life or death. Who we choose to follow, what ideas shape us and form us, will dictate the fruit we produce in our life, and Jesus warns that all trees producing bad fruit are cut down and thrown into fire. He speaks plainly in order to stir you up to pay attention, that you might run to him and be saved, that you might fling yourself under his mercy, and by the power of his Spirit produce wonderful fruit. The fruit isn’t something we create in order to gain entrance into the kingdom, but it is the sure sign as to whether Jesus is truly the one who has authority in our life.
The application of this passage is not to just try harder to do good things; the reason Jesus gives us the Spirit is because on our own, we can’t muster enough. But if you belong to him, pray and seek to draw closer to him, to learn from him and from his people what a righteous life is and where it comes from. Perhaps you could study the concept of “abiding,” or how we reside in Christ and live out from there. If you long to see good fruit in your life, not to earn God’s love but to bring him glory, he will lead you to this, especially as you seek it in community.