March 26, 1996
An orange tree in the backyard would be delightful, but one good thing about buying fruit rather than picking it is that store-bought oranges seldom have worms in them!
Those nearly perfect citrus fruits from Florida and California must pass through fruit inspectors before they are shipped. These people make sure all insects stay down south and diseased or poor quality fruit is used for something else than human consumption.
As an analogy, Jesus talked about vineyards and fruit and fruit inspectors. He did not give instructions about growing and enjoying them but used these terms in a warning about false prophets. He said, “They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.”
Jesus added that grapes do not come from thornbushes, or figs from thistles. Instead, good trees bear good fruit and bad trees bear bad fruit. According to Him, this law of nature applies also to human beings. The question is, what kind of fruit was Jesus talking about?
A man named John the Baptist gives a clue. He came on the scene just before Jesus did and used a fruit metaphor when he told people to repent from their sins and turn to God. He explained how action accompanied real repentance. Merely wanting to change was not good enough. As certain hypocritical religious leaders listened, John bluntly told them they needed to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”
Later, Jesus talked to these same religious leaders. He told a story about a group of people left in charge of a vineyard while the owner was away. Every time he sent servants to collect his fruit, the servants beat or killed them. Finally he sent his son, thinking they would do what he said. Sadly, they murdered him also. Jesus then told His audience that God would take His kingdom away from any who refused to produce its fruit and give it to those who did.
These analogies seem to suggest both John and Jesus were talking about visible evidence of true faith. In other words, people who are genuine will be characterized by a life change that shows they have turned from sin to God. They will also welcome Jesus as God’s Son and gladly offer the “produce” of their lives to Him.
Later in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul again defines fruit. He says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
These nine characteristics identify the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Bible says this fruit comes from God through people as His blessing and we cannot genuinely produce it without Him. Some will try to imitate it but spiritual fruit is from God. Those who have it are also from God. It may need time to develop and ripen but false prophets cannot produce it.
As Jesus said, false prophets are like wolves in sheep’s clothing. That is, we do not easily notice them. To discern who they are, Christians need to develop the skill of fruit inspection. We need to look for evidence of repentance and changed lives, and for the presence of the fruit of the Spirit. If someone claims to be from God but is without love, joy, peace or any of these qualities, then we can question their claim. It may be false.
We also need to remember that if God expects love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control to be the test, then Christians are responsible for having these things present and visible in our lives. Literal trees cannot evaluate themselves or other trees; however, in the spiritual realm, fruit inspectors must be able to do both.