The usual substitutes for being fruity.

How do you know someone’s Christian? Duh; by their fruit.

But sometimes I hear this very question—“How do you know someone’s really a Christian?”—not just from newbies, but from longtime Christians. People who’ve been Christian all their lives. We’re not talking brief lives either; I got this question from a seventy-something Christian a few years ago. He says he grew up Christian, and I don’t doubt it. Yet he didn’t know how to tell a Christian from the real thing.

What’d he think was the litmus test for Christianity? Same things most people in popular Christian culture imagine:

  • RELIGION. Regularly reading your bible, praying, and going to church.
  • FAITH. Believing really hard that Jesus is gonna save us.
  • SINNER’S PRAYER. Believing because we said the sinner’s prayer once, at some point in our lives—however long ago that was, and regardless of how much growth we’ve done since—Jesus is gonna save us.
  • ORTHODOXY. Believing all the correct things about God. Get anything wrong, and it means you’re heretic and not saved.
  • CONFORMITY. Doing as all the other Christians in our churches do: If they don’t wear jeans to church, neither do we; if they shun alcohol and profanity and makeup, so do we; if they never listen to anything but K-LOVE (and maybe country & western, ’cause a lot of those musicians are Christian) so do we. Act like them, ’cause that’s how Christians oughta act.
  • ZEAL. If we’re on fire for Jesus—if you really wanna be Christian, and get really amped up about all of the above, and are willing and eager to fight anyone on his behalf—then you’re obviously Christian. No fire? No Holy Spirit in you then.
  • INNER PEACE. When we come to Jesus, supposedly he erases all our worries, fears, doubts, and every trouble. That’s what the evangelists claim, so that’s precisely what a lot of Christians point to: “I have peace. So I’m obviously Christian.”
  • NO MORTAL SINS. We can be Christian and commit minor sins, but if we commit really huge sins, like murder or rape or voting for the wrong party, we’re not really Christian. Can’t be. Real Christians don’t do that.
  • BAPTISM. If we got baptized (and confirmed, and never renounce that baptism… well, not in words; deeds kinda don’t count) we’re Christian.
  • SELF-IDENTIFICATION. If people claim they’re Christian, no matter how antichristian they might behave… well they just are. That’s how they self-identify, and no one has any business claiming otherwise. They know themselves best. And we gotta deal with that.

Various Christians accept at least one, and often many, of these litmus tests. If you can pass two of the tests, you can be extra sure you’re Christian. It’s just like using two different brands of pregnancy tests… even though most of ’em are using the exact same chemicals.

But what’s the litmus test in the bible? (The only litmus test, I might add?) Fruit. We gotta be fruity.

And when I give this answer, people’s usual response is “Oh. Well duh.” Somewhere in their brains they already knew fruit’s the right answer, but there’s some kind of mental block which kept ’em from thinking of it. We can blame the devil for it, and many do, but myself I blame irreligion. It’s way easier to take the other litmus tests than work on actual fruit… and you grow fruit by seriously following Jesus, i.e. religion. Good religion, where we do as Jesus tells us; it’s more than merely going to church and reading bible.

It’s something we gotta do.

The seventy-something even knew the proof text in the “original,” by which he meant the King James Version: “The tree is known by his fruit.” Which is a really odd choice of pronoun by the KJV’s translators; male trees produce pollen, not fruit! But stands to reason a bunch of theology profs know bupkis about agriculture… so let’s read that verse in the NKJV instead.

Matthew 12.33 NKJV
“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit.

Notice that word in the verse, make. The original is ποιήσατε/pihísate, the command “do” or “make.” Because fruit is something we gotta do and make. Because we have the Holy Spirit within us, every true Christian has the potential to produce fruit… but if we never listen to him and never practice the fruit, it’s not gonna grow! It’ll stay little and barely noticeable.

And because it’s barely noticeable, Christians are gonna have to resort to looking for other things which prove we’re Christian. Like adopting our church’s beliefs, or looking back at the first time we asked for salvation, or checking out our fellow Christians and saying, “Well I’m no worse.”

We figure if we score 100 on a Christian aptitude test, we’re all right. So when we stand before Jesus at the End, and he asks us why he oughta let us into heaven, we can point out we’re one of the “whosoevers” in

John 3.16 KJV
That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

We figure we can say, “Why yes you should let me into heaven. I held up my end of the bargain: I believed.”

Whereas Jesus will be looking for fruit:

Matthew 25.41-46 KJV
41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: 43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. 44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? 45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. 46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

It’s not the feeding and clothing the needy per se. It’s the fact fruity Christians will feed and clothe the needy… and fruitless Christians will figure they needn’t bother, ’cause we don’t need to do good works to be saved. Fruity Christians wanna help others. They wanna be generous, kind, compassionate, loving, patient, and gentle. Fruitless Christians would rather tell such people to get a job. Whose hearts best reflect that of the Holy Spirit within ’em? Duh; the real Christians.

Wait! What about grace?

Whenever I talk about fruit as something we gotta do and make, I invariably get pushback from people who don’t wanna do and make. Who point out, “Aren’t we saved by God’s grace, not our works?” Ep 2.8-9 Is my fruit talk just a pretense to slip some works-righteousness into our Christianity?

Okay, grace. Yes, we’re saved by God’s grace. We can’t save ourselves at all; God had to do it. And he does, for no other reason than that he’s gracious. We don’t deserve saving, and can’t earn it. It’s totally true we’re not saved by our works.

But if God truly saved us, there’s some evidence he saved us. A far more reliable evidence than passing a standardized test which any demon could ace. Jm 2.19 In every Christian, God deposited the Holy Spirit to lead us and help us. Ep 1.13-14 And if he’s in there, he’s rooting through our junk, tossing out the bad, upgrading us, producing fruit. Those who have the Spirit, act it. They’re fruity.

Conversely, those who don’t have the Spirit, for God hasn’t saved them, don’t produce fruit. They have no relationship with the Spirit. It’s why Jesus will respond to them, “I never knew you, you lawbreakers; get away from me.” Mt 7.23 Or worse, “You damned people, off with you.” Mt 25.41 Where there should be fruit—charitable actions of the most basic, elementary sort—there’s nothing. There’s only outrage, entitlement, pride, arrogance—they feel they deserve to be included!—and Jesus tells them to piss off.

Harsh? Sure. But Jesus makes it fairly obvious in the gospels: Produce fruit. Real Christians will. How can you call yourself Christian, Christ-follower, student, disciple, or servant, yet do absolutely nothing Jesus commands? or have a character which looks nothing like Christ’s? It should be self-evident. And would be, if there weren’t all these cheap-grace preachers running amok, telling us we needn’t do a single thing for Jesus, and he’ll save us anyway.

Don’t think it is self-evident? Read your bible.

Luke 3.9 KWL
“Plus, the axe lays at the root of the tree right now.
So every tree not producing good fruit is cut down and thrown into fire.”
 
Luke 6.43-46 KWL
43 “For a good tree doesn’t grow rotten fruit, nor a rotten tree grow good fruit:
44 Each tree is known by its own fruit.
You don’t gather figs from thistles. You don’t reap grape bunches from thornbushes.
45 The good person brings up good things from the good treasury of a good mind.
The evil brings up evil things out of an evil mind.
From the mind’s overflow, their mouth speaks.
46 Why do you call me, ‘Master, master’?
You don’t do a thing I say.”
 
Matthew 7.15-23 KWL
15 “Watch out for the fake prophets, who come to all of you dressed as sheep,
but underneath they’re greedy wolves. 16 You’ll recognize them by their fruits.
People don’t pluck grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles, do they?
17 So every good tree grows good fruits, and a rotten tree grows bad fruits.
18 A good tree doesn’t grow bad fruits, nor a rotten tree grow good fruits.
19 Every tree not growing good fruit is cut down and thrown into fire.
20 It’s precisely by their fruits that you’ll recognize them.
21 Not everyone who calls me, ‘Master, master,’ will enter the heavenly kingdom.
Just the one who does my heavenly Father’s will.
22 At that time, many will tell me, ‘Master, master, didn’t we prophesy in your name?
Didn’t we throw out demons in your name? Didn’t we do many mighty things in your name?’
23 And I’ll explain to them, “I never knew you, you lawbreakers; get away from me.”
 
1 John 1.5-7 KWL
5 This is the message we heard from him and proclaim to you:
God is light. To him, darkness is nothing.
6 When we say we have a relationship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie; we don’t act in truth.
7 When we walk in the light like him, who’s in light, we have a relationship with one another,
and his son Jesus’s blood cleanses us of every sin.

Got the idea?

If we’re not fruity, we have no proof of our Christianity. None. Oh, people will claim otherwise, and try to convince us and themselves. But none of their proofs prove a thing. Many a fruitless Christian (and false prophet) has used miracles to justify their bad behavior. And as Jesus said, many will point to those miracles, claiming a relationship with him which he won’t recognize.

Many a fruitless Christian will point to orthodoxy, to church membership, to the charitable organizations they give money to. Or they’ll point to traits which they claim are forms of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. There are fake versions of these things, y’know. Usually out-of-control desire, mania or euphoria, tight-fisted control, dismissal, tolerance, apathy, wishful thinking, quietness, and hypocrisy. If we have no evidence of a relationship with God, we’ve gotta invent something to take its place.

But why? Follow God, and fruit virtually grows on its own. And if you lack fruit, turn to God! Repent. Ask him to grow some fruit in you.