My entire life I’ve heard the scripture advising us to judge a tree by its fruit, to beware of false teachers and judge them by the fruit they bear. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. . . . Thus you will know them by their fruits.
At some point, pastors and teachers convinced me that this fruit inspection was about judging whether or not someone’s actions matched up with that particular pastor’s understanding of the Bible, his interpretation of it. It became about Does this other teacher agree with me and how I see the Bible? rather than about Does their teaching bring forth goodness and draw other people to love Jesus?
If the greatest commandments are to love God and love people, then it seems fair to use that as a guideline for inspecting the fruit of a teaching. Does this understanding/belief cause people to love God and other people and feel loved by God and other people?
Throughout the past few months, I’ve gotten many messages – some from a place of love and concern, some from a place of anger and fear and some from a place of ugly hatred – warning me that I’m a false teacher, leading others astray. Though I don’t want anyone to think badly of me and some of the words have stung a little (after all, I am an Enneagram 2!), I’m not really concerned with these warnings or rebukes. Why? Because I can tell what these people are really saying is — I don’t agree with you, so you must be a false teacher. And that’s not how that works.
Amidst those admonishments, I’ve received message after message from people who have long felt rejected by the Church, pushed away from God and God’s love. And in the words I’ve written and the community on my social media pages, these people feel drawn back to God by love. I’m humbled by this — because I know that in my earlier adult life, I was someone who pushed people to the margins, who manned the gates to keep out those who didn’t agree. I know that when I was 25, I would have called this 48-year-old Me a false teacher with no sound basis other than that the ideas rocked the boat of traditional teaching in my conservative bubble.
Over the years, God has gradually shifted my thoughts. Now, when I inspect the fruit of a teaching or belief or idea, I ask – Does this draw people to Jesus? Or push them away? Does this make people love God more and feel loved by God? Or does it keep them out?
Does that list of rules – of drawing lines for who is in and who is out – does that draw people to Jesus? Does the demand for our own rights – the insistence of our own right to discriminate or leave out – does that draw people to Jesus? Does it make them feel loved by God? Do our actions make people feel loved by a God who created them in God’s own image? Do our teachings reflect a God who relentlessly pursues people and welcomes them into the fold?
Throughout scripture, God’s heart is revealed to be about relentless love – welcoming outcasts, meeting the lonely in the desert, feeding the hungry, including those who have nothing to offer. God’s heart is all about a love that covers a multitude of wrongdoings, a grace that bridges the chasm of separation. God’s character demonstrates concern for the needy, inclusion of the foreigners, a breaking down of divisions, being a good neighbor, seeking out those in the margins, drawing in and teaching those whom society and religion have left out or deemed unworthy. God eats with the sinners and shameful ones – building a table big enough for everyone. Our God runs to meet us where we are – with no condemnation.
If my faith doesn’t demonstrate this love, then I am missing the mark. If people don’t accuse me of being too liberal with mercy, then I’m probably not grasping and demonstrating the grace of God.
I don’t want a religion of gate-keeping and rule-keeping and controlling others. I want a Jesus who loves and offers abundant life. I want a love that frees us and casts out fear and enables us to love others wholly.
Do my words and actions bear this fruit? Do yours?